Sunday, December 30, 2007

A different Take

Samizdata argues that the only way to make evolution a non-political issue is to remove the state's role in education. We homeschool our kids so this is not an issue for us. My kids will get a good science education. He writes:

Return all schooling to the private sector and the whole issue goes away from the political sphere. Let the market decide if there is demand for schools that teach creationism, I have no problem with that at all.

I still have a problem with that in that I don't think that science education can be left to whatever you "feel like teaching your kids." Maybe he is right in the sense that the market would sort it out but the results would be devastating to science education. I have friends who went to the creation museum in Kentucky and thought it was "neat and cool." As much as I love my friends, their kids are going to learn that the world is flat.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Add Ron Paul to the List

Well, it seems that Ron Paul has thrown in his hat with the anti-evolution crowd of Republican candidates. Oh, Joy!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Barbara Forrest Responds to the Firing of Chris Comer

Barbara Forrest gave a talk on "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse" in Austin, Texas. Chris Comer of the Texas Education Agency sent a message out advertising this talk. For this, she was fired. Here is Barbara Forrest's response to the controversy. Regarding the rationale for firing Ms. Comer, Dr. Forrest writes:

But why would the TEA be concerned about being biased in favor of teaching children the truth about science? The TEA's proper role is to ensure the quality and integrity of what is taught in Texas science classes. My Austin presentation was most certainly not a threat to that role, but in fact highly supportive of it. I presented the truth about ID as established by years of scholarly research. Has the process of administering the public education system in Texas become so politicized that even the truth is a threat to people's jobs? One can only conclude that it has.

Hat tip to the NCSE.

When Losing Genes Can Be A Good Thing

Apparently, the loss of certain genes can move evolution in different directions:

One previously unknown loss, the gene for acyltransferase-3 (ACYL3), particularly caught [the researchers'] attention. "This is an ancient protein that exists throughout the whole tree of life," said Zhu. Multiple copies of the ACYL3 gene are encoded in the fly and worm genomes. "In the mammalian clade there is only one copy left, and somewhere along primate evolution, that copy was lost."

"In our analysis, we found that this gene contains a nonsense mutation in human and chimp, and it appears to still look functional in rhesus," said Sanborn. Further, they found that the mutation is not present in the orangutan, so the gene is probably still functional in that species.

"On the evolutionary tree leading to human, on the branch between chimp and orangutan sits gorilla," explained Sanborn. Knowing if the gene was still active in gorilla would narrow down the timing of the loss.

The inability to manufacture Vitamin C in higher primates certainly must have led to a change in diet that continued on with early hominid evolution. Fruitful research. Hat tip to the ASA.

Creationism Approved

The request has gone through:

An advisory council of university educators has recommended that Texas approve a master's degree program for science education offered by the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research.

The council last week endorsed the proposal and submitted it for approval to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which is expected to consider the proposal in January. Approval from the coordinating board would allow the program to operate while the institute seeks full accreditation.

There are still some serious hurdles, as I mentioned in my earlier post about this:

The Institute for Creation Research, which recently moved to Dallas from Santee, Calif., says it teaches graduate students "more typical secular perspectives" alongside creationism.

But students and faculty must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation, that God created the world in six days and that the Earth is much newer than evolutionary science suggests.

"They teach distorted science," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education. "Any student coming out from the ICR with a degree in science would not be competent to teach in Texas public schools."

Sadly, she is right.

The "Wall of Africa"

Two geologists at the University of Utah argue that tectonic movements in the east African Rift Valley led to evolutionary changes that may have involved the origin of hominids. According to the story:

“Although the Wall of Africa started to form around 30 million years ago, recent studies show most of the uplift occurred between 7 million and 2 million years ago, just about when hominins split off from African apes, developed bipedalism and evolved bigger brains,” the Ganis write.

“Nature built this wall, and then humans could evolve, walk tall and think big,” says Royhan Gani. “Is there any characteristic feature of the wall that drove human evolution?”

The answer, he believes, is the variable landscape and vegetation resulting from uplift of the Wall of Africa, which created “a topographic barrier to moisture, mostly from the Indian Ocean” and dried the climate. He says that contrary to those who cite global climate cycles, the climate changes in East Africa were local and resulted from the uplift of different parts of the wall at different times.

Good old allopatric speciation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Interview with Lizzette Reynolds

There is an interview with Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, the Texas Education Agency member who fired Chris Comer, in the Austin-American Statesman. What comes across in the interview is surprise that it blew up. One of the exchanges goes as follows:

The TEA has received a lot of criticism, especially from scientists, who note that evolution is not a relic or abstract theory, but an important plank in the study of modern sciences and in scientific research. Were you aware of the significance of evolution?

I didn’t recognize the importance of the subject in terms of it being tagged “evolution.” I know now that it has very real importance in modern science and research. I know that it is in our TEKS, and I’ve no reason to believe it won’t continue that way. What I didn’t think about was evolution in terms of a political struggle. That took me by surprise because the science is being utilized in all our schools.

My initial response to this was "how can you be surprised at this? This has been a hotbed issue for decades."

Read the whole thing.

Texas: Never a Dull Moment!

According to the Dallas Morning News, a college associated with the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas is asking the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to allow it to train science teachers in creationism. The story states:

The institute was created in 1970 by the late Henry M. Morris, a Dallas native known as the father of "creation science," the view that science – not just religion – indicates that a divine being created the Earth and all living things.

Patricia Nason, chairwoman of the institute's science education department, said that, despite the institute's name, students learn evolution along with creationism.

"Our students are given both sides," said Dr. Nason, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. "They need to know both sides, and they can draw their own conclusion."

The institute, through its graduate school, wants to offer an online master's degree in science education.

I somehow doubt that an organization founded by Henry Morris will give evolution a fair shake. He was vehemently anti-evolution during his life. Others, however, argue that the name is what is off-putting:

A group of educators and officials from the state Coordinating Board visited the campus in November and met with faculty members. The group found that the institute offered a standard science education curriculum that would prepare them to take state licensure exams, said Glenda Barron, an associate commissioner of the board.

Dr. Barron said the program was held to the same standards that any other college would have to meet.

"The master's in science education, we see those frequently," she said. "What's different – and what's got everybody's attention – is the name of the institution."

Yes, but a cursory check of the articles emanating from that institution reveal a staunch adherence to recent earth creationism, which precludes any sort of evolutionary scenario. Maybe they can pull it off. We'll see. The principle problem that I see is that even if the board okays the training of science teachers, I doubt if any non-parochial schools will hire them.

Peter Bowler has written a new book, titled Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design. Yet another thing to read.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Florida Tackles Evolution

Moving the opposite direction of Texas, the Florida State Board of Education is make a more concerted effort to adopt evolution.

The Florida Department of Education released a revision of the state standards in October that would require public school students to learn about evolution.

The first state standards, adopted in 1996, do not use the word evolution but require the teaching of evolutionary concepts.

In the new proposed benchmarks, evolution will be covered beginning in kindergarten. The first real use of the concept occurs when students start learning about fossils in seventh grade.

Kindergarten strikes me as kind of early, since Madeline, our almost six-year-old is still trying to understand what science is. Fossils in seventh grade, on the other hand, is way too late. Kids have a curiosity about fossils as early as second or third grade.

A Creation/Evolution Debate Ends Badly

In New South Wales, an argument about the creation/evolution controversy cost a backpacker his life.

English backpacker Alexander Christian York, 33, was today sentenced to a maximum of five years jail for the manslaughter of Scotsman Rudi Boa in January last year.

Mr Boa, 28, died on January 27 after being stabbed by York at the Blowering Holiday Park, near Tumut.

Later, the article notes:

The couple, both biomedical scientists, had been arguing the case of evolution, while York had taken a more biblical view of history.

This is tragic loss of life, bad for the argument and a terrible Christian witness, to boot.

The AAAS Weighs In

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has voiced its opinion on the Texas Education Agency mess.

[AAAS CEO Alan] Leshner wrote that if science teachers begin to evaluate "scientific facts based on indisputable physical evidence through nonscientific perspectives" including intelligent design and creationism, educators will "surely wind up confusing students about the nature of science versus religion."

Or they might just teach them bad science.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Texas Heats Up!

The Dallas Morning News has a story on the controversy surrounding the Texas Education Agency. According to the article:

Many conservatives, including the chairman of the State Board of Education, have long wanted biology teachers in Texas to address issues that some national groups and scientists say expose weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

They stress that they aren't pushing for schools to teach creationism or intelligent design, a theory that says certain features of the universe are so complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

But their opponents argue that there is no debate: Research consistently supports evolution. They argue that attempts to discredit Charles Darwin's theory of evolution amount to sneaking God into the classroom under the guise of intelligent design.

It is still mystifying to me how an educational agency can muddy the waters with regard to established scientific theory. It shows how well the "teach the controversy" smokescreen has worked.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kostenki: Earliest Modern Human Site in Europe?

The town of Kostenki has a new claim to fame: earliest site of modern humans in Europe:

Kostenki previously has yielded anatomically modern human bones and artifacts dating between 30,000 and 40,000 years old, including the oldest firmly dated bone and ivory needles with eyelets that indicate the early inhabitants were tailoring animal furs to help them survive the harsh climate.

But recent archaeological and chronological data from the Kostenki site have convinced researchers that beneath a previously identified 40,000 year-old component representing Early Modern Humans is an early, previously unknown Initial Upper Paleolithic component, with secure dates at least as early as any other known modern human occupation in Europe. This conclusion supports the notion that Early Modern Humans migrated to central Eurasia and out from Africa before 45,000 years ago, carrying a fully developed Upper Paleolithic tool kit with them.

Neat.
The human evolution article is not in PNAS yet. The Dec. 11 issue is up. Maybe Dec. 18...

Human Evolution Accelerating?

Foxnews is reporting that researchers now believe that human evolution has accelerated in the recent past:

"If evolution had been proceeding steadily at the current rate since humans and chimps separated 6 million years ago, there should be 160 times more differences than the researchers found.

That indicates that human evolution had been slower in the distant past, Harpending explained.

"Rapid population growth has been coupled with vast changes in cultures and ecology, creating new opportunities for adaptation," the study says. "The past 10,000 years have seen rapid skeletal and dental evolution in human populations, as well as the appearance of many new genetic responses to diet and disease."

Well, the first problem is that humans and chimpanzees didn't split at 6 million years ago--not if the dates on Sahelanthropus and Orrorin are correct. It had to have been more like 8 million years ago. The second thing that strikes me is that one of the first things I learned in graduate school is that teeth have shrunk in size 11% since the neolithic. That seems like a striking change to me. I have not read the PNAS article yet, but the changes in culture and ecology can be largely attributed to increases in population. Anytime you get more people working on a problem independently, the problem gets solved faster.

Meanwhile Back at Woods Hole...

"Christian biologist fired for beliefs, suit says." Reuters has reported a story of an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Institute that has been fired for rejecting evolution:


Nathaniel Abraham, an Indian national who describes himself as a "Bible-believing Christian," said in the suit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston that he was fired in 2004 because he would not accept evolution as scientific fact.


The latest U.S. academic spat over science and religion was first reported in The Boston Globe newspaper on Friday. Gibbs Law Firm in Florida, which is representing Abraham, said he was seeking $500,000 in compensation.

The zebrafish specialist said his civil rights were violated when he was dismissed shortly after telling his superior he did not accept evolution because he believed the Bible presented a true account of human creation.

He seems to have ended up on his feet, though:

Abraham, 35, is now a biology professor at Liberty University, a Baptist school in Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Christian pastor and televangelist.

I don't believe he will have a problem there.

Professor Disciplined For Teaching Evolution

As the troubles for Baylor simmer, you might have guessed that it would happen in reverse in other places. Courtesy of Eugene Volokh by way of Instapundit:

[Richard Colling]'s a professor at Olivet Nazarene University, in Illinois, who has been barred from teaching general biology or having his book taught at the university that is his alma mater and the place where he has taught for 27 years. A biologist who is very much a person of faith, these punishments followed anger by some religious supporters of the college over the publication of his book in which he argues that it is possible to believe in God and still accept evolution.

I suspect he had to sign some sort of agreement with the university when they hired him. How transparent that was should be examined. It is disappointing that the university did not attempt to determine whether Prof. Colling's arguments had merit or not. The AAUP seems to feel the same way. The AAUP's Johnathan Knight states:

“If a private, church-related institution says that to be a member of this faculty, you must believe in the inerrancy of the biblical account of the origins of life, we would scratch our heads on whether it’s going to be very productive in terms of science education, but we wouldn’t say that they have violated academic freedom. They are entitled to set out the rules of the game, and they have done so, and so be it.”

As much as I think that their position is obscurantist and regressive, it is their right to hold it. I do not think this argument can be applied to the public schools, however, since they are government-run institutions and that is where students begin to learn about science. The schools need to be scientifically up-to-date. If college-bound students make the choice to then reject that teaching, so be it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Richard Dawkins' Use of "Sleight of Hand"

Mustafa Akyol, writing for the Turkish Daily News accuses Richard Dawkins of sleight of hand. Toward the tail end of the article, he includes this bit of sage advice:

And I think that is the correct theistic attitude to take vis-à-vis Dawkins and other preachers of atheism. A faith's strength comes from not its fervor to silence critics, but its ability to refute them. If Muslim believers in Turkey are annoyed by Dawkins' book, then they should bring counter-arguments to his theses, instead of asking for censorship by prosecutors.

True words.

Florida: the New Battleground

Just as Dover begins to recede into memory (but not really), trouble is brewing in Florida. As the St. Petersburg Times reports:

Let the culture war begin.

If anybody thought Florida's proposed new science standards would slip under the radar -- standards that embrace Darwin's theory of evolution -- that illusion was shattered over the weekend when a religious newspaper in Jacksonville published critical comments from a state Board of Education member.

The big guns are also getting involved:

Last week, the national, faith-based group Focus on the Family called on supporters to weigh in, as did the column in the Florida Baptist Witness, which is influential among Florida's 1-million Baptists. Meanwhile, both sides of the debate are peppering Board of Education members with e-mails and commenting by the thousands on a special DOE Web site.

This will get worse before it gets better.
Jonathan Gitlin of Ars Technica has posted a flickr tour of the creation museum--since he cannot recommend spending twenty dollars on it. It is here. His article on the trip is here. My wife tells me that some of our church friends have gone and were very impressed. Boy, am I dreading those conversations!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Discovery Institute Defends Guillermo Gonzalez

The DI seems to have caught Iowa State talking out of both sides of its mouth.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes intelligent design, said it has thousands of pages of internal e-mails and other documents showing how employees conspired against Gonzalez. The group received the material in June after a request through Iowa's open records law, said Casey Luskin, a lawyer for the group.

``The university has been claiming, as you know, for months that ID (intelligent design) had virtually nothing to do with Dr. Gonzalez's tenure decision,'' Luskin said at a press conference at the state Capitol. ``Now after reviewing thousands of pages of documents, we're prepared to say that this is a blatant misrepresentation, even perhaps a lie.''

Much will hinge on Gonzalez' actual academic output and grant production. Showing a hostile work environment is almost irrelevant to the tenure question.

A Mummified Dinosaur

This is as cool as it gets:

Scientists revealed Monday a partly "mummified" dinosaur, complete with fossilized skin and muscles, an incredibly rare find that sheds new light on the species that once ruled the Earth.

The remains of the duck-billed Hadrosaur were first discovered in 1999 by a schoolboy in a treasure trove of fossils called Hell Creek, in North Dakota, and were brought to the attention of British paleontologist Phil Manning.

The level of preservation is, apparently, unheard of.

Armed with that three-dimensional insight into Dakota's muscle mass, the scientists have estimated that its backside was 25 percent larger than previously thought for a Hadrosaur.

With a larger rear end, it could have reached top speeds of 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour) -- quick enough to outrun a T. rex.

Dakota's skin envelope also suggested evidence of stripes that would have produced a camouflage pattern, also handy for evading predators.

Because the Hadrosaur was so well preserved, the researchers could more accurately estimate the spacing between its vertebrae, giving a gap of about one centimeter (0.4 inches) between each bone.

This is one of those fantastic discoveries that drives a discipline forward by leaps and bounds.

Mike Huckabee Responds to Critics

Mike Huckabee is getting hacked off at the media's fascination with his religious beliefs:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher who has surged in Iowa with evangelical Christian support, bristled Tuesday when asked if creationism should be taught in public schools .

Huckabee—who raised his hand at a debate last May when asked which candidates disbelieved the theory of evolution—asked this time why there is such a fascination with his beliefs.

"I believe God created the heavens and the Earth," he said at a news conference with Iowa pastors who murmured, "Amen."

He clearly has a Federalist perspective on education, though.

"That's an irrelevant question to ask me—I'm happy to answer what I believe, but what I believe is not what's going to be taught in 50 different states," Huckabee said. "Education is a state function. The more state it is, and the less federal it is, the better off we are."

As I mentioned in my response to Walter Williams, I am conflicted about this because you just cannot treat science that way.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Austin Statesman is highly critical of the Texas Education Agency's decision to fire Christine Comer. No "Spot the Party" problems here.
The New York Times has an article on the Christine Comer dismissal down in Texas. I read enough to catch the Times slant on things before i moved on.

Friday, November 30, 2007

More State-Level News

"State science curriculum director resigns under pressure." This will not make Texas look good.

Florida's Science Standards Get a Passing Grade

In an article in the St. Petersburg Times, Florida's new science standards get a thumbs up:

Proposed standards are more focused and better organized. They not only mention evolution, they dub it a "big idea." And this time, they get a thumbs-up from the chief author of the Fordham report.

"Much better," said biologist Paul Gross, a former provost at the University of Virginia, who reviewed the draft at the request of the St. Petersburg Times.

Supporters say good science standards are key to turning around the dismal performance of Florida students on state and national science tests, and making them more competitive in a technology-driven global economy.

Yup.

Walter Williams Responds

Dr. Williams was kind enough to respond to my post. Here is his response:

Thanks for the compliments but you miss my point, or I didn't make it clear. Whether intelligent design is nonsense (I personally think it is) or not is not the issue. It's parental rights!
Cheers.

He is correct about parental rights and my wife and I argued about this and the nature of science until the wee hours of the morning. The scientist in me thinks, though, that science education, precisely because it is not a social issue, should not be treated in quite the same way. A theory is well supported or it is not. If it is not, it should not be offered as an "alternative explanation." This is why we don't teach the theory of phlogisten or the models of Lysenko. Further, we would look askance at teachers who did so.

Should parents be allowed to take their children out of an arena in which they do not agree with what the children are being taught? Absolutely. And with regard to sex education and prayer in school, I encourage it. But if the parents want to teach their children creationism or ID, someone needs to take them aside and tell them that, while it is their right to do so, it will badly prepare the child for future scientific coursework or endeavors. Science education in this country is not very good. ID and creationism just make it worse.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Walter Williams Opines on Public Education

Ordinarily, I agree with Walter Williams, but in his recent column, titled Take School Control From Government, he has engaged in a logical fallacy. He writes:

I like the Lexus LS 460. I also like Dell computers. Many other people have a different set of preferences. Some might prefer a Cadillac and an HP computer while others prefer a Chrysler and IBM computer. With these strong preferences for particular cars and computers, we never see people arguing or fighting in an effort to impose their preferences for cars and computers on other people. There's car and computer peace. Why? You buy the car and computer that you want. I do likewise, and we remain friends.

and a bit further:

Prayers in school, sex education and "intelligent design" are contentious school issues. I believe parents should have the right to decide whether their children will say a morning prayer in school, be taught "intelligent design" and not be given school-based sex education. I also believe other parents should have the right not to have their children exposed to prayers in school, "intelligent design" and receive sex education.

Here he has made a tacit assumption that prayer in school, sex education and ID are equivalent in nature and that to disagree on them is on the level of disagreeing about which car to buy. They are not. Supposing a high school teacher decided he didn't like the theory of gravity and decided that he would teach that it is just as easy to believe that a giant vacuum cleaner exists in the center of the earth (think Spaceballs) and is responsible for the effects we normally attribute to gravity. Even if you could demonstrate that gravitational theory was perfectly capable of explaining the effects of gravity, he might disagree. I think that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks that teaching the vacuum cleaner theory is a good idea. The two are not on the same scientific footing. That is one problem.

The other problem I have is that sex education and prayer in school are social issues. ID is a scientific issue that is quantifiable. It is not subject to debate, but rather to testing. Here, again, it fails because it offers no hypothetical questions to test and, as has been shown by many different authors (Kenneth Miller, Allen Orr, Howard van Till to name a few), offers examples of "design" that have been refuted.

Science education must be uniform and present the most well-founded and supported theories and hypotheses. ID does not do this. ID provides no comparable theoretical structure, other than "God did it." As I have noted before, there are plenty of articles out there that ask, "Yes but HOW?" ID does not currently address that question and, until it does, is not science.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come.

The Creation Museum is still bringing them in by the ark-full. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer:

In the six months since the museum opened, more than 265,000 people have toured the facility built by Answers in Genesis, a nonprofit evangelical ministry. Answers had predicted it might draw 250,000 the first year.

The museum will double its parking lot by next summer.

"We're starting to find that word of mouth is spreading across the nation," said Ken Ham, president of the ministry. "We're finding people will drive a whole day or two days to get here.

Now here is the disturbing part:

One of the museum's biggest audiences is home-school families. The parents come to the museum to learn how to teach creation-based science classes.

Nancy Paul, of Indianapolis, came in part to find resources to help her teach a sixth-grade home school co-op science class. She and her husband brought their five daughters, who range in age up to 6.

"They are young enough that I just want them to enjoy science at this age," she said. "They are too young to get into the debate about creation versus evolution."

Home schoolers already get looked askance by the government and teacher's unions. This will not help their cause and may come back to bite them on the backside. This museum is like a lightning rod for Christians wishing to have their cherished beliefs upheld and militant atheists, who look for opportunities to make Christians look simple and foolish. This museum does both.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Michael Behe's Response to Kitzmiller

Here is Michael Behe's Response to the Kitzmiller decision in the wake of the NOVA special. He writes:

The Court finds that intelligent design (ID) is not science. In its legal analysis, the Court takes what I would call a restricted sociological view of science: “science” is what the consensus of the community of practicing scientists declares it to be. The word “science” belongs to that community and to no one else. Thus, in the Court’s reasoning, since prominent science organizations have declared intelligent design to not be science, it is not science. Although at first blush that may seem reasonable, the restricted sociological view of science risks conflating the presumptions and prejudices of the current group of practitioners with the way physical reality must be understood.

This suggests that there may be a non-Kuhnian way of viewing physical reality, an as-yet undescribed alternative to hypothesis testing. The problem is that, as Dr. Nelson stated, there is no underlying theory that can drive this alternative.

On the other hand, like myself most of the public takes a broader view: “science” is an unrestricted search for the truth about nature based on reasoning from physical evidence. By those lights, intelligent design is indeed science. Thus there is a disconnect between the two views of what “science” is. Although the two views rarely conflict at all, the dissonance grows acute when the topic turns to the most fundamental matters, such as the origins of the universe, life, and mind.

The suggestion here is that there is a point at which scientific explanations fail and one is left with a "we have no idea" explanation. The problem is that in every instance in which ID has reached this point (e.g. irreducible complexity), modern, Kuhn-based science has offered explanations through further hypothesis testing and observation.

Behe, on whether ID invokes a supernatural entity:

It does no such thing. The Court’s opinion ignores, both here and elsewhere, the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. As I testified, when it was first proposed the Big Bang theory struck many scientists as pointing to a supernatural cause. Yet it clearly is a scientific theory, because it is based entirely on physical data and logical inferences. The same is true of intelligent design.

Wellllllll, in a sense, he is right here. Big Bang models extend as far back as 10x-34 seconds and are based on mathematical models. There is a point before this point where the math breaks down and we have to say "we don't exactly know what happened then." In a sense, he is not, because there is observational evidence (galactic red shifts, cosmic background radiation) that at least one of the Big Bang models (there are 11) is supported. This is straight hypothesis testing: "if the model is correct, we should see x." "If it is not, we will see y."

The problem here for ID is that, when ID proponents posit "if ID is true, we should see x," they are failing to account for alternative evolutionary explanations that have, as noted above, explained things quite well. Additionally, unlike Big Bang theory, there is no 0 time element. There is no mechanism for explaining phenomena back that far in time. This is not true for evolutionary explanations which can take phenomena back as far as there is life on earth. This is a critical point missed by the writers of Of Pandas and People. Evolution has nothing to say about the origins of life. As long as there is life, evolutionary hypotheses can be tested.

In response to the statement: The argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's, Behe states:

The dualism is “contrived” and “illogical” only if one confuses ID with creationism, as the Court does.

The court was not the only one to confuse creationism with ID. The Discovery Institute did a great job of that with both the Wedge Strategy and the lack of attention to detail between early and later drafts of Of Pandas and People, resulting in "cdesign proponentsists," not to mention the book, itself, which reeks of recycled creationism arguments.

More in the next post.
The Discovery Institute has a whole series of articles about the NOVA special called "The Truth About the Dover Intelligent Design Trial."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Here is NOVA's publication for educators on the ID special.
Still More thoughts on "What NOVA Won't Tell You About Dover." I can't get the link to work but a web search will bring it up.

In a previous post, I had some thoughts about the Discovery Institute's rebuttal to the NOVA special on Intelligent Design by Anika Smith. Moving on, Ms. Smith writes:

While Michael Behe took the time to explain the distinctions between the scientific theory of intelligent design and its implications, Judge Jones ignored his testimony in favor of the mischaracterization of ID put forth by the plaintiffs.

This is a valid concern in part and also not. Michael Behe is trying to do honest scientific work in his own field. The problem is the non-scientific hierarchy within the DI that hangs like a millstone around the likes of Behe and Dembski. It is this organizational structure that seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, it employs people like Behe and on the other hand, it creates books like Of Pandas and People, which is truly awful as a texbookBehe was clearly over a barrel. The not true part is that there was a mischaracterization of ID. The show and the transcripts show this not to be the case--culminating in the reading of the Paper by Nelson.

She writes:

Even though Scott Minnich shared the experiments he ran in his University of Idaho lab in his courtroom testimony, spending days explaining his tests on the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, Judge Jones falsely declared intelligent design untestable, and therefore not scientific.

Minnich, when asked about the three letter codon system and its resistance to point mutations, states, in this instance:

We have a code that from the get go is optimized to minimize the effects of point mutation. Now, that to me, and my colleagues, too, when we've discussed this causes them to pause. I mean, people just stop and get reflective. That to me has a signature of design on it, okay, that you have a, this is a sophisticated, this is the most sophisticated information storage system that we know of. It's true digital code we've got, it codes for algorithms.

It is still an argument from personal incredulity. when questioned about that, he responds:

I mean, that's -- Dawkins makes that argument that because I can't imagine a mechanism that would produce this that I suffer from incredulity, and I'm, darn it, you know, we are trained to be skeptics. We are trained to look at things through, you know, a very narrow lens.

Ms. Smith writes that:

In fact, it was the section on whether intelligent design is science, where Jones might have been expected to consider the testimony of the scientists actively pursuing the theory of intelligent design, where he copied the ACLU verbatim or near-verbatim, even including typographical errors. This is the tragic truth about Dover, as even critics of intelligent design like Boston University law professor Jay Wexler agrees that “[t]he part of Kitzmiller that finds ID not to be science is unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous to both science and freedom of religion.”

This appears to be smack on the money. It seems that the esteemed Mr. Jones did copy quite a bit of text from the ACLU's document. While I don't find the ID movement's arguments remotely compelling, I have absolutely no love for the ACLU, which I find to be misguided at best and antagonistic to organized religion at worst. Hat's off to the DI for uncovering this.

Ms. Smith also writes about the original negotiations between the DI and NOVA:

According to Rob Crowther, director of communications for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, “Going into negotiation with NOVA’s producers, we were initially cautious but hopeful for a chance to tell our side of the story. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to work with us.”

This is not elaborated upon so it is not clear what Mr. Crowther meant by this. Given the statements of Ms. Absell of NOVA, they did not intend to give ID a fair shake in any event.

In closing, Ms. Smith notes:

Past experience with the media teaches that intelligent design is often misrepresented, especially through the editing process. Quotes taken out of context are used to mislead the viewer, often with effective results. Because of this, Discovery Institute has a policy that all interviews be recorded for the protection of its speakers. While NOVA at first agreed to these common-sense measures, they later changed their mind and would not allow Discovery Institute scientists to be interviewed with these protections.

According to World Magazine:

Apsell instead offered to provide Discovery officials with complete footage of the interviews provided they signed away any right to make it public. Rob Crowther, the institute's communications director, told WORLD that arrangement defeated the purpose of holding NOVA accountable. "We have had some other experiences with the media where we've been edited and kind of sliced and diced," he said. "NOVA didn't want to be held accountable."

NOVA paints this in very different words. The narrator in the special states:

NOVA made repeated requests to interview members of the Discovery Institute to talk about this and other issues, but the institute set conditions that were inconsistent with normal journalistic practice.

It is difficult to see how this is "inconsistent with normal journalistic practices." Why not come right out and say what the dispute was? Nothing else is mentioned about this and it makes the DI look bad.

If you are interested in the DI's case, further reading can be found here. It seems that errors were made all around and there was sleight of hand performed by both sides: The Dover School Board tying the teaching of ID to the dreadful book Of Pandas and People and NOVA being not quite above board about its intentions or practices.





Monday, November 19, 2007

Apparently, the viewers of WKNO in Memphis didn't see the NOVA special:

In response to one viewer complaint, WKNO program manager Debi Robertson said Wednesday that while the "NOVA" episode reported the outcome of the trial and the arguments during the trial it "might look particularly one-sided to most of our audience."

Funny, usually it goes the other direction.
Intelligent Design vs. Pastafarianism, round 2!
Not sure what the Discovery Institute has up its sleeve here:

In a bizarre twist to the evolution wars, supporters of intelligent design are accusing the producers of a TV science documentary series of bringing religion into US classrooms. The Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, Washington, alleges that teaching materials accompanying Judgment Day: Intelligent design on trial, broadcast on 13 November, encourage unconstitutional teaching practices.

Stay tuned.
Salon.com tracks The Evolution of Creationism.

But like bacteria adapting to antibiotics, creationism has slimmed down once again, this time shedding even a mention of an intelligent designer. A new textbook put out by the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank that promotes I.D., doesn't even have the words "intelligent design" in its index. Instead of pushing I.D. explicitly, "Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Darwinism," promoted as a high school- or college-level biology text, "teaches the controversy." Teach the controversy is the new mantra of the I.D. movement.

"We want to teach more about evolution," says Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin, "not less." The "more" they want to teach, of course, is what they see as evolution's shortcomings, leaving an ecological niche that will then be filled by intelligent design.

The problem with this, of course, is that it is a manufactured controversy. As far as 99.9% percent of biologists are concerned, there is no controversy.

According to new research, hominid species appeared in Africa in response to pulses in climate:

"If you look at the new species of hominid that evolved, 80% of those, or 13 out of 15, appeared during these pulsed climate periods. It suggests new human species evolved when the climate was highly variable. We don't know if it's the wet period, the dry period or the transition that triggers this, but we can say that when the climate is highly variable, you get a big change in species."

This is something that most palaeoanthropologists have thought true for some time and drives the "forest/fringe" hypothesis of hominid origins.
More on the tortured relationship between Baylor University, William Dembski and Robert Marks.

Baylor's history of controversy surrounding intelligent design has been well chronicled, especially when former professor Dr. William Dembski has been involved. But such was not the case in November of 2006 when Dembski arrived back on campus to work with Dr. Robert Marks, distinguished professor of computer and electrical engineering.

Baylor was involved in asking for the grant that brought Dembski back, but when his return was made known to the administration, Baylor returned the grant, effectively terminating his position.

Marks, himself, is no stranger to controversy:

Marks became involved in another academic controversy this fall when his Web site containing research related to intelligent design was removed from Baylor's server.

The site chronicled his work in evolutionary informatics, a field which uses computer modeling of evolution and adds information to the understood process.

There are funny things about how this grant, which originated from LifeWorks, a foundation that is no longer in operation, was administered, though:

"I have ... a file of a letter that [University president] Lilley signed off on basically thanking the foundation and all of the paperwork that went through," Dembski said, adding, "If he didn't look it over it closely enough, well, OK, whose fault is that?"

Fogleman said the president receives large amounts of paperwork to sign, and "once anything reaches the president's desk, he is trusting that the processes in place have been properly vetted at that point."

But the LifeWorks grant, which she said "circumvented the standard funding evaluation programs," could have "been vetted completely differently if it had gone through the academic side."

Since the whole Dembski affair, life has been not especially easy for Dr. Marks, either:

"Our professors are expected to research and teach in areas that they are hired to produce," Fogleman said.

"We're talking about any kind of outside research -- outside of their particular field of expertise in which they are hired to produce at the university. If they fulfill all of their contractual obligations to the university regarding time and productivity, then that professor is perfectly free to research in an outside area," Fogleman said.

"Right now, this continues to be an ongoing legal discussion that we hope will be resolved satisfactorily."

It seems to me that Baylor needs to demonstrate that Dr. Marks is not fulfilling the parts in this contract pertaining to research.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More thoughts on the Dover NOVA special:
1. I don't think that it was the slam dunk for evolution that Josh Rosenau of "Thoughts from Kansas" said it was. There was so much more that could have been shown in support of the theory that would have been more "in your face" than Tiktaalik, although that particular fossil is pretty cool. The human fossil record has an amazing array of transitional fossils. That probably would have been a bit controversial for their purposes, though.
2. After having read the trial transcripts for the testimony of Michael Behe, it seems to me that NOVA was very selective in what they showed. While I could quibble with Behe's acceptance of ID, he is a much better scientist than was painted.
3. Behe takes great pains to describe ID in non-religious terms. That is missed entirely in the special.
4. Nowhere is theistic evolution mentioned, which would have put a somewhat less antagonistic air about the proceedings. It is implied that some of the participants held this view but never expanded upon.
5. The NOVA special did a good job of expounding on Barbara Forrest's testimony about the "missing link" between "creation" and "Intelligent Design" in the two drafts of the book Of Pandas and People that straddled the Edwards Vs. Aguilard decision in 1987. The trial transcripts don't mention the changes from "Creation" to "cdesign proponentsists" to "design proponents."
6. It was a combination of point 5 and the Wedge Document that did them in. I remember thinking that the Wedge document was pretty critical to the plaintiff's case.

It was not a completely unbiased special, but it did show the gaps in ID pretty clearly.

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Now playing: Genesis - Duke's Travels/End (Live)
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mac Johnson of Human Events Online has this to say about ID in the wake of the NOVA special:

I, for one, have religiously ignored the topic before now. I have done this partly out of a sort of professional courtesy to its supporters, with whom I share most other beliefs (and in many cases a personal affection), partly out of a belief that the idea was too obscure to argue over, and partly because the idea is so patently ridiculous to me that I felt that pointing this out would be somewhat akin to telling a friend that they have really, really bad breath. I mean - it would be an uncomfortable moment for both of us. But then how will they ever know, if I don’t tell them?

I sympathize. I feel the same way. He mentions, once again, the elephant in the living room:

Scientifically, attributing every aspect of biology to the arbitrary design of a divine tinkerer explains as much about biology as attributing the eruption of volcanoes to the anger of the Lava God would explain geology. A theory, by definition, makes predictions that can be tested. Intelligent Design predicts nothing, since it essentially states that every thing is the way it is because God wanted it that way.

Yup. This is a very good article and worth a complete read. He correctly describes evolution as anything but intelligent but a collection of "good enoughs" and "why not"s.
The Discovery Institute has an article up about the Dover Trial titled "What NOVA Won't Tell You About Dover." Here is the link for it. The link address is so long, Blogger can't link it.

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=4300&program=DI%20Main%20Page%20-%20Article&callingPage=discoMainPage">an article

The first two paragraphs are nothing short of spiteful:

When John E. Jones decided in 2005 to “traipse into” the controversial area of evolution and science education, deciding the scientific merit of intelligent design as a federal court judge in Dover, PA, he may have only dreamed of the day when he would see himself on the silver screen.

As the author of the 139-page verdict in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Jones gained national notoriety (and much acclaim from certain fashionable quarters) for ruling that intelligent design is not science but religion. That more than 90% of the section on intelligent design was copied nearly verbatim from the ACLU didn't diminish his standing as a “great thinker” in the mainstream press. Neither did the fact that the Judge ignored the testimony of two scientists currently conducting intelligent design research.

I need to see the whole program (tonight) before I can comment further on this, though.
The Nova reviews have started coming in. The Oregonian has this to say:

"Judgment Day" offers an admirably compact and methodical presentation of the sides in the debate. It should be highly useful in years to come. Jones, the judge, took a month to announce his decision. When he did, it was a 139-page, meticulously worded statement. He knew its historic importance and strove to leave an unequivocal record of his reasoning.

This from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"NOVA" uses re-enactments, generally not my favorite approach, to dramatize the courtroom scenes. But in this instance, I'm not sure there would have been a better way to do it. There's a lot of science to explain, and the re-enactments use court transcripts, ensuring that viewers see at least portions of the trial as they exist in the record.

In July, "NOVA" executive producer Paula S. Aspell acknowledged that tonight's "NOVA" does not start from a blank slate, weighing the virtues of intelligent design with those of evolution.

" 'NOVA' would never do that. We're a science series, and intelligent design is not a science," she said at a PBS press conference.

This seems a tad heavy-handed, even for NOVA, who should have evaluated whether or not ID was science.

From the Cincinnati Post (whose readers probably watched the program with more interest than most):

How he reached that conclusion is what makes the film such compelling viewing, dramatized by the court re-enactments. There was even a "smoking gun" that plaintiff's attorneys uncovered during the trial that clinched their case. It makes for an ending twist as good as any scripted drama show. The piece does take some detours to revisit the theory of evolution - reminding viewers that, "it is one of the best-tested and most thoroughly confirmed theories in the history of science."

Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas has this take:

You can see the NCSE's official stance on the NOVA documentary about the Dover trial at our website, but I want to add to that. The official stance is that it is "accurate," which skips the part about how ID got its ass handed to it in Dover. The thrill of that victory was getting a bit distant, and it's nice to remember just how badly ID (and the DI) blew it in their first big day out. The documentary does a nice job showing just how badly the IDolators screwed up, but they couldn't pack all of their stupidity into a mere two hour show.

I have made it through the first 45 minutes but with two sick kids, it has been slow going. Christianity has not come off well, so far.
Walking of two legs apparently requires less energy.

The researchers found that human walking used about 75 percent less energy and burned 75 percent fewer calories than quadrupedal and bipedal walking in chimpanzees. They also found that for some but not all of the chimps, walking on two legs was no more costly than knucklewalking.

Less energy consumption would mean less food intake, allowing for tolerance of a more varied climate. This is an aspect of the forest/fringe hypothesis that early hominids exploited the fringe area that the precursors to the chimpanzees would not and, therefore, evolved along a different path.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

There is an interview over at Liberal Values with executive producer Paula Absell of the NOVA program Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial that is quite interesting. Among other things, she says:

Recent polls tells us that 48 percent—almost half of all Americans—still question evolution and still believe that some kind of alternative should be taught in the public schools. What happens when half of the population doesn’t accept one of the most fundamental underpinnings of the sciences? Evolution is the absolute bedrock of the biological sciences. It’s essential to medical science, agriculture, biotechnology. And it’s critical to understanding the natural world around us.

The special comes on tonight at 8 on P.B.S.



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Now playing: Steve Hackett - Walking Away From Rainbows
via FoxyTunes

Friday, November 09, 2007

NOVA will have a special on the Dover controversy on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 8:00. Set your TiVos or VCRs.
Oh great! More bad press: "Church row evolves over fossil boy." This controversy stems from the plans on the part of the Nairobi National Museum to use the Turkana Boy in an exhibit on human evolution. The Turkana Boy (KNM WT 15 000) is an almost complete Homo erectus skeleton of a 12-13 year old boy dated to approximately 1.3 million years ago. According to the story in The Times of London:

Bishop Boniface Adoyo, the head of the 35 Kenyan evangelical denominations, is leading opposition to the exhibition. “I do not dispute that as humans we have a history, but my family most certainly did not descend from the apes,” he said. The bishop was invited to view the new Human Origins gallery before it opened this month, and said that he would call on his flock to demonstrate outside the museum if evolution was described as anything other than merely a theory.

I just love it when our church leaders are so scientifically literate. Does he know that gravity is "merely" a theory as well?

Richard Leakey, who I met in 1986, calls it this way:

“Science is at the very foundation of our ability to deal with the new century, so if we bring it down to the idea that science may be unChristian . . . well, how stupid can you get?”

Yup. As Mark Noll put it a few years ago, this is truly The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
Mrs. Ples is available for public viewing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Joan Roughgarden reviews The Edge of Evolution for The Christian Century. Once again, she suggests that Behe has missed the boat. Her criticism is similar to that of Kenneth Miller's, who argued that, in the vein of William Dembski, Behe demands that his beneficial mutations appear simultaneously and fully functional. As did Miller, Dr. Roughgarden (who has a Ph.D from Harvard and teaches biology at Stanford) argues that this is not how evolution works. Evolution

In her point by point summary of the good aspects of the book, she suggests something that has been absent from the the discussion:

Third, Behe has introduced a glimmer of an idea of how to test the ID theory by arguing that the moments in history when the higher organisms (according to the Linnaean classification system) originated were marked by bursts of nonrandom mutation. This is an empirical claim that can be tested, although not easily. (Discovering that the emergence of higher organisms coincides with anomalous bursts of directed mutation would support the ID position without falsifying Darwinism, because Darwinism takes no position on what causes the variations on which natural selection acts.)

She also suggests that the focus of the debate is off-kilter:

At this point, one might wonder what all the fuss is about. If Behe is not claiming either divine intervention or miracles, then the dispute between ID and Darwinism comes down to arguing about genetic details of interest mainly to professional biologists. I'd like to think that The Edge of Evolution marks the beginning of a midcourse correction for ID proponents. If so, I welcome it.

I do, as well.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The origin of the eye? According to a story in the Seattle Times:

Scientists have traced the origin of eyes back to a transparent blob of living jelly floating in the sea about 600 million years ago.

That creature, the distant ancestor of a modern freshwater animal known as a hydra, could only distinguish light from dark.

But that was such an advantage that it was passed on from generation to generation of the hydra's cousins and their myriad descendants. It was the precursor of the wildly different, ever more complex eyes of fish, ants, flies, giraffes and people.


Much ID literature is geared toward the premise that the complex, compound eye could not have arisen by evolutionary means. This clearly flies in the face of that. I will be curious to see what the reaction to this story is.
Kevin Eigelbach of the Cincinnati Post has come to the notice of Ken Ham, who posted a column chastising Mr. Eigelbach for debating the constitutionality of the Interstate signs pointing to the Creation Museum. The original column is here. As I noted in a post a bit back, AIG did pay for the signs and nothing seems out of the ordinary. Mr. Ham states:

Cincinnati Post reporter Kevin Eigelbach is no stranger to AiG. He has written many newspaper stories and religion columns misrepresenting and/or attacking AiG. Recently he came out with another column making accusations against the Creation Museum concerning museum signage on the interstate (I-275) that runs past the museum and implying wrongdoing on the part of the state of Kentucky etc. Kevin Eigelbach made false statements about a sign in Indiana, which is actually a billboard that we pay for, not a Kentucky state sign. It is obvious that he just wants to do whatever he can to try to undermine the integrity of a Bible-upholding ministry like AiG and attack the Creation Museum.

Mr. Eigelbach's response to Ken Ham's critique is here. He notes:

"Even Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, scolded me in his blog, under the headline, "Heresy and Blasphemy in the Cincinnati Post." He asked readers to pray for me, and then compared me to the apostle Paul, who opposed Christians before his conversion. "The Lord can change Kevin's heart too," he wrote.

Let me say that it's really weird to hear people ask God to change your heart, especially when you don't think you've done anything wrong.

It's also odd to hear yourself called anti-Christian when you've attended church all your life, still read the Bible daily, pray, seek God's will and do all the other things Christians do.

I think some people find it hard to believe that one can differ with them over fundamental issues of religion and be as much a Christian as they are.

Anyway, I think my impersonation of Paul raised some pretty good points, which may have been lost in all the talk of blasphemy."

Funny, I didn't think the original article was all that critical.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In the Books and Arts section of the June 28 issue of Nature is a review of Michael Behe's new book The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Kenneth Miller. It is not a positive review. I have not read the book yet, but have put it on my list.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"A Scientist Who Embraces God."
Anthony Flew, the semi-famous atheist has become a proponent of Intelligent Design. The article is in the New York Times. I won't link to it out of principle, but if you go looking for it its there. Here are the last two paragraphs of the long piece.

Intellectuals, even more than the rest of us, like to believe that they reach conclusions solely through study and reflection. But like the rest of us, they sometimes choose their opinions to suit their friends rather than the other way around. Which means that Flew is likely to remain a theist, for just as the Christians drew him close, the atheists gave him up for lost. “He once was a great philosopher,” Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist and author of “The God Delusion,” told a Virginia audience last year. “It’s very sad.” Paul Kurtz of Prometheus Books says he thinks Flew is being exploited. “They’re misusing him,” Kurtz says, referring to the Christians. “They’re worried about atheists, and they’re trying to find an atheist to be on their side.”

They found one, and with less difficulty than atheists would have guessed. From the start, the believers’ affection for Antony Flew was not unrequited. When Flew met Christians who claimed to have new, scientific proof of the existence of God, he quickly became again the young graduate student who embarked on a study of the paranormal when all his colleagues were committed to strict rationalism. He may, too, have connected with the child who was raised in his parents’ warm, faithful Methodism. Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake.

The Creation museum, six months later.

Halfway into its first year, it is on the verge of surpassing its projected yearlong attendance goal of 250,000. Officials now expect nearly 400,000 people to pass through the doors by year's end.

"It's been a surprise," said spokeswoman Melany Ethridge, who attributed it to the dramatic exhibits and ongoing media interest from Europe and elsewhere.

At least 10,000 people have paid for year-round access. In the past week alone, it has attracted visitors from France, Brazil, Japan and Hong Kong. The museum did not have a demographic breakdown of visitors, and still relies partly on donations.

Creationism is, if nothing else, big bucks.



Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jack Gohn of the Maryland Daily Record sees the light about Intelligent Design.

Turns out some of the things I thought were open issues really weren’t, most notably the extent to which ID was passable science. ID, in case you’ve tuned in late, is the theory that we can best account for “irreducible complexities” that appear in the course of evolution by inferring the activity of an intelligent designer, most likely God. Irreducible complexity would exist when an organism manifested a combination of features which seemed too complicated to have arisen simultaneously as mere products of random mutation.

As the Kitzmiller trial revealed, however, there were only three “exhibits” in this theory, the flagellum (a feature of cell biology), a “clotting sequence” in certain animals, and the immune system. And for each of them, the evidence at trial showed that science does after all have plausible explanations of how they arose from ordinary random mutation. Their complexity was not irreducible after all. Moreover, there is no peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting the ID theory. So at least for now, ID is bad science. There simply isn’t enough substance there yet for it to be recommended for serious consideration by any science teacher.

Where Kitzmiller left me unconvinced was the finding that ID isn’t science at all — as opposed to merely being bad science, which I now think it must be.

This is the persistent problem when people start digging into the ID literature--there isn't any.

A statement from the Association for Science Education on Intelligent Design.
Did Neandertals and modern humans interbreed? Maybe or maybe not say Jeffrey Wall and Sung Kim, who argue in PLoS Genetics that two prominent studies involving Neandertal nuclear DNA are flawed. Their online article is available here. The abstract states, in no uncertain terms:

Two recently published papers describe nuclear DNA sequences that were obtained from the same Neanderthal fossil. Our reanalyses of the data from these studies show that they are not consistent with each other and point to serious problems with the data quality in one of the studies, possibly due to modern human DNA contaminants and/or a high rate of sequencing errors.

If your data is flawed, it doesn't matter how good your study is.
A finding on a hox gene pushes common ancestry back even further. According to the story in Foxnews:

"[Zerina] Johanson and her colleagues found that the genes involved in creating the Australian lungfish's fins made proteins in a nearly identical pattern as in tetrapods by acting on the small fin bones but not the rest of the limb.

"Because of the similarities, we can say that fish fins have similar structures to tetrapod digits, [and that] tetrapod digits are no longer unique to the group," Johanson told LiveScience.

Further evidence of evolution in the works.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

According to a new Science study, there was no interbreeding between Neandertals and early modern humans.

The findings are based on a new DNA study, which involved Italian, Spanish and German scientists, who examined fossilised bones found in the northern Italian mountains near Verona and a cave in Asturia, Spain.

I'll believe it when I see it. The Science article is not out yet, but I will check on it when it does come out.
There will be a creation/evolution debate in Dothan, Alabama on November 29 at the Dothan Opera House, as reported in the Christian News Wire.
Sadly, Ming is dead.
Well, this is certainly a different take on evolution. According to an article in the Daily mail:

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed. The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

Similarities to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine did not go unnoticed by the Daily Mail writer, who waxes at length about it. Funny, the recent version of the film with Guy Pearce got panned, but I rather enjoyed it. Curry, himself, is part of the Evolutionary Moral Psychology Group, which, based on their web page, looks like sociobiology on steroids.

Monday, October 29, 2007

As B.C. would say: " A quahog is a quahog is a quahog!!!" Ming the quahog is over 400 years old. Or as Shel Silverstein put it:

"You may leave the Clam on the ocean floor
It's all the same to the Clam.
For a hundred thousand years or more,
It's all the same to the Clam.
You may bury him deep in mud or muck,
Or carry him round to bring you luck.
Or use him for a hockey puck.
It's all the same to the Clam.

You may call him Frank or Jim or Nell
It's all the same to the Clam.
Or make an ashtray from his shell.
It's all the same to the clam.
You may take him riding on a train
or leave him sitting in the rain.
You'll never hear the Clam complain.
It's all the same to the Clam.

Yes the world may stop or the world may spin
It's all the same to the Clam.
And the sky may come a fallin' in
It's all the same to the Clam.
And man may sing his endless songs,
of wronging rights and righting wrongs.
The Clam just sets - and gets along.
It's all the same to the Clam."
The Guardian's Steve Jones extols the virtue of comparative skeletal anatomy to show the beauty of natural selection.

Friday, October 26, 2007

At least some Neandertals had red hair. According to the story:

An analysis of the DNA revealed that the ancient hominids carried a mutation in the MC1R gene that codes for a protein involved in the production of melanin -- a substance that gives skin its color and also protects skin against ultraviolet light.

In modern humans, primarily of European descent, mutations in the MC1R gene are thought to be responsible for red hair and pale skin by dampening the activity of the protein.

This lends credence to the idea that skin and hair color variations are older than modern humans, which makes sense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Josh Rosenau ruminates on Panglossian creationism. In some senses, the modern ID movement is "argument from personal incredulity"-driven. Without saying as much, Rosenau suggests this weakness.

According to a widely circulated story, a new study on Saint Bernards casts doubt on creationism. The story notes:


Biologists at The University of Manchester say that changes to the shape of the breed’s head over the years can only be explained through evolution and natural selection.

The team, led by Dr Chris Klingenberg in the Faculty of Life Sciences, examined the skulls of 47 St Bernards spanning 120 years, from modern examples to those of dogs dating back to the time when the breed standard was first defined.

They go on to note:

“Creationism is the belief that all living organisms were created according to Genesis in six days by ‘intelligent design’ and rejects the scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.

“But this research once again demonstrates how selection – whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man – is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet.”

Here's the problem: This is microevolution. The vast majority of creationists do not doubt or argue against microevolution. They are perfectly content with changes within "kinds." Those changes could span a thousand years and it wouldn't matter. So the title of the story is erroneous.
Mrs. Ples gets a makeover--an extreme makeover!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on the story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Florida has new evolution standards for the classroom, according to a story in the Bradenton Herald. This is the paragraph of the story that will raise the most stink:

Proposed standards for seventh-graders, for example, would require that students should be able to "recognize and describe that fossil evidence is consistent with the idea that human beings evolved from earlier species."

Most creationists can handle little bits of evolution here and there, but there will be howling about this one.
A local push for hominid status for Orrorin tugenensis as well as a run-down on its discovery.

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today the world turns 6 011 years old, according to the Ussher/Lightfoot chronology. Sing happy birthday at least once today.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oldest footprints in Europe restored:

Archaeologists have restored and opened to the public, footprints made between 325,000 and 385,000 years ago on the slopes of an extinct volcano near Roccamonfina, north of Naples.

Neat.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Creationism in Canadian churches. The Toronto Star interviews traveling creationist Tas Walker as he makes his way across Canada with the following message:

When Tas Walker hits the stage, he focuses on the geological evidence that supposedly supports creationist belief that the Earth was created on Sunday Oct. 23, 4004 BC, and that this event was soon followed by a global flood that only Noah's family survived in the Ark.

Walker, himself, is quoted as saying:

"Creationists accept the same science that evolutionists do," he says. "Creationists and evolutionists have the same set of facts. The difference is all about the starting assumptions and the interpretation of those facts."

This is nothing short of ignorant. It is the same nonsense peddled by Ken Ham, who is also famous for asking the question "Were you there?" No, Ken and neither were you. If 9 999 people come to the same conclusion about some phenomenon, the one person who doesn't is likely wrong, not just coming to "a different interpretation" of the facts.
While no one was looking, Answers in Genesis erected signs telling people how to get to the new creationism museum in Petersburg. According to the story in the Cincinnati Post:

Answers in Genesis simply took advantage of a benefit available to any other major Kentucky tourist attraction. If you want signs for your attraction, you have to persuade a state committee of transportation and commerce cabinet officials. You must have some kind of cultural, historical, recreational, agricultural, educational or entertainment center.

This, apparently, AIG did, paying 5 000 dollars for each sign. Barry Lynn is not happy.
So, it is the lack of sex that causes speciation. Who knew?

Friday, October 12, 2007

The National Council for Social Studies has released a position statement on the teaching of Intelligent Design in the classroom. They state:

Although the National Council for the Social Studies believes in the open and thoughtful discussion of ideas, public school classrooms are not the place for the teaching of religious beliefs. Social studies is the forum for open analysis and discussion of historical, social, economic, geographic, political and global issues. Thus our recommendations seek to include the study of intelligent design within that framework.

Within this framework, they give some very good advice on how ID could be taught. Interestingly, no attempt is made to distinguish between ID and recent earth creationism. This gives the impression of equivalence between them. ID is no science, YEC is bad science.
Nova will air a special called “Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” on November 13, 2007. Here is the link.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eugene Volokh discusses a poll about college professors and their philosophical affiliations. The money quote:

According to the survey of academics' ideology linked in my previous post, "creationist identity was also low, but with less identifiable shift by age group (the range was 3.9 to 4.7 percent) and with the strongest disciplinary support in the social sciences (17.6 percent) and humanities (5.0 percent), with negligible support elsewhere.

I am not surprised.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The oldest footprints in Europe.

Italian scientists have dated the marks, which appear to include hand prints, at more than 350,000 years ago, making them part of the genus Homo.

Footsteps of pre-human hominids have been found in Africa, dating back millions of years, but the Italian ones are the oldest traces of human steps - the most exciting discovery in years.

It doesn't mean they belonged to Homo sapiens, modern man, but probably European Homo erectus (also called Homo heidelbergensis), who was around well before the Neanderthals.

Whereas twenty years ago there was scant evidence for Homo erectus in Europe, now it is popping up all over the place.