Wednesday, November 29, 2006

William Dembski at the Panda's Thumb

The Panda's Thumb relates an exchange with William Dembski in which he is asked to operationalize ID in terms of probability calculations. His answer is nothing short of astounding:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

If it is not a mechanistic theory, what kind of theory is it? How does it rise above the charge of "just so story" that he claims for Darwinian evolution? Once again, how is ID operationalized? How would these discontinuities manifest themselves? ID seems repeatedly unable to address, and hopes no one will notice, this elephant in the living room.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Origins of Life

Although it is not a subject that evolutionary theory can address, origin of life questions are fascinating. In a short article appearing in Physicsweb, it is suggested that organic solids may have rained down on the early earth for millions of years, eventually leading to life as we know it. Interesting.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A View From the Jerusalem Post

Natan Slifkin wonders where all the Jews are that oppose ID? In a November 16 article for the Jerusalem Post (subscription required), he laments:

The prophets said that "the Heavens declare the glory of God." Some of the ancients interpreted this to mean that since (in their time) there was no explanation as to why the planets move in the way that they do they attest to a Designer. But now that physics and astronomy have explained planetary motion does this mean that the Heavens no longer declare the glory of God? Of course they do; and the unavoidable position for the religious person is that God's grandeur is seen in the laws of nature.

Good point. And, in a stab at "irreducible complexity," he writes:

So where does that leave the rest of the universe? What about all those structures that do not even by the admission of the ID camp present irreducible complexity? The unstated implication of their position is that these things do not attest to a Creator. Don't have a grasp of cellular biology? Sorry you won't be able to perceive that the universe was created by God.

Either God is everywhere or He is nowhere. But He is certainly not limiting His appearance in the universe to the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting system.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Neandertal DNA part II

The issue of Science has arrived with the stories involving the study of the Neandertal DNA. The new test, called "metagenomics," has so far identified 65 250 base pairs of what is believed to be Neandertal DNA. The article is behind a subscription wall, so I cannot quote liberally. Here are the high points:

- Neandertals and modern humans share a common ancestor back c. 706 000 years ago
- The Neandertal/modern human split was c. 370 000 years ago, although it varies for different populations tested.
- This predates the appearance of modern humans in Africa which occurred c. 195 000 years ago.
- There is a lack of evidence supporting admixture of Neandertals and modern humans.

Not everyone thinks the results are fool-proof, however. Genomicist Stephan Schuster of Pennsylvania State University State College is quoted in a companion article by Elizabeth Pennisi as saying:

“The divergence [between living people and Neandertals] is so small compared to the DNA damage and the sequencing error” that it’s hard to be confident of any results. If we’ve learned anything, it is that we generally haven’t perceived the full extent of the problems and complexities of ancient DNA research. We’re still very much in the learning curve."

We haven't heard the last of this one. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Neandertal DNA

According to a report in the WaPo, a new genetic test may unravel the mystery behind the Neandertal DNA code. The story begins:

Unleashing a new kind of DNA analyzer on a 38,000-year-old fragment of fossilized Neanderthal bone, scientists have reconstructed a portion of that creature's genetic code -- a technological tour de force that has researchers convinced they will soon know the entire DNA sequence of the closest cousin humans ever had.

Heady stuff, indeed. These are things the fossil record simply cannot tell us. The study will appear in this week's Science and is sure to touch off a firestorm between the continuity folks and the replacement folks.

"Clearly, we are at the dawn of Neanderthal genomics," said Edward M. Rubin of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Set Your VCR's (Or TiVo's or whatever)

Nova is doing a story on bipedalism, focusing on a family in Turkey that walks quadrupedally. The show will air tomorrow night, Nov. 14 at 8:00.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cultural History Washing Away

Foxnews reports that many archaeological sites are falling prey to "global warming." The reports suggests that climate changes caused by global warming. I am not sure how much is due to human action and how much is "programmed" into the life of the planet, but it is a problem when your cultural history starts washing away.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dolphins and Legs

And in case you missed this, Japanese fishermen caught a dolphin with a vestigial pair of limbs. As the article points out:

Fossil remains show dolphins and whales were four-footed land animals about 50 million years ago and share common ancestors with hippopotamuses and deer. Scientists believe they later transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle.

Much like the Tiktaalik fossil that was found in the arctic a few months back, this shows evidence of an evolutionary lineage. Cool!!

Australopithecine Diet

Foxnews reports that robust australopithecines may have had a more varied diet than was originally thought. According to the article, if the diet was more varied than thought, then the hypothesis that the robusts went extinct because of an ecological shift might need to be rethought. Interesting.

Sorry for the light posts

I have started a new job at ORNL and am settling in. I will get back into the swing of things shortly.