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.


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!

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. 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.

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.">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.

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.