Bad news for Behe

The unraveling of Mike Behe’s mutation math continues, with this common-sense finding:

Beneficial mutations in the bacterium Escherichia coli occur 1,000 times more frequently than previously predicted, according to research from a group in Portugal.

In a study of E. coli populations of various different sizes, Isabel Gordo and her collaborators at the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Oeiras, Portugal, found that thousands of mutations that could lead to modest increases in fitness were going unseen because good mutations were outperformed by better ones1. The authors say that the work could explain why bacteria are so quick to develop resistance to antibiotics.

“It’s changed the way I think about things,” says Frederick Cohan, a biology professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He adds that although the principles involved were understood, no one expected to find such a high rate of adaptive mutation.

Oops. Never fear, the dominionist spin machine is already in high dudgeon, cranking out deflections and distractions on secret blogs as we speak.

The Campus Crusade for Cats

This slam on the Campus Crusade for Christ is pretty funny:

In the end, the only way to deal with the CCC (an acronym distressingly reminiscent of the KKK, but never mind) is to respond in kind. So, I’ve decided to start my own religion. I’m taking this opportunity to announce the creation of the Campus Crusade for Cats, America’s newest and truest belief system. The CCC is founded on the premise that the domestic cat is the one true pet. In today’s depraved world, people often claim that all household animals satisfy the same universal pet-owning urge. To these heretics we say, Meow! All other pets are false pets, and their owners have left the catbox of salvation for the kennel of despair. Consider dog owners. Have you ever met one who wasn’t under the impression that their mutt was some sort of genius? Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do. Or take ferret-keepers. A ferret is an evil-looking animal if ever there was one, a true minion of the Devil.

I mean funny in a snide, arrogant, and hilarious way.


Bad theology

My principle objection to the so-called “Intelligent Design” movement is the damage it does to science, but religious people like the Rev. George Coyne have correctly pointed out that it’s damaging religion as well:

Coyne said the subculture of fundamentalist Christianity that insists on the literal truth of the Bible “is a plague in our midst,” obscuring the deeper marvel of creation.

“The intelligent design movement belittles God,” he told reporters before the event. “It makes God a designer, an engineer. The God of religious faith is a god of love. He did not design me.”

Coyne stressed that on matters of religion and faith, science is “absolutely neutral.” Other speakers echoed that, saying that science and religion operate in separate realms. Where religion is based in faith and concerned with the creation or moral meaning of life, science concerns itself with seeking testable, verifiable explanations for the processes of the natural world.

You have to wonder about the impulse to pick fights you know you can’t win, the apparently central thesis of fundamentalism. All the better to play the victim, I suppose.

On the science front, the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae supplies another missing link between fish and land animals:

Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land.

In two reports today in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Neil H. Shubin of the University of Chicago say they have uncovered several well-preserved skeletons of the fossil fish in sediments of former streambeds in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole.

The skeletons have the fins, scales and other attributes of a giant fish, four to nine feet long. But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals — and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.

Tiktaalik sounds like my Sailfin Blenny, Bubba, who perches on rocks resting on his pectoral (front) fins and acts more like a dog than a fish.

Sailfin Blenny

Justice in Dover

The court’s ruling that Intelligent Design is nothing more than a sham was better than I’d expected:

A “hypothetical reasonable observer,” adult or child, who is “aware of the history and context of the community and forum” is also presumed to know that ID is a form of creationism. Child Evangelism, 386 F.3d at 531 (citations omitted); Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 624-25. The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism. What is likely the strongest evidence supporting the finding of ID’s creationist nature is the history and historical pedigree of the book to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are referred, Pandas. Pandas is published by an organization called FTE, as noted, whose articles of incorporation and filings with the Internal Revenue Service describe it as a religious, Christian organization. (P-461; P-28; P-566; P-633;Buell Dep. 1:13, July 8, 2005). Pandas was written by Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis, both acknowledged creationists, and Nancy Pearcey, a Young Earth Creationist, contributed to the work. (10:102-08 (Forrest)).

As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were completed prior to and some after the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content, which directly refutes FTE’s argument that by merely disregarding the words “creation” and “creationism,” FTE expressly rejected creationism in Pandas. In early pre-Edwards drafts of Pandas, the term “creation” was defined as “various forms of life that began abruptly through an intelligent agency with their distinctive features intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc,” the very same way in which ID is defined in the subsequent published versions. (P-560 at 210; P-1 at 2-13; P-562 at 2-14, P-652 at 2-15; P-6 at 99-100; P-11 at 99-100; P-856.2.). This definition was described by many witnesses for both parties, notably including defense experts Minnich and Fuller, as “special creation” of kinds of animals, an inherently religious and creationist concept. (28:85-86 (Fuller); Minnich Dep. at 34, May 26, 2005; Trial Tr. vol. 1, Miller Test., 141-42, Sept. 26, 2005; 9:10 (Haught); Trial Tr. vol. 33, Bonsell Test., 54-56, Oct. 31, 2005). Professor Behe’s assertion that this passage was merely a description of appearances in the fossil record is illogical and defies the weight of the evidence that the passage is a conclusion about how life began based upon an interpretation of the fossil record, which is reinforced by the content of drafts of Pandas.

The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates, as noted, that the systemic change from “creation” to “intelligent design” occurred sometime in 1987, after the Supreme Court’s important Edwards decision. This compelling evidence strongly supports Plaintiffs’ assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled. Importantly, the objective observer, whether adult or child, would conclude from the fact that Pandas posits a master intellect that the intelligent designer is God.

The polite thing to do before now has been to play along with the idea that Intelligent Design had some scientific basis and to refute it on scientific grounds. But now that even a federal district judge has been able to see through the charade and get to the substance of the matter, we don’t need to do that anymore. ID is an attempt to sneak supernaturalism into science classes, and it’s illegal.

That it’s also bad theology is almost beside the point, except for religious people who stand by the commandment about bearing false witness.

This is a great day for American science education. Now if we can get the feminist/liberal crap out of the social sciences the victory of science over propaganda will be complete.

ID prophet Bill Dembski is strangely cryptic about Dover, which he wrongly predicted, and the rest of the Discovery Institute frauds are completely silent. UPDATE: DI’er Paul Nelson says it’s no big deal:

There’s not a lot to say about yesterday’s opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover. The oucome was as predictable as the sun rising, with the only question of interest being the possible breadth of the ruling. On that score, Judge John Jones III went for the Full Overton (see below), with an added half-rotation before entry.

Panda’s Thumb has interesting commentary, as does Steve Verdon at Outside the Beltway.

Via Mumon, here’s the closing para from The Skeptic’s review of the case:

Kitzmiller provides an excellent case study of evolution in action; ironically, in this case how the language of creationists has adapted to changing cultural environments. The defense argued that Intelligent Design is an entirely new species unrelated to creation science, and the plaintiffs expertly demonstrated both the clear ancestral relationship between creationism and ID and the selective pressure of higher court decisions that caused the speciation. With that phylogenetic relationship clearly established in the trial, the judge evidently decided that creationism had not mutated enough to survive as the new species of Intelligent Design.

Heh, indeed, RTWT.

Don’t let the terrorists win

Roger Simon is taking on the Intelligent Design fanatics.

Students in Dover, Pennsylvania and other rural areas are just as entitled to a real education as those in Los Angeles and New York. In fact the country needs them to have it, especially in science and math. And in the case of public education, it is not in our interest to waste precious taxpayer dollars teaching mythology in biology.

I’m glad to see him taking on this issue. We Americans are tolerant people, so we’re inclined to say “what’s the harm?” and accede to angry mobs trying to introduce crazy ideas like ID into the school curriculum. We’ve done this sort of misplaced tolerance thing about a thousand times, and the result is a dysfunctional education system where kids seem to spend more time undergoing therapy than learning science and the liberal arts.

I think we have to call a spade a spade: ID isn’t an alternative scientific theory, or an alternative philosophy of science, it’s a piece of bad theology masquerading as science. I’ve studied its origins at the Discovery Institute and come away convinced that it’s more than anything an attempt to circumvent court decisions banning creationism by dressing creationism up in pseudo-scientific language.

Science attempts to uncover laws of nature than can be used to make predictions. Pursuing this path, we’ve learned that genes mutate randomly, and that successful mutations survive, especially when environmental changes make previous adaptations less successful. This is a valuable discovery that has practical applications in the understanding of disease, the breeding of plants and animals, and in the search for previously unknown life forms. ID destroys the rules, asserting that each life form was produced by divine whim so there’s no sense in trying to understand genetics, variation, selection, or mutation; in fact, it ultimately condemns biological science as an act of hubris, an affront to god. We don’t need anti-scientific interests directing science education in the USA.

It’s interesting to note that ID is very popular among Islamists – I don’t have the reference handy, but there was a poll that indicated overwhelming support for it among fundamentalist Muslim, even more than among fundy Christians.

That being the case, we should understand that if we teach ID in our science classes, the terrorists will have won, and the same goes for other pseudo-science doctrines such as the “AZT causes AIDS” and “Ebonics is a language” notions floated notoriously in the blogosphere.

See Cathy Young for more.

Stupid remarks

Mark Steyn made some incredibly stupid remarks about Intelligent Design recently:

The fact is that this is a planet overwhelmingly dominated and shaped by one species, and our kith and kin – whether gibbons or pumpkins – basically fit in in the spaces between. That’s pretty much the world the Psalmist outlined in the Old Testament thousands of years ago. By comparison, the evolutionists’ insistence that we’re just another “animal” seems perverse and irrational and refuted by a casual glance out the window. I am coming round to the view that hyper-rationalism is highly irrational.

… prompting a rather stupid attack from one of the knee-jerks of the left:

Perhaps we’ve found that Intelligent Designer—an inorganic mind living outside of our universe, in a dark, empty vacuum, cooly contemplating our messy little planet. And that machine-like intelligence is Mark Steyn.

Can’t we try and be a little more civil?

More about ID from the Times

The New York Times is apparently doing a three-part series on evolution and intelligent design. The second part, by Kenneth Chang, is a pretty decent treatment of the issues the ID’ers raise and the standard rebuttals, but it doesn’t meet the exacting standards of the always-shrill Dr. P. Z. Myers. Myers doesn’t appear to realize that the audience for this piece is mainly liberal arts majors, not graduate students in evolutionary biology.

Chang defends the piece from Myers’ criticism here.

Stupid Design

I thought I’d read some idiocy about evolution, but this piece of moronic Deepak Chopra drivel takes the cake and bakes a new one. It’s breath-takingly stupid. Among other things, Chopra is concerned that the fossil record didn’t preserve maladaptive mutations or the transition from interesting chemicals to self-replicating life. Jesus.

Meanwhile back in reality, the New York Times ran a nice expose on the Discovery Institute Sunday. More on these things later.

UPDATE: Dr. Myers has some fun with Chopra, but cuts him way too much slack.

Up to their old tricks

The exclusive gambling franchise enjoyed by our native American neighbors depends on the perception that they’ve been hard done by the white man, and with so many groups claiming victim status these days it becomes harder and harder to prove. One thing that threatens this notion is the archaeological fact that there were other people in North America before the native American migration.

So there’s been a constant effort on the part of these people to suppress archaeological knowleged for several years now. Said effort reached a fever pitch in the infamous Kennewick Man case involving remains found in southern Washington State. Recent efforts to suppress science take the form of a bill declaring all old remains “native American” whether they are or not. See Progressive Reaction: Just relax, this won’t hurt a bit and Panda’s Thumb – Call your Senator for more.

This can’t be allowed to happen, so do call your Senator.

Smart hobbits

Scientists are calling the little people whose remains were found on Flores Island in Indonesia recently “hobbits” on accout of their diminutive stature. They appear to have mastered skills previously thought impossible for critters of such teensy brain:

Despite having very small brains — roughly the size of a chimpanzee’s — they appear to have hunted animals twice their size, made stone tools for hunting and butchering, and used fire for cooking.

“It’s remarkable. We’ve always been taught and thought that as humans evolved, the bigger the brain, the better they are,” said Charles Hildebolt, a physical anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“If this little creature actually made the tools and was using the tools, built the fire and was using the fire, then that really tips human evolution upside down and changes the way we have to think about brain evolution. It may indicate that the reorganization of the brain was just as important and may be even more important than size.”

Management dudes will be happy to know that reorganization sometimes works, and others to know that size doesn’t always matter.

See also BBC.