Monthly Archives: October 2008

Birders Practice Falconry Without a License in Illinois

The Chicago Tribune reports on the case of birders practicing falconry without a license.

The species—a burrowing owl and a Brant goose—were spotted about 9 a.m. Wednesday within 100 feet of each other in the wooded natural area. Within hours, however, the burrowing owl had been torn apart by a hungry Cooper’s hawk in front of chagrined bird-watchers.

By Thursday morning, local Web forums on birding were awash with discussions as to whether over-eager birders helped facilitate the doomed owl’s death by showing up in numbers and repeatedly flushing it into the air so it could be seen.

OK, guys, you seem to have stumbled upon one way that falconry may have gotten its start long, long ago, with opportunistic interactions with wild raptors. Repeatedly flushing prey is a key skill to have when giving a raptor slips over prey, so you’ve hit upon something useful there. Stylistically, though, you’ll find that falconers working birds often use a pointing or flushing dog. However, this isn’t pre-history, and we have the Migratory Bird Treaty Act nowadays. Unfortunately, the burrowing owl isn’t on anybody’s list of game birds, and there is no season for taking them. On the other hand, you guys seem to have stumbled upon the “leave it lay” concept all on your own. But do get yourselves falconry and hunting permits if you are going to practice falconry, even informally.

Crowther Doing What the DI Pays Him For

Rob Crowther, Discovery Institute spokesperson, has an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun.

Intelligent Design goes beyond biology and encompasses physics, chemistry and cosmology, as well. It is not creationism, nor was it developed to get around court rulings.

Intelligent design is the Logos theology expressed in the idiom of information theory, or so asserts Dr. William Dembski. That would be somewhat beyond biology, one has to admit. Certainly, accepting “intelligent design” as expounded by Dembski and others requires being ready to deny findings in biology, physics, chemistry, and cosmology, especially when it comes to the third rail of the IDC movement, criticism of “young-earth” creationist dogma.

The argumentative content propounded in “intelligent design” creationism is a subset of the argumentative content of “creation science”. It doesn’t provide anything other than what was seen in the creationist ensemble of religious antievolution argument, so it is hard to see why something that is comprised of the same stuff should be considered something completely different.

Crowther does not deal with the clear record that says that, yes, “intelligent design” creationism was developed expressly to get around court rulings. He’d have to deal with “cdesign proponentsists” if he were to actually examine relevant stuff, but he doesn’t do so.

Crowther uses an ambiguity to misinform. Because the phrase “intelligent design” received occasional use in descriptive language prior to 1987, Crowther casts that as putting in doubt the specific post-1987 usage of “intelligent design” to mean a field of study that denies evolutionary science. Unfortunately for Crowther, it is pretty simple to distinguish between the two, and no one used “intelligent design” as a phrase for a field of human inquiry before it popped up as a replacement for “creation science” in drafts of a textbook in 1987.

Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller employed the term “intelligent design” in 1897, writing that “it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.”

Not used as indicating a field of study. Next…

In By Design, a history of the current controversy, journalist Larry Witham traces the roots of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement in biology to the 1960s and ’70s.

Maybe Witham is as confused as Crowther on being able to tell when “intelligent design” was first applied to mean a field of study.

Leading theoretical physicist Paul Davies described the fine-tuning of the universe as “the most compelling evidence for an element of cosmic design.”

That’s not even the same phrase, and it doesn’t refer to “cosmic design” being a field of study, either.

Fred Hoyle, the eminent theoretical physicist and agnostic, followed with The Intelligent Universe (1983). He wrote: “A component has evidently been missing from cosmological studies. The origin of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubik cube, requires an intelligence.”

Again, not the same phrase, and no implication that there’s a field of study being described.

In 1984, one of the first scientific books advocating intelligent design appeared, Mystery of Life’s Origin, which was favourably received by leading scientists and scholars.

Nobody has ponied up an instance of “intelligent design” being used in the sense of denoting a field of study in this text. Nor will they.

Also that year, biologist Ray Bohlin published The Natural Limits to Biological Change, one of the first books to use the term “intelligent design” in its modern sense.

Lane P. Lester and Ray Bohlin used the phrase “intelligent design” as an alternative to “natural design” on pages 152, 153, 156, and 167 in that book. Nowhere did they suggest that “intelligent design” was a field of study as opposed to a simple descriptive phrase.

All of this was before court cases such as Edwards v. Aguillard.

All of that was irrelevant to the claim, too. What happened following Edwards v. Aguillard is well-documented in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial record. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics had a project to produce a creation science supplemental textbook, and in several preliminary drafts used the phrase “creation science” to refer to what they claimed was a field of study. After Edwards v. Aguillard, though, the drafts suddenly replaced “creation science” and similar phrases with “intelligent design”. Given that Edwards v. Aguillard proscribed religious antievolution in general and “creation science” in particular, the clear import to everyone besides lying tools (otherwise known as “cdesign proponentsists”) and the people they manage to dupe is that the search-and-replace operation was undertaken to evade court rulings. The issue is not and never was whether the phrase “intelligent design” had been used before Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987, but rather whether “intelligent design” had been used to indicate a human field of study before then. Crowther’s analysis is completely irrelevant since he never bothers to acknowledge that distinction.

McKnight’s attempt to discredit ID is as far afield as what he says about the Discovery Institute.

Anybody got a link to the McKnight article that set Crowther off? Given Crowther’s defensiveness, it sounds like a good read.

It is a secular think-tank, and our research into intelligent design and evolutionary theory is rooted in science, not religion.

Robert Crowther



Hey, Rob, what research is that? How come Howard Ahmanson, Jr. was the sugar daddy behind the “Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture” if there was only secular stuff going on? And will you ever acknowledge that usage of “intelligent design” to refer to a field of study makes a difference in analysis?

Texas: ICR is Disappointed, Again

The Institute for Creation Research is continuing to press to get their pseudoscience degree-granting operation set up for business in Texas. They’ve run into a stumbling-block: the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board wants degrees granted with their approval to actually be based on science. This message went out from the ICR today:

OCTOBER 30, 2008

Dear Friends:

As we indicated to you on Tuesday, ICR’s special counsel, Jim Johnson, and I
met with representatives from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
(THECB) in a pre-hearing mediation meeting on Wednesday. The mediation was
conducted by an administrative law judge at the State Office of Administrative
Hearings in Austin.

ICR met with the THECB prior to an official administrative hearing, in hopes
that our graduate school’s application for authority to grant Master of
Science degrees in Texas might be settled prior to any further legal
proceedings. ICR Graduate School (ICRGS) has been offering M.S. degrees from
its California campus for 27 years and last year sought to move the school to
Texas, where our research and communications work now reside.

However, this controversy was not resolved at the mediation meeting on

The primary dispute turns on the regulatory interpretation of the word
“science,” with the THECB insisting that any science degree or science program
must be evolution-based-without any mixture of “religion” in the program. The
THECB went further to say that their board held ultimate responsibility to
regulate any program that issued a “standard” degree (M.S., M.A., M.Ed.,
etc.). Thus it would not be possible for ICRGS to keep its current program
even if we were to change the degree title to Master of Education, for

The five THECB representatives did concur, however, that a degree program in
Christian education or apologetics was not within their jurisdiction, as long
as the degree title was not “standard” nomenclature, such as an M.C.Ed.
(Masters in Christian Education).

I want to thank you for praying for us during the meeting. The meeting was
cordial and both sides were able to clarify certain misunderstandings
regarding each other’s positions and reasons for the debate.

ICRGS will now continue the Texas administrative appeal process in order to
secure the right to offer its Master of Science degree program in Texas, as it
has been doing for 27 years in California.

Dr. Henry Morris III
Chief Executive Officer

Texas: “Zombie Jamboree in Texas”

Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education, has a blog post in the Beacon Broadside, “Zombie Jamboree in Texas“.

When the distinguished philosopher Philip Kitcher recently addressed the creationist movement in his Living With Darwin, he judiciously assessed creationism in its latest incarnation as historically respectable but currently bankrupt, and proposed to describe it as “dead” science. “In light of its shambling tenacity,” I replied, “‘zombie science’ is perhaps a preferable label.” (I was writing in a scholarly journal, so I resisted the temptation to add a reference to “Romero 1968” or “Wright 2004”.)

I told Glenn that he was missing a trick there by not noting, “And they really do want to eat your brains, or at least your children’s brains.”

Re-arrange the title a little to “Texas Zombie Jamboree” and I think we’d have a concept worthy to pull Roger Corman out of retirement. “Today, the State Board of Education. Tomorrow, Dick and Jane. There’s nowhere to run from the Texas Zombie Jamboree.” Still a bit long for the poster, but I think we can work with that.

More DI Misinformation

Yes, there’s another post at the Discovery Institute blog. This one is by Rob Crowther, and it seeks to reassure everyone that they aren’t pushing “intelligent design” anymore.

As for claims that we try to get intelligent design into the curriculum, that’s just not the case. Our science education policy is very clear. In November of 2003 Discovery Institute issued a Q&A that stated:

Does Discovery Institute advocate requiring intelligent design theory in textbooks as an alternative? Absolutely not. We are NOT seeking to have intelligent design included in textbooks or in classroom instruction. We only want factual errors corrected and legitimate scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism presented.

Darwinists are fond of trying to change the subject from teaching the case for and against Darwinian evolution, and make this a debate over whether or not to include intelligent design in the curriculum. That isn’t the issue.

News flash, Rob… this didn’t work in Ohio. Remember Ohio? In 2002, DI Fellows Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells, on the spot to tell the Ohio State Board of Education exactly what they proposed teaching students as “intelligent design”, offered a “compromise” instead, that being “critical analysis”. The Ohio SBOE went along with that. They shepherded a “critical analysis” lesson plan by an Ohio “intelligent design” advocate through the review process and rejected alternative lesson plans that actually implemented “critical analysis”. The poor reviews of the IDC “critical analysis” lesson plan were suppressed; the SBOE didn’t get to see those. Then “Coingate” happened in Ohio and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District happened in Pennsylvania. Requests for public records in pursuit of the shenanigans behind “Coingate” revealed the dirty political laundry of “intelligent design” advocacy behind the scenes, including political threats employed by one of the major IDC advocates on the SBOE. It also brought to light the internal reviews of the “critical analysis” lesson plan, where the education specialists from the Department of Education easily recognized the arguments in the “critical analysis” lesson plan as being the same as seen in “intelligent design” materials and “creation science” before that. The Kitzmiller case indicated that there was a significant liability risk to teaching religious antievolution. Given the clear evidence that the SBOE had been lied to on the issue of whether “intelligent design” was being advocated through the “critical analysis” language, the SBOE early in 2006 dropped the “critical analysis” language from the standards and the lesson plan from their website. Later, the voters dropped the high-profile IDC advocate on the SBOE who had threatened the governor politically to inject “critical analysis” AKA “intelligent design” into the curriculum.

The quote above does not say that the Discovery Institute won’t push for “intelligent design” arguments to be used in Texas classrooms. It just says that the Discovery Institute isn’t pushing for the “intelligent design” label for them to be required. But “intelligent design” isn’t anything in itself, it is simply a collection of objections to evolution that have been made by religious antievolutionists for decades or centuries. “Irreducible complexity”, “specified complexity”, and various “anthropic principle” arguments have explicit expression of the concepts in the work of the Reverend William Paley in “Natural Theology” from 1802. If you want to impress folks in Texas, Rob, tell them that the Discovery Institute has repudiated those arguments entirely and doesn’t want anyone to use them anymore. Teaching children falsehoods, like the arguments made under the “intelligent design” label, has no secular purpose. We’ll wait for your clarification that the Discovery Institute thinks that all the arguments that were made under the “intelligent design” label were wrong and teachers in Texas should not use those as bogus “weaknesses” of evolutionary science.



Yeah, I didn’t think so.


Rob, you must think that the folks in Texas are significantly more stupid than the folks in Ohio who the DI hoodwinked for almost four years. When the Discovery Institute says that they want “weaknesses” taught, they mean the same old arguments that they used to call “intelligent design”.

Texas, the DI is giving you an IQ test. Don’t flunk.

Texas: Getting Involved

I got a call today from a friend in Texas who until recently was a high school science and math teacher. She had just read an article in Texas Monthly about the State Board of Education, its lopsided composition and “intelligent design” advocate chairman, and was hopping mad about it. I asked her if she was a member of the two Texas organizations working for good science or the National Center for Science Education. She said she was ready to sign up. So while I’m collecting the information for her, I’ll also post it here so that any others interested can also get involved.

Texas Citizens for Science
Joining information
No contribution asked.

Texas Freedom Network
Joining information
Annual contribution of $35 is requested.

National Center for Science Education
Joining information
Annual membership is $30.

Texas has a rough year ahead of it, and thus science education nationally has a problem. Especially if you are in Texas, this is the time to get involved. The last time Texas was dealing with science education issues, those three organizations helped people find effective ways to make a difference. They are already dealing with the issues. They could use your help.

NCSE’s New Website

The National Center for Science Education has long planned a revision of their web pages. Now, the new version of their website is officially up and running. Check it out.

The previous version is still available, though. There will be a period of confusion until Google spiders both sites, as the old content has been incorporated into the new framework, which presents different URLs for access. The legacy site was coded and contributed by Ira Walter back in 1998. It served NCSE well for several years, but Walter’s time commitments prevented him from doing much in the way of updates. The combination of custom coding and targeting of a specific host setup caused NCSE, and me, a bit of a headache in 2006 just before Thanksgiving when Ira Walter died and shortly thereafter the server hosting the site died. It dropped into my lap to get the site running again on a new server at the same hosting company, whose different underlying software architecture required some basic changes in the way various functions worked. NCSE had been hobbling along with the patched website.

Now, it looks like they have a good basis for carrying their content into the future. The Drupal content management system is a widely-used, actively developed, open source system that is themable and flexible. If a change in presentation is needed, it only requires theme changes.

The Real Weasel in JavaScript

I set up a page taking a first pass at providing a “weasel” program that follows the description Richard Dawkins gave in “The Blind Watchmaker”. It is done using a not well-behaved JavaScript routine, but as this was my first JavaScript coding of any sort, I figure refinement can come later. See it here. New version here. [Now also integrated into the main CMS.]

One of the things that the page aims to debunk is the long-running falsehood that “weasel” (and every other form of evolutionary computation) must get its relative improvement over random search by somehow “locking in” parts of solutions that match a known target. William Dembski is the most persistent of people peddling this error, even though he was handed effective notice of its falsity over eight years ago. To that end, the “weasel” I wrote not only does not “lock” individual characters, but you can verify that it does not lock individual characters against mutation. You can set higher mutation rates and smaller population sizes to find values that cause “weasel” to sometimes step back to having worse performance in one generation than it had in the generation just previous. A simple verification can be had by setting the default target string, a population of 30, and a mutation rate of 8% per character. Run that several times, and most times you will see at least one generation that had a stepback in performance.

Dembski and others make much of the fact that the few lines Dawkins used to illustrate output from his “weasel” don’t show an instance of a stepback in performance. They insist that this means that Dawkins must have used a rule in his program that would not allow a stepback in performance, but that is simply induction gone wild and sloppy thinking. One can verify with my page that for reasonable mutation rates and population sizes, stepbacks are rare. Why is this? To get a stepback, every single string in a new population has to be have at least one less matching character than was present in its parent from the previous generation. The more strings that are generated in a new population, the smaller the probability that all of them will alter at least one of the already-matched characters from the parent string. So small population size is critical to observing stepbacks. Also, strings changing at least one already-matched character from the parent are less likely with lower mutation rates, so a high mutation rate is also critical to observing stepbacks. Neither of these conditions is didactically similar to the process that Dawkins wanted to make an analogy to, natural selection in biology.

I’ve already noted (and graphed) that there is a difference in performance between Dembski’s invention of an “oracle weasel” and what Dawkins’ description delivers. The “weasel” page of mine helps drive the point home by providing an interactive means for people to explore what a real implementation of what Dawkins described does.

Say Good-Bye to Sage Grouse

The campaign to eradicate sage grouse continues. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Nevada Gov. Gibbons and his comments on possible listing of sage grouse as endangered:

Gibbons said it’s important to protect the sage grouse, but it shouldn’t be listed as endangered because that could make it “virtually impossible to develop renewable energy in Nevada. Additionally, broader economic development would be severely undermined.”

The Nevada Department of Wildlife has a handy page showing their sage grouse plan. The PDF there has a figure that plainly shows the shrinking regions where sage grouse range in Nevada, and another showing sage grouse leks. That’s useful for comparing to renwewable energy geographic data.

How, exactly, would “renewable energy” in Nevada be impaired if sage grouse were given official recognition of their status as a species on the brink of extinction? Nevada solar power will be installed in or in proximity to already-developed areas that already have disturbed sage grouse by habitat loss. Scratch solar as a problem. Nevada already has developed geothermal power, with obvious infrastructure in the form of both high-voltage lines and geothermal power plants installed. And there’s more good news: the recorded sage grouse leks do not appear to have much, if any, overlap with the map of geothermal sites. Scratch geothermal as a problem. Wind power relies on taking advantage of geographic features that concentrate wind energy, typically hills. Wind power does represent something that could disturb sage grouse, primarily due to noise, if the installations are near to sage grouse leks. From the NDOW sage grouse plan:

Wind energy development also has potential to impact sage-grouse and/or sage-grouse habitats. Areas within Nevada are currently being monitored for suitability as wind energy sites. These developments include the turbine to harness the energy, as well as the access to the sites, and transmission lines from the site to substations or other existing power grids. Therefore, this type of land use change has a variety of potential impacts to sage-grouse.

The maps show limited areas of overlap of “excellent” wind power sites with sage grouse leks. Basically, the lines of wind power sites to the south-south-east of Wells and of Austin might not be developable, but the “excellent” wind power sites along the southern border of Nevada (that is, near most of Nevada’s population in Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City) have no such overlap with sage grouse leks. Maybe wind power could not be developed to the degree that it could if continued sage grouse eradication were simply policy, but saying that it is “impossible” to develop looks to be utterly false.

Looking at the NDOW sage grouse plan doesn’t support the governor’s second statement that “broader economic development would be severely undermined”. Broader economic development would have to take into account a commitment to preserve sage grouse populations; to some people, any inconvenience at all counts as “severe undermining”, I guess. For some people, unless conservation is utterly painless and without cost, it just isn’t worth doing. It appears that Governor Gibbons is part of that group. At the moment, a lot of those people are in power, and have effectively shut down efforts to provide sage grouse with the protections that the law grants species that manage to be recognized as endangered. So, it may be time to say good-bye to inconvenient sage grouse.

Texas: A Word from the Pro-Science Side, Too

The Waco Tribune had two op-eds, the one I noted earlier from antievolutionist Don McLeroy, but also one from Daniel Bolnick making the case for teaching accountable science in the science classroom, and giving a pass to an ensemble of arguments passed down from the religious antievolution hymnal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Texas State Board of Education is revising science curriculum standards for Texas public schools.

The last science standards revision was a decade ago. Since then, biologists have published more than 30,000 research articles demonstrating that evolution has occurred and how it works.

Unfortunately, evolution opponents are uninterested in updating the standards to reflect this expanded knowledge. They instead want standards that divert class time from this well-established scientific discipline to cover thoroughly discredited arguments about “weaknesses” of evolution.

That requirement would allow the state board to reject any science textbook that did not include such phony arguments.

Our children’s textbooks would then reflect the personal beliefs of state board members, not scientific consensus.

More than 100,000 published biological research studies demonstrate the fact of evolutionary change.

Many experimental studies demonstrate that natural selection and related processes can produce observed evolutionary changes.

In contrast, no scientific evidence exists showing that species were created separately or that natural processes can’t account for observed evolution.

There is virtually universal support among research biologists for the overwhelming scientific evidence behind evolution. The job of high school teachers is to present this consensus view of science.

Regardless, evolution opponents continue to promote worn-out arguments based on demonstrably false information.

For instance, they claim that an incomplete fossil record disproves evolution. Yet they ignore the millions of fossils (yes, millions) that clearly illustrate a history of evolution.

Opponents also frequently distort published research from respected scientists in an effort to mislead the general public about the scientific consensus supporting evolution.

Evolution opponents who promote such phony “weaknesses” claim we are trying to censor them, suppressing free speech. But the entire point of education is to provide students with the best information available, without wasting time on bogus arguments.

We don’t teach alchemy alongside chemistry, for example, or astrology alongside physics. We don’t ask students to decide for themselves whether Earth revolves around the Sun or vice versa. Is that “censorship”?

No, it is good science.

Opponents also argue that accepting the science of evolution means rejecting faith in God. Yet many scientists and theologians see no conflict between science and their faith.

These scientists do see the importance of ensuring that public schools are not put in the position of deciding whose religious beliefs to teach in science classes.

If public schools did so, they would threaten the right of families to direct the religious education of their own children.

The State Board of Education’s decisions in the coming months will affect both the college preparation and future job qualifications of our children.

Our students deserve a sound education that includes the latest findings of scientific research and excludes ideas that have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Daniel I. Bolnick is assistant professor of biology at the University of Texas at Austin. R. E. Duhrkopf is associate professor of biology at Baylor University. David M. Hillis is biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Ben Pierce is biology professor at Southwestern University. Sahotra Sarkar is a professor in biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Each is a member of the 21st Century Science Coalition, which represents more than 1,000 Texas scientists —

Is Winning a Mock Trial Supposed to be an Antievolutionist Consolation Prize?

Art on ATBC reports on a mock trial to be held at Northern Kentucky University on October 22nd, or this coming Wednesday.

Thursday – October 16, 2008
For immediate release…

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – On Oct. 22, Northern Kentucky University will host a unique interactive mock trial that will turn local citizens into jurors on the hotly-contested issue of whether public school science teachers should be allowed to teach creation science, which attempts to use scientific means to prove the Genesis account of creation.

The trial, which will take place at 7 p.m. at NKU’s University Center Otto M. Budig Theater, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Northern Kentucky Forum, the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement and Nonprofit Development and the NKU Chase College of Law Center for Excellence in Advocacy.

The first 200 people in attendance will have an opportunity to serve as jurors, using small remote control clickers to register their opinions both before and after the trial. At the conclusion of the proceeding, they will decide the case.

“It is part of the mission of the Scripps Howard Center to conduct public forums,” said Mark Neikirk, the Centers executive director. “I’ve heard President Votruba state many times that a college campus should be a safe place for difficult conversations.” Neikirk said that while the evolution/creation science debate is a difficult conversation, he felt it could be more productive if held as a mock trial.

The Trial: Scott v. Chandler County School Board

The trial centers around the termination of fictitious biology teacher Susan Scott (a traditionally trained evolution adherent), who according to her complaint, encouraged students to “explore creation theories.” Scott, who will be played by Simon Kenton High School teacher Heather Mastin, is suing the fictitious Chandler County School Board for wrongful termination and seeks reinstatement, compensatory damages and a judicial declaration that the school board violated her First Amendment rights.

Scott will be represented by local attorney Phil Taliaferro, who will argue that teaching creation theory is not only permitted in Kentucky, but legally protected. The defendant, Chandler County School Board, will be represented by local attorney Margo Grubbs, who will argue that Scott’s termination was justified under existing law.

Scott’s chief witness will be the real-life Dr. Ben Scripture, who received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame in1998. Dr Scripture has earned degrees from the University of California at Berkeley (a A.B. in zoology) and Grace Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Dr. Scripture has published articles in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Molecular Biology. He hosts weekly radio programs, “Scripture on Creation” and “That’s What Scripture Says” on radio stations in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Indianapolis, and on the Good News Network stations covering the southeastern region of the U.S.

The school board will be represented in court by fictional superintendent Bryan Boone, who will be played by retired Boone County Superintendent Bryan Blavatt. Its key witness will be real-life evolution advocate Ed Kagin, a Union, Ky., attorney. Kagin is a founder of the Free Inquiry Group and co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America. He is the originator of Camp Quest, the nation’s first residential secular summer camp. He has run unsuccessfully as “the candidate without a prayer” for the Kentucky Supreme Court and Senate. Kagin is the national legal director for American Atheists and was awarded “Atheist of the Year” by that group in 2005 and 2008.

As is so often the case, the legalities of the issue aren’t black and white. Kentucky has fairly strict guidelines that suggest evolution-only instruction, but also has a pro-Genesis statute. And, of course, the question isn’t confined to the Commonwealth. It is playing out again in the national political debate – as it so often does – and is heating up in a number of states.

The trial judge will be played by retired Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Doug Stephens.

Northern Kentucky Forum

The mock trial is the first of what Northern Kentucky Forum, a partnership between the Scripps Howard Center, Legacy and Vision 2015, hopes will become monthly events that attract diverse audiences, advocate for public dialogue but not any one position, provide for audience input and allow all sides of a given issue to be represented. “We’ll always be looking for a way to bend the format,” Neikirk said, “to look at issues in a different way.”

The next forum will be held Nov. 12 and will focus on the results of the presidential election and what impact it will have upon the region. Other upcoming forum topics tentatively planned include Northern Kentuckys role in Frankfort; public education; energy policy; and diversity in the region.

There are several disturbing elements in the announcement of the mock trial.

The fictional offense is left entirely vague. Did “Susan Scott” do anything more than tell students to investigate creationism as an offhand comment? If not, then there is very little handle for the defense to grasp here. It looks like the “offense” was carefully designed as the best possible basis for applying Kentucky law. What this does is minimize the degree to which case law stipulates that the school district provides the curriculum which teachers are charged with teaching. If there is little time taken in undermining science, the argument will run that “Susan Scott” did teach the curriculum — and just a tiny bit more. Because the plaintiff is a teacher making a remark that might be off-the-cuff, there is little in the way of Lemon test “purpose” prong analysis that would apply. “Effect” and “entanglement” prongs similarly have little scope due to the vagueness of the statement of the offense.

The expert witnesses are disparate in backgrounds. The antievolution expert holds scientific credentials. The defense expert does not.

All in all, this looks from the announcement to be carefully crafted to hand the plaintiff in the mock trial an easy win. Maybe not everything relevant was listed in the announcement, but we have to work with what we’ve got, and that does not inspire confidence that this event is anything other than agitprop for the antievolution movement.

Texas: McLeroy Speaks Out

The Waco Tribune published an op-ed piece by SBOE Chair Don McLeroy. I’m too worn out right now for a fisking, but the whole thing is right from the DI evolution denialist playbook.

COLLEGE STATION — Science education has become a culture-war issue. The battle is over the controversial evolutionary hypothesis that all life is descended from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes.

Texas is adopting new science standards. Scientists representing evolutionists and calling themselves the 21st Century Science Coalition say that creationists on the State Board of Education will inject religion into the science classroom. Should they be concerned? No. This will not happen.

They also say that the board will require supernatural explanations to be placed in the curriculum. This will not happen.

The National Academy of Sciences in its recent booklet Science, Evolution and Creationism, 2008, defines science as “the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.” This definition should be acceptable to both sides.

But, the coalition also makes claims about evolution that will be challenged by creationists.

The advocates for evolution claim that it “is vital to understanding all of the biological sciences,” that evolution “has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt” in the peer-reviewed literature and that evolution has gained the status of a scientific theory and therefore has no “weaknesses.”

First, is understanding of evolution “vital” to the understanding of biology? No.

Would’ve done it the same

Philip Skell, a National Academy chemist, “recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin’s theory was wrong.

The responses were all the same: No.

Next, has evolution been demonstrated to be true beyond any reasonable doubt? No.

Is evolution’s support from the peer-reviewed literature unassailable? No.

Galileo said, “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

Does evolution have scientific “weaknesses”?

The 21st Century Coalition not only says no but insists that we must strike the weaknesses language from our standards because leaving it in threatens our children’s scientific reasoning.

The coalition says that if students are taught to doubt what it believes to be unquestionably true, then the students will lose their faith in science.

All we must do to maintain science’s credibility and to decide if there are weaknesses in the evolutionary hypothesis is “to use evidence to construct testable explanations” and see where the evidence leads. Let the best scientific explanation win.

Don McLeroy of College Station is chairman of the State Board of Education.

Dembski and Marks Are Still Mischaracterizing Dawkins’ “Weasel”

William Dembski has a post up at Uncommon Descent that brings us up-to-date, somewhat, with what Dembski and Bob Marks have been doing. From that, Dembski says that one of the paper manuscripts he and Marks collaborated upon has been accepted by a computational intelligence journal. So much the worse for the rep of that journal, I’d say, though I plan to offer a rebuttal there as well, so I guess we’ll see. There’s also some pimping of a new webpage.

In the meantime, you might be interested in our online interactive critique of Richard Dawkins’s weasel program, Tom Schneider’s ev, and Richard Lenski et al.’s AVIDA. We call it Weasel Ware, and we’ve been enormously helped in its development by a UD participant who has implemented Bob Marks’s Matlab code on our evolutionary informatics lab website. Here’s the link:

Before going further, I must remark that the description itself is both inept and inapt. The site only takes up Dembski’s (and now, sadly, Marks’) delusions concerning the “weasel” program presented by Richard Dawkins in his book, “The Blind Watchmaker“. In fact, in my perusal of the pages there, I saw no mention of Schneider and “ev” nor of Lenski and Avida. This is of a piece with the curious antievolutionist cognitive difficulty in recognizing that Dawkins’ “weasel” program does not comprise the totality of evolutionary computation efforts. That was well exemplified in the 2004 paper by Stephen C. Meyer, where he airily dismissed all of evolutionary computation based upon a misunderstanding of “weasel”.

Dembski and Marks:

The active information supplied by the "divide and conquer" oracle is necessary to perform the search.  In essence, Dr. Dawkins concurs when he writes

   "Chance is a minor ingredient in the Darwinian recipe [as exemplified in the WEASEL example], but the most important ingredient is the cumulative selection [i.e. the divide and conquer oracle]  which is quintessentially nonrandom." (Italics not added )  [5].

In evolutionary computing, the active information can be generated by a programmer skillfully querying an information rich oracle.

I informed Dembski of the basic error in his mis-reading of Dawkins over eight years ago. I similarly notified Bob Marks last year that he was following Dembski into long-known error.

From my response last year:

The accurate way to describe Dawkins’s “weasel” program is this way:

1. Use a set of characters that includes the upper case alphabet and a space.

2. Initialize a population of n 28-character strings with random assignments of characters from our character set.

3. Identify the string or strings closest to the target string in the population.

4. If a string matches the target, terminate.

5. Base a new generation population of size n upon copies of the closest matching string or strings, where each position has a chance of randomly mutating, based upon a set mutation rate.

6. Go to step 3.

Dembski and Marks claim that Dawkins’s “weasel” program smuggles in information of the target by use of partitioned search, by which they mean that every time a particular letter matches in a string, that correct assignment of letter and position are retained in all future generations. This is equivalent to the bad old password login scheme on DEC machines, where one could figure out which characters in a proffered password matched and continue login attempts until all of them matched. However, that is not how Dawkins’s “weasel” program worked, so every statement Dembski and Marks make that is based upon that false premise is utterly meaningless. Just as the Marks and Dembski “ev” critique failed upon easily checkable stuff, one can run Dawkins’s “weasel” and get results similar to those reported by Dawkins; however, running Dembski and Marks’s “weasel” with the partitioned search will return results that are far different from what Dawkins reported.

The accurate version of Dawkins' "weasel" is conspicuous by its absence from the Dembski and Marks page, primarily, one presumes, because the outcome of analysis of that version sinks their claims completely.

I knew I had done up a graph of the comparison between an accurate rendition of Dawkins' "weasel" and Dembski's mistaken "oracle weasel" version.

The following graph is comprised of data taken from 100 runs of the program per mutation rate per treatment, and reports the average number of unique candidate solutions examined to get to a matching string.

The accurate version of Dawkins' "weasel" is shown in purple. The Dembski-Marks fantasy of "oracle-weasel" is yellow-orange. The average performance of Dawkins' "weasel", which does not utilize the partitioning ("divide and conquer") that Dembski and Marks claim, is only two to three times worse on average than the "oracle weasel" Dembski and Marks fabricated, right up to the point where an increase in the mutation rate makes it likely that two or more characters in the string would be mutated per offspring. At higher mutation rates, it is clear that the Dembski-Marks "oracle weasel" has the advantage in performance due to "locking-in" of correct letters, which the accurate Dawkins' "weasel" does not do. But the graph clearly shows that even without "locking-in" of letters the accurate Dawkins' "weasel" does eventually get to the correct string, and takes only slightly over ten times as many candidates as does the Dembski-Marks "oracle weasel".

There's the whole other issue of what, exactly, Dembski and Marks take to be a "query". Dembski and Marks derive a number of 98 queries for the Dembski-Marks "oracle weasel". I never saw a solution arrived at without at least 338 unique candidate solutions examined for "oracle weasel" in runs I made, which indicates something of a mismatch between Dembski-Marks analysis and practice. If we accept their estimate of 8.3e38 queries as approximately accurate for random search, accurate Dawkins' "weasel" outperformed that by a factor of 2.9e35 times. Evolutionary computation considered accurately vastly outperforms random search for this problem, and closely approaches the oracular and deterministic performance that Dembski and Marks do take up. The result is counter to the claims Dembski and Marks make that evolutionary computation requires oracles/"divide and conquer" techniques to beat random search.

Sweet. I seems that next year I may have an easy peer-reviewed publication rebutting Dembski and Marks, if this is the stuff they are putting out there.

Over eight years of knowing he’s been in error has not deterred Bill Dembski from continuing to advance things he knows to be false. Bob Marks apparently is completely on board with this program of blatant lying. The drafts of manuscripts that they had on site include at least one with this particular lie prominently displayed therein. I guess we’ll know pretty soon which journal has lax review standards.

Texas: IDC Event in Fort Worth

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s categorization of the following short piece is spot-on, being part of Religion Briefs.

Sessions slated on intelligent design

FORT WORTH — The Great Debate: Intelligent Design and The Existence of God, a program featuring four scholars, will be Nov. 7-8 at two Fort Worth locations. The question “How did we get here — by design or chance?” will be debated by these scholars:

David Berlinski, a critic of evolution, who is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. He is the author of The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.

Bradley Monton, a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and author of An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.

Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge, England, and author of Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?

Lawrence Krauss, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the physics department at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. He is the author of Beyond Star Trek: From Alien Invasions to the End of Time.

The first session will be 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 7 at Will Rogers Auditorium, 3401 W. Lancaster Ave.; the second, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 917 Lamar St. Tickets cost $10, $5 for students at the first session; free for the second.

— Terry Lee Goodrich

Berlinski is a DI Fellow. Monton defends IDC. Denis Alexander has criticized IDC, as has Lawrence Krauss.

I hope Krauss points out that the debate question is bogus; chance plays a role in evolution, but it isn’t the only thing going on.

Information Increase in Evolution

I was looking up stuff on bacterial DNT degradation, and ran across a post by Joel Tay on antievolutionist criticisms based on “information”. It included an airy dismissal of an essay I had written back in 1999.

Wesley Elsberry writes in the second article:

When one takes the example of a tetraploid orchid and looks at a computable algorithmic information measure, the conclusion is that the tetraploid daughter species has more information in the genome than the diploid parent. This can be seen by simple experimentation with your compression algorithm of choice. Start with a base file. Compress and note the resulting size. Make a derived file that is composed of two copies of the original file. Run the compression algorithm again. Note that the resulting file size is strictly larger than that for the original file. Information content has increased by the computable algorithmic information measure.

This seems like an unhelpful analogy, because he’s talking about compression in a transmission sense (Shannon) rather than in a creating-new-proteins sense (Kolmogorov).

Uh, no, Joel. My little essay clearly approaches the information increase issue using two formal definitions of information (Shannon and Kolmogorov-Chaitin) plus an informal, “common-sense” version of “information”, and showed how a single biological example met the requirements for considering information to have increased by all three standards. How that example meets each standard is discussed separately. The compression discussed in the quote from my essay is exactly that considered by Kolmogorov-Chaitin algorithmic information theory, that of lossless compression of a string. It is not mistakable for “compression in a transmission sense”, at least, not if the reader is even partly paying attention. Also, the development of novel proteins is not necessary under any of those definitions to identify an increase in information.

Other than that, Tay has the usual sorts of antievolution bloviation about information. It all comes down to antievolutionist insistence that meaning and information should be conflated, plus a large dose of unreasonable doubt. An annoying feature of Tay’s post is the claim that Richard Dawkins never responded to a question about information increase by evolution posed by a antievolutionist videographer. The first comment in the thread posted the link to an essay-length response by Dawkins on that very topic. Tay’s response?

Regardless, the original question still remains unanswered, for nowhere does he give a sensible answer to the question, “Professor Dawkins, can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?”

But Tay seems not to get the point that a response can exist even if he himself isn’t convinced of its veracity. In fact, Dawkins explored information increase in several different manners in his essay, which Tay (again) appears not to have read for comprehension. So since the question calls for an example, just one of those need be noted to demonstrate that Tay is in the wrong in his continued insistence that Dawkins never answered the original question. It is, indeed, eminently sensible, too. From Dawkins’ essay:

The dozen or so different globins inside you are descended from an ancient globin gene which, in a remote ancestor who lived about half a billion years ago, duplicated, after which both copies stayed in the genome. There were then two copies of it, in different parts of the genome of all descendant animals. One copy was destined to give rise to the alpha cluster (on what would eventually become Chromosome 11 in our genome), the other to the beta cluster (on Chromosome 16). As the aeons passed, there were further duplications (and doubtless some deletions as well). Around 400 million years ago the ancestral alpha gene duplicated again, but this time the two copies remained near neighbours of each other, in a cluster on the same chromosome. One of them was destined to become the zeta of our embryos, the other became the alpha globin genes of adult humans (other branches gave rise to the nonfunctional pseudogenes I mentioned). It was a similar story along the beta branch of the family, but with duplications at other moments in geological history.

Now here’s an equally fascinating point. Given that the split between the alpha cluster and the beta cluster took place 500 million years ago, it will of course not be just our human genomes that show the split – possess alpha genes in a different part of the genome from beta genes. We should see the same within-genome split if we look at any other mammals, at birds, reptiles, amphibians and bony fish, for our common ancestor with all of them lived less than 500 million years ago. Wherever it has been investigated, this expectation has proved correct. Our greatest hope of finding a vertebrate that does not share with us the ancient alpha/beta split would be a jawless fish like a lamprey, for they are our most remote cousins among surviving vertebrates; they are the only surviving vertebrates whose common ancestor with the rest of the vertebrates is sufficiently ancient that it could have predated the alpha/beta split. Sure enough, these jawless fishes are the only known vertebrates that lack the alpha/beta divide.

In other words, evolution produced the diversity of globin proteins, this diversity is in fact traceable in part via phylogenetic analysis, and the process that accounts for the diversity is gene duplication and subsequent divergence. What Dawkins gave an example of above is from the class of evolutionary change that results from such genetic duplication events with subsequent divergence. It is a sensible and understandable response to the original question posed to him, despite Tay’s predilection for airy dismissals. The capacity for antievolutionists to perseverate in error is well-illustrated by Tay.

Science Education Gets Noticed by the NYT

The New York Times has an article about the slipping technology lead of the USA and the presidential candidate’s plans to bolster innovation here.

It’s about time.

Antievolution gets a brief mention.

Mr. Obama embraces the theory of evolution and argues that the teaching of intelligent design and other creationist ideas “cloud” a student’s understanding of science. While Mr. McCain says he personally believes in evolution, he has also said children should be taught “all points of view.”

Students should be taught the neutral theory as well as natural selection, but it seems doubtful that McCain was advocating teaching accountable science with that statement.

Texas: The Science Textbook Review Panel

[Correction: the panel in question is a science curriculum review panel.]

Six people were appointed. An earlier post took up the two obvious ringers affiliated with the Discovery Institute, Stephen Meyer and Ralph Seelke. I emailed Kate Alexander, who wrote the American-Statesman post on that topic, and asked for the other names, which she provided.

David Hillis, U. Texas at Austin — clued-in scientist who has been an outspoken opponent of IDC in the past.

Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech — professor in education, and past president of the National Science Teachers Assocation, who has criticized antievolution in the past.

Ronald K. Wetherington, Southern Methodist University — professor of anthropology, one of the people who told the Discovery Institute to get lost last year when they were looking for some free exposure at SMU. The DI didn’t like his response, noting that Wetherington talked about a debate done in 1992 at SMU, and waxed satirical over that. However, IDC was debated at SMU far more recently than Wetherington had noted, and way too recently for the satirical invective from the DI to have any traction.

Charles Garner, Baylor University — professor of chemistry, signer of the DI’s “Dissent from Darwin” statement.

So, one-half of the textbook science curriculum review panel has been ceded to a batch of religious antievolution advocates, whose entire contribution to the process is expected to be terminal nit-picking over any effective presentation of the accountable scientific position, evolutionary science.

The fact that half the panel is not part of a radical fringe pseudoscience faction has already been commented upon as showing “balance” by, you guessed it, a radical fringe pseudoscience cheerleader.

Texas: Discovery Institute Scores Two

Discovery Institute Vice President Stephen Meyer and co-author Ralph Seelke were appointed to a six-member textbook review panel by the Texas State Board of Education.

The Texas Freedom Network criticized the appointment of the textbook authors, Stephen Meyer, vice president of the Discovery Institute, and Ralph Seelke, a biology and earth sciences professor from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

“Texas universities boast some of the leading scientists in the world,” said Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network. “It’s appalling that some state board members turned to out-of-state ideologues to decide whether Texas kids get a 21st-century science education.”

Of course, Texas also has plenty of in-state ideologues, too; the panel could easily be just as partisan if stacked with Texas antievolutionists. Pulling in the out-of-state ringers just makes the malfeasance that much more obvious.

Stanley Kurtz, the Obama Campaign, and Radio

I promised David Heddle a post about the Stanley Kurtz interview incident. And I wrote one just now that WordPress ate due to an expired session cookie. I need to learn to always select all and copy before hitting “Publish”. So here is a short version…

Kurtz should get to have his say. Obama supporters should get to tell Kurtz he’s wrong. They should also get to tell the publisher and the publisher’s commercial supporters that they don’t approve of the association being made. A private group can even say so before the association is completed. But a government entity, such as an expected Obama administration, would be urging prior restraint if they tried to limit who gets media access, and that would be wrong. They can rebut the arguments on their merits, and/or sue the loonies who cross over into slander or libel, but we certainly don’t need further government interference with free speech. That’s not the change we need.

The Chicago Tribune analysis is pretty much spot-on:

The grass-roots response was weak. Most pro-Obama callers seemed only to have skimmed the talking points in the e-mail, and they sputtered when challenged with follow-up questions.

The perverse effect was to make Kurtz seem sympathetic and credible—the victim of an unfair attack from raging, incoherent would-be censors working on behalf of a cowardly campaign. Why are they complaining and sending out e-mails instead of just coming on the show?

Rosenberg, who is himself quite the partisan, tut-tutted right along with Kurtz. It all disguised that Kurtz really had nothing new to add to the insinuations and innuendo in the guilt-by-association portion of the campaign against Obama in which he’s actively engaged.

The lesson: Never duck. Never complain. Answer the bell no matter what time it is.