Dust-up

July 11, 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an ID post.  Thomas Cudworth on UD goads me thusly:

From June 17 to June 21, 2011, at the University of Oklahoma (Norman) campus, the conference “Evolution 2011” was in session.  It was co-sponsored by three scientific societies – The Society for the Study of Evolution, The Society of Systematic Biologists, and the American Society of Naturalists.  It was billed by its promoters as “the premier annual international conference of evolutionary biologists on the planet.”

It is interesting to make a mental list of the Darwin-defenders who have been most active in the culture wars, whether by publishing popular books defending Darwin, by appearing as witnesses against school boards in court cases, by working for the NCSE, by running pro-Darwinian blog sites, or by attacking Darwin critics throughout cyberspace, and to see which of them either read papers or at least contributed to the research and writing of papers for this premier conference.

Among those who have not attacked religious belief, but have violently bashed ID and/or passionately upheld neo-Darwinian theory, Paul Gross (co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse) and plant scientist Arthur Hunt (who has debated ID people live and on the internet) were not listed as contributors to any of the papers.

The theme of my column is qualifications. The question is: are most of the Darwinian preachers in the culture-wars competent to discuss the latest developments in evolutionary biology? If they are not competent, shouldn’t the public know this?

What I’m trying to do here is to give everyone a chance to say whether these people are or are not qualified. And I invite any of the named people — Falk, Venema, Moran, Miller, etc. — to write in here, listing their publications and conference papers in the field of evolutionary biology, and explaining why we should prefer their account of evolution to those of Darwin-critical specialists in evolutionary theory such as Lynn Margulis, Stuart Newman, Richard Sternberg, etc.

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Behe and the limits of evolution – revised

July 10, 2010

[Introductory remark – it was pointed out by a commenter on PT that my use of pollen grains in the original essay was confusing since it implied that the male-sterile phenotype is inherited paternally.  I was trying to squeeze as many genomes as possible into my scenario, to give Behe as much benefit as possible, and I used the numbers of pollen grains rather than kernels to that end.  However, after much reflection, I’ve decided to update the essay and remove the reference to pollen grains when “calculating” things.  I apologize for any confusion my previous discussion may have caused.]

Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe has recently taken Ken Miller to task for the latter’s rough handling of another ID proponent’s handling of some concepts in evolution.  I don’t intend to add to the back and forth between the two (or three?) of them here.  Rather, I thought I would use one of Behe’s closing remarks as an excuse to repost a (slightly-modified) Panda’s Thumb essay that pertains to one of Behe’s newer calling cards – the so-called “Edge of Evolution”.

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Well that was interesting

May 17, 2010

It’s a closely-guarded secret that can now be revealed – on Friday, May 14, Steve Matheson and I served as the critics for an event at Biola University the focus of which Stephen Meyer and his book “Signature in the Cell”.  (Well, actually, this was the lead-in to some big hoopla about the release of a new Illustra DVD entitled “Darwin’s Dilemma”.  But that will have to be the subject of someone else’s writing, since I didn’t go to the screening, nor did I bother to scarf up a DVD.)

It was probably against my better judgment to do this, but I folded this event in with some other, more professorial activities and managed to have a productive and agreeable visit to Biola.

But this blog entry is about the Signature in the Cell event.  The format for this was a bit different from your usual debate – thus, after the glitzy Meyer presentation, a panel of hand-selected critics (chosen by the event organizers) would be given opportunities to grill Meyer.  In other words, there would be no tit-for-tat here, but rather a one-way exchange of Q&A.  This is roughly what transpired, but in a shorter period of time than I expected.

What follows is a recap (from memory – I didn’t bother trying to scribble down notes while everyone was talking) of the proceedings.  This is intended as much as anything to convey my own impressions, and should not be mistaken for advice or instructions on how to approach things like this.

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Signature in the Cell?

January 3, 2010

There is much abuzz in the ID-o-sphere regarding Stephen Meyer’s new book, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design”.  The book is a lengthy recapitulation of the main themes that ID proponents have been talking about for the past 15 years or so; indeed, there will be precious little that is new for seasoned veterans of the internet discussions and staged debates that have occurred over the years.

Long though the book is, it is built around one central theme – the idea that the genetic code harbors evidence for design.  Indeed, the genetic code – the triplet-amino acid correspondence that is seen in life – is the “Signature in the Cell”.  Meyer contends that the genetic code cannot have originated without the intervention of intelligence, that physics and chemistry cannot on their own accords account for the origin of the code.

It is this context that a recent paper by Yarus et al. (Yarus M, Widmann JJ, Knight R, 2009, RNA–Amino Acid Binding: A Stereochemical Era for the Genetic Code, J Mol Evol  69:406–429) merits discussion.  This paper sums up several avenues of investigation into the mode of RNA-amino acid interaction, and places the body of work into an interesting light with respect to the origin of the genetic code.  The bottom line, in terms that relate to Meyer’s book, is that chemistry and physics (to use Meyer’s phraseology) can account for the origin of the genetic code.  In other words, the very heart of Meyer’s thesis (and his book) is wrong.

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On the utility of evolution in experimental biology and medicine

February 28, 2009

A recurring theme amongst ID antievolutionists holds that evolution really doesn’t contribute useful directions or concepts in the realm of biology or medicine. Philip Skell regurgitates the theme in a recent commentary in Forbes magazine:

“Examining the major advances in biological knowledge, one fails to find any real connection between biological history and the experimental designs that have produced today’s cornucopia of knowledge of how the great variety of living organisms perform their functions. It is our knowledge of how these organisms actually operate, not speculations about how they may have arisen millions of years ago, that is essential to doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science.”

And later:

“The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter–who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.”

The blogosphere (and probably print media) are replete with summaries and specific cases that show Skell’s assertions to be a crock. This essay summarizes one such example. I have chosen this one because it refutes, specifically, the claim that an understanding of the evolutionary history of an organism “offers no help to the experimenter–who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism”. It also ties Skell’s uninformed comments in with another subject that causes ID antievolutionists much consternation – the origins and evolution of organelles.

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My response

February 22, 2009

There’s been a bit of a kerfluffle about a suggestion (challenge) made by a Discovery Institute associate to a professor of biology at the University of Vermont.  The first paragraph:

“Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.”

There have been a variety of “responses” to this challenge floating around the blogosphere.  Gotelli himself responded thusly: Read the rest of this entry »


Behe and the limits of evolution

January 24, 2009

Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe has recently taken Ken Miller to task for the latters rough handling of another ID proponent’s handling of some concepts in evolution.  I don’t intend to add to the back and forth between the two (or three?) of them here.  Rather, I thought I would use one of Behe’s closing remarks as an excuse to repost a (slightly-modified) Panda’s Thumb essay that pertains to one of Behe’s newer calling cards – the so-called “Edge of Evolution”.

In the last paragraph of his response to Miller, Behe says:

“It’s pertinent to remember here the central point of The Edge of Evolution. We now have data in hand that show what Darwinian processes can accomplish, and it ain’t much.”

Actually, as the following essay clearly shows, Darwinian processes can do much more than Behe suggests.  Enjoy.

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