Bacterial flagellum? Never heard of it.

When I wrote about Michael Behe’s shock that any sane person would associate the bacterial flagellum with intelligent design (Michael Behe’s “Secret Obsessions“), I failed to notice something that was staring me right in the face. The masthead for intelligent design blog Uncommon Descent:


Remember, if you meet someone who thinks intelligent design advocates

…think they [bacterial flagella] are examples of “intelligent design”

or that bacterial flagella have

…been at the center of the thinly veiled creationism movement called intelligent design,

you should

back away slowly, smiling, wishing him a nice day…

Michael Behe’s “secret obsessions”

In his latest post at Evolution News and Views, Michael Behe calls the authors of posts at New Scientist and Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News ‘crazy’ and ‘clueless’ for associating arguments about the bacterial flagellum with intelligent design (“New Paper on Flagellum Reveals Secret Obsessions“):

Suppose in the course of a pleasant conversation with a colleague you mentioned your vacation last year in Las Vegas. All of a sudden he starts ranting about Area 51 — Vegas is only a few hours away, right? Did you see any lights in the sky? Any military vehicles heading north? You should stay at the Little A’Le’Inn motel like he has six times. You’ll see some funny stuff there.

You’d probably back away slowly, smiling, wishing him a nice day…

[much later] …One crazy person is a coincidence. Two are a trend…What’s more, if you go by what they write, these folks are utterly clueless about what modern ID proponents actually argue. [my emphasis]

The evidence that these authors are crazy and clueless? The New Scientist‘s assertion that the bacterial flagellum is

Loved by creationists, who falsely think they are examples of “intelligent design”

and that of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News that

[T]he bacterial flagellum has been at the center of the thinly veiled creationism movement called intelligent design. Subscribers to this belief system have erroneously postulated that the flagellar motor system is “irreducibly complex” and could not have come about through Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms….It is doubtful these findings will sway the opinion of its detractors, yet they do make it extremely more difficult for them to make their case.

Seriously, that is the sum total of the evidence that these authors are ‘crazy’ and ‘clueless’ on the order of UFO true believers. A bit hyperbolic, I think. But where did these clueless authors get their crazy idea to associate the bacterial flagellum with intelligent design?

[Read more…]

The Discovery Institute still doesn’t understand free speech

The Discovery Institute has a persecution complex. They have a hard time distinguishing between rejection and mockery of their silly ideas and violation of their right to free speech. They’ve created a ‘Censor of the Year’ award to protest their treatment. The previous winners are noted free speech opponents Jerry Coyne and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

For the past month, they Institute has been in an absolute tizzy over the decision of the United Methodist Church’s decision to exclude (‘ban‘) them from its General Conference coming up in May. Because they don’t understand that free speech doesn’t obligate others to provide a platform, they think this decision amounts to ‘intolerance‘ and ‘censorship‘.


Persecution complex? Image from an Evolution News & Views post on UMC.

[Read more…]

Doctor knows best, at least when he agrees with me

The Designed Body

Image from


Wesley J. Smith’s latest post on Evolution News and Views complains of “The Arrogance of ‘Doctor Knows Best’” when it comes to end-of-life care. I find complaints about the arrogance of doctors ironic in light of the fact that each of Howard Glicksman’s posts on the same website begin with the following editor’s note:

Physicians have a special place among the thinkers who have elaborated the argument for intelligent design. Perhaps that’s because, more than evolutionary biologists, they are familiar with the challenges of maintaining a functioning complex system, the human body.

[Read more…]



In a post on human evolution (“BBC asks, why we are only humans still alive?“), Uncommon Descent asks,

It is unclear that any of these groups [Neanderthals, Denisovans, ‘hobbits’] ever were separate species. Is that not just more Darwinspeak? The serious discussion of what “separate species” means never happens because no Darwin follower can afford it. [emphasis mine]

[Read more…]

In which I agree with Uncommon Descent


We’re both fans of Betul Kacar‘s research (see “AbSciCon day 3: the tape of life“). I know why I like it, but I can’t quite figure out why they do. Dr. Kacar’s research combines molecular paleontology with experimental evolution, inserting ancient versions of genes into modern bacteria and observing how they evolve in response. I’ve puzzled over Uncommon Descent’s fondness for Dr. Kacar’s research before (“Evolution is evidence against evolution (?)“), and I’m afraid their new post on the topic (“Roll dice twice, see what turns up“) doesn’t really clear things up.

[Read more…]

Evolution is evidence against evolution (?)

Intelligent Design blog Uncommon Descent thinks Betül Kacar’s microbial evolution experiments somehow support their agenda (“E coli hybrid copes with 700 mya engineered gene“). The post quotes extensively from a recent article in Quanta Magazine, which in turn reports on Dr. Kacar’s presentation at AbSciCon (which I briefly covered here).

I’m really not sure what the logic is here. The blog post quotes extensively from the Quanta article (really the post just is quotes from the article, with two short comments added), including sections that make clear that Dr. Kacar observed evolution in action in these experiments:

[Read more…]

Ann Gauger teaches us about Volvox, part 2

Last time, I criticized Ann Gauger’s Evolution News and Views article “A Simple Transition to Multicellularity — Not!” for asserting that the requirement for kinesins in Volvox inversion implied a requirement for novel genes in the evolution of multicellularity. In a similar vein, Dr. Gauger presents programmed cell death and sex as problems for this transition:
The somatic cells commit suicide by a process known as apoptosis — programmed cell death — that I wrote about here. This process involves a minimum of several novel genes as well.
Where does this assertion that programmed cell death in Volvox “involves a minimum of several novel genes” come from? Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in many unicellular eukaryotes, including Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Furthermore, two types of metacaspases, genes involved in PCD in many algae and plants, are found in both Chlamydomonas and Volvox.

Partial alignment of representative type I and type II metacaspase predicted sequences from red algae (Porphyra yezoensis; Py), green algae (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Cr; Volvox carteri, Vc), vascular plants (Arabidopsis thaliana; At), excavates (Trypanosoma cruzi, Tc; Leishmania braziliensis, Lb), diatoms (Thalassiosira pseudonana, Tp; Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Pt), haptophytes (Emiliania huxleyi; Eh), pelagophytes (Auroecoccus anaphagefferens; Aa), yeasts (Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Sp; Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Sc) showing the conservation of the cysteine-histidine dyad and the insertion characteristic of plant type II metacaspases. From Nedelcu, A.M. 2009. Comparative genomics of phylogenetically diverse unicellular eukaryotes provide new insights into the genetic basis for the evolution of the programmed cell death machinery. J. Mol. Evol., 68: 256–268. doi 10.1007/s00239-009-9201-1.

[Read more…]

Ann Gauger teaches us about Volvox, part 1

Over at Evolution News and Views (ENV), the blog for the Discovery Institute, Ann Gauger has a new article about Volvox (“A Simple Transition to Multicellularity — Not!”). This isn’t the first time ENV has weighed in on the evolution of multicellularity (see here and here, for example), but since their website doesn’t allow comments, this is the first time I’ve had a platform from which to respond.
The article starts out with a mostly accurate description of Volvox biology, although the description as
…among the simplest animals to have more than one cell type

is cringe-worthy: Volvox is no more an animal than is a tomato:


An accurate, if low-resolution, phylogeny.

[Read more…]