Why are flounder funny looking?


The other day, I was asked a simple question that I knew the answer to, right off the top of my head, and since I’m nothing but lazy and lovin’ the easy stuff, I thought I’d expand on it a bit here. The question was, “How do flounder get to be that way, with their eyes all on one side of the head?” And the answer is…pedantic and longwinded, but not too difficult.

The Pleuronectiformes, or flatfish, are a successful teleost order with about 500 known species, some of which are important commercially and are very tasty. The key to their success is their asymmetry: adults are camouflaged ambush predators who lurk on the sea bottom, taking advantage of their flat shape to rest cryptically and snap up small organisms that wander nearby. They lie on their sides, and have peculiarly lop-sided heads in which one eye has drifted to the other side, so both eyes are peering out from either the left or right side (which side is consistent and characteristic for a particular species, although there is at least one species with random assignment of handedness to individuals, and mutant strains are known in others that reverse the handedness.)

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Revealing slip of the keyboard

Catch ’em quick before they get deleted. In a post on Dembski’s blog that is discussing their Kansas ad campaign to falsely portray the IDist’s efforts as solely about teaching good science, there are a couple of interesting comments. Keep in mind that the Discovery Institute has declared that they aren’t trying to sneak intelligent design into the classroom, they just want an “honest” discussion of the weaknesses in evolutionary theory.

Here’s the first revealing comment, which plainly states that the goal of the Kansas science standards is to teach ID:

My hope is that ID will be taught properly in Kansas. Having been born and raised there I would love to claim to be from the first state to teach ID. There is a lot of movement among science high school teachers to never teach ID, even if it becomes a law because “we don’t know how to teach philosophy.”

It would be nice to see them learn. I worked in a school and grew tired of hearing them speak of how it’s wrong to point out the weaknesses in Darwin’s theory because, “even if it is weak, it’s still the best theory out there.” (Shades of Dawkins anyone?)

Comment by Joel Borofsky — July 30, 2006 @ 10:08 am

Bleh. How dishonest can you get? What informed teacher of biology would say of Darwin’s theory, “even if it is weak…”? It isn’t weak at all.

After being asked about this comment, take a look at his response, which digs an even deeper hole.

It really is ID in disguise. The entire purpose behind all of this is to shift it into schools…at least that is the hope/fear among some science teachers in the area. The problem is, if you are not going to be dogmatic in Darwinism that means you inevitably have to point out a fault or at least an alternative to Darwinism. So far, the only plausible theory is ID.

If one is to challenge Darwin, then one must use ID. To challenge Darwin is to challenge natural selection/spontaneous first cause…which is what the Kansas board is attempting to do. When you do that, you have to invoke the idea of ID.

Comment by Joel Borofsky — July 30, 2006 @ 9:04 pm

You may be saying, “So what? Blogs aren’t accountable for the random ravings of their flibbertigibbet commenters.” (I certainly don’t feel that way about mine.) There’s one important additional piece of information you need, though.

Joel Borofsky is Dembski’s research assistant and co-moderator of the site.

(hat tip to Richard Hughes.)

Signs of the Cephalopod Underground

A reader discovered this fascinating graffiti in downtown Minneapolis, near the transit center on Hennepin Avenue.


In Minneapolis! So far from the sea, but I’m not alone in pining for it.

I may have to look this up. This is a travel week for me, as I have to run around taking care of some essential pre-school year duties—I’m actually sitting in the St Cloud mall right now, watching the senior citizens do their laps, while waiting for our car to get some minor repairs and maintenance—and tomorrow I have to run in to the university to attend a meeting and to the airport to dispose of one of my kids for a few weeks. I might have some time to cruise the squid-haunted streets of the Big City for a while.

Actually, what I have is a physical bias

John Rennie deconstructs an IDist’s own definition of Intelligent Design. Here’s that definition:

ID is the claim that there exist patterns in nature that are best explained by intelligent agency. ID doesn’t claim to be a default explanation. It is claimed to be a legitimate hypothesis, supported by a large body of evidence, that deserves consideration without being rejected on principle because of a preconceived metaphysical bias.

Sentence by sentence, that definition is untenable. Read Rennie for the big picture, but I just want to focus on that last clause: the “preconceived metaphysical bias.” That’s a common creationist code phrase that you’ll hear a lot in this debate, and it can be translated as “scientists reject supernatural explanations.” That IDists claim to have a “best” explanation or that they actually have evidence in support of their beliefs becomes completely irrelevant when they cap their definition with the idea that you shouldn’t need rational, logical, tested explanations or any kind of empirical, natural evidence—the first part of the definition is a tacit admission of the need to meet the standards of our “metaphysical bias,” science, and that last bit is a rejection of science!

I think they need to cultivate a little more honesty and consistency, and lay out in detail what their metaphysical bias might be. Mine is that the processes of the natural world are sufficient to explain physical reality, and that what we require to understand the natural world are natural explanations. I’d like to see a summary of their biases and a list of the supernatural evidence that IDists want to use to support their contentions.

It’s how we can all get along

What an excellent demonstration of the importance of the principle of the separation of church and state: here’s a conservative Christian minister whose views on society and politics I find thoroughly odious; here’s a liberal Christian with whom I’d be 99% in agreement, but whose moderate religious views I can still find a bit batty; and then there’s me, the flaming atheist. We can all coexist and work together (or against each other, in a productive and civil way) as long as our government doesn’t arbitrarily privilege one religious view over another. As long as we can find common ground in our support for civil liberties and personal freedom to believe as we want, it really doesn’t matter what goofy ideas about gods we might have.

By the way, while you’re over at Making Light, don’t miss Jim Macdonald’s article on heat stress. We’re supposed to get up close to 100°F here in western Minnesota today, with high humidity and threats of thunderstorms—so it’s certainly timely information.