Scientists making creationists cry

The Discovery Institute is getting so politely eviscerated by a couple of people right now — you ought to savor the destruction.

Richard Sternberg, the wanna-be martyr of the Smithsonian Institution, made a stupid mathematical mistake in explaining alternatively splicing, and then, after it was explained to him, did it a second time, revealing that it wasn’t just an unfortunate slip, but a complete failure to grasp the basic concept. Even that wouldn’t be so bad, except that Sternberg has been yammering away about how alternative splicing represents a serious problem for evolution.

Steve Matheson continues his deconstruction of the DI’s poor performance in a recent debate. The creationists are constantly cheesed off about the whole idea of junk DNA, that there are great stretches of sequence that have no specific functional role, and seize upon every little example of non-coding DNA shown to have an effect on the phenotype to claim that all of it does. They don’t understand junk DNA. Again, it’s embarrassing that they even strain at this topic when they are so clueless.

My objection to Meyer’s references to introns and “junk DNA” is more than just a quibble about the molecular biology of introns. I’ve explained before why I find the whole “junk DNA” mantra to be utterly duplicitous, and I referenced my previous writing in the critique of Meyer. The basic story told by DI propagandists and other creationists is that non-coding DNA was ignored for decades, during which it was thought to be completely functionless (due to “Darwinist” ideas), only to be dramatically revealed as centrally important to life. That story is false. The real story is more interesting and complex (of course) and has been explained in detail several times.

Really, T. Ryan Gregory’s short and sweet post on the history of the concept is essential reading. If only the ID creationists would read it…

And finally, Matheson has a far too charitable letter to Stephen Meyer. He assumes that Meyer is a smart guy, honestly interested in science, who has gotten sucked into the inbred and self-deluding folly of creationism, urging him to get out and talk to actual scientists, where he’d learn what they really think, rather than these fallacious myths creationists tell themselves. It’s a nice idea, but I think the premise is incorrect. Meyer is a creationist first, who has been trying to learn little bits of science that he can use to rationalize his preconceptions.

It’s still a very nice letter, though, and a scathing denunciation of the Discovery Institute. They’ll ignore it, I’m sure, except to move Matheson a few notches higher on their list of enemies.