More press for the godless

Ho hum, I’m quoted in Nature again this week (do I sound convincingly blasé?) It’s a short news article on Francis Collins’ new book, The Language of God, which I find dreadfully dreary and unconvincing, and I find his argument that “The moral law is a signpost to a God who cares about us as individuals. God used a mechanism of evolution to create human beings with whom he could have that kind of fellowship” to be ridiculously unscientific garbage.

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Ken Lay Resurrection Watch

In light of this startling comparison at the Ken Lay funeral, we’re going to have to keep on eye on the urn containing his cremated ashes.

The Reverend Dr. Bill Lawson compared Lay with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, and said his name would eventually be cleared.

I don’t think there’s much risk that he’ll rise again. Can you imagine Satan showing him all the kingdoms of the world, saying “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me,” and Kenny Boy failing to rush to his knees and sing hosannas on the spot?

Odontogriphus omalus

A new report in this week’s Nature clears up a mystery about an enigmatic fossil from the Cambrian. This small creature has been pegged as everything from a chordate to a polychaete, but a detailed analysis has determined that it has a key feature, a radula, that places it firmly in the molluscan lineage. It was a kind of small Cambrian slug that crawled over matted sheets of algae and bacteria, scraping away a meal.

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New creationist strategy: throw everyone in a deep hole in the ground, then recite dogma at them

This is funny, in a sad, pathetic kind of way: Helmut visited the Skyline Caverns in Virginia, and once the tour group was 200 feet down, the guide played a canned religious message at them. I’m not sure how I would react to such an occurrence, but I’m sure you’d all wish you could be there, with a camera.

I think I’d give an impromptu counter-lecture. I guess it would depend on the details of what the foolish sermon said.

Development, medicine, and evolution of the neck and shoulder

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Neck anatomy has long terrified me. Way back when I was a grad student, my lab studied the organization and development of the hindbrain, which was relatively tidy and segmental; my research was studying the organization and development of the spinal cord, which was also tidy and segmental. The cervical region, though, was complicated territory. It’s a kind of transitional zone between two simple patterns, and all kinds of elaborate nuclei and new cell types and structural organizations flowered there. I drew a line at the fifth spinal segment and said I’m not even going to look further anteriorly…good thing, too, or I’d probably still be trying to finish my degree.

Fortunately, Matsuoka et al. were braver than I was and they have applied some new molecular techniques to sort out some of the details of how the neck and shoulder are assembled. This is a developmental study of how the muscles and bones of the shoulder girdle and neck are derived, and what they’ve identified is 1) a fairly simple rule for part of the organization, 2) an explanation for some human pathologies, and 3) some interesting observations about evolution. It is very cool to find a paper that ties together molecular genetics, development, paleontology, and medicine together so inseparably.

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Noted without comment

Jodi Rudoren née Wilgoren, whose views on journalistic responsibility to accuracy and truth were encapsulated in this comment,

I don’t consider myself a creationist. I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal views on how the canyon was carved, mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views — it takes all my energy as a reporter and writer to understand and explain my subjects’ views fairly and thoroughly.

has been promoted at the NY Times.

Mixed feelings

Creationists are liars, and the current Intelligent Design campaign in Kansas shows that there seem to be few exceptions. Their latest effort down there is to claim all supporters of evolution are atheists, which is obviously false, and is simply a ploy to generate knee-jerk opposition to good science. Jack Krebs has been fighting the lies, which is good. Unfortunately, he’s also perpetuating the problem.

John Calvert has been instrumental in developing and promoting your science standards. Therefore, I want to go on public record here, in front of you, in asking that Calvert quit making these false accusations that those of us who accept modern science and evolutionary theory can’t also accept God. Many tens of thousands of religious Kansans are being painted as “tools of atheism” by these accusations, and they have a right to be insulted.

John Calvert is a sleazy, dishonest scumbag who will make up any lie that he thinks will advance the cause of state-sponsored ignorance, and please do point out that he’s misrepresenting the facts. But why should anyone be insulted at being called an atheist? If Calvert had declared that everyone at Kansas Citizens for Science was an Episcopalian, it would be just as ludicrous a lie, but would they then go on to deplore the terrible, horrible, insulting thing he had just called them?

Help the Australian lungfish

I just received a letter from Per Ahlberg, who is working as the international coordinator in a campaign to save the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri, this magnificent creature:

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Unfortunately, this species is threatened, and its situation is getting worse, as its habitat is at risk of destruction. As Dr Ahlberg put it:

Neoceratodus, which is the most tetrapod-like of living fishes and an invaluable source of information about the transition from fish to land vertebrates (particularly from an evo-devo perspective), is native only to the Mary and Burnett Rivers of Queensland. The adults usually live in deep pools, but they breed in shallow areas with lots of underwater vegetation. Because of the way water levels in dams fluctuate, you don’t get such shallow vegetated areas in dams, and accordingly there’s nowhere for the lungfish to breed. Downstream of the dam, reduced flow will lead to the drying out of established breeding areas, and because lungfish are very loyal to their old breeding sites – they often simply cease to breed if their old sites are lost – this is also likely to have a severe long-term impact on the population. On 5 July the Queensland Government approved a major dam on the Mary River. A dam on the Burnett River was approved in 2003 and is already under construction, so the lungfish has its back against the wall. The dam can still be stopped by the Federal government, as Neoceratodus is a protected animal, but they need to be persuaded to act. We have very little time.

I’ve got some contact information I can pass along to anyone who is seriously interested in helping out by putting pressure on Australian politicians or media—just drop me a line, and I can forward your message on or reply back with some names and email addresses.