Deep homologies in the pharyngeal arches

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PvM at the Panda’s Thumb has already written a bit about this issue in the article “Human Gland Probably Evolved From Gills”, but I’m not going to let the fact that I’m late to the party stop me from having fun with it. This is just such a darned pretty story that reveals how deeply vertebrate similarities run, using multiple lines of evidence.

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Cephalopod gnashers

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Cephalopods can inflict a nasty bite. On their underside, at the conjunction of their arms, they have a structure called the beak which does look rather like a bird’s beak, and which can close with enough force to crush shellfish. Many also dribble toxins into the wound that can cause pain, tissue necrosis, and paralysis. They aren’t the best animals to play with.

If you think about it, though, cephalopods don’t have a rigid internal skeleton. How do they get the leverage to move a pair of sharp-edged beaks relative to one another, and what the heck are they doing with a hard beak anyway? There’s a whole paper on the anatomy of just the buccal mass, the complex of beak, muscle, connective tissue, and ganglia that powers the cephalopod bite.

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Minor Dover aftershocks

Hank Fox reports that a pair of administrators who wasted the school’s time and money on Intelligent Design creationism are losing their jobs:

The Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Times-Leader reports that the Dover school board has “decided not to guarantee contract renewals for two top administrators who helped implement an intelligent-design policy that a federal judge overturned last year.”

“The Dover Area School Board voted Monday to open the jobs of Superintendent Richard Nilsen and Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa to other applicants. Nilsen’s contract expires June 30, 2007, and Baksa’s contract expires July 1, 2007.”

Awww. Here’s the funny part, though.

Both men are allowed to reapply for their jobs, but Nilsen said after the board meeting that he is looking for another job and could leave before his contract expires. He said he had “no idea” why his contract was not being renewed.

The incompetent are often blissfully unaware of the reasons for their failure, that is true.

Please go laugh at UncommonDescent

DaveScot is one of those genuinely deranged ID supporters, and I don’t like giving him any attention…but Richard Hughes just sent me a note mentioning this long defensive thread he has started at UncommonDescent, and he’s just done something so darned funny and stupid I can’t resist.

He’s arguing about gravity. At one point, he claims that “By the way, gravity is the strongest force in nature.” As you might guess, he’s jumped on for that, and so he rushes off to find some supporting evidence…and gets it, he says, from John G. Cramer, professor of physics. Here’s the part he quotes:

Curiously, in some ways gravity is also the strongest force in the universe. It always adds, never subtracts, and can build up until it overwhelms all other forces.

The hilarious bit here that is so characteristic of creationists is that this is a highly selective quote. He left out the first sentence of the article.

Gravity is the weakest force in the universe.

Doesn’t that just say everything about IDists approach to science?

Where did you all go, Coulterites?

A strange thing, after I clarified my Coulter challenge and requested that her fans get specific and tell me what they supported and why in her book…the e-mail from them all dried up. Pffft. Gone.

Maybe they just got bored with me, but it’s sad that no one has even tried to suggest a single good paragraph in all of Godlessssss. It’s as if they’re willing to play mindless cheerleader, but actually committing to thinking and supporting specifically a single thing she says…well, that’s just not going to happen.

A serious question: how do you deal with talk radio?

I need some suggestions, so I’m asking for a little tactical brainstorming in the comments. This afternoon, August Berkshire mentioned that there would be an Intelligent Design advocate on KKMS Christian talk radio in the Twin Cities, and that they’d be interviewing a Dr. Don Bierle. I’d never heard of the guy, so I did a little digging; you can hear him at a talk at the MacLaurin Institute, for instance. His schtick is that he actually has a Ph.D. in biology from a credible school, although he doesn’t seem to have ever actually done any biology, and is just another minister as near as I can tell. He claims to be arguing from an evidence-based perspective for ID.

Here’s the problem. He’s as dopey and ignorant as your standard televangelist, and his arguments are pathetic. In that recorded talk, he actually goes on at length about the bombardier beetle. On the radio, he gives the usual uncritical acceptance of Behe’s and Dembski’s discredited claims. He argues that ID is sweeping through biology, and that more and more scientists are accepting it.

Basically, he’s lying up a storm, even though I’m sure he’s perfectly sincere and believes every dishonest claim he makes.

Now just how should we respond to such blatant BS? I thought about calling in, but since I really didn’t have a question for him and would only make a comment that he’s wrong, I didn’t bother. Here’s roughly what I was thinking of saying:

Dr Bierle, you said you were going to present the evidence for intelligent design. However, all you’ve given us is logical fallacies. You’ve continually presented this debate as a false dichotomy between design (your belief) and chance (your misrepresentation of evolution.) Evolution is not a theory that everything arose by chance.

Secondly, you’ve made the argument from personal incredulity. Specificity and complexity, no matter how wonderful and amazing and difficult for you to grasp, are not evidence of design. Evolutionary theory provides a mechanism for generating complexity and specificity that does not require the intervention of an intelligent agent.

Given that you haven’t given one reasonable argument for ID and that all your arguments against evolution depend on grossly mischaracterizing the theory, do you understand why the scientific community has not rushed to accept the idea? Despite claiming to base your argument on science, it is unpersuasive to scientists precisely because you have failed to address any scientific issues.

It’s a dismissal, not a real question, not a statement that would affect the god-bots of KKMS. In general, though, it does reflect my opinion of these frauds and fakes who misrepresent science to advance their theological dogma. Does anybody have a better strategy they can recommend for dealing with talk radio?

That danged exasperating caution

I’m feeling a bit peevish about the Democrats right now. I got some email from people promoting Gary Hart, mentioning that he is berating congressional Democrats for failing to stand up against the administration.

There is integrity, there is conviction, and there is courage. History’s jury will sit in judgment today on those Democrats and will find wanting those without the conviction and courage to say “enough”.

I’m sensing a pattern here. Democrats run for president as cautious cowards who avoid standing up for progressive policies, they get mauled by the media anyway, they lose, and then afterwards they bravely lecture everyone else about integrity, conviction, and courage. And, sad to say, TBogg is seeing the same signs of timidity in Barack Obama.

I would buy Obama’s deference to leaders in the Democratic party if I felt that were any leaders in the Democratic party (Anyone? Anyone?) but he doesn’t seem to want to fill the void and so we end up with a bland parsing pol who spends all of his time trying to not leave anything distinctive on his permanent record…and we already have an Evan Bayh. Personally I’m tired of Democrats who are obsessed with process and talking about how they need to get their message out. There comes a time to decide what you stand for…and then stand for it.

Amen. And the time to decide what you stand for is not after you lose the election.

Right now, I wish we were occupying the moral high ground

The Rude Pundit makes a rude point here: two American soldiers have been captured by the bad guys in Iraq. I can, in good conscience, sit here and hope that they are treated in a civilized fashion by their captors, and are eventually released unharmed; this will, of course, make American treatment of Iraqis look beastly and barbaric by comparison. If they are abused and humiliated, smeared with excrement, photographed naked in degrading poses, attacked by dogs, or otherwise maltreated, I can again in good conscience condemn their captors as barbarous animals; I’m not sure what the right wing in this country will do. Sneer at the ineffectual frat-boy hazing? Hypocritically threaten to nuke the country in retribution? Sadly, the only thing that would unite left and right in opposition to their treatment is if those soldiers were killed, and the right is in the position of requiring a lower standard of behavior.

Thanks to the inhumane policies of our government, we are now in a lose-lose situation. There is no reason to expect or demand any kind of moral treatment of our captured soldiers when we aren’t willing to give such treatment to Iraqi prisoners.

Dershowitz vs. Keyes

A reader sent me a link to this highly entertaining debate between Alan Keyes and Alan Dershowitz on religion. You can download the mp3 and have the two Alans shouting at each other on the stereo while you fix your bowl of oatmeal in the morning, like I did. I think Dershowitz kicked butt—if nothing else, he got Keyes to admit that if he’d been president, he wouldn’t have allowed any atheists to have positions of responsibility in the government—and there’s a lot of good, healthy shouting going on. My only reservation is that, well, it’s Dershowitz, who has supported torture, vs. Keyes, who is simply insane.

I thought this was good:

In North America today, according to a recent census, there are 27 million people who are not religious and a million and a half avowed atheists. There is no evidence to suggest they are less moral than those who go to synagogue, mosque, and church everyday. Indeed, it is my contention that a truly moral person, who acts morally–not out of fear of damnation or out of promise of reward, but because it’s the right thing–if anything, is more moral. More moral. The atheist or the agnostic who throws himself in front of an oncoming bus to save a child, knowing that there is no eternal promise, that there is nothing but the grave that awaits him, is more moral than Sir Thomas More who made a cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to face eternal damnation by disobeying the pope or face instantaneous death by disobeying the king.