Where will I be today?

This afternoon, I’ll be at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, celebrating the birth of Charles Darwin. Everyone is welcome, so come on down!

1:00P – Lecture by historian of biology Professor Mark Borrello, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, on the history of Darwin and evolutionary theory.

2:00P – Lecture by biologist and blogger Professor P.Z. Myers, University of Minnesota—Morris, on evidence for evolution.

3:00P – Panel discussion of University of Minnesota evolutionary biologists on their cutting-edge research at the U of M titled “My Life’s Work in Three Minutes”. To be followed by a cake reception.

Charles Darwin achieved fame and infamy for his theory of evolution by natural selection, now the foundation underlying all biological sciences. Darwin Day is the anniversary of his birthday, whose exact date is February 12, 1809. The date is celebrated internationally.

For more information, contact:
Mike Jones
Publishing and Editing Committee Manager
Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists

Bell Museum of Natural History (Directions|Google Map)

Mmmmm-mmm. Cake. You can’t possibly miss this.

Deutsch speaks!

…and makes a total ass of himself.

In the interview, Mr. Deutsch said that Dr. Hansen had partisan ties “all the way up to the top of the Democratic Party,” and that he was “using those ties and using his media connections to push an agenda, a worst-case-scenario agenda of global warming.” He said that anyone who disagrees with Dr. Hansen “is labeled a censor and is demonized and vilified in the media — and the media of course is a willing accomplice here.”

And how does he know Hansen was a mere partisan flack peddling bad science? Because Deutsch almost has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M.

Awfully vague article about Dave Eaton

Eaton was the Minnetonka school board member and advocate of Intelligent Design creationism who abruptly resigned, shortly after his attempts to weaken his school district’s science standards were quashed. You wouldn’t know anything about that bit of backstory from this puff piece on Eaton, which has little but praise for the man and explains his departure by quoting him as saying he is “not leaving for any health, family or career reasons.”

C’mon, Strib. Come clean and say it. We know why he left: it’s because his brand of creationism was decisively crushed in Minnetonka, and he knew he was marginalized and isolated.

Pssst. Want a thousand dollars?

Take the geocentrism challenge from Catholic Apologetics International! They’re offering $1000 to the first person who can prove that the earth revolves around the sun. They claim that good Catholics really do have to believe that the earth is the center of the universe.

Scripture is very clear
that the earth is stationary and that the sun, moon and stars
revolve around it. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, “flat-earthers”
are not accepted here, since Scripture does not teach a flat earth,
nor did the Fathers teach it). If there was only one or two places
where the Geocentric teaching appeared in Scripture, one might
have the license to say that those passages were just incidental
and really didn’t reflect the teaching of Scripture at large.
But the fact is that Geocentrism permeates Scripture. Here are
some of the more salient passages (Sirach 43:2-5; 43:9-10; 46:4;
Psalm 19:5-7; 104:5; 104:19; 119:90; Ecclesiastes 1:5; 2 Kings
20:9-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38:7-8; Joshua 10:12-14; Judges
5:31; Job 9:7; Habakkuk 3:11; (1 Esdras 4:12); James 1:12). I
could list many more, but I think these will suffice.

I don’t think you stand much of a chance of winning though. Not only are they vague on how it will be judged, but looking over the site, it’s hard to believe it isn’t a satire.

If you have a few hours, take a look at the Fixed Earth page. This is High Crackpottery of the First Order—the author doesn’t believe the earth moves, that it is billions of years old, or that evolution occurred. NASA has been faking its planetary missions, and is engaging in spiritual warfare, driven by Pharisaic Kabbalism.

Easterbrook belongs on the Onion staff

I am not a fan of Gregg Easterbrook. He’s a pretentious twit who lectures Hawking on physics, calling him “kooky”, yet thinks Townes is wonderful and believes in an “invisible plane of existence: the spirit”. He makes ill-informed rants against atheists and Richard Dawkins, and has gone off on evolution before —he likes Intelligent Design.

His qualifications for these tirades on science? He’s a sports writer.

In the past, he’s been clear on finding this whole business of natural selection inadequate, preferring to preach that there is a loving god who has directed evolution.

The latter biological possibility is actually one of the reasons TMQ believes that human beings were made by a God who loves us. Why would natural selection have cared about reducing a person’s trauma at death? All natural selection cares about is fitness in passing down genes; if after replicating its DNA an organism dies in pain or panic, what’s that to evolution? In Darwinian terms, there would be no “selection pressure” favoring the peaceful death over the horrible death. Yet there appear to be biological mechanisms that help most people die peacefully. Why are such mechanisms in our physiologies? Maybe because somebody loves us.

Now Easterbrook has a post-Superbowl column in which he takes on evolution again. He’s got a new argument, though: that general evolution and selection stuff that he was arguing against before? It’s to be taken for granted.

That organisms evolve in response to changes in their environment is well-established—anyone who doubts this doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

I think that’s what a sports commentator would call an “own goal”. Yeah, all that stuff Easterbrook has written on the subject before shows he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

His “new” argument is to insist over and over again that evolution provides no information on the origin of life, accompanied by much protestation that those other ID advocates, who must not be as smart as he is, don’t know how to use the word “theory” and are misstating everything.

Now a know-nothing Utah state representative has proposed this bill that “requires the State Board of Education to establish curriculum requirements and policies that stress that not all scientists agree on which theory regarding the origins of life…is correct.” Hey, Utah state legislature, there are no theories on the origin of life. A few biologists have made wild guesses involving RNA, clay or hot ocean vents, but no scientist has offered anything nothing remotely near the level of a testable theory. (The details on that point) Given the presence of life is so mysterious, a creator God may be why we are here. But please, science illiterates, stop attempting to enact rules about intelligent design; you are ruining the idea.

Oh, and the “details on that point” about models of abiogenesis? He references an article by himself in The New Republic. He’s wrong. There are good theories on the origin of life, and there are scientists working on them…this isn’t a matter of wild guesses.

Easterbrook is hardly worth dissecting, but as I was reading his column, the breathless tone, the skewed point of view, the clueless but confident statements that are almost right but have all the details wrong and show he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about…they reminded me of someone.



I think Gregg Easterbrook is the Jackie Harvey of the Intelligent Design movement.

I’m flattering him. Guess who looks the more intelligent of the two?

That godly perspective

I haven’t mentioned the Clergy Letter Project or Evolution Sunday events before. They’re nice ideas—it’s an effort to get clergy to acknowledge good science, and encourage discussions about the subject on Darwin’s birthday, this Sunday—but I have to admit it’s rather orthogonal to my point of view. While I appreciate the sentiment and think it’s a positive step on the road to reason, I prefer to cut to the chase and jettison all the old religious baggage altogether.

I may have to take a more positive view towards it, though, since I ran across this weird wingnut site (well, maybe not too weird…he fits in well with a lot of Christians.) The author is greatly incensed at the temerity of these radical pastors.

Beginning with the Bible, it is simply impossible to arrive at evolution.

I have to agree with him on that. I’d counter it by noting that beginning with the world, evolution is simply inevitable and inescapable.

These 10,200 pastors arrogantly or ignorantly deviate from Christian tradition and orthodoxy by claiming their opinions trump the thousands of years of tradition and the plain reading of the Bible. The relativistic language, “forms of truth,” confirms that this is an appeal to pastors duped by the cultural influence of tolerance.

Heh. I’ve rarely seen anyone admit that they oppose tolerance, but there you go.

On the 197th anniversary of the birthday of Charles Darwin (February 12), 412 churches in 49 states will celebrate “Evolution Sunday.” Created in the imagination of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Michael Zimmerman, “Evolution Sunday” celebrates the “harmony of evolutionary science and faith”. Dismissing the Biblical accounts of creation as “beloved stories found in the Bible,” and as, “a different order than scientific truth,” Zimmerman and these churches proclaim that when science contradict the Bible, science wins.

Why, yes. Yes it does. The physical world does seem to trump religious delusions most effectively, doesn’t it?

After reading that twisted rant, I find myself viewing Zimmerman’s project much more charitably.

Guanlong wucaii

a, b, Cranial reconstruction in left lateral (a; shaded area indicates the unpreserved portion) and dorsal (b) views. adc, anterodorsal concavity; al, anterior lamina; an, angular; aof, antorbital fenestra; d, dentary; dg, dentary groove; emf, external mandibular fenestra; en, external naris; if, infratemporal fenestra; isf, foramen on ischium; j, jugal; jp, pneumatic jugal foramen; l, lacrimal; m, maxilla; mc I–IV, metacarpals I–IV; mo, maxillary opening; mt I–V, metatarsals I–V; mvc, median vertical crest; nc, nasal crest; obf, obturator foramen; orb, orbit; pf, prefrontal; pfe, pneumatic fenestra; pl, posterior lamina; pm, premaxilla; po, postorbital; pr, pneumatic recess; qj, quadratojugal; ri, right ilium; ris, right ischium; rp, right pubis; sa, surangular; sac, sacrum; sc, sagittal crest; sec, semilunate carpal; sq, squamosal; tp, tubercle on pubis; tr, transverse ridge. Scale bar: 5 cm

Well, I was going to put together more about this beautiful new basal tyrannosauroid from the Jurassic of China, Guanlong wucaii, but Carl Zimmer beat me to it. I’ll just show you that lovely crested skull, and below the fold, a picture of the fossil in situ, and let Carl do the hard work of explaining it all.

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Evolution of a polyphenism

Here’s some very cool news: scientists have directly observed the evolution of a complex, polygenic, polyphenic trait by genetic assimilation and accommodation in the laboratory. This is important, because it is simultaneously yet another demonstration of the fact of evolution, and an exploration of mechanisms of evolution—showing that evolution is more sophisticated than changes in the coding sequences of individual genes spreading through a population, but is also a consequence of the accumulation of masked variation, synergistic interactions between different alleles and the environment, and perhaps most importantly, changes in gene regulation.

Unfortunately, it’s also an example of some extremely rarefied terminology that is very precisely used in genetic and developmental labs everywhere, but probably makes most people’s eyes glaze over and wonder what the fuss is all about. I’ll try to give a simple introduction to those peculiar words, and explain why the evolution of a polyphenic pigment pattern in a caterpillar is a fascinating and significant result.

[Read more…]