Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.


And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube:

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.


Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Steven C. Meyer’s latest book, Darwin’s Doubt. As with the previous installment, this is going to be drawn from reviews by others with the required expertise. Let’s take a look at Meyer’s use of phylogeny.

The fossil record of the Cambrian period, a time when many multi-cell animal types first appeared, presents a problem. That problem is determining the phylogeny of the various phyla first observed here in the fossil record. We would like to know which animal type, represented in the fossil record, had the most recent common ancestor with which. Biologists (and paleontologists) attempt to deduce the phylogeny of Cambrian life by comparing genotypes of extant life. It works like this. See the diagrams from Meyer’s book:


Figure 21-1

Species #1 has trait A. Species 2 has trait AB. And so on. One logical conclusion is that originally there was a species with trait A. Species 2 derived from species 1 with the additional trait B, retaining trait A. That is not the only possibility. See the following diagrams.

This is the inferred sequence of acquired traits, and this is the inferred order of branching. Trait B was acquired after the initial branch. And so on.


Figure 21-2

Meyer now begins his argument against the validity of cladistics derived in this manner.

Yet, as systematists include more characters in their analysis, the potential increases for generating inconsistent pictures of the history of life. So too does the need to apply subjective, post hoc, or theory-laden judgments about which characters to include or how to weight the different characters— at least, that is, if the algorithms are to produce reasonably coherent trees that conform to theoretical expectations about the nature of evolutionary change. An analysis of a group of species based upon one small set of characters may produce a clear, unambiguous cladogram. An analysis of the same group emphasizing a different set of characters can render an equally unambiguous branching tree pattern that is inconsistent with the first tree. An analysis including all the characters present in both datasets, however, can generate a complicated picture of evolutionary history in which some characters emerge or disappear on different branches independently. These patterns of character distribution are typically attributed to convergent evolution or loss of characters. (Alternatively, the algorithm may identify many conflicting phylogenetic trees that are equally parsimonious.)

For example, imagine that in addition to characters A, B, C, D, and E in the figures above, a systematist also analyzes characters F and G. Imagine further that when characters F and G are included in the analysis, F occurs on branches 1, 3, and 5 (but not on 2 or 4), and G appears on branches 2, 4, and 5 (but not on 1 or 3), as shown in Figure 21.3. Explaining this pattern requires invoking multiple separate origins of the same characters (convergent evolution) and/ or instances of character loss.

Since cladistics presupposes universal common descent and evolutionary biologists generally think the likelihood is low of characters appearing multiple times on separate lines of descent, this type of analysis strives to minimize the number of unexpected evolutionary events (especially separate origins of the same characters) necessary to explain the observed distribution. This attempt to generate a tree depicting the least number of steps is called maximizing parsimony. However, maximizing parsimony (and minimizing the number of events involving convergence or loss) frequently becomes difficult as systematists include more characters in their analysis.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7739-7755). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Parsimony is the brass ring in much of science. The conclusion requiring the least supposition is considered superior. Meyer displays his take on what happens when researchers incorporate additional traits.


Figure 21-3

An excerpt from the book summarizes Meyer’s objection:

The New Scientist article cited a study by Michael Syvanen, a biologist at the University of California at Davis, who studied the relationships among several phyla that first arose in the Cambrian.15  Syvanen’s study compared two thousand genes in six animals spanning phyla as diverse as chordates, echinoderms, arthropods, and nematodes. His analysis yielded no consistent tree-like pattern. As the New Scientist reported, “In theory, he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals. He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories.” Syvanen himself summarized the results in the bluntest of terms: “We’ve just annihilated the tree of life. It’s not a tree anymore, it’s a different topology [pattern of history] entirely. What would Darwin have made of that?”16

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 2284-2292). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It’s obvious to Nick Matzke, who has written scathing reviews of the book, that Meyer is way over his head attempting to argue this topic. Meyer, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from Cambridge, has not made a formal study of either biology or paleontology. His review of supposed problems with naturalistic explanations of the Cambrian Explosion follows a course of picking through published science and finding quotes and even published research that reinforce his views. Matzke points this out.

Matzke takes up the issue of Consistency Index with respect to cladistic analysis:

Meyer discusses – for the first time ever – the Consistency Index (CI), which is a measure of the congruence of characters on a tree, and a standard statistic calculated in cladistic analysis to assess the treelike nature of the data. Meyer cites two CI values from cladistic analyses of Cambrian groups – 0.565 (Legg et al. 2012) and 0.384 (Briggs and Fortey 1989) and declares them “low”. In the case of Briggs and Fortey (1989), Meyer quotes the authors, who call 0.384 “rather low.” Meyer doesn’t mention that this was just about the very first preliminary attempt at cladistics of Cambrian arthropods, but that’s not the most important problem.

I will not dive deeply into this topic, since it is above my job grade. However, when weighing the level of trust of Matzke versus Meyer, the balance tips heavily in favor of Matzke:

He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. He received Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 2013.

He has choice words regarding Meyer’s methods:

What is the expected CI value if there is no phylogenetic signal in the data? This is what creationists are claiming when they claim the data doesn’t support a phylogenetic tree. This null expectation is easy to calculate (as I mentioned in my original review, but which Meyer, incredibly, missed) by reshuffling each character’s data by randomly assigning the character states to species without regard to phylogeny. The resulting dataset will have the exact same percentages of each character state, the same number of states per character, etc., but will have no phylogenetic signal. Parsimony inference of cladograms can be performed, and CI statistics calculated, for these reshuffled datasets.

The result is a null distribution of CI values. The 95% confidence interval of this null distribution is displayed on the plot. As you can see, the null expectation changes somewhat depending on the number of species in the analysis. So, a CI of 0.5 is low if you have only 10 taxa, but it’s high if you have 30. What is key is that if your dataset’s CI is higher than the null, you can statistically reject the hypothesis of no tree structure in the data. With a little more work you could calculate how many standard deviations you are above the mean of the null distribution.

Briggs & Fortey (1989) had 28 taxa in their analysis. Legg et al. 2012 had 173. Now, consult the figure. I would want to do the randomization myself on the original datasets to be really sure, since conceivably the detailed results could depend e.g. on the number of characters with more than two states, but most morphology datasets are substantially binary characters anyway. As you can see, 28 taxa and a CI of 0.384 is a highly significant rejection of the hypothesis of no cladistic structure, and a CI 0.565 with 173 taxa is an incredibly, mind-bogglingly strong rejection of the null hypothesis. It’s probably hundreds of standard deviations above the random expectation.

Even worse, Meyer should have known about this. Not only has this finding about CI been in the literature since 1991, it’s been prominently available in Theobald’s common ancestry FAQ for 10 years! Meyer himself even cited the FAQ in Darwin’s Doubt, dismissing the entire thing in barely a sentence with “In reality, however, the technical literature tells a different story” (Meyer 2013, p. 122).

The only place where I’ve seen the argument “my gut says that’s a low CI value, therefore cladistics doesn’t support common ancestry” before is from Casey Luskin, Meyer’s “research” assistant for Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, get a new research assistant! Luskin, get educated before blabbing about technical topics you know nothing about!

The Casey Luskin cited by Matzke is this Casey Luskin:

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. In his role at Discovery Institute, Mr. Luskin works as Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture, assisting and defending scientists, educators, and students who seek to freely study, research, and teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. He formerly conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).

Luskin is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution by starting “IDEA Clubs” on college and high school campuses across the country.

We have previously discussed Casey Luskin in relation to the story of the IDEA Clubs:

What the creationists did in response to the Kitzmiller decision was typical of their game plan. Lacking any productive research in Intelligent Design, the CSC operates solely as a propaganda mill for creationism. Judge Jones, who had previously been quite respectable, was now an activist judge, and incompetent, besides. He had been duped by the claimants’ lawyers and had used large portions of their briefs in his 139-page decision. When Judge Jones received death threats, most likely not from evolutionists, he was given Secret Service protection.

One cog of the CSC’s propaganda mill is the IDEA club web. IDEA stands for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, and the clubs are the inspiration of CSC propagandist Casey Luskin. The clubs are student organizations on college campuses and at some minor schools. We have previously covered the state of the IDEA clubs. In April I noted the following activity:10

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

We first encountered the IDEA clubs when fellow skeptic Greg Aicklen and I attended a talk by creationist Robert Koons at the University of Texas at Dallas:

Wilston Nkangoh is a senior studying computer science at UT Dallas and his Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club at the University has been in operation for over a year. If you guessed its purpose is to discuss (favorably) the concept of “intelligent design” (ID) creationism you might be in line to win the NTS psychic challenge. From the IDEA Club Web site:

The IDEA Club at UTD is an official chapter of the [Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center] in San Diego. This club was founded on October 17th, 2002 with the intention of being a forum where faculty, staff, and students can discuss the scientific controversy over human origins, which has surfaced across academia since the early nineties.Even though the IDEA Club is intended to be an organization for members to discuss origins, the club founder, Wilston, decided to expand its discussion topics. Such topics will include the philosophy of science, the advancement of science, and other interesting issues within the realm of human thought, such as, metaphysics, morality, religion, spirituality, sociology, theology, the theory of knowledge (epistemology), et cetera. See [Faq 7]. Ultimately, IDEA Club members will discuss various ideas pertaining to “origins science” and other “life issues,” throughout the school year.1

We learned about the group through an e-mail notifying us of an upcoming lecture by Robert C. Koons, an noted supporter of ID creationism and professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Since Greg Aicklen and I are both UT Dallas graduates, we decided to drop in on Professor Koons’ Friday afternoon lecture.

Past all of that, Meyer’s goal is to cast doubt on the capability of natural processes to account for the Cambrian fossils. His instruments are manifold:

  • Argue there is not enough time—the Cambrian Explosion is too short—for natural processes to work.
  • Fossils that would explain the evolutionary development of the varied organism are missing.
  • The methods employed by mainstream biologists are flawed.

Reading the book one gets the impression that Meyer is telling us the evolutionary development depicted by the Cambrian fossils could not have happened. There were many times during my reading I wanted to ask Meyer, “You say this could not happen, yet here are the fossils in the Cambrian record. You are saying these animals could not have developed by biological evolution, yet here they are.”

We become ever more sure that Meyer is going to wind up giving us an alternative explanation. Eventually he does, and at various points he drops hints. On the final pages of the book Meyer gets down to what this book is all about, and it turns out to be exactly what we expected.

In a future installment of this series I will explore the point Meyer labors so diligently throughout the book to develop. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

A few days ago I posted a short comment on creationist Steven C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, which came out in 2013. Previously (2009) I reviewed his Signature in the Cell. This series of posts is going to be a continuation of my comments on the more recent book.

The first 56%  comprises the main book, what the book is about. The remainder is Meyer’s response to critiques of the initial edition followed by acknowledgements, references to cited sources, and such. My immediate concern will be with the main text.

Reading through the first 250+ pages I came to realize I have insufficient knowledge of biology and paleontology to appreciate Meyer’s arguments, so for the most part my critique is going to reflect the findings of experts. Certain comments and claims made by Meyer fall within my range of knowledge, and I will offer a personal response to those.

Here’s an overview: Meyer’s previous book deals with supposed outside intelligence and its influence on biological evolution and biogenesis. Darwin’s Doubt is about the Cambrian explosion and how Darwinian evolution (natural causes) cannot account for it.

Nick Matzke posted a lengthy (9000+ words) critique of the book the day after it was offered for sale. Meyer wonders at this prodigious feat, and I would as well. Except, skeptic that I am, I suspect Matzke obtained an early copy, although this is never openly discussed. Here is an excerpt from Meyer’s response:

According to Matzke, cladistic analysis has established the existence of “transitional” and “intermediate” forms between the animals that first arose in the Cambrian. In his view, cladistics has solved the problem of the missing ancestral fossils discussed in Part 1 (Chapters 1– 7) of the book. As he asserts, “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” Matzke argues that my failure to inform readers of this disqualifies the book from serious consideration as an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

Of course, in making this argument, Matzke scarcely addresses the central argument of the book: the problem of the origin of biological information.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7631-7638). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This I find to be so very quaint. The problem of the origin of biological information was supposed to have been the subject of Signature in the Cell. Matzke aside, my reading of Darwin’s Doubt gave me the impression the book was supposed to be an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

I will start by analyzing the dispute outlined above. Meyer says that Matzke asserts “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” This actual quote appears in a subsequent post by Matzke titled “Luskin’s Hopeless Monster,” and is the one cited in the book. I find this in Matzke’s original post, and I have highlighted the relevant text:

Yet another confusion that Meyer exhibits relates to the idea of “ancestor”. As with all creationists, Meyer exhibits no understanding of the fact that phylogenetic methods as they exist now can only rigorously detect sister-group relationships, not direct ancestry, and, crucially, that this is neither a significant flaw, nor any sort of challenge to common ancestry, nor any sort of evidence against evolution. Distinguishing between a close sister-group relationship and an exact ancestor is just a level of precision that we cannot expect in most cases. It’s just a by-product of the method and the data available. (This is not quite the end of the discussion on this topic – eventually, we will have Bayesian methods that will assign probabilities to hypotheses of direct ancestry, although this will require formal definition and then data-informed estimation of what “ancestral lineage” means in terms of morphological variability within a lineage, the biogeographic and stratigraphic range of “morphospecies” through times, etc. End nerdy sidetrack.) But phylogenetic methods can and do regularly and rigorously identify collateral ancestry – sister group relationships, and ancestral grades and clades. We can say that birds descend from dinosaurs with essentially 100% statistical confidence, without knowing which if any currently-described fossils are exact direct ancestors rather than closely-related sister groups.

For all of the above reasons, almost every page of Meyer’s discussion of Cambrian organisms contains howlers of the first order. For example, in chapter 2:

First, the great profusion of completely novel forms of life in the Burgess assemblage (feature 3) demanded that even more transitional forms than had previously been thought missing. Each new and exotic Cambrian creature – the anomalocarids (see Fig. 2.10), Marrella, Opabinia, and the bizarre and appropriately named Hallucigenia– for which there were again no obvious ancestral forms in the lower strata, required its own series of transitional ancestors. But where were they?

Casey Luskin is a lawyer working for the Discovery Institute, the premier advocate of Intelligent Design in this country.

Meyer’s response to Matzke is notably weak. He does not attempt to refute any of the critique, but only complains that Matzke is missing the point of the book. One has to wonder, if this topic does not contribute to the point of the book, when why is Meyer discussing it? Meyer’s only defense seems to be an attempt to deflect attention away from this and other noted flaws.

At this point I need to illustrate what is meant by phylogenetic methods. Here is a simple diagram:


Misconceptions about evolution (

Such a diagram can be constructed by a number of ways, but all methods employ extant organisms. Comparing similar body features (homology) one can determine the order of branching illustrated above. At one point in the past the line of descent of sharks branched from that of other fishes, never to merge again. Ultimately mammals, including us, derived from the right-hand branch and not from the shark branch.

Homology is a coarse-handed way to compare organisms. A finer-grained way is to use protein sequencing and even DNA sequencing. This is because similar forms can disguise true ancestry, which ancestry is more accurately revealed by comparing molecules.

Matzke continues his argument:

Again, it is only by refusing to depict and specifically discuss of the inter-relationships of these sorts of taxa, and the data that supports them, and to mention the statistical support for the resulting relationships, that Meyer manages to pretend to his readers that these questions are not even partially answered, are unanswerable, and that “poof, God did it” is a better explanation. Here’s the cladogram from Legg et al. (2012) again:


From Nick Matzke post

Matzke drives home his point with some force:

What goes into diagrams like this? They represent summaries of the morphological character data, which in this case you can see right here. Many readers, and virtually all creationists/IDists, will have little idea of the scale of effort that goes into constructing a dataset like this. These researchers, and the previous researchers that they are building upon, identified 580 individual, variable characters, each of which has to be identified, defined, divided up into discrete character states, and encoded. This laborious process had to be repeated for (in this case) 173 fossil taxa (correction – some are living, e.g. Drosophila). A lot of fossils are missing a lot of characters – typical and expected in paleontological analyses – but it is still a lot of work. After this, one runs a cladistic or other phylogenetic analysis (whole textbooks and courses are devoted just to this step of the process, and articles devoted to testing the reliability of phylogenetic methods, and improving the methods, are continually being published) and calculates support statistics. The support statistics are important since they tell you whether or not your data have any phylogenetic tree structure. Usually this doesn’t get major emphasis in scientific publications, because almost any biological dataset typically has extremely statistically significant tree signal, and this is true whether or not it agrees precisely with other analyses, and whether or not all relationships of interest to the researcher are precisely resolved with high support.

To anyone familiar with this work, it is simply laughable and pretty much insulting to see Stephen Meyer proclaim throughout his book that fossils with transitional morphology don’t exist, that the Cambrian body plans look like they originated all-at-once in one big sudden step. These statements don’t respect scientific process, they don’t respect the peer reviewed literature, they don’t respect the intelligence and knowledge of people who actually do know what they are talking about, they don’t respect the hard work of all the scientists that went out in the field and found these fossils, and then spent countless hours preparing them, describing them, inspecting them in microscopic detail, coding them in a morphology database, and analyzing them, all with care and effort and detail never taken by any creationist/IDist writer in any effort of comparative biology. And most importantly, Meyer’s statements don’t respect the data. They don’t follow the evidence wherever it leads, mostly because Meyer is ignoring most of the evidence.

A lot of Meyer’s book has to do with disputing the lineage of Cambrian animal life. In future installments of this series I will mine additional instances and also comment on some of his absurd claims related to information and intelligence.

Keep reading.

L’Affaire Sternberg


Three years ago I concluded the my discussion of the Coppedge controversy—l’affaire Coppedge.

Judge: NASA firing of JPL employee wasn’t due to intelligent design advocacy

Employee’s firing was due to job performance, not religion.
by John Timmer – Nov 2 2012

Earlier today, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s staff were busy recounting their latest successes on the surface of Mars. At the same time, news broke that JPL’s lawyers were succeeding in the courtroom. In 2010, JPL was sued by an employee for religious discrimination after it asked him to (among other things) stop aggressively promoting intelligent design at work. A wrongful termination charge was added less than a year later after the employee, David Coppedge, was let go. But the judge overseeing that case has accepted the JPL’s arguments that Coppedge was let go for performance reasons as part of a larger cutback of staff.

That quote was from ARS Technica. I had my own concluding remarks:

The end of an affair? Only if you are optimistic. Creationist like to milk cases like this to portray themselves as martyrs for the true religion, all the while claiming that Intelligent Design is not religion. We may hear more from them about this business. In the Coppedge affair it would appear the creationists sought to demonstrate that, although Coppedge considered Intelligent Design to be real science, his supervisors thought it was religion, so the creationists really could have it both ways. Perhaps beside the point of the whole affair is that nobody has ever demonstrated any scientific merit for Intelligent Design or any other flavor of creationism, while about seven years ago a district judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the school board defendants in the case had been unable to make the case that Intelligent Design has a scientific basis. And, yes, the judge in the Dover case also agreed that Intelligent Design is solely a matter of religion.

C’est finis.

For another case it appears not to be finished. I call this case l’affaire Sternberg. I have touched on this previously. A particular instance was my review of the video starring economist, movie actor and television personality Ben Stein and titled Expelled:

In 2008 the word began to circulate, and there was a lot of excitement. I eagerly awaited the release of the video and purchased my copy through Amazon. It’s Expelled, starring movie and television personality Ben Stein.

As you can see, the subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. If by now you are getting the idea this is going to be about Intelligent Design, then you can come up to the head of the class.

A personality featured in the video is evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg. The story in Expelled is that Sternberg suffered undue criticism and retribution for publishing a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington a scientific journal for which Sternberg was editor at the time. That was in 2004, and the story lingers. Here is an excerpt from the Expelled review:

Sternberg met with Steven C. Meyer, the author of a paper that Sternberg published in the journal of which he was editor. Apparently the two arranged to have the paper published in order to give Intelligent Design the prestige of having a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Sternberg did not consult with others on the editorial board of the journal, but he selected the four reviewers, including himself. He has never revealed the identities of the other three reviewers, which I presume were fans of Intelligent Design.

At any level of reading the paper has no scientific merit. I have read it and found it to be at the level of an op-ed piece that might be printed in the opinions section of a newspaper. You can read it for yourself.

The editorial board was highly outraged, which outrage provided much of the fuel for the fire storm fanned in the video.

Sternberg did not lose his job. He was not employed at the Smithsonian. He was employed at the National Institutes of Health, and in his free time he was doing unpaid research at the Smithsonian. His job as editor for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was a voluntary, unpaid position. He announced his resignation as editor even before the paper in question was published.

A post by Jonathan Coddington on the Panda’s Thumb blog provides additional detail:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM (e)

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

The matter of Sternberg having to surrender his keys to the Smithsonian lab is even more bizarre:


“In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)


According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”

The Smithsonian wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, observing, “Dr. Sternberg’s characterization of his work conditions and treatment at the Smithsonian is incorrect. He was never denied office space, keys or access to the collections.”

In a January 30, 2006, letter responding to Sternberg’s concerns, Smithsonian Deputy Secretary & Chief Operating Officer Sheila Burke explained:

“As you know, as part of an effort to enhance security at the Museum, all researchers were asked to return their keys in 2004, and were issued coded identification badges to provide access to non-public areas. The badge you were issued, which provides general access to doors and elevators, is still operative. If you have any problems gaining access to conduct your research, however please contact the Security office at NMNH. In accordance with NMNH policy, please return your old keys as soon as possible to your sponsor, Dr. Vari.”

In short, Sternberg has turned two bits of bureaucratic minutiae affecting an entire division of the museum – a switch from keys to ID badges and a routine shuffling of office space – into a conspiracy to undermine him personally.

And that was supposed to be that.

Not quite. Amazingly the topic was resurrected five years later with the publication of a new book by Steven C. Meyer, the author of the piece at the center of L’affaire Sternberg. Reviewing the book I received a tantalizing surprise:

Attention immediately turned to Sternberg, an obvious creationism sympathizer. More followed, and this is what Meyer has to say about the affair:

… The editor, Richard Sternberg, lost his office and his access to scientific samples and was later transferred to a hostile supervisor. After Sternberg’s case was investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog organization and by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, a congressional committee, other questionable actions came to light. …5

Meyer notes that senior administrators at the Smithsonian Institution questioned Sternberg’s colleagues about his religion and politics and instigated a campaign to damage his professional reputation and to get him to resign. Sternberg did not resign, but he was demoted.

Meyer gets some of that right, and that’s the unfortunate part-for Meyer. The problem is this pronouncement by Meyer reveals that Meyer’s infatuation with the truth is a sometime thing.

And that was supposed to be that.

Au contraire. Two years ago Steven C. Meyer came out with yet another book promoting creationism (Intelligent Design). That book is Darwin’s Doubt, of which I have a copy and have finished reading. Actually, I have finished reading up to location 7606, after which Meyer launches into a review of various critiques of the book. I will review the main part first, and then I will review Meyer’s critiques of the critiques. Here’s what Meyer has to say in his latest book:

The same year, I published a peer-reviewed scientific article about the Cambrian explosion and the problem of the origin of the biological information needed to explain it. 1 In the paper, I cited Axe’s results and explained why the rarity of functional proteins in sequence space posed such a severe challenge to the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism. The article appeared in a biology journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published out of the Smithsonian Institution by scientists working for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Because the article also argued that the theory of intelligent design could help explain the origin of biological information (see Chapter 18), its publication created a firestorm of controversy.

Museum scientists and evolutionary biologists from around the country were furious with the journal and its editor, Richard Sternberg, for allowing the article to be peer-reviewed and then published. Recriminations followed. Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys, his office, and his access to scientific samples. He was transferred from a friendly to a hostile supervisor. A congressional subcommittee staff later investigated and found that museum officials initiated an intentional disinformation campaign against Sternberg in an attempt to get him to resign. His detractors circulated false rumors: “Sternberg has no degrees in biology” (actually he has two Ph.D.’ s, one in evolutionary biology and one in systems biology); “He is a priest, not a scientist” (Sternberg is not a priest, but a research scientist); “He is a Republican operative working for the Bush campaign” (he was far too busy doing scientific research to be involved in political campaigns, Republican or otherwise); “He’s taken money to publish the article” (not true); and so on. Eventually, despite the demonstrable falsehood of the charges, he was demoted.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 3830-3845). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is particularly galling. Imagine I purchased a book, a recent edition, about the history of World War Two. It’s by a famous author, but a couple of chapters in the author makes the claim that Poland attacked Germany, kicking off the hostilities on 1 September 1939. It’s a claim the author has made before, one which is thoroughly rebutted by multiple sources. Yet, the same author is making the same claim, ignoring the basic facts without any attempt to defend his variance with known history.

It’s not as though Meyer hasn’t had the opportunity to rebut the rebuttal. His own organization, the Discovery Institute, has put up a Web site just for the purpose of rebutting criticism of Expelled. Here is what Expelled Exposed Exposed has to say about l’affaire Sternberg:

Richard Sternberg:
Many of the false claims at “Expelled Exposed” about Richard Sternberg also seem to parrot the arguments of Michael Shermer, and thus the aforementioned response to Shermer provides rebuttals to many of the website’s claims: see “Michael Shermer’s Fact-Free Attack on Expelled Exposes Intolerance of Darwinists towards Pro-Intelligent Design Scientists.” “Expelled Exposed” makes the unbelievable assertion that “the worst that happened to Sternberg is that people said some unkind things about him in private email to one another.“ The rebuttal to Shermer documents the precise e-mails and evidence which show that, contrary to the claims of “Expelled Exposed,” Sternberg did experience harassment and persecution, including pressure to resign, investigations into his outside activities regarding evolution, and inappropriate restrictions on his research.

More facts about Richard Sternberg’s unfortunate story can be found on his home page at as well as at the following links:



Unless the details are tucked away inside one of the sources linked—none of the link titles point that way—then the Discovery Institute and Meyer by implication are willing to let the facts lie as they fell.

You have to wonder at a story like l’affaire Sternberg. “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” No additional detail. A more credible story would have some detail. A more credible story would go like this: “Mr. Coddington approached me in the corridor near my lab at the Smithsonian on 12 December and told me to immediately hand over the key to my lab. I asked why, and he just told me to give him the key. He took the key and walked away. No explanation was given. Since that time I have been unable to access my lab space.” No such narrative has been forthcoming.

What has been forthcoming was “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” Repeated. The beauty of this statement is it is true on its face. Museum officials did take away Sternberg’s keys. This gives Sternberg, Meyer, and the Discovery Institute the cover of bare truth. Something like this gives certain people, Ben Stein included, the ability to stand before a video camera and make the statement with a straight face. The lie is what is left hanging in the room after the speaker has departed.

And I wonder why. Why give cover to this tiny lie, when the more massive hoax sits exposed for all to see. That hoax is that Intelligent Design is all about science and has nothing to do with creationism, nothing to do with promotion of a religious agenda.

My own review of Meyer’s latest book is forthcoming. His previous book, Signature in the Cell, was an easy task. It centered on intelligence and information, a topic about which I consider myself considerably more expert than Meyer. Darwin’s Doubt dives deeply into biology,,particularly phylogeny and other biologically obtuse topics, about which I am mostly clueless. In reviewing Meyer’s latest book I will rely completely on expert sources, sources that have from all appearances already stripped the veneer off Meyer’s most recent golden calf.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.


Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley and fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:


Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2 In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria. Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bible and a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.

Traipsing into Banality


I’ve been figuring out how to dive into this project. I bought the book a few years back and have since used it mostly as a reference. It came back to my attention recently when somebody commented on my comment on a review on Amazon. I’ve edited out some of the links in what follows. The dialogue went something like this:

67 of 93 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Read the trial transcript and the opinon instead, March 28, 2006
This review is from: Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision (Paperback)

I bought this book to see what the ID proponents had to say that they didn’t say in court. I found little. And most of what I did find was more succinctly addressed by luskins’s and behe’s previous critiques of the decision which you can find on the internet for free. It is a quick read though.Judge Jones’ decision is a few pages longer than this book but if you want the truth about this case I encourage you to read the decsision and the transcripts of the testimony which you can find on the internet at […]Avoid the testimony of the school board members if you are a christian (pro ID or not) because a couple of the professedly christian board members got caught lying on the stand and I know that was upsetting to me. Don’t miss the expert testimony though. Robert Pennock, Barbara Forrest, Michael Behe and Steven Fuller. HIgh points (IMO) are Dr Forrest’s testimony about the writing of “Of Pandas and People” the textbook in question at the trial, and Dr Behe’s admission that the rule changes necessary to make ID science would also allow astrology.The view of the decision that you get here is not as complete or truthful as the the picture you can get by going to the source documents and making up your own mind. For instance, reading this book will convince you that Judge Jones went beyond his authority to make a needless determination that ID is not science. But a reading of the trial transcripts will show you that the one of the major arguments made by the ID forces was that ID should be taught because it is science. While a narrower opinion could have been written (with the same result that ID can’t be taught in Dover but based only on the defendants’ intent to teach a particular brand of religion in the public schools in violation of the establishment clause), the judge was well within his right to rule on the merits of all the defense’s claims.

I can only recommend this book if you are extremely interested in this debate and wish to keep up with the latest of the ID proponents’ strategies.

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our initial post: Jun 27, 2010 7:55:08 AM PDT

John Blanton says:

Your summary appears to be dead on. I bought the book to bring my Amazon order up to $25 for free shipping, and also because I was curious. My main purchase was the Darwin’s Dilemma video, which I needed in order to do a review for The North Texas Skeptics. At the end of Monkey Girl David Humes does a short assessment of Traipsing (also Godless, which I have, as well).The Darwin’s Dilemma review will appear in the July issue of The North Texas Skeptic.John Blanton
North Texas Sketpics Web master

In reply to your post on Jan 1, 2015 6:38:55 AM PST

KC James says:

I don’t believe you read the transcript. I don’t believe you even have it.If so, how many pages is it and how much did it cost?
You replied with a later post
Your post, in reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2015 9:31:38 PM PST
Last edited by you on Jan 2, 2015 9:34:20 PM PST

John Blanton says:

 The trial transcript is available on-line from a number of sources. Here is a link to the transcripts posted by the National Center for Science Education: how any pages, you can count them for yourself, although I’m not too sure why the page count matters.John Blanton

Anyhow, you can see how this small part of the discussion is going. The most recent interchange got me to thinking I should do a comprehensive review, and I started reading from the beginning. I quickly began to bog down. On almost every page was something that required a response. There’s no way I can give this the complete review it deserves. That would run over a thousand pages. The book is only 123 pages.

What I’m going to do is to just pick out a few points and bear down. Detractors are going to complain that I’m picking and choosing. To those I will advise that you direct me to any issues you think I am avoiding. In these cases I will respond to the best of my ability. Please note that in my commentary I spell out Intelligent Design, and I capitalize it. That is in line with standard American English practice of capitalizing the names of religious movements.

Let me start with some background. I followed the case in the news when it first cropped up in 2004 on through the trial in the autumn of 2005. A comprehensive chronicle is Monkey Girl by Edward Humes:

That’s where the local version of an ancient conflict took root, in January 2002, when a new board member, Alan Bonsell, an auto and radiator repair shop owner with whom Casey had campaigned, announced that he was very concerned about issues of morality. He wanted to bring prayer and faith back into the public schools. We need the Bible in the classroom again, he argued strenuously, and we need to teach creationism to achieve a “fair and balanced curriculum .” More than budget cuts, more than textbooks, more than school construction or any of the other mundane but critical issues facing the district that they had all campaigned on, Bonsell seemed to care most about creationism. That, he said, was his number one issue. School prayer was second on his list.

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This was in the Dover, Pennsylvania, public school system. Board member Alan Bonsell allied himself with William Buckingham, another board member. They consulted with the Discovery Institute and with the Thomas More Law Center. The Discovery Institute is the leading proponent for creationism in the United States, particularly Intelligent Design. The Thomas More Law Center was named after 16th century English lawyer Thomas More, who was beheaded by Henry VIII over his opposition to the Church of England. Seth Cooper, a lawyer at the Discovery Institute was in contact with Buckingham, and the school board received books and videos critical of evolution. A particular video was Icons of Evolution, based on a book of the same title by creationist Jonathan Wells, a Discovery Institute fellow.

From all of this, Bonsell, Buckingham and some other board members got the idea it would be legally defensible to teach creationism in the Dover public schools. There was opposition, a lot of conflict and some rethinking. Creationism, even the Intelligent Design version, would not be taught. The issue devolved into having science teachers read a disclaimer that said:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

The science teachers recognized the wrongness of this action and refused to participate. Already eleven interested parties had joined in a lawsuit against the school. It was left to Assistant Superintendent Mike Baksa to read the prescribed text.

The case is named Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. On 20 December 2005 District Judge John E. Jones III handed down his decision, and it was devastating for the defendants. The Judge’s decision banned promoting creationism in the school, witnesses for the defense were cited for perjured testimony and the school board was stuck with a bill of $1 million for the claimants legal expenses.

Reaction was immediate. The judge, a politically conservative appointee of President George W. Bush, received harsh criticism by conservative news commentators, his life was threatened, and he was given police protection. The Discovery Institute weighed in. This book was their response.

The authors are as follows and will be known henceforth as “DeWolf and others.”

  • David DeWolf—David K. DeWolf is a Professor of Law at Gonzaga School of Law in Spokane, Washington, and a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
  • John G. West—Dr. John West is a Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.
  • Casey Luskin—Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution.
  • Jonathan Witt—Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a Research Fellow for the Acton Institute.

The book has an introduction and four chapters. There is also a Conclusion The Need for Academic Freedom and appendices A, B and C. I’m going to take a sample from each of these parts to critique. Anybody asserting I’m cherry picking the evidence will need to contact me. I will provide additional examples.

Start with:

Introduction Judicial Courage or Judicial Overreach.

This is from pages 9-10:

The dogmatic tone of Judge Jones’ opinion is already attracting criticism from thoughtful scholars. Distinguished University of Chicago Law Professor Albert Alschuler, for one, has rebuked Judge Jones for smearing ID proponents as Biblical fundamentalists:

If fundamentalism still means what it meant in the early twentieth century … accepting the Bible as literal truth—the champions of intelligent design are not fundamentalists. They uniformly disclaim reliance on the Book and focus only on where the biological evidence leads.The court’s response—”well, that’s what they say, but we know what they mean”—is uncivil, an illustration of the dismissive and contemptuous treatment that characterizes much contemporary discourse. Once we know who you are, we need not listen. We’ve heard it all already.

That may or may not be worth noting. A lot would depend on whether Judge Jones actually smeared Intelligent Design proponents. Also whether he ever characterized them as Biblical fundamentalists. Apparently neither is the case. A search of Jones’ decision for the text “fundamental,” which would include the words “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalists,” found 16 instances. None of these references appear to be directed toward Intelligent Design proponents.

I am left wondering what the authors had in mind when making this assertion. Is this a case of somebody recognizing himself in a mirror?

The following is also from page 10:

Finally, although Kitzmiller was publicly portrayed as being about the “teaching” of intelligent design, in reality the Dover school board merely required students to hear a four-paragraph statement defining intelligent design as “an explanation of the origin of life that differs from
Darwin’s view”—a vapid description that supplied virtually no meaningful information about the substance of the theory. Students were further notified that “[ t]he reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.” Such a minimalist policy was
a far cry from an intelligent design curriculum.

And why is this important? DeWitt and the others want to minimize the significance of Intelligent Design to the case. The problem is the case started out as an attempt to introduce Intelligent Design into the curriculum, and only shrank to its final scope after the suit was filed. Testimony given by witnesses for the plaintiffs detailed an earlier, nefarious intent on the part of the defendants:

During a meeting of the curriculum committee in early October , while the sole dissenter, Casey Brown , was absent, Bonsell, Buckingham, and Sheila Harkins came up with new language to replace Baksa’s in a matter of minutes: “Students will be made aware of gaps/ problems in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and of other theories of evolution, including but not limited to intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught.”

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 93). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The curriculum change, incorporating Intelligent design was sprung at a notable meeting:

But when the meeting convened on October 18, 2004, the champions of intelligent design were in no mood for compromise. In yet another wild, angry session, the board majority, led by Buckingham and Bonsell, presented its proposal just as Barrie Callahan had feared— without the usual notice to the public.

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 95). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Judge Jones cited this meeting in his ruling:

On December 14, 2004, Plaintiffs filed the instant suit challenging the constitutional validity of the October 18, 2004 resolution and November 19, 2004 press release (collectively, “the ID Policy”). It is contended that the ID Policy constitutes an establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, nominal damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

[Judge’s ruling, Case No. 04cv2688, pp 2-3]

Protestations by deWolf and others notwithstanding, there was Intelligent Design intent, and this religiously-motivated concept was at the heart of the case.

Chapter I, Kitzmiller’s Partisan History of Intelligent Design.

This chapter has three sections:

  • A. The Ancient Origins of the Design Debate
  • B. The Modern Revival of the Design Debate in Physics and Cosmology
  • C. The Modern Revival of the Design Debate in Biology

From page 15:

A key part of Judge Jones’ ruling is his purported history of the intelligent design movement, which he depicts as the outgrowth of American Christian “Fundamentalism” with a capital “F.” It is important to note that Judge Jones cannot point to even a single doctrine unique to Christian fundamentalism that the theory of intelligent design incorporates. Indeed, he effectively concedes that ID proponents distinguish their theory from fundamentalism by pointing out that it does not involve arguments based on “the Book of Genesis”, “a young earth,” or “a catastrophic Noaich Hood.”

Lest DeWolf and others failed to notice, the plaintiff’s case chased the origins of the modern Intelligent Design movement, particularly as regards the proposed text Of Pandas and People, to the Edwards v. Aguillard case. That case involved the intent to teach Fundamentalist Christian philosophy in the public schools. Creationism was the object of contention. The Supreme Court ruled that the action of the local government in this case had a religious intent with no redeeming scientific merit. Plaintiffs demonstrated in the Kitzmiller case that the modern Intelligent Design movement in part, and the current rendition Pandas book in whole, sprang from this case.

DeWolf and others additionally make the case that Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, both proponents of Intelligent Design and testifying for the defense, are not religious fundamentalists. While it is good to know this, it is of no importance. The plaintiffs successfully demonstrated a connection between religious fundamentalism and Intelligent Design. The connection was never to imply Intelligent Design is based on religious fundamentalism. The point made was that Intelligent Design, like young Earth creationism, is aimed at promoting a religious view point. In case somebody asks which particular religious view point, the answer is the creation of novel biological features by means of the intervention of a mythical person.

Chapter II,  Kitzmiller’s Unpersuasive Case Against the Scientific Status of Intelligent Design

This also has three sections.

  • A. Judge Jones Wrongly Assumed the Authority to Decide What Science Is
  • B. Judge Jones Conflated The Question of Whether Something Is Scientific with the Question of Which Scientific Theory Is Most Popular
  • C. Judge Jones Disqualified ID As Science Only by Misrepresenting the Facts

I will just pick one point from this chapter, that Judge Jones disqualified Intelligent Design as science only by misrepresenting the facts. DeWolf and others quote from page 62 of the judge’s decision, specifically:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

I will summarize the book’s argument by posting the essentials of page 30. I have removed the footnotes and references to them. The quoted text is from the court decision:

1. “ID violates the centuries-old ground rules ‘of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

Judge Jones makes two interrelated claims here that need to be distinguished: a. ID invokes or permits supernatural causation and b. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science.

a. Does ID invoke or permit supernatural causation?

Although Judge Jones sometimes claims that ID either “invokes or permits supernatural causation,” it becomes clear in his opinion that his real claim is much stronger: He repeatedly insists that ID “requires supernatural creation.” Judge Jones can make this claim only by misrepresenting the actual views of intelligent design scientists, who consistently have maintained that empirical evidence cannot tell one whether the intelligent causes detected through modern science are inside or outside of nature. As a scientific theory, ID only claims that there is empirical evidence that key features of the universe and living things are the
products of an intelligent cause. Whether the intelligent cause involved is inside or outside of nature cannot be decided by empirical evidence alone. That larger question involves philosophy, including metaphysics. In addition to the clear testimony of ID witnesses during the trial on this point, Judge Jones was provided with fifteen pages of documentation
unequivocally demonstrating that ID proponents from the beginning have repeatedly argued that design theory does not rely on supernatural causation, and they have consistently maintained this position whether writing for religious or secular audiences.” Ignoring this evidence, Judge Jones proceeded to highlight a few quotations cited by the plaintiffs to
prove his conclusion that ID requires supernatural causation. However, Judge Jones distorts the plain meaning of these quotations, which contradict, rather than support, his claim.

Hopefully you have read through this argument and digested it. My response is simply “no.”  No on two points:

1. The plain fact is that Intelligent Design does require supernatural causation. An unknown, unseen, unworldly “designer” is the very essence of the supernatural. No reasonable person thinks that Intelligent Design seeks only natural causes. People are drawn to Intelligent Design because of its inference of a supernatural designer, whom the faithful recognize to mean the God of Abraham.

2. Statements by Intelligent Design proponents that “design theory does not rely on supernatural causation” are demonstrably facetious. Take special note that DeWolf and others continually refer to what Intelligent Design proponents say about their intentions. It’s as though what they say reflects the truth. Even a brief reading of the history of the movement reveals that these statements of intention are half truths at best, closely approaching outright fabrication. Instances abound of leaders of the Intelligent Design movement proclaiming rejection of purely natural processes. Professor Phillip Johnson has been one of the key philosophers of the Intelligent Design movement, and his thinking accurately portrays its core:

If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this….

Phillip Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, Inter Varsity Press. pp 91-92

Chapter III Kitzmiller’s Failure to Treat Religion in a Neutral Manner

This chapter has the following four sections:

  • A. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Religious Implications
  • B. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Secondary Effects
  • C. One-Sided (Non-Neutral) Treatment Of Religious Motives
  • D. An Effort to Dictate a Particular Theological View of Evolution

In this case the chapter introduction will suffice. This is from pages 59 and 60. I have not included the footnotes or the references to them:

Judge Jones based his ruling on the requirements of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, bur he failed to observe the cardinal principle of the Establishment Clause, which is that religion must be treated in a neutral manner: “The First Amendment does not select anyone group or anyone type of religion for preferred treatment. It puts them all in [the same] … position.”

Judge Jones seemed to think that the possible religious implications of intelligent design theory made it a religious theory. He reached that conclusion apparently without even considering whether the religious implications of Darwinian evolution would yield the same conclusion. Similarly, he looked to the supposed religious motivations of the pro-
ponents of intelligent design theory to establish the religious nature of intelligent design theory without subjecting the proponents of Darwinian evolution to the same test. For example, many pages of Judge Jones’ opinion are devoted to establishing the history of the “intelligent design movement” and the theological views of its advocates. He relies extensively on the testimony of Barbara Forrest, who “thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID in her book and other writings for her testimony in this case.” There was no attempt to verify that purported history and nowhere does Judge Jones subject Barbara Forrest to an examination of whether her background or her beliefs might be relevant to the case. If Judge Jones wanted to play the motivation game, he ought in fairness to have addressed the extensive evidence in one of the amicus briefs documenting the anti-religious affiliations and motivations of many leading Darwinists, including especially Professor Forrest herself.

Again, “no.” This time on four points.

1. DeWolf and others start out trying to convince the reader that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is intended to prevent differentiation between religious sects. That is not the wording of the clause. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Enough said about that.

2. DeWolf and others state that “Judge Jones seemed to think that the possible religious implications of intelligent design theory made it a religious theory.” He did, and it does. Intelligent Design does have a religious base. It is a religious theory.

3. Further, “He reached that conclusion apparently without even considering whether the religious implications of Darwinian evolution would yield the same conclusion.” There are, in fact, no religious implications of Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution, like all valid scientific theories, is based on observed facts and objective reasoning. No religious motivation is required to support Darwinian evolution.

4. DeWolf and others state “There was no attempt to verify that purported history and nowhere does Judge Jones subject Barbara Forrest to an examination of whether her background or her beliefs might be relevant to the case.” Such an attempt, were it to be made, would have been the job of the defense attorneys. The fact that the case was not made is compelling evidence that the case could not be made.

Finally, it so curious, almost humorous, the way DeWolf and others lay religious implications into an argument that they purport to be all about science.

Chapter IV Kitzmiller’s Limited Value as a Precedent

This chapter has three sections:

  • A. Cases Deal With the Parties Before Them
  • B. An Adverse Judgment Against a Party Requires an Opportunity for Them to be Heard
  • C. The Absence Of Parties To An Appeal

It is here DeWolf and others have the best opportunity to make a point. The fact is that Kitzmiller does have limited values as a precedent. Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. filed their suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Since the case was never appealed and taken to a higher level, e.g., the United States Supreme Court, then the court’s findings have legal precedence only within this district. DeWolf and others are also correct in asserting the only party bound by Judge Jones’ decision is the defendant in the case, the Dover Area School District.  They want to believe, rather they want readers to believe, this case has truly limited scope. To this point they assert early on (page 13):

Second, and more troubling, is the Judge’s suggestion that his determination of whether IO is science would spare Iuture judges the need to make their own determination. Judge Jones is a federal trial court judge in one particular district court in Pennsylvania. But he writes as ifhe has the right and duty to decide the question of whether intelligent design is science for all other judges in the entire United States in the future and, thereby, to legislate the question for the whole country. Lower federal court judges are bound by Supreme Court precedents, but they certainly aren’t bound by the rulings of other lower court judges at the same level. Although other federal judges can refer to Judge Jones’ decision (especially to his legal reasoning), every judge has a duty to reach an impartial and independent determination of the facts and law in the cases before him. Another federal district court judge would be remiss to simply say, “Well, Judge Jones has already decided the matter, so there is no need for me to do any fact-finding of my own.” Nor should a judge tell the parties to a new case: “I’ve decided not to allow you to present any evidence, because Judge Jones already heard the evidence three years ago.”

By page 75 DeWolf and others are bemoaning the opportunity to appeal an erroneous judgment. Again I am ignoring the footnotes:

One mechanism for correcting errors at the trial court level is the availability of the right to appeal on behalf of the party who is the victim of bad judicial reasoning. Of course, many cases are never appealed because the losing party recognizes that the adverse judgment was not a result of legal error, and therefore an appeal would be futile. In this case, by contrast, not only was the “intelligent design movement” never a party to the case, but the board members who represented the nominal defendant (the Dover Area School District) were voted out of office in the November election six weeks before the opinion was issued. The
new school board, which has the power to appeal the case, campaigned on a platform that essentially agreed with those who filed the lawsuit. Moreover, they waited to change the policy until after the judge issued his opinion-only because they wanted the judge to rule against the former board members’ policy and in spite of the legal jeopardy that they
created by waiting. As a consequence, there is no party who has any stake in correcting the judge’s errors. This is similar to a case in which a trial court makes an erroneous ruling, but before the appellate court can correct the error, the parties settle and the issue becomes moot.

A lot of this thinking is predicated on the unlikely prospect the appeal would have been successful.

  • None of the defense witnesses spoke successfully for the supposed scientific basis for Intelligent Design.
  • Plaintiff’s witnesses successfully demonstrated the absence of scientific merit for Intelligent Design.
  • Plaintiff’s witnesses successfully demonstrated the religious basis for Intelligent Design and the religious intent of the defendants.
  • The malfeasance of critical parties of the school district was demonstrated. Defendant’s witnesses testifying against this fact were found to have perjured themselves.

And appeal of Judge Jones’ decision was going nowhere. The citizens of the Dover Area School District had been misled and badly served by the principals in the case. These people had abused the power entrusted to them by the voters, and now the voters were liable for a million dollars in court expenses. The voters rejected the people who had betrayed them. Whether the District could have avoided the court expenses by abolishing the previous board’s policy is unlikely:

  • The suite demanded reimbursement of court expenses in addition to a finding of fault.
  • By the time of the election of the new board (8 November 2005), the plaintiffs had already incurred considerable legal expenses. Trial testimony was nearly complete. Closure of the case at this point would have required payment of the monetary damages.

Monetary awards demanded by the plaintiffs are noted in the court decision, pages 2 and 3:

Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, nominal damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

The new board could do nothing to avoid these costs by abandoning the defense. DeWolf and others are being disingenuous at the least on this point.

Conclusion: The Need for Academic Freedom

There is so much irony on exhibit here. Page 77 opens with:

Judge Jones’ opinion highlights the pressing need to affirm and defend the right of teachers and students to express honest disagreement with the claims of Darwinian evolution. For all of his concern about the illegitimacy of requiring teachers to mention intelligent design or to “denigrate or disparage”187 evolution, Judge Jones showed no similar interest in the freedom of teachers and students to express opinions that might be critical of Darwinian evolution. As a result, his opinion is likely to be used by defenders of Darwin’s theory as a pretext for censoring even completely voluntary expressions of dissenting scientific views by teachers and students.

The footnote reference seems to be to page 138 of the court’s decision, even though the actual footnote points toward page 52, which contains similar wording.

Let’s take a look at what academic freedom is all about. Academic freedom is supposed to allow scholars and students to pursue serious studies without political interference. The specter of Intelligent Design is the opposite of academic freedom. Intelligent Design is a concept developed by people often working outside the related area of study. These people seek to infiltrate the concept into school curricula, circumventing the usual review for accuracy and academic merit.

Page 77 continues:

Teachers seeking to “teach the controversy” over Darwinian evolution in today’s climate will likely be met with false warnings that it is unconstitutional to say anything negative about Darwinian evolution. Students who attempt to raise questions about Darwinism, or who try to elicit from the teacher an honest answer about the status of intelligent design theory will trigger administrators’ concerns about whether they stand in constitutional jeopardy. A chilling effect on open inquiry is being felt in several states already, including Ohio, South Carolina, and California. Judge Jones’ message is clear: give Darwin only praise, or else face the wrath of the judiciary.

“Teach the controversy” is a key phrase employed by proponents of Intelligent Design. There is a controversy. There is a controversy because proponents have created a controversy. Now that there is a controversy, we need to teach the controversy.

The problem is, proponents really would not like the controversy to be taught. Let’s see how a classroom discussion would go if a teacher actually taught the controversy:

Today, class, we are going to investigate the controversial topic of Intelligent Design. Not only is it controversial, but it is entirely worthless as an academic study.

The problem is, if an earnest teacher were required to tell students about Intelligent Design, that teacher would feel obliged to give students all the available information about Intelligent Design. The teacher would proceed to tell his students about the origins of the movement, its use of subterfuge and the lack of any serious research published in scientific journals. The teacher would also get into the mendacious methods employed by proponents of Intelligent Design. That would not go well with those seeking to use political influence to promote Intelligent Design. There is a case in point:

A Santa Ana federal judge ruled in 2009 that Corbett violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause when he referred to Creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture.

James Corbett, a teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Orange County, California, responded when a student brought up the topic of creationism in 2007. The fact is that creationism is religious, superstitious nonsense, and any teacher who says otherwise is deceiving his students. Teaching the controversy would involve a lot of that and would result in a load of litigation if Corbett’s case is an example.

Appendix A: Whether ID Is Science: Michael Behe’s Response to Kitzmiller v. Dover

This section was contributed by creationist Michael Behe. Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. He is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture. He is noted for his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, and he has also written The Edge of Evolution. He was also one of the expert witnesses called by the defense in Kitzmiller. The matter of expert witnesses was a principal weakness for the defense:

Just before the scheduled depositions of three of the experts from the Discovery Institute— Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell— they all decided that they wanted their own attorneys present to watch out for their legal interests. (The other witnesses from Discovery , Minnich and Behe, had already been deposed by that point, without their own lawyers.)

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 240). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Dembski is William Dembski, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Meyer is Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute zone concerned with promoting creationism. Campbell is Professor John Angus Campbell, “professor of communications and rhetoric at the University of Memphis.” [Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 233). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition] His task for the defense would have been to explain the benefit of presenting opposing arguments. Scott Minnich is a fellow of the Center for Science and Culture.

With the exit of the first three, it fell to Behe and Scott Minnich to explain the benefits of Intelligent Design. As it turned out, Behe’s testimony was of little value for the defense. In this section Professor Behe wants to explain why Intelligent Design qualifies as science. He takes on specific wording in the court’s decision in a number of bullet points. The first is on page 80. Text from the decision is in italics.

1. ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation. 

It does no such thing. The Court’s opinion ignores, both here and elsewhere, the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. As I testified, when it was first proposed the Big Bang theory struck many scientists as pointing to a supernatural cause. Yet it clearly is a scientific theory, because it is based entirely on physical data and logical inferences. The same is true of intelligent design.

In this Behe is completely wrong. He has deliberately misconstrued the body and spirit of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design has been first and foremost a religious concept. It was dredged up to provide a religion-based alternative to natural explanations.

In his point number 11 Behe discusses the debacle of the cross examination following his testimony.

The lasting image of Behe, however , came near the end of the cross-examination. The biochemist had testified that there were no published papers to explain the evolution of the immune system, which he considered irreducibly complex. Rothschild proceeded to pile a stack of books and fifty-eight peer-reviewed articles on the witness stand, all about the evolution of the immune system.

“So these are not good enough?” Rothschild asked.

Sitting there surrounded by the scientific literature, Behe said, “They don’t address the question I’m posing.”

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 306). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In particular, Behe was asked about the claims he made in Darwin’s Black Box:

We can look high, we can look low, in books or in journals, but th result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the questions of the origin of the immune system.

[Darwin’s Block Box, page 138]

Behe’s point 11 includes a number of challenges, one being (page 86):

2. I was given no chance to read them, and at the time considered the dumping of a stack of papers and books on the witness stand to be just a stunt, simply bad courtroom theater. Yet the Court treats it seriously.

Professor Behe, the time to have read these papers and books would have been 1996 and before. Before you published the absurd statement that “[t]he scientific literature has no answers to the questions of the origin of the immune system.”

Appendix B: Selected Peer-Reviewed And Peer-Edited Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)

Since I have covered this issue in a previous post, I will just provide a link and an excerpt:

In his book about the Kitzmiller trial, Edward Humes describes the cross examination of author Michael Behe. Behe had claimed the DBB was peer-reviewed. On cross examination attorney Eric Rothschild asked Behe about reviewer Michael Atchison. Then Rothschild recounted the story behind Atchison’s review of DBB.

The book’s editor told his wife about the book. The wife was a student of Atchison’s, and she suggested that Atchison talk to the editor. Atchison had a ten-minute phone conversation with the editor and got a description of the book. Atchison suggested the book would be good reading. And that was the peer review.

[See Edward Humes, Monkey Girl. pp 302-303. Harper, 2007.]

Appendix C: Brief of Amici Curiae Biologists And Other Scientists in Support of the Defendants in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

Creationists have the need to demonstrate legitimacy. They want to be able to demonstrate that legitimate scientists embrace creationism, so they run out long lists of otherwise intelligent people who 1) embrace creationism, or 2) have issues with modern theories of biological evolution.

Discovery Institute submitted a brief of amici curiae along with a list of 85 people supposedly supporting the case for the defendants. The introduction is on page 103:

Amici curiae are scientists who oppose any attempt to define the nature of science in a way that would limit their ability to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Since the identification of intelligent causes is a well established scientific practice in fields such as forensic science, archaeology, and exobiology,’ Amici urge this Court to reject plaintiffs’ claim that the application of intelligent design to biology is unscientific. Any ruling that depends upon an outdated or inaccurate definition of science, or which attempts to define the boundaries of science, could hinder scientific progress.

These are people of substance and not to be considered crackpots. For starters, the list includes (page 120):

  • Richard M Anderson, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Duke
  • Phillip A. Bishop, Professor of Kinesiology, University of Alabama
  • John A. Bloom, Professor of Physics, Biola University
  • William H. Bordeaux, Professor of Chemistry, Huntington University
  • Gregory J. Brewer, Professor of Neurology, Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • Rudolf Brits, Ph.D. Nuclear Chemistry, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • Mary A. Brown, DVD (Veterinary Medicine), The Ohio State University
  • John R. Cannon, Ph.D. Chemistry, Princeton University
  • Russell W. Carlson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Executive Technical Director, Plant and Microbial Carbohydrates, Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, University of Georgia
  • Jarrod W. Carter., Ph.D. Bioengineering, University of Washington
  • Mark A. Chambers, Ph.D. Virology, University of Cambridge
  • I. Caroline Crocker, Ph.D. Immunopharmacology, University of Southampton
  • Lisanne D’Andrea-Winslow, Associate Professor of Biology, Northwestern College
  • Paul S. Darby, M.D., Georgetown University School of Medicine, Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Georgia
  • Lawrence DeMejo, Ph.D. Polymer Science and Engineering , University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • David DeWitt, Ph.d. Neuroscience, Case Western University
  • Michael R. Egnor, Professor and Vice-Chairman, Department of Neurological Surgery, State University of New York at Stony Brook

That’s an impressive list. However, these are not the bright lights of biological science either. Mary Brown, with a DVD in veterinary medicine is likely not doing cutting edge biological research. There are a few on just this page who have some history. Caroline Crocker I have covered already. Also Michael Egnor.

For the rest, we may wonder what it was they signed up to to get on the list. If it’s just the wording in the introduction above, then it would be hard to fault the signatories. If they were each advised they would be supporting some creationists attempting to introduce Intelligent Design into a public science curriculum, then it would be another matter. They would have only themselves to blame.

So this is that kind of book. You’ve been complaining for years that you have this big message that will change the world, but nobody will take you seriously. Nobody will listen to you. So finally something happens, and people tell you that now you’re going to have to explain yourself. Then everybody is looking at you and waiting to hear what you have to say. You tell your story, and afterwards people say, “What? Is that it?”

Then it’s all over, and what you had to say didn’t come across the way you wanted. So, there’s nothing left to do but write a book about why you didn’t get a fair shake. And this is that kind of book.

It’s been several years now, and I’ve been putting off doing a review. There is just so much wrong, it’s hard to do this book justice. When you review a book on Amazon you can give it from one to five stars. It may surprise my readers, but I would have given this four Amazon stars. The spelling and punctuation is absolutely superb. Besides that, the authors have gone to great lengths to develop their argument. It’s not the book that’s so wrong, it’s the argument. I have a copy of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kamph, and I can say DeWolf and others have put out a much better product.


Heart of Stupid

Diplomystus dentatus Herring Species Eocene Epoch 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co. Wyoming Diploaystus dentatus Herring Eocene period 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co., Wyoming

Diplomystus dentatus Herring Species Eocene Epoch 50,000,000 years old Green River Formation Lincoln Co., Wyoming

In a prior post I acknowledged that I (almost) stole this title from Joseph Conrad. I’m holding onto it for continuity. These posts are in response to comments from creationist David Buckna. Here is an excerpt from one comment:

David Coppedge writes:

“Who can really believe that complex teeth or middle-ear bones evolved independently two or three times by unguided processes? Why must occult phenomena, like mythical common ancestors in ghost lineages, be invoked as if they had any real existence outside the imagination of Darwinians?”

The link is to a page on the Creation-Evolution Headlines site. I took a look at it. There’s enough here for a complete post, so I will follow up on the remainder of David’s comment in another post.

In the mean time, I took note of his “David Coppedge writes:” That’s interesting enough for some follow-up. Here is a bit of that story:

David Coppedge is a creationist who worked a long time at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. At the time he served on the board of Illustra Media. Illustra Media is a non-profit concern that is noted for presentations promoting Intelligent Design or, if not promoting Intelligent Design, then at least kicking at the underpinnings of modern biological science. I have a number of their titles, and the production quality is quite good. A short list includes:

Darwin’s Dilemma
The Privileged Planet
Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Anyhow, when David Coppedge lost his contract position at JPL he sued for religious discrimination. Yes, religious discrimination.

Judge confirms earlier ruling, sides with JPL in ‘intelligent design’ case

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday confirmed an earlier ruling that found Jet Propulsion Laboratory administrators did not discriminate against a longtime staffer when they laid him off in 2011.

David Coppedge — a former lead systems administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn who worked at JPL for 15 years — filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the agency claiming he was demoted, and then eventually fired, because of his Christian beliefs and in retaliation for discussing the theory of intelligent design at the NASA facility in La Cañada Flintridge.

Proponents of intelligent design contend that biological systems are so complex that they could not have arisen by a series of random changes, so an “intelligent designer” — not necessarily the God in the Bible — must have had a hand in guiding evolution.

Coppedge had sought $860,000 for lost wages and $500,000 for emotional distress damages.

The final ruling by Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige confirms his tentative ruling issued less than three months ago, which came down against Coppedge on every claim. He also overruled all objections filed by Coppedge’s legal team.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, reiterated the arguments he made in court, saying a handful of “malicious co-workers hated [Coppedge’s] Christian views,” as well as his interest in intelligent design, “which they ignorantly perceived to be a religious concept.”

[Coppedge] was demoted and fired for simply being a Christian,” Becker said.

“[W]hich they ignorantly perceived to be a religious concept?” If Coppedge’s co-workers were ignorant in perceiving Intelligent Design to be a religious concept, then there is a gaggle of other people just as ignorant. In an unrelated ruling a federal court judge in Pennsylvania agreed that plaintiffs had demonstrated that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. Additionally the producers of the movie Expelled must also think that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. At one point, narrator Ben Stein, who all the while was supposed to be arguing for Intelligent Design as valid science, finally gets around to discussing God with biologist Richard Dawkins.

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins

From the video:

Ben Stein: You have written that God is a psychotic delinquent invented by mad deluded people.

Dawkins: No, I didn’t say quite that. I said something better than that.

Stein: Oh, well, please tell me what you said.

Dawkins: Well, I would have to read it from the book.

Stein: No, please.

[Dawkins reads from The God Delusion]

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Stein: – so that’s what you think of God.

Dawkins: – yeah.

Stein: How about if people believed in God?

Anyhow, this went on for a while, and I now find myself going on for a while. I need to get back to the subject of this post, namely David’s comment.

He writes “David Coppedge writes,” and then he provides a link. So I followed the link, and it took me to a page that has the text, “Who can really believe that complex teeth…” Plus a lot of other stuff, but there was no indication that David Coppedge wrote those words. Searching the page, I could not find a link to the author. I recommend my readers follow the link and familiarize themselves with the contents.

I will dissect the page to the extent I’m able with my limited knowledge and my limited access to sources. If this all becomes tiring to readers, they should be reminded the second word in this blog’s title is “Analysis.” There’s going to be some dissecting.

First I will post the entire block of text containing the Coppedge quote, which I note is formatted as set-aside text, indicating it’s a quote from another source. I post this to give additional context, and I limit my excerpt to this block, because, if you will follow the link you will see, as I have, the page comprises a number of quotes, comments and links to other sources. This is the best I can do for now to narrow the focus. Repeating David’s link for your convenience:

Don’t you think the public should know?  Do reporters think that people are too stupid to understand legitimate debates in science?  Must interpretations from fallible scientists always be presented as facts of nature?  Why must Charlie’s idol always be propped up to save his face from the evidence?  Who can really believe that complex teeth or middle-ear bones evolved independently two or three times by unguided processes?  Why must occult phenomena, like mythical common ancestors in ghost lineages, be invoked as if they had any real existence outside the imagination of Darwinians?  Why must readers be told that evolutionary diversification is “explosive” in direct contradiction to a core tenet of Darwinism?  Why must reporters always be sycophants and lackeys for the evolutionary scientists?

The secular science sites—all of them—have bowed the knee to the Bearded Buddha, that’s why.  Because CEH adheres to a different religion, one that cares about truth, we can read these papers with a critical eye and point out the fallacies and tricks of the Darwin Party’s religion.  Their origins story has more holes than swiss cheese, more miracles than Greek mythology, more divination techniques than Babylonian religion.  Call it what it is: a secular religion, invented out of distaste for the Biblical Creator.  It’s full of imagination, storytelling and myths.  Dressing it up in scientific jargon doesn’t sanctify it as science.  Adding millions of years doesn’t make its miracles more plausible: miracles of well-adapted animals “arising” fully formed out of nowhere, miracles of “convergent evolution,” miracles of “explosive radiation.” Darwinian religion conjures up spirits, animals “trying out” unexplained and undocumented innovations, natural selection “tinkering” in Tinker Bell’s garage, a mystical life force pushing mindless particles toward the divine.  The priests of Darwin waste their time trying to force uncooperative facts into their mythical “tree of life,” that after 154 years, still looks like a lawn.  Who would believe this stuff?  Ancient Egyptian religion looks more respectable than the Darwin cult; at least its gods and goddesses acted with purpose and intent.

Don’t think for a minute that secular scientists abhor miracles and deny the supernatural.  Everyone believes in miracles.  Everyone who thinks believes in the supernatural (e.g., laws of logic not made of particles).  Nothing comes from nothing.  Choose a world view that has miracles that are intelligently designed.  Choose a religion that explains with reference to true causes known to be necessary and sufficient for the complexity observed by honest scientific inquiry.  Choose one that maintains human dignity and a love of the truth.  Those criteria weed out a lot of contenders.

I have highlighted the quoted text in the above. There’s a lot to find issue with in the supposed Coppedge quote, and I will get to that later.

For now, the page David Buckna linked to begins with:

Two recently-reported Jurassic mammal fossils can be seen as puzzles for evolutionary theory, or confirmations of it – depending on the reporter.

The quote is taken from an article in Nature. The abstract is available on-line:

A Jurassic mammaliaform and the earliest mammalian evolutionary adaptations

Chang-Fu ZhouShaoyuan WuThomas Martin & Zhe-Xi Luo

Nature 500, 163–167 (08 August 2013)

The earliest evolution of mammals and origins of mammalian features can be traced to the mammaliaforms of the Triassic and Jurassic periods that are extinct relatives to living mammals. Here we describe a new fossil from the Middle Jurassic that has a mandibular middle ear, a gradational transition of thoracolumbar vertebrae and primitive ankle features, but highly derived molars with a high crown and multiple roots that are partially fused. The upper molars have longitudinal cusp rows that occlude alternately with those of the lower molars. This specialization for masticating plants indicates that herbivory evolved among mammaliaforms, before the rise of crown mammals. The new species shares the distinctive dental features of the eleutherodontid clade, previously represented only by isolated teeth despite its extensive geographic distribution during the Jurassic. This eleutherodontid was terrestrial and had ambulatory gaits, analogous to extant terrestrial mammals such as armadillos or rock hyrax. Its fur corroborates that mammalian integument had originated well before the common ancestor of living mammals.

Following the opening quote on the Creation-Evolution Headlines page, there is additional explanation:

That’s the announcement in Nature (bold in the original) about two mammal fossils, one named Megaconus (large cusp) reported by Zhou et al., the other named Arboroharamiya (tree-dwelling haramiyad) reported by Zheng et al.  The headline of a Nature News article moans, “Fossils throw mammalian family tree into disarray.”

If you read the Nature News article you will get a deeper perspective:

Fossils throw mammalian family tree into disarray

Studies disagree on whether Jurassic animals were true mammals.

Sid Perkins

07 August 2013

Two fossils have got palaeontologists scratching their heads about where to place an enigmatic group of animals in the mammalian family tree. A team analysing one fossil suggests that the group belongs in mammals, but researchers looking at the other propose that its evolutionary clan actually predates true mammals. The situation begs for more analysis, more fossils, or both, experts say.

I will condense the discussion into a few sentences. It goes like this:

  • Scientists are finding new fossils that will require additional study. Science works that way. If we already have all the answers, then we can stop doing science. The news for science, actually good news, is we do not have all the answers, and we possibly never will. However, we do have enough evidence to make a number of conclusions, and some of these conclusions are certainly based on shaky evidence. Whenever we obtain additional evidence, we need to and we like to revise earlier conclusions.
  • Creationists and other critics of modern science see these as a weakness and want to declare on this basis that modern science is a failed enterprise. What creationists want the public to believe is that the facts of biological evolution are undercut by all of this. This presumption is not to be entertained.
  • This fossil is claimed to be a precursor to mammals. This fossil is actually not a precursor, but is actually an early mammal. The evolution of the mammalian ear developed this way. The evolution of the mammalian ear developed that way. The evolutionary development of the mammalian ear developed along multiple paths. None of this obscures the facts derived from scientific research. First there were no mammals, and now there are. Mammals developed (evolved) from earlier animals which are not considered to have been mammals. Biological evolution has occurred.

The text of the David Coppedge quote concludes with:

Choose a religion that explains with reference to true causes known to be necessary and sufficient for the complexity observed by honest scientific inquiry.  Choose one that maintains human dignity and a love of the truth.  Those criteria weed out a lot of contenders.

Although he makes a pretense of appealing to logic and reason, he concludes with an appeal to supposition. What the supposed David Coppedge is saying is that we must abandon a dispassionate view of nature and harken to our innermost prejudices. This did not provide any visible advancement in our understanding of the Universe for thousands of years. There’s no reason to believe it’s going to start doing so now.

Heart of Stupid

From a Facebook posting

From a Facebook posting

“‘ The horror! The horror!’ (Conrad, Joseph (2012-05-17). Heart of Darkness (p. 101). . Kindle Edition.)

I wanted to title this post “Heart of Darkness,” but I noticed the title was already taken. In the mean time, here’s what it’s all about:

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

What an astounding statement, especially coming from a reliable source such as The Wall Street Journal. If that item curls your hair, then you should take a seat. I have even more astounding news.

JULY 20, 2011
The Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch

Although the scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has focused on his British properties, it has also put News Corp’s. U.S. outlets under a brighter spotlight—particularly the prestigious Wall Street Journal he acquired by purchasing Dow Jones for $5 billion in 2007.

Meanwhile, all of us over here at Skeptical Analysis are thinking maybe this is just a bunch of hullabaloo over little. It could be that additional Skeptical Analysis is in order. Let’s start by taking a peek at the remainder of what scientific authority Eric Metaxas has to say on the topic:

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.

And that’s about it. The remainder seems to be The Privileged Planet revisited. Here’s what Eric Metaxas wants you to know:

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

From The Privileged Planet, page 114:

Once more, those features of our environment that are congenial to scientific discovery also promote Earth’s habitability. We’ve briefly discussed the role of the Moon and the giant planets in all this. Jupiter and Saturn are probably the most significant planetary protection, since they shield the inner Solar System from excessive comet bombardment.28

[The footnote links to: 28. See J.I. Lunine, “The Occurrence of Jovian Planets and the Habitability of Planetary Systems,” Publications of the National Academy of Sciences 89, no. 3 (2001); 809-814. The classic study on the relation between Jupiter and Earth’s habitability is G.W. Wetherill, “Possible Consequences of Absence of Jupiters in Planetary Systems,” Astrophysics and Space Science 212 (1994); 23-32.]

More from Metaxas:

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

This part appears to be a recapitulation of Chapter 10 of The Privileged Planet: “A Universe Fine-Tuned for Life and Discovery.”

Of particular concern is Metaxas’ interest in the fortunate (for us) circumstances relating to the formation of the Universe. He concludes with:

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.”

“Someone” is looking out for us. Someone? Who? Let me guess.

Got it! That Someone (with a capital S) would be a Special Person. Not just any person who might happen to have the ability to pull this off, but one special Someone. That Someone who has a name. And that name would be Yahweh. Jehovah. The God of Abraham. Not any of the other stories about the creation of the Earth and the Universe, but this particular one. This particular one that has the Earth and the Universe being created 6000 years ago. This particular story that has the Earth and the Universe being created 6000 years ago, at a time when there were already people around who should have noticed all this going on. This particular creation story.

And the reason we know it was this particular Someone who created the Earth and the Universe is that the story about the creation of the Earth and the Universe by this particular Someone is the only story that matches what science says about the creation of the Earth and the Universe. At this point I am going to retell the actual story of how this particular Someone created the Earth and the Universe. Here it is:

In the beginning Someone created the heavens and the earth.

2 But first, someone had to get the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—just right to a fine tuning, and this had to be accomplished in less than one millionth of a second after the Big Bang, which was Someone’s special name for the creation of the Earth and the Universe.

3 And that was just in the First Day.

No wait. I’ve pulled up the wrong story from the Internet. That is the story of how a different Someone created the Earth and the Universe. Here’s the story I was looking for:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God calledthe light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.”And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds:the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Yes, this is the correct story of how Someone got the “values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces” just right within “less than one millionth of a second after the big bang.” Because we know that you “[a]lter any one value and the universe could not exist.” Also, “For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all.” And it’s all described, as I have shown, in the recorded history of how Someone created the Earth and the Universe.

That is so remarkable. And what is more remarkable is that this story is supported by real science. With some exceptions.

Those exceptions might be some scientists who make it their life’s work to figure out how the Earth and the Universe actually came about. One of those scientists might be Lawrence Krauss, who is ” Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of its Origins Project.” He’s also author of the book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.

Larry Krauss has developed into one of those national treasures for which all civilization can be grateful. He thinks, he speaks and he acts. It’s a welcome combination.

Not surprising, Larry Krauss has stepped forward to bring some sense to Eric Metaxas’ wondering notions. Immediately following the publication of Metaxas’ op-ed piece, Krauss penned a rebuttal, which failed to make it into the WSJ pages. Lacking exposure on the pages of The Wall Street Journal, this response was picked up by others. It appears in its entirety on the Richard Dawkins Foundation site. Here it is:

To the editor:

I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda.  The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations.  For example:

  1. We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe.  We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere.  The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.
  2. We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made.  If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.
  3. The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different.  It is true that if the forces had slighty different strengths ( but nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not have evolved.  This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.
  4. My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted.  The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.

Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.

You will note there is no mention of what happened on the Seventh Day.

The Privileged Planet

This is a repost of an item that appeared in the November 2004 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. I should have put this up on the Skeptical Analysis blog a long time ago. That would have given the Illustra Media video and the book more of the exposure they deserve. I’m putting this up just now mainly because I want a handy link to it on this blog for another item I’m writing. If you’re curious about what the other item is then go to the search window above and enter “Eric Metaxas.” In the mean time, if you’re not already bored to tears reading this stuff, then forge ahead. Here it is:

by John Blanton

If you think Texas is Heaven on Earth, think larger. Apparently Earth is Heaven on Earth as well.

A new video from the Discovery Institute comes to us by way of Illustra Media, and it seeks to remind us how fortunate we are. Not just for living in Texas, but for being born on the planet Earth. Aliens, eat your hearts out, both of them.

The book

The book

The Privileged Planet

By now, we are quite familiar with the Discovery Institute (DI). Its Center for Science and Culture is a think tank for the new creationism called Intelligent Design. Illustra Media, you will recall, is the production company that a few years back gave us another creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

The Privileged Planet, as the title suggests, wants to make the case that not only are we lucky to have been born on this planet, but Earth is lucky to be here at all. It doesn’t take long for the narration to get around to reminding us that this was not all just dumb luck. Broad hints at a guiding hand are dropped everywhere.

Wilston Nkangoh is the president of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club on the University of Texas at Dallas campus, and he was kind enough to invite me to a showing of the video at their October meeting. Although IDEA clubs are promoted through the DI at campuses across the country, Wilston does not receive financial support, and he purchased his own copy of the DVD.

A companion book of the same title is by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, who also appear in the video. Dennis Danielson also appears in the video and has given the book a resounding endorsement:

“Impressively researched and lucidly written, The Privileged Planet will surely rattle if not finally dislodge a pet assumption held by many interpreters of modern science: the so-called Copernican Principle (which isn’t actually very Copernican!). But Gonzalez and Richards’ argument, though controversial, is so carefully and moderately presented that any reasonable critique of it must itself address the astonishing evidence which has for so long somehow escaped our notice. I therefore expect this book to renew-and to raise to a new level-the whole scientific and philosophic debate about earth’s cosmic significance. It is a high class piece of work that deserves the widest possible audience.”

This is impressive, considering Danielson is a professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He is also editor of The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking.

Gonzalez and Richardson are with DI and are featured prominently in the video. Although a number of other notables weigh in, it’s Gonzalez and Richardson who do all the heavy lifting.

It is hard to argue with the major points these creationist make here. Who would deny, for example, that if the sun were hotter, if the Earth were not the right distance from the sun, and if water weren’t wet, life in Texas would not be as we know it today. The video gives a list of these critical factors with a probability of 0.10 for each, and it is clearly demonstrated that when you multiply them all together our odds of being here are vanishingly small. You stand a better chance of finding a winning lottery ticket stuck under your windshield wiper.

I only had a chance to watch the video through one time, but I came away with the impression that Gonzalez and Richardson ran out of good ideas half way through and began to cast about for material to fill the rest of the time. Some of the later arguments could best have been left on the cutting room floor.

For example, the authors assert that things seem to have been engineered just right so our great thinkers and scientists would be set up to succeed. If Earth’s atmospheric characteristics were different, they say, we would have had a hard time seeing the stars, and I guess the science of astronomy would have been replaced by the science of peering into the murk. What the astrologers would have done for a living is anybody’s guess.

If we were not in such an opportune location within our own galaxy, it would have been a lot harder to figure out the Milky Way’s exact shape. Again, I am only guessing, but there would likely have been a Nobel Prize for solving that puzzle.

All those points aside, a key issue discussed is fine tuning. Again, few would doubt that if the constants of nature, those eight and nine-digit numbers we all learned to memorize for the strength of gravity and the mass of the electron, were just a little off, the Universe would be a whole new ball game, and you would not be reading this newsletter. Paul Davies is a real scientist and not associated with DI. He has written a number of books on the mysteries of the Universe, including The Forces of Nature. In the video he explains the delicate balance of these forces. There is no denying: Either these supposedly independent factors are all tied together somewhere off where we can’t see just yet, or we have indeed won the grand jackpot.

My guess is it is some of both. First of all, underlying tie-ins are the history of scientific discovery. Aside from that, it seems a bit self centered to believe a world unsuited for humans would be a tragedy of the first magnitude. It would appear the creationists are attempting to use their point to make their point. Nice try, though.


1. You can purchase the books and videos mentioned in this article from by linking through the NTS Web site. Just go to and use the search feature to find the title and the Amazon link. This story will carry the links when it is posted on the Web at

2. We have previously discussed the UT Dallas IDEA Club in the April 2004 issue of this newsletter. A copy of that issue is available on the NTS Web site.

Platforms Against Science


Frank Harrold and Ray Eve were early technical advisors for The North Texas Skeptics. Frank Harrold served “20 years as a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.” Ray Eve spent most of his “career at the University of Texas at Arlington in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.” Together they published Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past. I own a copy (current on loan), and if you ever read it you will agree that, despite its title, it’s a real page-turner. Harrold and Eve collaborated extensively on studies related to belief in the paranormal, and a critical finding was the correlation between reliance on pseudo science (including creationism) with political conservatism.

What can be said about the sources of pseudoscientific beliefs? Creation science oriented beliefs merit attention because of their connection with Fundamentalist religious tradition in the United States. Kehoe (1985) has discussed the functions of “creation science” within the New Religious-Political Right of contemporary conservative politics. She contends that the acceptance of the inerrancy of the Bible inherent in “creation science” serves as a manifest sign of dedication to the central value of the New Religious-Political Right: acceptance of authority versus “reality testing” and adaptation. In this context, scientific gullibility may be seen as one facet of deference to authority, a kind of generalized willingness to accept as plausible that which appears to be commonly believed by others or what is asserted in folklore to have been proven by unnamed “scientists” or experts. Harrold and Eve (1987) have given support to Kehoe’s assertions about the political and attitudinal underpinnings of the “creation-science” ideology by showing that Creationism beliefs correlated positively with a measure of dogmatism r = .32, .18, .33 for TX, CA, CT) and a measure of political conservativism (anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, pro-death penalty) which they termed a Moral Majority scale. These findings hold for the USU population, although the correlation was only a moderate one (Creationism-Dogmatism, Pearson’s r = .20; Creationism-Moral Majority, Pearson’s R = relationship with reported number of books read that were not required in an academic course (R = -.24), a finding also reported by Harrold and Eve (1987).

The leading organization in this country working to counter the introduction of anti-science attitudes and teaching in public schools is the National Center for Science Education, headquartered in Berkeley, California. I give them money, and so should you. Their six times a year newsletter Reports of National Center for Science Education provides readers with a quick run-down of the latest events related to pseudo science and public education. There are also essays of interest by qualified researchers and reporters.

The most recent issue features an article by Sehoya H Cotner, D Christopher Brooks, and Randy Moore Evolution and Student Voting Patterns. The authors cite the political correlation previously observed by Harrold and Eve, and they bring these observations into the 21st century:

Democrats, too, have supporters and field candidates, such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton, who believe in a creator but accept evolution. However, Republicans frequently embrace creationism more explicitly than do their counterparts. In the field of candidates leading up to the 2012 elections, only Jon Huntsman (who was eliminated early) was vocally in support of scientific perspectives on evolution (Shear 2011). Perhaps most striking is the willingness of several state Republican parties to make teaching creationism in public schools
a part of their platforms (Figure 1), despite a consistent pattern of state and federal court judgments against this very activity—judgments that are largely based on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”). The recent (June 2014) release of the latest Texas GOP platform highlights the partisan nature of contemporary science—with teaching creationism as part of a bundle that includes “vaccine choice” and climate-change denial.

In particular, the authors published a list of excerpts from state Republican Party platforms that reveals overt support for pseudo science coupled with disdain for critical aspects of science:

Figure 1. State Republican party platforms on evolution and creationism
Alaska: “We support teaching various models and theories for the origins of life and our
universe, including Creation Science or Intelligent Design. If evolution outside a
species (macro-evolution) is taught, evidence disputing the theory should also be
Iowa: “We support a balanced presentation of creationism and evolution in public schools. We believe that textbooks and teachers should clarify that Darwinian
evolution is only a theory and not scientific fact.”
Kansas: “Kansas students should be allowed and encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.”
Minnesota: “Educators who discuss creation science should be protected from disciplinary action and science standards should recognize that there is controversy pertaining to the theory of evolution.”
Missouri: The party supports “Empowering local school districts to determine how best to handle the teaching of creationism and the theory of evolution.”
North Dakota: The party supports “the rights of teachers to teach and discuss the scientific evidence for and against multiple theories of the origin of life, including intelligent design and evolution.”
Oklahoma: “We believe that the scientific evidence supporting Intelligent Design and Biblical creation should be included in Oklahoma public schools curricula. And where any evolution theory is taught both should receive equal funding, class time, and material.”
Texas: “We believe theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught as challengeable scientific theory subject to change as new data is produced, not scientific law. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

And that brings us to the point of this post. It’s time for some Skeptical Analysis of these odd political positions. Let’s start with Alaska.

The state Republican Party wants to teach “various models and theories for the origins of life and our universe.” I have to say that is really odd.

What do you think these politicians intend by various models and theories? Regarding the origins of life, do they mean students should be exposed to some of the following?

  • Deep sea vent hypothesis
  • Thermosynthesis
  • Clay hypothesis
  • Gold’s “deep-hot biosphere” model

And others.

Actually, the politicians don’t have any of these alternatives in mind. If these were the available options they would not even walk across the street for them. What they have in mind for alternative explanations is spelled out in the wording that immediately follows the suggestion that other theories be considered: “[I]ncluding Creation Science or Intelligent Design.”

First of all I want to reflect my appreciation for the use of capital letters. English standard usage, especially in the United States, requires the names of religious movements be capitalized. The use of capitalization by the Alaska politicians is their honest recognition that these are religious ideas as opposed to scientific.

Next, Creation Science and Intelligent Design are, in fact, armor-plated religious concepts. Creation Science, as traditionally defined by organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research insist on the strict biblical interpretation that the Earth is about 6000 years old, an idea that is refuted by any number of scientific findings.

Additionally, Intelligent Design has been cast as a non-creationism and a non-religious alternative to natural processes. All such attempts to convince the world of this absurdity have ended in failure. Particularly, the religious motivation behind Intelligent Design is continually reinforced by proponents even as they seek to convince us otherwise. The documentary Expelled features actor Ben Stein presenting what are supposed to be the evil consequences of Darwinism. Yet viewers are served a lengthy interview with biologist Richard Dawkins, and they are discussing, what else, the existence of God. When Intelligent Design proponents obtained the opportunity to present their case in federal court in the Kitzmiller case they were totally unable to convince the judge there was no religious intent and further that there was any scientific basis behind Intelligent Design.

Regarding Iowa, the politicians want “balanced presentation.” They want creationism and evolution given equal or at least comparable weight in public schools. They want Darwinian evolution to be presented as a theory and not as a scientific fact.

There are two matters at issue here. First they want a conjecture with no scientific validity to be presented not only as plausible to students but also to be pumped up by the school system to give it credibility it has not earned. This is religious proselytizing at public expense.

The other matter is treating Darwinian evolution as a theory. First, Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory. Calling it a theory is like calling Everest a mountain. You do not diminish an idea by calling it a scientific theory. That’s a promotion. Additionally, there is little reason for not calling Darwinian evolution a fact. First, the fact of evolution is well-established. Evidence accumulates daily that living things on this planet share a common ancestry, and in the more than 150 years since it was put forward no scientific studies have come forward to refute it.

So, what do the politicians of the Iowa Republican Party want? My guess is they want to satisfy a religiously motivated base and also a base that has little appreciation for science.


In Kansas students are “encouraged to fully discuss and critique all science-based theories for the origin of life in science curricula.” A critical flaw in the embedded thinking is that there are science-based theories that are in conflict with Darwinian evolution. If a conscientious teacher in Kansas were to stand at the head of a science class and announce that what follows will be a discussion of science-based theories other than Darwinian evolution a profound silence would settle. Further, if opponents of Darwinism were to propose alternatives with any assumed scientific merit, Creation Science and Intelligent design would stand at the back end of a long line of superior proposals.

Minnesota wants to protect teachers “who discuss creation science.” That, quite obviously, will be a tough row to hoe if any teacher wants to put it into practice. First, an honest discussion of creation science would involve telling students what a stupid idea it is. This has been tried.

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A federal judge ruled that a public high school history teacher violated the First Amendment when he called creationism “superstitious nonsense” during a classroom lecture.

U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled Friday in a lawsuit student Chad Farnan filed in 2007, alleging that teacher James Corbett violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by making repeated comments in class that were hostile to Christian beliefs.

According to a federal judge it’s not OK for a teacher to tell students that creationism is a bunch of crap. Let me put it another way. It’s not OK for teachers to discuss creationism. It’s not OK unless they are willing to be dishonest with students and give creationism some undeserved lift.

Additionally, in Minnesota the politicians want teachers to “recognize that there is controversy pertaining to the theory of evolution.” They want teachers to tell students that creationists have provoked controversy by continually asserting that they have a better idea. Remember, these are not serious researchers making these assertions. These are people like Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, Douglas Axe, William Dembski, Paul Nelson, David Berlinski, Stephen C. MeyerCaroline Crocker, Guillermo Gonzalez, Richard von Sternberg and Ben Stein.

And when teachers break the law by promoting creationism in class, when they break the law by proselytizing for religion in class, they are supposed to be protected. Sadly, no position taken by the Republican Party of Minnesota will protect a teacher who actually breaks the law by promoting creationism. People will still sue, and the courts will still rightly decide this is against the law, and, as in the case with the Dover Area School District, the tax payers will be left holding the bill for a failed legal challenge.

The Missouri Republican platform contains language that parallels the intent of Minnesota. Politicians want to empower school districts, and they specifically mention creationism and evolution. They want to empower the school districts? Really? Creation and evolution and not mathematics? Not even physics and chemistry? Not even automobile mechanics? My guess would be politicians in The Show Me State have their sights set on evolution and not so much on empowering local school districts. Again, the idea is to provide protection, in spirit if not in fact, for districts that break the law by promoting creationism and other religious views.

North Dakota repeats the mistakes of the foregoing. What ever happened to South Dakota? Some investigation may be in order here.

Oklahoma, from whence Texas supposedly obtains all its drain-down wacko, requests the impossible in scientific evidence supporting Intelligent Design (applaud capitalization) and Biblical creation. First of all the scientific evidence supporting would have to be manufactured on the spot by any teacher discussing it, and Biblical creation is so obviously religious the ACLU, and even the Society for the Inclusion of Sanity, would be waiting in the wings for the first teacher pushing those ideas in class.

And finally my favorite state, Texas. I have to love it, because I was born and raised here, and I went through 20 years of public schools here (I was a slow learner). Once again, a state Republican Party wants to allow open discussion without fear of retribution or discrimination. Of course, that is what science is all about, but it is not likely the politicians will receive what they expect were this to be the actual practice.

In actual practice, if strengths and weaknesses were discussed in class, creationism of all kinds would get a pretty rough ride. See the Santa Ana case above. A teacher who tells students that creationism is a load of crap, which it is, would likely not receive protection from retribution or discrimination of any kind as promised by the state Republican Party platform.

These words in the Texas Republican platform, like those in the other states mentioned, have no effect in practice. Statements of political policy are for the benefit of attracting votes and do not contravene existing law. Existing law is that public funds and offices of power cannot be used to proselytize for religion. The voters may not understand these facts, but what concerns me even more is that politicians, including some who hold public office, may not understand. We may, in fact, be getting the government we paid for.