The gloves come off!

Chris Comer, the former director of science curriculum for the state of Texas, has sued the Texas Education Agency for firing her. Her offence? Forwarding an e-mail that discussed the use of Intelligent Design as a stalking horse for creationism. Chris Comer sues Texas Education Agency. Hat tip: Darwin Central.

Expelled movie review by the New York Times

Expelled exposedThey don’t like it.

Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times recognizes that the movie Expelled is a mish-mash of faulty logic, undefined terms, and guilt by association.

One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.

Positing the theory of intelligent design as a valid scientific hypothesis, the film frames the refusal of “big science” to agree as nothing less than an assault on free speech. … (the film relies extensively on the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy — after this, therefore because of this)…

Blithely ignoring the vital distinction between social and scientific Darwinism, the film links evolution theory to fascism (as well as abortion, euthanasia and eugenics), shamelessly invoking the Holocaust….

Every few minutes familiar — and ideologically unrelated — images interrupt the talking heads…. This is not argument, it’s circus, a distraction from the film’s contempt for precision and intellectual rigor.

Catsoulis goes on to point out that at least one of the so-called victims of persecution misrepresented his case. The other cases are similar. Blaming evolution for Hitler is like blaming gravity for skiing accidents. Not to mention that the “persecution” of ID scientists never happened.

Who’s zoomin’ who?

William Dembski never ceases to appall.

  • Intelligent Design is science — but Intelligent Design is the Logos theory of St. John.
  • He’s a ‘philosopher” in the science community but a “theologian” in the religious community.
  • He doesn’t want someone else to use a picture of him — but he can use Harvard’s biology videos and John Lennon’s music!
  • He complains that someone illegally reprinted his essays — but, in fact, that person got permission from the copyright holder.
  • He demands endless proof of evolution — but he can’t be bothered to provide detail about mechanisms of Intelligent Design.

And he rests his case on the flagellum because it’s a little machine. Here, strictly for your review, is a low-resolution sample of Dembski’s blog header:

Dembski\'s metallic little motor flagellum

It’s almost shiny and the flagellum appears to be inserted into a pair of metal plates.

Now, here is an electron micrograph of a real flagellum:

visualizing flagellum base by electron microscopy

[Shahid Khan, Imran Humayun Khan, and Thomas S. Reese, 1991. New Structural Features of the Flagellar Base in Salmonella typhimurium Revealed by Rapid-Freeze Electron Microscopy. Journal of Bacteriology 173:2888-09]

Not quite so shiny, is it?

The closest I can come to Dembski’s machine image is a computer-generated image meant to artificially enhance the symmetry of the flagellum for educational purposes.

flagellum - computer-smoothed image

[A version of this image can be seen here in the Annual Review of Biochemistry 2003, with a note: "This reconstruction is derived from rotationally averaged images of about 100 hook–basal body complexes.... The radial densities have been projected from front to back along the line of view, so this is what would be seen if one were able to look through the spinning structure. Connections between the C-ring and the rest of the structure appear relatively tenuous.Digital image courtesty of D.J. DeRosier."]

There are two very artificial maniplations in this image. First, about 100 images were averaged. That would tend to smooth out any irregularities. Second, a rotation of the image was computed, which would make anything look like an object that has been turned on a lathe.

So Dembski claims that the flagellum is a tiny, designed machine. His claim is supported by computer-generated images which bear little resemblance to reality.

This image showing actual placement of molecules is at least as accurate:

flagellum, atomic cross-section through filament

(from Keiichi Namba, nanonet) But, of course, you couldn’t mistake it for a machine.

And yet, Dembski believes that Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of developing embryos were fraudulent. Haeckel’s drawings were made in the 1870s. That’s 130 years ago! It’s likely that Haeckel simply wanted to make his drawings clear. Or perhaps he was fooled by trying to see details at the limits of his vision, like the astronomers who were sure they saw canals on Mars. Fairly quickly, people realized that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was not strictly true. Scientists, not creationists, pointed out the errors. The drawings have been relegated to curiosities of history, along with the notions that albumin is the genetic material, continents don’t move, and dinosaurs dragged their tails. They are still studied to see where Haeckel went wrong. Here’s what scientists who recently analyzed Haeckel’s drawings have to say:

A recent study coauthored by several of us and discussed by Elizabeth Pennisi (Science, 5 Sept. 1997, p. 1435) examined inaccuracies in embryo drawings published last century by Ernst Haeckel. Our work has been used in a nationally televised debate to attack evolutionary theory and to suggest that evolution cannot explain embryology . We strongly disagree with this viewpoint. Data from embryology are fully consistent with Darwinian evolution…. the mixture of similarities and differences among vertebrate embryos reflects evolutionary change in developmental mechanisms inherited from a common ancestor… Haeckel’s inaccuracies damage his credibility, but they do not invalidate the mass of published evidence for Darwinian evolution. Ironically, had Haeckel drawn the embryos accurately, his first two valid points in favor of evolution would have been better demonstrated.
Michael K. Richardson, et al., "Haeckel, Embryos, and Evolution," Science (Letters), Vol. 280 (May 15, 1998), pp. 983-985. (quoted from

Yet creationism and its outgrowth, Intelligent Design, carry on as if one set of discredited drawings somehow invalidates evolution. If that’s so, why don’t Dembski’s doctored images of flagella invalidate his theory?

And why focus on a few mistakes in a huge body of work? Have historians and economists and politicians never been wrong? The strength of science is that it is the best tool for correcting mistakes in knowledge—throwing out what’s wrong and keeping what evidence confirms.

It’s as if Dembski had wandered into a busy airport and declared, “Look! There’s a piece of litter in the wastebasket! Therefore, airplanes are impossible! (God never meant us to understand flight.)”

Take a balanced look at the whole body of real-world evidence. And demand an equal standard of behavior and morality for all people, with no free pass for the religious.

If he wishes to have any credibility at all, Dembski must demonstrate the same standard of conduct that he demands in other people. Until he does, he fails miserably as a human being and especially as a scientist, where, driven by his religion, he continues to commit intellectual atrocities.

See also: “The Dembski Dodge.”

Rhetorical tactics: the Behe Blunder

Wesley R. Elsberry of Austringer makes some very good points about the ways in which creationists and IDists avoid actually respond to real-world evidence. I expanded on one of his ways, which I’ve named the Dembski Dodge.

However, Wesley omits the Behe Blunder: get the science wrong and use that as a basis for argument. In perhaps his worst stumble, Behe declares that the evolution of the eukaryotic cilium or flagellum is irreducibly complex and that those structures are assembled by an irreducibly complex multi-protein system known as intraflagellar transport, which he touts as irreducible complexity squared! But Behe gets it wrong.

As Nick Matzke points out,

Nick MatzkeThe huge problem with Behe’s invocation of intraflagellar transport in his “IRREDUCIBLE COMPLEXITY SQUARED” section of chapter 5 is that he is completely wrong when he says that intraflagellar transport is universally required for cilium construction! Anyone can see this by reading this 2004 paper by Briggs et al. in Current Biology, which they cleverly entitled “More than one way to build a flagellum,” presumably so that people would find out that there is…wait for it…more than one way to build a flagellum….

One of the parasitic apicomplexans completely lacks the IFT genes…yet makes a cilium anyway! … Behe would have known all this if he had only carefully read the Jekely and Arendt (2006) cilium evolution paper that he dismissed with a hand wave…. it really doesn’t help the “irreducible complexity” argument much if Behe’s favorite system, the eukaryotic cilium, and the extra-favorite “irreducible complexity squared” system, intraflagellar transport, on which he bases a whole chapter, is in fact entirely reducible…. A great deal of creationism/ID boils down to sloppy claims made on insufficient information, plus wishful thinking that blocks the impulse to double-check one’s claims…

Which apicomplexan critter is it that builds cilia despite Behe’s declaration that “a functioning cilium requires a working IFT”? Why, it’s Plasmodium falciparum, aka malaria, aka Behe’s own biggest running example used throughout The Edge of Evolution.

Nick Matzke’s entire article, “Of cilia and silliness,” is well worth reading.

LOL Michael Behe:

–from Lou FCD

To read more about Behe’s blunders, read these:

Rhetorical tactics: the Dembski Dodge

Wesley ElsberryWesley R. Elsberry, in discussing possible responses to factual evidence, mentioned a several avoidance tactics. This is from a long discussion thread in, where Wesley summarizes the patterns of common arguments. I’ve extracted them from their discussion thread and highlighted them here: how IDists avoid responding to real-world evidence.

One of the tactics is a hallmark of William Dembski’s responses about evolution, so I’ve decided to call it the Dembski Dodge.

The one I want to talk about is described below.

Non-Evidentiary Responses

The other category of approach is to ignore, so far as possible, any mention or discussion of actual fossil evidence… There are many routes to achieving this end. The simplest is non-response. The challenged person may decide that not saying anything further is the best option…. Yet another strategy is to discuss theoretical issues as if theory did away with the need to actually look at the empirical data.

funny picturesAnd there you have it. That’s the entire point of Dembski’s argument: construct a mathematical will-o-the-wisp and point at it as though it were the evidence we vainly seek.

My brother used to tease young ladies by eliciting various random facts about them, such as their eye colour, height, dog’s name, home town, favorite food, best subject, number of siblings, and so on, then multiplying the probablility of all those things being true, and producing a mathematical proof that the sweet young things in question were so improbable that they might simply disappear at any time!

And that, in a nutshell, is Dembski’s approach to the facts of biology. However, Dembski cooks the books in his favor by insisting that all the calculated events must have happened simultaneously instead of accumulating over a period of time.

Rhetorical tactics: dealing with evidence

Wesley ElsberryWesley R. Elsberry discusses IDist’s rhetorical responses to factual evidence. This is from a long discussion thread in, where Wesley summarizes the patterns of common arguments. (Bolding, italics, colours, and 2 subheads are mine.)

First, the interpretation of evidence:

Science works by not relying upon individual interpretations, but rather placing value in the evidence and inferences from that evidence that can survive a process of intersubjective criticism. It is still not the unobtainable goal of objective knowledge, but it is as close as we humans have managed to come.

Then, which interpretation is more valuable?

Why then does the scientific community, comprising millions of individuals from almost every culture in the world, have just one broad consensus that the fossil record shows the history and diversity of life evolving by descent with modification showing common descent from one or a few original forms? Is that “interpretation” of only equal value to the “interpretation” of the long-dead people who didn’t even believe that fossils were anything but odd mineral deposits? Or can there be “interpretations” that can be demonstrated to be superior to other “interpretations” by consistent criteria? … Do the “interpretations” of people who are ignorant count just the same as the interpretation hammered out over decades of intersubjective criticism and testing by thousands of domain experts?

The science community subjects interpretations to intersubjective criticism and ruthlessly discards the unworkable, meaningless, and counterfactual interpretations. Does that count for anything in the end product?

Wesley then poses a challenge for Kevin Miller: to explain clear evidence of transitional fossils described and photographed in one particular research paper. Go to the link for the reference and description, plus links to photos and diagrams.

Finally, Wesley gets to the part I want to highlight:

There are a lot of ways to argue to set aside this research that have nothing to do with the evidence at all. This is where religious antievolutionists shine. The following is from a challenge I make to people who claim that no transitional fossil sequences exist.

Evidentiary and Non-Evidentiary Responses to Challenges


There are two main ways in which respondents can deal with the Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge [TEFC]. The intellectually honest and appropriate way is with specific discussion of the fossil evidence as described and discussed in the primary literature. This is by far the least common approach taken by those who have been given the TFEC, and typically only follows after a long period of non-response, the elapsed time apparently serving as an index of the claimant’s unfamiliarity with the specific evidence.


The other category of approach is to ignore, so far as possible, any mention or discussion of actual fossil evidence. These varied strategies are what I term “non-evidentiary” responses, since they are completely independent of empirical data. There are many routes to achieving this end. The simplest is non-response. The challenged person may decide that not saying anything further is the best option, sometimes in the hope that there will be no long-term penalty for this behavior, and that eventually few, if any, persons will remember the abandonment of the original claim. Another common non-evidentiary response is digression. Bringing up a different topic as if it held some relevance to the TFEC allows someone to give a semblance of a reply, even though few will be fooled by it. Yet another strategy is to discuss theoretical issues as if theory did away with the need to actually look at the empirical data. A variant of the theory strategy is the quote-mining of those people who expound theory. Usually, though, quotes reveal nothing about the specific data at hand, and often come from sources whose opposition to anti-evolutionary action is otherwise well-known. Still another variant upon the theory strategy is the definition game. One can construct connotations of “transitional” such that no real-world evidence can satisfy all the piled-on conditions. It is useful to know when an anti-evolutionist simply defines evidence out of existence, though. Another possible tactic is to dismiss the taxonomic category from which the cited example comes. A respondent can claim that they really meant no transitional fossils in some other taxonomic hierarchy, but they often seem to forget that this means that the “no transitional fossils” claim is then self-admittedly false. A particularly brazen non-evidentiary response is to play an “even if” game, as in, “Even if this is true, it doesn’t mean anything.” That ignores that if the cited sequence does contain transitional fossils, it at least means that the claim of no transitional fossils is false.

Wesley lists sample responses that don’t address the evidence and to suggest that from now on, apologists simply refer to them by their letters:

The following is a short form for response to the TFEC, if a challenged person wishes to ignore the evidence and simply adopt one of the non-evidentiary tactics for their own. Simply indicate which one or more of the following Non-Evidentiary Response Items (NERI) fits what would otherwise involve a bunch of redundant typing.

Non-Evidentiary Response Items:
A. You have your faith; I have mine.

B. I meant that no vertebrate transitional fossils exist.

C. I meant that no transitional fossils above taxonomic rank _______ (fill in blank), which means that none can exist.

D. I have quotes from _______ (give list of names) that say that no transitional fossils exist.

E. My understanding of _______ theory (fill in blank) is that transitional fossils cannot exist.

F. My connotation of “transitional fossils” is _______ (fill in blank), which means that none can exist.

G. I have a cool rebuttal of _______ (fill in blank). What were you saying about transitional fossils?

H. Even if the cited example does show transitional fossils, it doesn’t mean anything.

I. I cannot be bothered to support my claim, so I will not be giving you a reply.

J. I promise to support my claim Real Soon Now. I will be in touch. My reply will be devastating to you and completely and utterly convincing to everyone. Just you wait. It’s in the mail.

K. Provide the fossils for the transition from X to Y, which will let me ignore these fossils that actually exist.

L. Person X says this challenge is bogus, therefore I don’t have to provide any response to actual evidence of transitional forms.

I recognize various techniques there. William Dembski is notorious for using Response I, as in, “It’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail.” Come back tomorrow to read about the Dembski Dodge.

They’re doing it again

I’ve been reading Judge Jones’ response (Montana Law Review, Volume 68.) to Discovery Institute arguments about Kitzmiller v. Dover. He goes into some detail about the origins and history of Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Pandas).

About two-thirds of the way through the 30-page document, I read a passage that resonated with the current flap about Expelled and its copyright infringements.

–from Lou FCD

Judge Jones writes:

…more needs to be said about Pandas, its origins, and DI’s connection to it. Originally designed as a “creationist” biology text, Pandas went through several drafts before it was published in 1989 by the Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), whose articles of incorporation stated that its “primary purpose is both religious and educational, which includes… proclaiming, publishing, preaching, teaching, promoting… and otherwise making known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible and the light it sheds on the academic and social issues of our day.” Significantly, three DI Fellows (Stephen Meyer, Charles Thaxton, and Dean Kenyon) were involved in the writing and editing of Pandas. Kenyon, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, co-authored the book with Percival W. Davis.

Notably, both Kenyon and Davis are admitted “young-earth” creationists. [Here Judge Jones describes quotations and actions by the authors to prove his assertion.] … In a 1994 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Davis was candid about the purpose of Pandas: “Of course my motives were religious. There’s no question about it.”

…. The DI authors claim, however, that the book had been purged of its original creationist content, and that “the removal of creationist terminology [from the published version] should have protected Pandas, not rendered the textbook unconstitutional.”

So here we have the hopeful alteration of a few superficial details while keeping a tell-tale, characteristic perspective. It is yet another resort to a legal fig-leaf: “But we’re not stark naked!” And here’s how they purged it:

…with a search and replace function that left behind a transitional fossil: “cdesign proponentsists.”

Doesn’t it sound just like the protestations from Expelled? “But we made an original copy! That shouldn’t count as plagiarism!”

Expelled Exposed

Dembski shoots Expelled in foot

Expelled exposedDiscovery Institute fellow Jonathan Wells asserted that the cell animation video in the ID propaganda movie Expelled, copied from Harvard University and XVIVO, was not plagiarized because the producers re-mastered it.

Now Bill Dembski pipes up and says that they planned to plagiarize the video but made it just different enough so it will pass a legal challenge. And if not, they have money for lawsuits… so which is it? And why is Dembski admitting that they substantially copied the video?

As usual, ERV has the story.


LOL creationists Dembski in sweater


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