Rotating cephalopod

With all the buzz about cephalopods on Pharyngula, I had to get a picture when I saw this one in Madiscon, Wisconsin. If you are going to be there, be sure and look for it.

Press the arrow button at lower left to start the video.


Science Insights: quick review of Intelligent Design

The National Association of Scholars publishes a newsletter called “Science Insights.” In the September, 2003 edition they gave a brief, well-written introduction to the Intelligent Design argument and the scientific case against it (PDF file). The article contains plenty of links to supporting material. Among the first are Robert Park’s “seven warning signs of bogus science” and John Baez’s Crackpot Index. The article goes on to say:

The new creationism, as any competent reader of its voluminous literature discovers, displays every one of these symptoms. Creationist anti-science, directed primarily but not exclusively at evolution and its current expositors, suffered regular and damaging defeats in the courts during the 20th century. The litigation was in response to ceaseless creationist efforts either to eliminate evolution from school science, or to give equal time to some scriptural account of Earth history, or to require strong disclaimers as to the rightness of evolutionary biology. Every legal defeat of anti-evolutionism turned upon the issue of church-state separation. Creationist attacks on science education were easily shown to be religiously motivated, and their proposed alternatives to be religion, not science. The constitution forbids an establishment of religion: that includes public education. Thus the impediment to creationist sabotage of modern biology has been the unmistakably religious motivation of every disruptive strategy—until now.The new creationism, like its predecessors, is at base religious, not scientific. William A. Dembski, theologian and mathematician, is currently the leading intellectual of the intelligent design movement. He usually insists, when addressing general audiences, that intelligent design theory is science, not religion, and that it has no connection with religion. But attend now to Dembski in Touchstone Magazine, July/August 1999, p. 84:

“Despite its [intelligent design theory’s] implications for science, I regard the ultimate significance of the work on design to lie in metaphysics…”“The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design …readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

So, to start with, Dembski is a liar.

If things had been different

Alternative history: “The Meaning of Thanksgiving” by Gahan Wilson.

Academic LOLcats: peer review

That’s some peer review!

Follow the link to another academic LOLcat.

October 8: Cephalopod Awareness Day

Glide on over to Cephalopodcast and look at their ceph links.

I’ll celebrate by re-posting a hand-painted cephalopod from a community centre in Toronto. The mural was painted by Amos Danniel in 2003. Here’s the octopus:

Alberto Gonzales secretly endorsed torture

Dear goodness, when are they going to learn?

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Book: At the Water’s Edge by Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer explains the evolutionary pressures of different ways of life in different ecologies in this sweeping look at mechanisms of macroevolution.

He traces the probable path of whales to the ocean, using the magnificent series of transitional fossils found in the 80s and 90s. Along the way he explains why whales and seals use their flippers differently, why fish can lose their eyes but octopodes don’t, how many lineages of fish have lungs for use out in the open seas, and why the baleen whales developed from toothed whales.

He also follows a whole series of transitional fish to the emergence of four-legged creatures on land. He shows us how one change in the timing of an embryo’s development can change a whole group of characteristics in the adult. And he makes it seem simple!

Incidentally, in describing two great macroevolutionary events, Carl Zimmer delineates some of the real controversies that have been going on in evolution:

  • Did baleen whales descend separately from archaeocetes or did they develop from the toothed whales?
  • Did lungs develop from swim bladders, as earlier scientists assumed, or was it the other way around?
  • Is five digits a standard pattern or a mere byproduct of developmental patterns?
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