Christians, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars....the Judean Hillbillies.

(cue Flatt and Scruggs)

There's been a spirited exchange over on PZ's site, starting around post #132. It's awfully tangential to the rest of the thread, but I got a real kick out of replying to the colorful rhetoric of a poster I hadn't previously noticed, one Marcus Ranum. Then Uber, who has chided me for not putting all my theistic cards out on the tables at times, chimed in. So we have a bit of a kerfuffle and I've invited anyone interested to post here.

Take your shoes off. Set a spell. Y'all come back now, y'heah!



July 4th is, of course, Independence Day in the United States---but, to my way of thinking, all of July should be Independence Month for all biologists, everywhere.

Why? Because, sometime in mid-July, 1837 (the exact date is uncertain), Charles Darwin began Notebook D, sometimes called 'The Red Notebook.' While other notebooks contain his thoughts on common descent, a pattern he inferred from the geology and biogeography observed in his travels, it is Notebook D that contains the first statements of natural selection. By positing a natural cause for the diversity of life, Darwin eliminated teleology, and transformed much of what used to be called 'natural theology' (Paley's expression) into an independent science. Bravo, Charlie!

Darwin knew the import of what he was proposing. Very early in the 'Red Notebook', on pg. 26, he "exults: "Mine is a bold theory, which attempts to explain, or asserts to be explicable every instinct in animals." (quoted in Darwin: Discovering The Tree of Life, by Niles Eldredge, W.W. Norton, New York, 2005.)

Indeed! Happy Independence Month, Biologists!

(A detailed treatment of the notebooks, for specialists, can be found here.)



If you're keeping score, that is.

Those of you who’ve visited my blog courtesy of Pharyngula may recall the strange episode of “CSU Fresno Vs. The Lesbian/Atheist Conspiracy”, which I posted about here.

For those of you who don’t, here’s an update on the whole affair: plaintiff Lindy Vivas, the fired women’s volleyball coach whose alleged sexual orientation and personal religious beliefs were at issue in her suit against CSU Fresno, was awarded $5.8 MILLION dollars in damages—more than three times the amount sought by her legal team. Seems like the jury wanted to send a message, doesn’t it?

Well, some, including state representative Dean Flores, got the message: something is amiss at CSU Fresno in terms of gender equity in one highly visible department (Athletics), and chaired hearings on the matter. Others, like, CSU Fresno President John Welty and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, they appear to have received a different message. The outcome, coming on the heels of their defeat in the courts, is another exercise in public humiliation for these two fellas and it looks as if they’ve made things worse, instead of better, with their testimony. You can read about this here, but first, two warnings:

1) Don’t read if you think you’re above some extremely juicy gossip

2) Don’t read if you’re already fed up with the Alberto Gonzales story. While this may not carry the import of the Attorney General’s attempt to rehabilitate his rep as a first-class deceiver, but it’s eerily familiar: in each case, highly-placed administrators who owe their positions to appointment by the executive branch seem unwilling or unable to answer tough questions posed by elected officials.


It's a strange world. On the one hand, the challenge of raising the bar in science education seems tougher than it ever has, and (depending on how the question is phrased) anywhere from 30-50 percent of my fellow Americans think the Earth is just a few thousand years old.

And yet, this bastion of pseudo-science, allegedly bleeding millions of dollars, is officially defunct. The publisher of (among other things) the National Enquirer and the Star has concluded there is no longer a broad market for this sort of publication, which not only readily pandered to cryptozoologists, but to the eschatologically-minded in Christianity.

Oh, well, at least we still have Bat Boy: The Musical.



Calamari steak, anyone? As I write this, it's 10:18 PM on the West Coast.

Any bets on how long before a certain godless liberal mentions this bit of 'news'?

Update: PZ chimes in at 6:00 AM. That's a little slow. Poor devil must sleep every now and then, I guess.


OK, this may not be entirely suitable for work---but I am referring to the Bible, if that's any consolation. As you've probably heard, women are often assumed to have one less rib than men because of this story found in Genesis. A classic reaction to this legend is this account ("Darwin's Rib") by a first-time college evolution instructor. If you haven't read this before, STOP--it's short, funny, memorable and makes an important point! You have to read it!

Now, if you've read that, my 'bone to pick' with Genesis. Somewhat creatively, a pair of medical researchers have suggested that the word translated as 'rib' could be thought of as any sort of support structure, perhaps, even the baculum (penile bone), which humans lack but most other primates possess.

Ahem. It's not clear whether or not they are trying to defend some convoluted notion of inerrancy, or whether they are suggesting that the original folkloric intent of the passage has been lost. The latter would require one to believe, however, that some one in the Levant around 4,000 years ago was combining comparative anatomy with a historical account of function. As with the tiger getting its stripes, a 'Just-So Story', but one requiring more than a passing knowledge of a single beast, I would think.

It gets better! The authors (Gilbert and Zevit) also suggest that "the raphe on the penis and scrotum was thought to be the surgical scar." A few comments seem in order:

1) The claim is, in effect, Lamarckian---who knew that the ancient scribes were so close to adaptive explanations?

2) The perineal raphe is found in other primates which still possess a baculum: what scar are they carrying?

3) The perineal raphe is more prominent, to the point of a (shudder) bifid scrotum, in males who suffer from the genetic disorder Townes-Brock Syndrome---an unkind cut, albeit deeper, from the deity?

4) One gets the impression that Gilbert and Zevit's suggestion was definitely tongue-in-buccal raphe.



OK, this has to be seen to be believed. Go to this page. Click on the pictures and see an enlarged view. Try out your favorite stunned invective, even if abso-freaking-lutely filthy! (Note the aroused infix) Then read through the comments: there is an explanation for this weird 'beastie', and it's just wonderful.

BTW, the fella who writes this blog, he's pretty smart and I heartily recommend at least a weekly helping of Blake Stacey.



Yesterday, in anticipation of his impending induction in Baseball's Hall of Fame, the San Diego Padres honored Tony Gwynn by unveiling this statue. It shows Gwynn doing what he did best: going the other way and finding the '5.5 hole' between third base and short en route to 3,141 career hits and a lifetime .338 average. Not too shabby.

What can I say? I've been a Padres fan since 1984 and Tony Gwynn, who played his entire career with just one team, I've probably seen him bat over 1,000 times, more than any other player. And I've seen him handle good times and bad times with the same resiliency and humor. He's very deserving of all the praise he will receive in the next few weeks.


My friend Madhu Khatti graciously allowed me to to audit his biogeography course a few months back. On his blog, he asks a wonderfully disarming question about peppers in this enjoyable essay. It reminds me of two things: that my alma mater (CSU Fresno) has a world-class expert on the genetics of Capsicum, and that, more than 150 years ago, Darwin began his long and meaningful correspondence with American botanist (and evangelical Christian) Asa Gray.

In a letter of July 8th, Gray had praised Darwin for experiments, published in the Gardener's Chronicle, that demonstrated the possibility that seeds might be carried some distance in salt water, yet still be able to germinate: a seminal (sorry) moment in the history of biogeography.

Then, on today's date (July 21st), some 152 years ago, Darwin replied with these details: "...Some of my immersed seeds have come up after 82 & 85 days immersion, viz Radishes Beet, Atriplex, Capsicum, Oats, Cucurbita, Rhubarb, Lettuce, Carrotts, Celery, & Onions."

I think that, in appreciation of Dr. Katti and Charles Darwin, that I will eat a pepper today!