The blog Panda's Thumb
is the most important blog refuting scientific
arguments (or ostensibly scientific arguments)
by advocates of Intelligent Design and creationism.
I have made a series of guest posts there:
Note -- in 2016 Panda's Thumb migrated to a new software system for
comments. For the moment, comments on old posts are missing. Some of the
comments -- the first page worth for each post -- are visible if one looks up
the page on archive.org (the Wayback machine, where the PT site archives will
be found here). The old comments have been
saved and will ultimately reappear at PT, once the necessary migration work can
and after that I became part of the Panda's Thumb "crew" so my posts were not
guest posts. Posts after that are:
- (5 May 2008) A population-genetic argument by creationist Sal Cordova
for the ineffectiveness of natural selection. I pointed out that his
calculation gives a
misleading impression. (And
-- in comment no. 2 -- is a 2010 comment at Uncommon Descent showing that Cordova has learned
nothing from that exchange).
- (1 August 2009) Not about creationism or ID, but a happy birthday to Lamarck.
- (21 August 2009) Theologian and mathematician William Dembski and
electrical engineering professor Robert Marks have published a peer-reviewed
Dembski argues supports Intelligent Design. Why it is just as supportive of more mundane views of the world.
- (24 August 2009) More on why Dembski and Marks's argument, which they believe
shows intervention in the world by a Designer to make fitness surfaces smooth,
not refute evolutionary biology.
- (and here
is a comment I made later at Dietmar Eben's
blog summarizing my conclusions about the implications of Dembski and Marks's “Search for a
- (12 December 2009) How Cornelius Hunter, a biophysicist and old-earth
creationist, fails to put forward a scientific theory.
- (February 18, 2010) How the weeds in our back yard show that if an argument by creationist mathematician
Granville Sewell (published by the Discovery Institute) is correct, the
Second Law of Thermodynamics is wrong.
- (13 April 2010) How a Bayesian calculation of the posterior probability
of evolution being correct, made by Cornelius Hunter,
that he have some alternative scientific theory (which he refuses to put
forward), and how the mathematical
statistician Peter Olofsson rather thoroughly thrashed Hunter by making
just these points in the comments at Hunter's own blog.
- (1 August 2010) Happy 266th birthday to Lamarck.
- (28 September 2010) Why a calculation at the Uncommon Descent
anti-evolution blog supposedly showing that humans and chimps differ in DNA
sequence by a lot more than 1% is totally wrong.
- (27 February 2011) Oh no! It's Granville Sewell again. This time he
has published a paper in Applied Mathematics Letters repeating his old
arguments, without any acknowledgment that they are absurd and have been
demolished. Here I
once again make fun of him by pointing out that he has “proven”
that weeds can't grow in your garden and for that matter, neither can flowers!
(Apparently, AML rescinded its acceptance of Sewell's paper after some people
complained and pointed out its fatuity. But here is a video he
has since posted on 6 June 2011 repeating the same discredited argument.
Sewell subsequently had a lawyer pressure AML, which agreed to pay him $10,000
for violating their own rules for publishing papers. It sounds as if AML had
little valid review in the first place, accepted the paper on insufficient
grounds, and then paid Sewell the $10,000 but without agreeing to reinstate
the paper and publish it, perhaps because they know it is a silly paper.)
- (27 March 2011) A commentary by me on Complex Specified Information (CSI)
and whether it is important to get it formally defined in terms of information
theory to understand William Dembski's argument about The Design Inference (I
say not, the problem with his argument is elsewhere). This was in reaction
to the article by "MathGrrl" at Uncommon Descent where, in spite of being
an opponent of Intelligent Design, she was allowed to post there asking for
the pro-ID commenters to define what they meant by CSI. They couldn't.
- (25 May 2011) Oh no! It's “niwrad” again, over at Uncommon Descent, making
the same argument that I
criticized earlier. Now it's comparing two human
genomes, and finding that they are much more different than people say.
This done by (1) asking how many contiguous blocks of 30 bases are identical
in the two genomes, while (2) keeping a straight face. I have pointed out the silliness in all this and suggested the use of
blocks of 1000 sites instead, to make the degree of difference much greater.
- (5 June 2011) At Uncommon Descent, the engineer Gil Dodgen once again
posted the dramatic conclusion that “Darwinism” has collapsed but
that evolutionary biologists are in denial about this obvious fact. That is
not new -- he's always dramatically concluding that. But this time he got
carried away and said that ID apologists “continue to mount what I
perceive as increasingly indefensible assaults on the creative powers of the
Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection”.
agree: these assaults are indeed indefensible!
- (1 August 2011) The annual celebratory post for the birthday
The discussion in the comments starts out interesting but degenerates into
trollery. The troll ends up putting forward a non-theory, misunderstanding
Lamarck's theory thoroughly, and asserting that I am not an expert in
behavior or biochemistry (both true but irrelevant to that discussion) but
somehow seems to think he is an expert in those areas (very much not true).
These are in addition to my numerous comments at PT on posts by others.
- (23 August 2011) On Uncommon Descent, poster Eric Holloway had
that even critics of William Dembski's 2002 book No Free Lunch admitted
that his argument did apply to evolution. And declared that the critics
had not refuted the NFL argument which showed that natural selection would be
ineffective. So I showed how Dembski's argument has been refuted by many
all had the same powerful argument, one that Holloway ignored.
- (9 September 2011) Denyse O'Leary (writing under the pseudonym "News") at
Uncommon Descent quoted a passage from my 2007 paper while misunderstanding it
thoroughly. To top things off she called me a "Darwin lobbyist" whose salary
"is paid for under protest by people who dont believe it". So I put up a
post pointing out how wrong she is. In the comments at their site, Gil Dodgen
then calls more names (while misunderstanding the issues) and no one answers
the reasonable questions of one commenter who wonders what they are talking
- (13 September 2011) A post in memory of the late Peter H. A . Sneath, who
died on 9 September.
- (17 November 2011) It's
Granville Sewell yet again!
of his Second Law of Thermodynamics refutation of evolution. I posted
again at PT, pointing out my previous posts and the earlier ones by others
thoroughly refuting them. I described his argument as unanswerable -- but only
because at Uncommon Descent he had the Comments feature turned off (as he does
on all his posts). So we did the answering in Panda's Thumb, instead. Sewell
did not, alas, join that discussion. That led on to
a very long thread on the Second Law of Thermodynamics and evolution.
- (11 January 2012) An obituary of James F.
Crow, a friend and
mentor to many evolutionary geneticists, and a major figure in theoretical
population genetics. This includes a couple of photos I
took of Jim (one with Motoo Kimura) from 1972. If the pictures are not
side-by-side, widen your browser window and they will be properly laid out and
- (17 April 2012) An obituary of Robert R. Sokal, who cofounded numerical taxonomy with Peter Sneath. He
was also, somewhat against his will, a pioneer of numerical methods for
inferring phylogenies. With F. James Rohlf, he wrote the widely-used
statistics textbook Biometry. The obituary quotes extensively from
a good one written by Bob Sokal's colleague Michael Bell. If you cannot
get the photos of Sokal to align properly, try widening your browser window.
- (1 August 2012) The annual birthday
post celebrating Lamarck, a great pioneer of evolutionary biology. In this case his 268th birthday.
- (26 March 2013) It has been announced that Stephen C. Meyer, the leader of
the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, is to publish a book,
Darwin's Doubt, which starts with the Cambrian Explosion and uses this
to explain "the theory of intelligent design" and deal with criticisms of it.
suggested we help him out, that we list some of the important issues that he might
- (7 April 2013) Writing at the Discovery Institute's site Evolution News
and Views, William Dembski complained about our Panda's Thumb thread on
what Stephen Meyer should say in his book. He set out to refute me on
whether Complex Specified Information could be used to detect Design. This thread on Panda's Thumb is an extensive reply to Dembski,
vindicating my argument against the CSI/Design method.
- (1 August 2013) The annual birthday
post celebrating Lamarck, pioneer of evolutionary biology. We had
reached his 269th birthday. My remarks about celebrating with
"Picardy calvados" caused some controversy.
- (27 August 2013) Not a post about creationism or ID. I posted a
of the 1963 March On Washington. Includes a photo of the
march pin that I bought there, and still have.
- (July 23, 2014) I express astonishment at the dramatic conclusions of
some engineers and physicists about the "evolution" of airplanes, and
their ringing declaration that the study of evolution "belongs in physics".
- (1 August 2014) The annual celebratory post of the birthday of Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine
de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck and pioneer of evolutionary biology. 270
candles on the cake!
- (2 October 2014) William Dembski gave a talk on August 14, 2014 at the Computations in
Science seminar at the University of Chicago, a seminar run in part by
Dembski's thesis advisor Leo Kadanoff. It was subsequently made
available on video. This post argues against the Search For a Search argument
which was the basis of Dembski's talk, critiquing two of the papers by
Dembski and Robert Marks that he cited for the points in his talk.
- (30 January 2015) A new website, the Third Way of Evolution was
established last year, and came to my attention
by being publicized in a post at Uncommon
Descent. It has statements by 43 scientists and
engineers indicating their disagreement with the
Modern Synthesis, and urging one or another
alternative. I brought this to the attention of
Jerry Coyne, who posted on it. This Panda's
Thumb post The Third Way of Evolution announced, but fails to cohere
calls it to the attention of the Thumb's
readers, leading to a discussion. The main
problem with the Third Way is that it seems to be 43 ways, not one.
- (29 March 2015) William Dembski, Winston Ewert, and Robert Marks have
defended their Search For a Search argument, arguing (correctly) that I
misconstrued their argument. In this response at Panda's Thumb, I have been
joined by Tom English. We pointed out that when my argument is corrected
to deal with Dembski, Ewert, and Marks's actual model, it turns out that
their argument becomes even weaker. Just having organisms that reproduce,
and having the ordinary laws of phyics, makes evolutionary processes
far more effective than they are in Dembski, Ewert, and Marks's
mathematical model of "search".
- (5 August 2015) The annual happy-birthday post
for the birthday of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de
Lamarck. But a few days late this time.
- (8 November 2015) I finally posted a
response to Winston Ewert's defense
of the DEM paper. He had pointed out that in the 29 March post by me and Tom
English we did not question any of the theorems in the Dembski-Ewert-Marks
paper. Yes, we didn't, we said we didn't. What we did question was the
conclusions DEM draw, that their Active Information requires Intelligent
Design. In the 29 March posting we had showed it doesn't require ID. This post documents
statements by all three of those authors that show that they want people to
draw this invalid conclusion from their DEM paper.
- (4 May 2016) A retired German plant breeding researcher (and creationist),
Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, posted an argument at the Discovery Institute's
blog Evolution News and Views, that random noise from deaths
of the many offspring that organisms produce will be fatal to natural
selection, creating a noise that will overwhelm modest differences in fitness.
Actually we do know about that -- it is called genetic drift. And when you do
the calculations, the results look bad for Lönnig, as I explain in a PT
- (8 April 2017) A creationist blogger, Mark Champneys, commented on
an old 2011 post where I made making fun of Granville Sewell's arguments that the 2nd
Law of Thermodynamics ruled out evolution. He argued that Sewell was right,
but Champneys's argument was actually different from Sewell's. He argued that
the origin of photosynthesis was ruled out, not the operation of
photosynthesis. To allow more discussion of Champneys's argument I posted
post. Alas, Champneys never showed up to join the discussion.
- (7 November 2018) At the Discovery Institute's "Mind Matters" series of blog posts,
Holloway has declared that Intelligent Design can "be demonstrated mathematically through
information theory", that this was shown by William Dembski, and that on reading criticisms
of Dembski's work "I have not been able to discover a precise reason why they think Dembski is
wrong" and that critics of Dembski "actually tend to agree with Dembski when the topic lies within their respective realms of
expertise." So I posted a reply
pointing out all the demolitions of Dembski's work that Holloway missed or
misunderstood. Just as he did with critiques of Dembski's use of the No Free Lunch Theorem in
2011 (see above). A parallel post was made at The Skeptical Zone so discussion could occur there
too (link in my PT post).
- (11 March 2019) Holloway did it again. This time he declared that the main reason
scientists were becoming "more skeptical of evolution" was that they saw that evolution could
not explain consciousness. Once again I asked
for clarification. And pointed out that he had not countered criticisms of his
previous arguments about conservation of information.
- (29 April 2019) Holloway subsequently made a comment on a post at The Skeptical Zone making
the same dismissal of criticisms of Dembski's argument as before. So I replied to
the dismissal again and linked to the previous Panda's Thumb post where links to all the
criticisms of Dembski can be found. Just in case Holloway cannot find them.
- (14 May 2019) In the preceding thread it was pointed out that contrarian computer scientist David Gelernter
had published an article in the Claremont Review of Books declaring that he was "giving up"
on Darwin's theory of evolution, which he justified mostly by citing a book by Stephen Meyer and a paper by Douglas
Axe. I put up a thread on this to enable discussion without disrupting the discussion
of Holloway's assertions.
- (23 July 2019) The conservative think tank The Hoover Institution has put out a video showing two supporters of
Intelligent Design, Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski discussing with David Gelernter (see the previous post in this
list) why they don't give credence to
"Darwinism". In spite of the title which mentions "Mathematical Challenges to Darwin's Theory of Evolution" only one
mathematical argument is mentioned, one that is 50 years old. So I had to ask people to help me look for any
valid argument in their hour-long discussion.
- (2 August 2019) The annual Happy Birthday celebration of the Chevalier de Lamarck, the first evolutionary
biologist, in this case his 275th birthday. This year's
post describes his bravery as a soldier and his inability to provide for his family.
- (19 August 2019) A post noting that The
Evolution2019 meetings have just made videos of 369 talks available. That may help put to rest the
creationist misconception that all we do at those meetings is sit around quoting Charles Darwin and
swooning. Link to those videos in the post.
- (22 August 2019) A post pointing out that the Catholic-tinged site First Things now has an article publicizing David Gelernter's announced dismissal of
Darwin. I have some comments there giving links to other sites that have publicized Gelernter's
announcement, mostly supporting it, but some critical of it.
- (5 December 2019) Eric Holloway and others have been arguing that conservation theorems for Kolmogorov mutual
information justified William Dembski's argument that Complex Specified Information cannot be achieved by natural
have argued that this is wrong. Algorithmic Specified Complexity, put forward by Ewert, Marks, and
Dembski, addresses how much unusually simple the description of a bitstring is. This has nothing to do with
fitness or the achievement of adaptation. Dembski's CSI is at least defined in terms of adaptedness, but the whole
Algorithmic Specified Complexity literature does not make any connection to fitness. I argue its total irrelevancy to
what evolution can or cannot do.
- (28 January 2020) I posted a guest post by commenter MaryKaye on "Complex information arising from random processes: the chess program AlphaZero", a really lovely example
where information about how to play chess accumulates in a chess-playing program as it plays
- (3 March 2020) I made a post on "Evolutionary biology in real time" about the use of phylogeny programs to reconstruct the genealogy of SARS-CoV-2
infections in the Covid-19 epidemic and the Nextstrain project run by Trevor Bedford at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer
Research Center here in Seattle.
- (5 March 2020) A post about implementation of a new feature -- a Recent Comments widget -- at Panda's Thumb.
- (25 March 2020) A post following onto the 3 March post, about An updated genealogy of SARS-CoV2 virus
from the Nextstrain project.
- (2 May 2020) I co-signed this post by Matt Young reporting on the online viewing for
the excellent documentary on the Ark Park in Kentucky, which is available for a modest fee on
Amazon Prime video. It featured the documentary makers and two of the people who they
featured, Dan Phelps and David MacMillan, who were on the side of actual science.
- (May 16, 2020) Discussion: Is William Dembski's CSI argument mistaken or merely useless? This continues
a discussion at Josh Swamidass's blog Peaceful Science, between biostatistician Dan Eastwood and me. We differed
on where the fundamental flaw was in William Dembski's argument for Design from Complex Specified Information and we agreed
to move the discussion to Panda's Thumb. My position is of course the correct one.
- (August 7, 2020) We are almost back
The server that hosts the files for Panda's Thumb crashed on 16 June, 2020. Several of the PT "Crew" worked hard trying to
get the configuration changed in readiness for the pages to be served by Github after the server was replaced. Some of this
effort consisted of correcting each other. This describes progress four days before the pages were finally fully
- (August 30, 2020) A belated happy birthday to Lamarck
The annual Happy Birthday post for Lamarck, the first major evolutionary biologist. This was delayed 29 days by the server
crash. It discusses Lamarck's invocation of an inherent complexifying force in his theory of evolution.
- (September 17, 2020) Are Evolutionary Biologists Ignoring Science? A reply to
a video posted by Mark Champneys, one which had been promoted by Granville Sewell at Uncommonm Descent, and by Evolution News
& Science Today, part of the Discovery Institute's website. Champneys joined the discussion in the comments,
but although a number of people provided physical or biological counterexamples to his assertions, he refused to
engage with these.
- (October 25, 2020) Does approach to higher probability block natural selection? More in
the debate with Mark Champneys. I discussed a simple case with mutation and natural selection in a large population,
and showed that the move of the system toward equilibrium did not erase the effect of natural selection because
it then moved to a different equilibrium. Champneys did not refute this.
- (November 14, 2020) Counterexample to Mark Champneys’ argument about natural selection: more technical details
More technical details about the counterexample case, including the equations.
- (November 22, 2020) What are the most important misconceptions about evolution?
An attempt to harvest some new misconceptions that creationists have. But there is little new under the sun.
- (December 1, 2020) Are there any new ID arguments?
A quick description of various ways that the notions of specified complexity have been used to try to show that
it measures whether natural selection can explain adaptations. And why none of them work.
- (December 27, 2020) Is natural selection a meaningless tautology?
A more detailed examination of whether fitness is a tautological concept. It isn't at all if you can find an association
of fitness with a phenotype or genotype, and then examine more individuals, other populations, or other generations.
It is as meaningful as measuring the speed of runners in a test race, and then using it to put together a good track team. The "tautology"
argument is itself useless.
- (January 30, 2021) Report: ID experts mistakenly think evolutionary trees cannot be reconstructed In which
it turns out that speciation and extinction rates inferred from evolutionary trees cannot always be distinguished. But the Discovery Institute's site Evolution
News & Science Today, and the pro-ID site Uncommon Descent, mistakenly think that this means evolutionary trees cannot be inferred.
- (February 19, 2021) Report: Are jellyfish so dumb that their evolution needed help? Jellyfish and pretty
dumb, and that leads Uncommon Descent's "News" reporter to think that they cannot evolve to use a principle of physics as they cannot understand it. (May 4, 2021) Granville Sewell thinks it's obvious. Once again
Granville Sewell, a mathematician, has described it as "obvious" that machines such as iPhones could not arise from elementary by natural processes.
He left out lots of physical and chemical steps to the origin of our galaxy, our solar system, our planet. and so on. Besides, since when do
mathematicians believe in proof-by-obviousness?
- (May 15, 2021) We are the knights who say ... evolution
The Discovery Institute's commenter "News" is upset because so many scientists describe themselves as in fields that start with the word "evolutionary",
such as "evolutionary genetics". It is the unhearable word, very much like the Knights Who Say 'Nee' in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
- (August 1, 2021) Happy 277th birthday, Jean-Baptiste! As every year, Happy Birthday to
the Chevalier de Lamarck, this time pointing out how present-day "Lamarckians" fail to address problems that Lamarck tackled.
- (August 9, 2021) Denaming the Huxley College of the Environment, part 2 The controversy
over whether Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment should be named after him, as he shared the racist prejudices of his day.
- (August 20, 2021) All theories in science involving randomness are invalid In which Eric
Holloway, at the Discovery Institute's "Mind Matters" site, seems to say that if a model involves random events, then it is not an explanation of the phenomenon. Uncommon Descent
of course agrees. Physicists and chemists might beg to differ.
- (September 6, 2021) Evaluating Alan Kleinman's arguments Alan Kleinman has published papers with probability calculations of successive
beneficial alleles accumulating in a nonrecombining bacterial culture. He calls this calculation "the basic science and
mathematics of random mutation and natural selection". This seems to imply that the outcome of these processes was unknown for
100 years, and has only been analyzed properly now, by him. Why he's wrong about that.
- (October 22, 2021) Advertising bot solves the problems of early hominid by Joe Felsenstein.
- (November 6, 2021) Is common descent untestable? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (November 30, 2021) William Dembski on why ID has and has not succeeded by Joe Felsenstein.
- (December 29, 2021) The worst ID or creationist argument of 2021? Let us know by Joe Felsenstein.
- (January 29, 2022) Not really evolution? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (March 24, 2022) Herschel Walker isn't the only one wrong about humans and apes by Joe Felsenstein.
- (June 24, 2022) Predicting rough times ahead for teaching about evolution? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (January 18, 2022) Removing James F. Crow by Joe Felsenstein.
- (March 6, 2022) Is mutation nonrandom? If so, in what sense? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (April 26, 2022) Methinks it is sort-of like two weasels by Joe Felsenstein.
- (May 18, 2022) Jason Rosenhouse's book on mathematical anti-evolutionism is available by Joe Felsenstein.
- (June 9, 2022) Has Michael Egnor shown that everything is intelligently designed? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (July 5, 2022) Uncommon Descent tries to stay on topic by Joe Felsenstein.
- (July 25, 2022) New Paradigm Of The Month: Silly-looking birds, and evolutionary theory renamed by Joe Felsenstein.
- (August 1, 2022) Happy birthday, Lamarck by Joe Felsenstein.
- (August 10, 2022) Lamarck rides again? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (August 14, 2022) Meyer and Thaxton ask one question and answer another by Joe Felsenstein.
- (August 31, 2022) ICR argues that science refutes junk DNA by Joe Felsenstein.
- (September 12, 2022) A wrong analysis of information in evolution by Joe Felsenstein.
- (October 18, 2022) How jellyfish prove Intelligent Design (according to ID advocates) by Joe Felsenstein.
- (November 1, 2022) Science leads to stock photo entertainment by Joe Felsenstein.
- (December 31, 2022) What didn't happen in 2022? by Joe Felsenstein.
- (March 17, 2023) "P Hacking" and natural selection by Joe Felsenstein.
- (April 18, 2023) Uncommon Descent is dead (or maybe undead) by Joe Felsenstein.
Incidentally, my article in Reports of the National Center for Science Education:
Felsenstein, J. 2007. Has natural selection been refuted? The arguments of William Dembski.
Reports of the National Center for Science Education 27 (3-4): 20-26.
is available online (free) here.
In addition, I have been honored by having joined a most distinguished
group of opponents of creationism and Intelligent Design, having actually
met the famous Dr. Steve Steve. The
good doctor's assistant, Reed Cartwright, photographed us together at the
Portland Convention Center in June, 2010 at the Evolution2010 meetings.
I was so excited that my hair stood on end! (At my age you're so happy
to have any hair that you don't care which way it goes).
Here is Dr. Steve Steve's account of this.
Dr. Steve Steve's role in the debate can be examined
where all posts about him at PT are collected.