Theistic Evolutionism – Questions

October 18, 2008

A few days ago I wrote about what I see as some of the fundamental similarities between holocaust denial and Creationism, without mentioning the one area in which they differ completely: the Bible. Although White Nationalists and others who hold strongly racist views can be astoundingly dogmatic at times, they don’t claim to have in their possession the revealed truth of God. (Actually, some of them do, claiming that either Norse pagan religions or Christianity are explicitly racist in nature. I’m ignoring them because they’re just too crazy to consider.)

I bring this up not to address an oversight on my part, but to ask a few questions of so-called ‘theistic evolutionists’ – theists who have the good sense to accept evolution and not pretend that every word of the Bible or Qur’an must be literally true. Feel free to reply if you’re a theistic creationist yourself or if you used to be one.

  1. How do you reconcile those parts of Scripture which appear to require a literal interpretation of the entirety of Scripture? (I’m being a bit vague here, I know, but I’m simply echoing a question that I’ve seen posed by Creationists both on WordPress blogs and elsewhere.)
  2. Does accepting evolution make you less likely to believe in God because of some sort of teleological argument? If so, does that ‘weaken’ your faith (interpret as you wish) or do you think that God reveals his existence via some other aspect of the Universe?
  3. Can you imagine a hypothetical situation where some sort of scientific discovery leads you to becoming an atheist? Or is your belief in God (as opposed to your religious views about Scripture) entirely separate from scientific knowledge?

While I’m at it, I also have a question for Creationists, one that has recently been posed in the comments section of this blog:

  • If your belief in a young Earth and your rejection of evolution are based on Scripture, why does it matter whether the scientific evidence agrees with you? Why bother to make these pathetic attempts at undermining established science? (I’m not going to pander to you and pretend that the body of Creationist ‘work’ is anything other than pathetic.)
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Punctuated Equilibrium, the Cambrian Explosion and Falsifying Evolution

October 17, 2008

Creationists will commonly claim that evolution cannot be falsified and therefore should be disregarded as science. To ‘prove’ their point, they insist that the theory is capable of being reworked to absorb any and all new evidence, oftentimes citing the neo-Darwinian Synthesis or the Cambrian explosion as examples of evolution’s infinite malleability in action. This recently came up in the comments section here, and has lead to this post by Eric Kemp.

Before I go any further I’d like to object, as Penfuinfactory already has, to the use of the phrase ‘molecules-to-man evolution’. While I can see the childish alliterative appeal it might hold for some people, it’s a massive oversimplification and implicitly misogynistic. Kemp has given a bizarre defence of using the word ‘molecules’ by pointing out that the first living organisms were likely some sort of very basic prokaryotes (I’m confused too), while also stating that ‘man is the highest form of evolution’. This is not how evolution works, and it’s a very common misconception among Creationists. There is no reason why the evolution of humans from ‘molecules’ is any more difficult to explain than the evolution of other extant animal species.

Anyway, on to the debunking:

The Cambrian is a geological period that began somewhere around 570 million years ago. Most people know of it only because of the famous ‘Cambrian explosion’ (sometimes referred to as the ‘Cambrian radiation’), a major evolutionary event during which almost all of the modern phyla appeared. ‘Phylum’ is a fairly loosely defined taxonomic term that means, roughly, ‘body plan’. As an illustrative example, spiders and crabs are both members of the phylum Arthropoda, while the phylum Chordata comprises fish, reptiles, birds and mammals – including, of course, humans. Note that the definition of ‘phylum’ and its relationship with other taxonomical rankings change depending on whether one is discussing morphological similarity or evolutionary relatedness.

The Cambrian period has long fascinated scientists, in part because it contained creatures that, compared with modern animals, looks absolutely bizarre. Opabinia is a good example of what I mean. However, that fascination has long been haunted by a certain amount of unease, as the Cambrian explosion is unlike anything else in the fossil record and appears to have been much less ‘gradual’ than subsequent evolution (although I should point out that Creationists frequently exaggerate how ‘sudden’ it actually was). Is it really an example of scientists ‘moving the goalposts’ and ignoring what should be evidence that directly contradicts evolution?

Unfortunately, the late Stephen Jay Gould often gets wheeled out when this topic comes up, a practice that he has actually asked Creationists to refrain from (keep this in mind, as some YECs in particular like to act as if Gould tacitly agreed with them). The story goes that he came up with the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ in order to ‘save’ evolution, which is complete nonsense. I actually read some of Gould’s work, and in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory discovered a sustained and blistering assault on the scientific community for assuming the truth of gradualism. (Misconception alert: As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, when Gould says criticises ‘gradualism’ he is not implying that saltation or special creation are true.) But wait, you might ask, wasn’t Gould supposed to be acting as the theory’s saviour by suggesting punctuated equilibrium? Why then is he so critical of the scientific community, and why has punctuated equilibrium had such an enormously hard time getting the attention he feels it deserves?

As always, the Creationist brigade has offered a woefully simplistic version of the real story. Gould believed that punctuated equilibrium (or something like it) should have been realised by Darwin himself and that the entire fossil record is ample evidence of it. Not because the fossil record isn’t evidence of evolution – he obviously agrees that it is – but because it is evidence of evolution happening in a less gradualistic fashion than is commonly believed. I cannot stress this point enough: Gould was not making a knee-jerk reaction to the realisation that the fossil record disproves ‘gradual’ (as in slow) evolution, he was proposing a different type of gradual evolution. The factuality of evolution in its most basic conception has not been under serious threat of being deposed by the evidence for many years.

This leads me to the second important point, one which Creationists frequently ignore: the evidence in favour of evolution is so strong at this point that, despite their simple-minded protests, it will take something thar directly contradicts evolution to throw it into serious doubt. Again, I need to make the distinction between evidence which raises questions about how evolution happens and evidence which raises questions about whether it happens. The basics of evolutionary theory – common ancestry, change via mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. – are in no way threatened by the Cambrian explosion. (Somebody is inevitably going to claim that, even if  punctuated equilibrium explains the Cambrian explosion, it requires spontaneously rapid mutation rates. This is not the case, and I suggest you read Gould’s own writing on the matter.)

Rather than enter into a discussion on how to explain the Cambrian explosion, I’ll link to the Wikipedia article (for convenience sake – obviously there are far more authorative works out there), along with an interesting list of discredited hypotheses. The existence of the latter is one source of evidence that scientists will not simply latch onto any explanation for an apparent deficit in their precious theory.

What I’m trying to say with all of this is that the Cambrian explosion does not contradict the vast amounts of evidence which suggest that evolution has occured, even if it does raise some questions over its methods. With that settled, I’ll go into more detail over some of the specifics of Eric Kemp’s argument:

The Cambrian Explosion represents the rapid appearance of most forms of life on Earth with no evolutionary predecessors.

In about a 5 million year period, most of the life as we know it suddenly appeared with no evolutionary ancestors.  As few as twenty and as many as thirty-five of the worlds’ forty phyla (the highest category of the Kindom Animalae) appeared out of no where (J.W. Valentine Development 126, 1999).  This means that entirely novel and highly complex body plans shows up in the fossil record with no ancestors.  If we compress all of the Earth’s history into twenty-four hours, the Cambrian explosion would last only about one minute.  Put another way, seventy-five percent of all life shows up in about .07% of the time the Earth has existed.

Firstly, the term ‘phylum’ is not tied only to the Kingdom Animaliae. Every kingdom is divided into one or more phyla (although the word ‘division’ is more frequently used in certain Kingdoms).

Secondly, the ‘clock’ analogy is one that should be avoided; it gives the impression that every phyla differentiated only during this period, ignoring entirely all of those were either pre- or post-Cambrian.

Thirdly, the fact that many phyla have no fossil ancestors prior to the Cambrian explosion is not surprising, given that hard body parts are generally thought to have first developed during this period.

The claim that ‘seventy-five percent of all life shows up in about .07%  the Earth has existed’ is incredibly misleading. The Cambrian period contains no land plants at all – indeed, the majority of species during the Cambrian were entirely aquatic. It certainly did not contain ‘all life’.

Finally, Eric is ignoring the very real debate over how sudden the Cambrian explosion actually was and how many of the extant phyla first evolved during it.

The fossil record literally goes from fungi and simple worms to the trilobite with an articulated body, complicated nervous system and compound eyes, fully formed and novel, in the blink of an eye!  The most astounding thing about the Cambrian explosion is that it’s followed by stasis.  That is, zero new body plans have evolved in the 500 million years since the Cambrian.

This is a good example of a red herring. Although the majority of phyla appeared during the Cambrian, that is not the same as claiming that the majority of speciation or differentiation occured during it. As I’ve pointed out, most Cambrian-era life was aquatic and land plants were entirely absent; clearly, life has been doing a lot of ‘evolving’ in the last 500 million years. I suspect that the word ‘stasis’ here is co-opted from Gould, in which case it is mis-used.

There is nothing in evolutionary theory which states that new phyla must contiously appear. Although the relatively sudden appearance of all major phyla certainly raises some interesting questions about early evolution, it does not invalidate the theory.

The Cambrian Explosion is evidence of ‘top-down’ differentiation.

Neo-Darwinian theory predicts a “bottom up” pattern where small differences develop before the large differences in form and body plan are seen much farther down the line.  For instance, pre-Cambrian sponges should have produced a myriad of varieties and those varieties would then eventually lead to different species, forms and body plans.

However, the fossil record from the Cambrian shows a completely different “top down” pattern.  Massive differences in form and body plan appear suddenly with nothing simpler preceding them.  Then, after the Cambrian, only minor variations arise within the framework of the body plans set down in the Cambrian.

Minor variation? In what sense is the evolution of virtually all land animals and literally all land plants ‘minor’? Eric is once again applying the concept of the phylum across the board, as if it’s the only way to categorize the different types of living organism. Life in the Cambrian era was very different to what exists today, as even a casual examination of the fossils will reveal.

Eric goes on to make the erroneous claims about Gould and puncuated equilibrium that I’ve already covered, before giving us this gem:

To explain how life as we know it evolved from a single cell, evolutionary theory says, “It had billions of years to do it”.  The fossil record contradicts this by telling us it did most of the work in only 5 million years.  To explain the contradiction, Stephen Jay Gould comes up with punctuated equilibrium, which STILL doesn’t explain the fossil record.  Then to explain why life went into body plan stasis after the Cambrian, evolutionary theory goes back to “well, evolution IS really slow”.

Eric, you directly contradict yourself here. You say that evolution ‘did all of its work’ in 5 million years, implying that it all life differentiated over the course of the Cambrian explosion. Not only have your claims about what the event actually is steadily grown more exaggerated, but you’ve (yet again) confused ‘phylum’ for ‘all categories of life’. Immediately after this you go back to talking only about body plan ‘stasis’ – should I assume that your earlier comment about evolution doing all of its work in 5 million years was also referring only to phyla?

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to bring things back to where they started: the question of whether evolution is falsifiable. As I’ve spent the last while explaining, the Cambrian explosion does not represent a threat to the veracity of evolutionary theory and so is not an example of something that scientists have simply swept under the rug. But what about Penguinfactory’s example of ‘rabbits in the pre-Cambrian’? Would such a find represent a contradiction to the theory of evolution in its entirety? I’ll quote PF on the matter (keep in mind that ‘bunny’ here is a stand-in for any modern mammal):

A few other observations that would invalidate evolution if a pre-Cambrian bunny was discovered:

a) How would a mammal survive in a world with no plants? Unless pre-Cambrian plant fossils were found as well, the most likely explanation for this fossil would be that the evolutionary model is incorrect and that the seemingly chronological sorting of the fossil record is an illusion.

b) If pre-Cambrian plants were found, that would still leave the issue of time. How could life have gone from almost microscopic soft-bodied marine organims to land-dwelling mammals in such a short space of time, given our estimates of when life on Earth began.

c) There’s also the issue of the later fossil record- why would our Pre-Cambrian bunnies vanish abruptly off the face of the Earth for over a billion years and then re-appear in more recent times?

If any Creationists reading this could provide a hypothetical scientific response to these questions that makes even the slightest amount of sense, I’d love to hear it.


Holocaust Denial and Creationism

October 16, 2008

Yesterday I raised the issue of parallels between Holocaust denial and Creationism, which is something I’d like to expand on now. I’m certainly not the first person to notice the striking similarities between these two movements, but I’d like to think that I’m in a good position to talk about those similarities, as I spent some time in the past debating with holocaust deniers and spend some time now debating with Creationists.

Holocaust denial shares many similarities with Creationism in methodology, ideology and consequences, which I’ll go through point-by-point. These will be based on my somewhat outdated knowledge of holocaust denial, but I’m assuming that things haven’t changed much in the few years since I last looked into it.

Ideological bias. Both Creationism and Holocaust denial spring from strongly held ideological biases. Creationism is the product of fundamentalist religious views (primarily Christian and Islamic ones), while Holocaust denial is the product of anti-semitism, White Supremacist views and White Nationalist views, and is almost ubiquitious among those who subscribe to these worldviews. (The differences between ‘White Supremacism’ and ‘White Nationalism’ aren’t important here.)

White Nationalism (WN) in particular hinges on the idea that ‘the White Race’ (always capitalised) is under threat from multiculturalism, which has been pushed upon predominantly white nations by ‘the Jews’. Who exactly these Jews are is generally not elaborated upon, but the entire Jewsish race is frequently implicated. The story behind this supposed attempt to eradicate the white race is complex and internally inconsistent; Jews are said to have a knowingly parasitic relationship with white people even as they attempt to destroy them – this despite the fact that they are also said to be cunning and intelligent. However, the Holocaust is said to be one of the primary means by which ‘the Jews’ have gained influence over ‘white’ nations.

It is immediately obvious from this why the Holocaust being a hoax is so important to WN. Having set up the Jews as every white person’s sworn enemy, White Nationalists cannot then admit that it was a predominantly white nation, acting under a predominantly racist ideology, which was responsible for the murder of millions of Jews.

Creationism is much the same. The myth of the worldwide conspiracy by atheistic scientists to undermine the Word of God is the lynchpin of the Creationist worldview. Without this vital component, much of Creationism stops making sense; it would be ludicrous to suggest that the vast majority of proffessional scientists could be wrong about evolution while the likes of Kent Hovind and Ken Ham have stumbled upon ‘the truth’. Evolution must be a conspiracy, for this reason and in order to supply Creationists with an enemy to fight against.

Methodology.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because the Nazis did not have the infrastructure to transport, gas and burn the bodies of six million Jews.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Zyklon-B cannot kill humans efficiently; it was used merely as a de-lousing agent.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, beause some eye-witness reports of the Holocaust are contradictory.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Auschwitz had a swimming pool and even a brothel at one point! Clearly, it was a much more comfortable place than the Jews claim.

The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because there is no historical evidence whatsoever to suggest that it did.

These kinds of claims are the bread and butter of the Holocaust denial movement, and they strongly echo similar claims made by Creationists about evolution. In all cases, the conspiracy theorist (for that is what these people are) either takes an accepted piece of historical or scientific evidence and interprets it in a bizarre fashion or else outright lies. All of the above arguments are an example of this: six million Jews were killed in World War II in its entirety, not just in concentration camps and certainly not just by gassing; Zyklon-B was first used as a delousing agent before being turned to its more infamous application, and is fully capable of killing humans (confusion over this rests upon the different methods by which it kills humans and insects); nobody expects all eye-witness reports to be 100% accurate, and this claim ignores the many reports that don’t contradict each other; Auschwitz-Birkenaudid indeed have a makeshift swimmign pool and even a brothel at one point, but it was always somewhat segmented – these relatively ‘luxurious’ aspects were never seen by those who were executed there.

Perhaps the most informative claim made by Holocaust deniers is that the changing of the estimated number of Jews killed in the ‘Final Solution’ has changed quite a bit since the end of WWII, thus ‘proving’ that historians are desperately attempting to prop up the Holocaust as a real event. This is very similar to what Creationists do when they complain about the theory of evolution changing over time as new evidence comes to light. Here the conspiracy theorist mistakes (out of ignorance or by design) the ordinary business of history or science as ‘smoking gun’ evidence of a hoax. It is usually implied that these evasive measures have been taken in repsonse to deniers rather than new evidence coming to light.

Holocaust denial also has its own semi-professional organisation (the Institute for Historical Review) which pretends to be interested only in historical and scientific truth but in reality is strongly wedded to WN ideology.

I should point out that there is one area in which Holocaust deniers have a strong case: their opinions are illegal in several countries, something that I and a lot of other people disagree with.

Consequences. Holocaust denial is thankfully a fairly rare phenomenon, and has so far not transcended the bounds of WN groups (in the Western world, at least; it’s far more common elsewhere). However, much like Creationism, it acts insidiously in that it implants the idea of a massive hoax perpetrated by ‘the establishment’ in the public consciousness and sows the seeds of anti-intellectual distrust in the historical community.

Creationism has been the success that Holocaust denial can only dream of. It is not limited only to those who would refer to themselves as Creationists, but has become disturbingly common among ‘ordinary’ Christians and conservatives in the USA and (to a lesser extent) Europe. In some Islamic countries it appears to be even more widespread.

Unlike Holocaust deniers, Creationists have actually succeeded in getting their conspiracy theories taught in public schools, and are doing their utmost to have it re-introduced. The fallout from such a Creationist victory would be devestating for education and science worldwide, and Creationists have already managed to bring about an anti-scientific culture in some areas (I doubt I need to point out why this isn’t a good thing).

Holocaust denial and Creationism are both the products of extreme worldviews and are exactly in alike in how completely they fail to make their respective cases. Despite this, they still exist and, in the case of Creationism, are thriving. This is a situation that should be deeply disturbing to anyone interested in actual scientific advancement and in particular to those whose children’s education might one day be undermined by conspiracy theorist nonsense.


Popular Science

October 15, 2008

The blog is going to be a bit neglected at the moment, mainly because I’m spending my time scouring the NUIM library for books that can tell me what the actual differences between New Historicism and Cultural Materialism are. It’s all very exciting.

Rather than debunking a particular Creationist myth, I’d like to point out a common problem in Creationist methodology, an area that doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. It’s no secret that many (or even most) Creationists don’t actually have a huge amount of scientific education, just as many Holocaust deniers know little about the actual history of the holocaust. Instead they have a stock of pre-packaged arguments against evolution, most of them taken directly from the major Creationist sources and parroted over and over again.

A lot of these arguments have been floating around for decades, but new stuff does crop up as well, and it’s usually taken from bizarre interpretations of new developments in science. Unfortunately, Creationists tend to bypass the actual scientific literature (remember, a lot of them wouldn’t understand it) and go for popular science sources instead. This is a mistake, for several reasons.

To illustrate why, I’ll point to the September 2008 issue of NewScientist, which carries a story about how some of the more complex or unusual components of certain species may have actual evolved because natural selection stopped being a factor for that particular species. To your average reader, that sounds like a fundamental shift in how scientists think about evolution. The Discovery Institute articles practically write themselves: “Darwinists finally admit they were wrong!”, “Natural selection ‘no longer a factor in evolution’, admits former Darwinist”, “Start burning textbooks!”.

What’s the problem? Well, keep in mind that NewScientist is not a scientific journal, it’s a popular magazine. As such, it’s aimed at a ‘lay’ audience, one that is primarily not composed of proffesional scientists. Anything they write about will be relatively simplified, which means that it’s easy to get the wrong idea about how groundbreaking these new developments really are. As well as that, they have a tendency to report on tentative or controversial ideas as if they were already widely accepted by the scientific community (newspapers are particularly bad about this), which probably explains some of the more hasty cries of victory from Creationists in the past.

Another excellent example of this effect is the now infamous ‘Altenburg 16’ meeting, in which sixteen scientists met to discuss whether or not evolutionary theory should be changed to accomodate new discoveries about genetics (among other things), similar to the way it was modified into the ‘neo-Darwinian synthesis’. The Creationist media had a feild day with it, claiming that a cabal of scientists were secretly meeting behind locked doors in a desperate bid to protect evolutionary theory from its enemies. As one of the members of the actual meeting pointed out, this is complete nonsense.

For starters, these ‘workshops’ take place several times a year and are in response to new developments in science, not in response to whateve drivel the DI has been putting out. The proposed Extended Synthesis itself has also been twisted out of shape by Creationists, who claim that it’s a reworking of fundamental aspects of evolution – presumably a move made necessary by their cogent and blistering attacks on the current model – rather than an addition to the theory based on new information. Scientific knowledge is not a static entity that never changes, and it’s absurd for Creationists to suggest that the Altenburg meeting was anything more than the ordinary workings of the scientific community.


More of what Mr. Knott wouldn’t reply to

October 12, 2008

So I recently took some time to respond to another one of Mr. Knott’s posts , in which he continues to let  other creationists think for him, without a lick of original thought or research of his own. Needless to say, the crap that Sirius’s latest prosthetic brain came out with was wrong, and his interpetations were even more so (not that you can always tell where the opinions of other creationists end and Sirius begins).

Needless to say, my reply hasn’t been posted and probably won’t be, mainly because of how badly I called him out last time I did this but also because he now believes me to be forknowledge’s sock puppet. Now to be fair, we live together (we’re brothers) and there isn’t really any way I can prove I’m not forknowledge, except to point that it would make no sense on FK’s part to give his alter-ego the third-level science education when he’s the one writing most of the posts. Anyway, here’s my reply. Quotes from Sirius are in italics, as per last time.

—————

Dr. Jackson has been announcing the Death of Darwin, a conscious distancing of darwinists from Darwin’s original defunct theory, since 2005.

What’s this? I detect the earthy aroma of the strawman!

“Darwinsts” have been distancing themselves from Darwin’s original ideas for a very long time, and they’re not shy about admitting that. Credit for the initial idea will always be his (and Wallace’s), but he probably wouldn’t recognize evolutionary theory as we understand it today. There’s a good reason for this: Darwin got a lot wrong. He didn’t know about genes or DNA, for a start, discoveries that completely revolutionized evolution (it’s not called the Modern Synthesis for nothing).

“[Natural selection] may have a stabilizing effect, but it does not promote speciation. It is not a creative force as many people have suggested.”

This quote gets a lot of mileage on creationist websites. Rather than rely on quotes I tried to track down the article itself, but unfortunately you need to pay to read it online and it appears that my university doesn’t have a copy in the library. Bah.

I did discover that this same article has been quote mined- extensively- to make it look as if Lewin supports the notion that the 2nd law of thermodynamics disproves evolution (needless to say, he doesn’t) so I’m wary of accepting this at face value unless I can see that quote in context. Not that it means a whole lot, since it’s just an appeal to authority anyway.

noting that since Redi and Pasteur have disproven spontaneous generation, naturalistic darwinism has no foundation.

There’s that strawman again!

The idea that Pasteur refuted was that fully-formed animals (ie flies) could emerge spontaneously from organic matter (ie rotton meat). This has absolutely nothing to do with evolution.

He also noted the discovery of dinosaur contents in the stomache of repenomamus robustus, a pit-bull sized mammal. He notes how this discredits the picture of tiny rat-sized mammals scurrying and hiding in the shadow of the dinosaurs.

The amount of dishonesty on display here is truly mind-boggling. Honestly, Sirius, do you research this stuff at all before you post it?

The repenomamus robustus fossil in question was, according to the American Museum of Natural History, about the same size as an opossum (it seems to have been a small specimen). The dinosaur it ate was a juvenile of a very small dinosaur species (there were far more small dnosaurs than large).

So how does this discredit the scientific view of early mammals? All we have here is a slightly larger than average mammal eating a very small dinosaur. What does that prove?

The comments about the ape-to-human family tree that follow aren’t really possible to reply to without more detail.

He then turned his attention from the fossil record to genetics, noting that molecular clocks don’t really work

That quote on the top of your page against appeals to authority is getting more and more ironic every day.

I don’t actually know a whole lot about molecular clocks. More detail would be nice.

At the end of his lecture, Dr. Jackson discussed the up-coming Extended Evolutionary Synthesis [EES],

The straw-men are taking over! Just in time for halloween, as well.

The Altenburg 16 conference and everything connected with it has been blown out of all proportion by creationists. What happened was that 16 scientists came together to discuss new discoveries related to evolution- specifically, things like epigenetics and plasticity. The idea was floating around before and after that maybe a new “extended” model of evolution was needed to incorporate these discoveries, since it’s becoming obvious that evolution is a lot more than just mutations and natural selection. This is how science works- if we discover new things about a theory, the theory changes.

But that’s all this ever was. There isn’t some work-in-progress version of evolution waiting in the wings to be unveiled, like a new version of the iPod before an Apple conference. That’s not how science works.

When one reads Pigliucci’s notes of the A-16 meeting, we’re left with the possibility that EES will incorporate some sort of vitalism.

Where on Earth are you getting this idea from?

They’re scrambling around the emergency room table, trying to pump new life into a theory that’s been dealt lethal doses of scientific truth.

I just can’t get over how deluded you people are. You’re like soccer fans insisting that the opposing team have all dropped dead of spontaneous heart attacks when everyone and their grandmother can see that they’re alive and kicking (pun intended).


Top 10 Myths About Evolution, AIG Style

October 11, 2008

I recently found this list on AiG, and felt instantly compelled to shoot down some more of their stupidity. The irony in all of this is that AiG is itself one of the worst propagaters of myths about evolution on the internet.

Myth #10 : Computer Simulations Prove Evolution

And we’re already off to a bad start! According to the person who wrote this (hang our head in shame, whoever you are), various computer simulations are used to ‘prove’ that the theory of evolution is correct. This is, as usual, a perversion of the truth. Computer models are used to recreate how processes like natural selection might work over long periods of time, not to prove that evolution has happened in the first place.

Myth #9: Homologous (Similar) Structures Show Past Evolution

Of course, this one was going to rear its head eventually. According to AiG, the similarity of certain structures in living organisms actually points to a creator god, not to evolution. Well sure, it could…except that saying ‘God did it’ isn’t scientific in the slightest, nor is it an explanation for which any scientific evidence exists. Evolution, on the other hand, is supported by many diverse strands of evidence, of which homoologous structures are just one.

Myth #8: There Are Clear Transitional Fossils

According to AiG, there are very few transitional fossils and those that we do have are ‘contentious’. This is a blatant lie.

What? You want more? Okay, okay…

Apparently, it’s only an evil evolutionary bias that makes scientists think that the likes of Tiktaalik is a ‘missing link’ (a note to Creationists: stop using that term if you want to be taken seriously). ‘Creationi scientists’, however, are paragons of objectivity. They also attempt to criticise the scientific method:

We must remember, however, that fossils do not come with tags telling us when and how the animal was buried, its lifestyle, and if or how it was related to another species. Scientists must make reasonable assumptions based on what they believe about the past and extrapolations from the data.

Well, yes. I love it when Creationists say things like this as if they’re uncovering some shocking secret.

Myth #7: Ape-Human DNA Similarities

Let’s ignore the continued refusal by AiG to accept that humans should be classified as a kind of ape and move straight to the juicy propaganda: supposedly, our genetic similarities with other apes, including the chromosomal fusing, is not substantial evidence for evolution. There isn’t really any evidence given for this claim, except to say that our DNA isn’t exactly the same as that of other apes and a vague reference to ‘epigenetic differences’.

Myth #6: Apemen and Artistic License

This one is so bizarre that I’ll just let you experience it for yourself (follow the link at the top of the page). Get back to me if you can work out what the author is actually trying to say here.

Myth #5: Bad Design

Scientists: There are lots of examples in nature of what would suggest shoddy workmanship if we really were designed by a God. The same examples make perfect sense if we were ‘designed’ by evolution, though.

AiG: No, The Fall explains this, because sin-

Scientists: You know what? Never mind.

Myth #4: Vestigial Organs

Jesus, there’s another appeal to the Bible. AiG’s writers aren’t leaving much for me to do.

The main mistake in this one is defining ‘vestigial’ as ‘an organ that has lost its function’. The truth is a lot more complicated than that – for an in-depth examination of vestigiality, see here.

Myth #3: Antiobiotic Resistance

According to AiG, antiobiotic-resistant bacteria do not support evolution. Their explanation for this odd claim is that the bacteria gain antiobiotic resistance at a cost and that the mutations involved do not ‘add information to the genome’ (groan). Evolution is not ‘a species gets better and better’ – the bacteria evolved antibiotic resistance, and the fact that they ‘sacrificed’ other advantages for it is beside the point. They still survived where their non antibiotic-resistant cousins did not.

Incidentally, there’s a link on the bottom of that page to this, which carries one of the most astonishingly idiotic statements I’ve seen made on AiG:

Evolution requires a gain of functional systems for bacteria to evolve into man—functioning arms, eyeballs, and a brain, to name a few.

Keep in mind that the above was supposedly written by someone with a PhD biology. Yikes.

Myth #2: Natural Selection Is Evolution In Action

Natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. This mantra has been repeated so often that people often conflate the two ideas. But are evolution and natural selection the same thing?

No. Obviously.

This one is a rehash of the information ‘problem’, along with some more vagueness about ‘created kinds’. It also has a little diagram of post-Ark ‘change’ in species that looks awfully similar to evolution but, we are assured, is not. AiG is surprisingly upfront here, in that the author admits that natural selection can differentiate these mysterious ‘kinds’ enough that they can no longer interbreed with each other.

Myth #1: All Scientists Agree

I’d have phrased this as ‘all scientists who don’t write crappy articles for this website agree’, but I guess they were working with limited space or something.

While it is of course true that science is not determined via a majority vote, it is equally true that the theory of evolution has managed to become almost universally accepted in a way that few other ideas in science have. Creationists have so far shown themselves to be woefully bad at changing that.


What Is Evolution?

October 9, 2008

In debating about evolution, it is often necessary to arrive at a definition of what ‘evolution’ actually is. Creationists tend to  have their own fairly bizarre definitions, none of which you’re likely to find in any textbook, but us ‘evolutionists’ often aren’t much better. Thankfully, people like this are around to shed some light on the subject.

The comment section of that post is particularly interesting. Look out for the guy who refers to ‘biological technology’. Whoever came up with those damn analogies has a lot to answer for.