Creationist spots non-existent evolutionary disagreement

by Matthew Cobb

Creationists have a very fixed view of the world – literally and figuratively. They have The Truth – it’s written in a series of manuscripts that were produced by various tiny Middle Eastern sects 2-3 millennia ago, which were eventually sifted and sorted and mistranslated into a set of what were deemed to be acceptable views to a group of Church leaders around 1500 years ago. All they have to do is to read it, and The Truth is obvious – God created all species, so there can be no evolution.

Science, however, doesn’t claim to have The Truth. We simply have the best approach to reality that we can have, based on the available evidence. If we were to find fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian, then we would all have to backtrack on the phrase that forms the title of this blog. However, there comes a point at which the absence of contradictory evidence, and the overwhelming weight of supporting evidence, leads us to stop pussy-footing around. We abandon all that philosophical bet-hedging and simply state “evolution is true”. If the fossil rabbits ever turn up (don’t hold your breath), we’ll revisit the statement – as the French say, only imbeciles don’t change their minds.

In the process of getting to such clarity, scientists spend a lot of time arguing, doing experiments that occasionally have contradictory results, and trying to figure out who in the resulting intellectual battle is actually right. It’s part of what makes science fun. Whenever these kind of debates arise – be they in evolutionary biology or climate science, to take two targets of certain sections of the blogosphere and of conservatives – they are immediately taken to be proof that there is “a crisis”. This is particularly irritating when the views that are supposed to be evidence of “the jury being out” in fact represent a tiny minority. Sometimes this can have dreadful consequences. There are some fools and charlatans who claim that AIDS is not caused by HIV. Tragically, they have had a great impact on the policy of the South African government. That does not mean that there is any kind of “debate” or “crisis” over the issue.

The latest example of this kind of claim has come, unsurprisingly, in the wake of the article by Donald Williamson on the evolution of caterpillars, and its recent utter and total debunking by Hart & Grosberg, which has been dealt with extensively by Jerry on this blog.

One Brian Thomas, “a Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research” has posted an article which claims that the Williamson study and its trashing “discloses deep evolutionary disagreement”. He concludes:

Beneath the veneer of a controversial peer-review process is a substantial debate over the very basics of evolution. Some scientists have pointed out that neo-Darwinism is inadequate to explain why life forms appear fully-equipped, unique, and discrete. One of these bravely offered hybridogenesis as an alternative evolutionary mechanism. Others cogently demonstrated some scientific deal-breakers for hybridogenesis. Perhaps both sides are correct in their assessments of the opposing evolutionary ideas—neither explanation is sufficient. And if life could not have evolved, it must have been created.

Thomas may be a “science writer”, but he’s surely no scientist! No one with a scrap of scientific insight could read the article by Hart and Grosberg and not be totally and utterly convinced that they are right and Williamson was completely wrong. That’s the power of science – we determine our views on the basis of the evidence. Thomas, along with all other creationists, can’t allow himself to do that, or he’d come round to reality – life was not created, it evolved.

h/t: Rick Grosberg

21 Comments

  1. Dave C
    Posted November 15, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to go OT but. . .is there any chance we could get a post about this new research:

    http://www.physorg.com/news177083943.html

    I am very interested to learn more about this.

    • Dave C
      Posted November 15, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Just to elaborate, it’s a study that looked at the DNA of a series of antarctic penguins of known ages that seems to indicate that uncalibrated molecular clocks may provide somewhat severe underestimates of age.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 15, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        But, but, … , that’s a true controversy.

        Not being a biologist, it seems to me the simple model of molecular clocks runs up against some serious trouble in cases.

        For example, the simplest reconciliation of eukaryotes and archaebacteria seems to be along the lines of pushing bacteria way back on specific clocks. Or rather to aggregate many of them in the analysis to the detriment of specific clocks.

        And the recent analysis of Ardipithecus ramidus may spell trouble for the clock estimates of the Pan/Homo split by way of gobbling up Orrorin and Sahelanthropus as some suggested. Or at least, I hope so. :-)

        OTOH, it is interesting if selection is at least as good or better replacement clock in some cases. IIRC there was some press on genes under selection being better clocks than the non-gene material around them?!

        I too would like to hear biologist’s updates on the methods. But, and this takes me back to the real subject, I note that the methods that uncover the errors are much the same as those that gives at times questionable results. A creationist would have a hard time making a credible case questioning the research on this ground.

        Not that it has ever stopped them before. (o.O)

      • Sigmund
        Posted November 16, 2009 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        I had a quick look at the paper and it seems that they are using a technique of analyzing synonymous and non synonymous changes in mitochondrial genetic sequences as a window into the overall evolutionary rate of genetic change. They unfortunately used a rather small number of samples to carry out the analysis (8 ancient samples – only three of them being particularly old (over 37,000 years). To these sequences they compared the sequence results of 12 modern samples. Unfortunately the small number of samples mean that we cannot put too much weight on their results as something we can accurately extrapolate to other situations.
        It gives us some ideas how to progress (use a much larger sample of modern penguins to compare, examine the rate of change of non-coding nuclear DNA etc) but it is not a result, by itself, that should make you discard the previous molecular clock estimates.

  2. Posted November 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Wow, a novel and generally unaccepted hypothesis in evolution gets shot down, and it indicates deep evolutionary disagreement.

    If he’s perhaps a writer, he sure doesn’t appear to be what anyone should call a “thinker.”

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  3. Posted November 15, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    RE: Defending Darwinism against neo-Darwinist reductionism and creationism!?

    No one with a scrap of scientific insight could read the article by Hart and Grosberg and not be totally and utterly convinced that they are right and Williamson was completely wrong. That’s the power of science – we determine our views on the basis of the evidence.

    I thought that both Hart and Grosberg were suspects of exercising their neo-Darwinist reductionism as the power of their “science” when they tried to debunk the Williamson hypothesis, that I recently analyzed here: “Cooperating, with Lynn Margulis — nostra culpa — RE: Lynn Margulis vs. Richard Dawkins!?” (TheMermaid’sTaleUSA; November 6).

    Best wishes, Mong 11/15/9usct3:52p; practical science-philosophy critic; author “Decoding Scientism” and “Consciousness & the Subconscious” (works in progress since July 2007), Gods, Genes, Conscience (iUniverse; 2006) and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now (blogging avidly since 2006).

    • Dave C
      Posted November 15, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      To quote that eminent philosopher, Buffy Summers: “I think I speak for everyone here when I say, ‘Huh?'”

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted November 15, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      I, too, want this translated into English before I can comment, please.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted November 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      “I thought that….. that I recently analyzed…

      Good for you.

    • TheBlackCat
      Posted November 16, 2009 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      I don’t think you should be expecting any sort of coherent response from this guy. I checked out the description of his “seminal” work (iUniverse is a self-publishing company), and the description makes even less sense than the post here. Actually, the subtitle make even less sense:

      “A Socio-Intellectual Survey of our Dynamic Mind, Life, all Creations in Between and Beyond, on Earth—or, A Critical Reader’s Theory of Everything: Past, Present, Future; in Continuum, ad Infinitum”

      Here is a brief excerpt from the description:

      “or the cosmic STEM matrixes-entities in the Universe that are all around us: From the creations of Life-Genes on Earth, to the ultimate, unique, unbound capacity-capability of our Mind-Gods within, in our brain or ‘memophorescenicity,” a new unified quantum Mind theory pursued from an empiricist electrochemical particle-wave or Yin-Yang propensities of holism-cosmology; a critical reader’s Theory of Everything, Biogenesis-Meanings and all.”

      Unforunately I couldn’t quote an entire sentence, since each of the three sentences in the book description are an entire paragraph in length.

      You can read more here:

      http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Gods-Genes-Conscience/Mong-H-Tan/e/9780595379903

      • Drosera
        Posted November 16, 2009 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        Ah, the Yin-Yang theory: the Chinese equivalent of creationism. Different flavor, just as insane.

    • Posted November 19, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Is there a law of the internet that says something along the lines of:

      “Anyone using an online identity referring to a doctoral qualification (excepting obvious puns and cultural references) will inevitably say something so stupid as to prove that they hold no such qualification.”

      If not, there should be.

    • Posted October 1, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      This person does not write for The Mermaid’s Tale as implied by the comment.

  4. newenglandbob
    Posted November 15, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    One Brian Thomas, “a Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research”

    Here, I fixed this line:

    One Brian Thomas, “a ScienceFiction Writer at the InstituteClown-College for Creation Research”

  5. Posted November 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    “a Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research”

    I think I just saw that at the OED as an example of “oxymoron.”

    … or maybe of just “moron.”

  6. JustAsItSounds
    Posted November 16, 2009 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, in the eyes of the media, it only takes one wrong person in a room full of a hundred to turn a concensus into a debate.

  7. Posted November 16, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, a thousand-year disagreement about whether a demi-god is wholly or partly divine is evidence not of any deep rift or a ‘theory in crisis’ but of the subtlety and depth of religious thought.

    • scott
      Posted November 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Spoken like a bitter follower of the now totally mythical Norse Gods …

  8. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted November 16, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Blog this: Goat Lived Like a Reptile

  9. Posted November 17, 2009 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    To get back on topic, note the blatant quote-mining in the reference footnoted #6 in the creationist article.


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