A Marshall McLuhan moment with creationist Paul Nelson

Even if you haven’t seen “Annie Hall,” you need to watch this video showing a wonderful scene from the movie. Woody Allen and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) are in line for a movie, and a pompous academic behind them pontificates about the film in an extremely annoying way, mentioning Marshall McLuhan (a Sixties cultural icon). After Woody has had enough of the pomposity, he drags McLuhan out from behind a movie sign (yes, that’s the real McLuhan), and confronts the academic with him. McLuhan proceeds to tell the chastened academic that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that he knows nothing of McLuhan’s work. Allen turns to the camera and says,  “Boy, if life were only like this!”

But it can be! Last week I received an email from young-earth creationist Paul Nelson, who works for the Discovery Institute, taking me to task for what he saw as my unfair denigration of Jim Shapiro. Nelson’s beef was my contention that Shapiro is an outlier among biologists in minimizing the importance of natural selection in evolution. Nelson maintains that there are many other reputable biologists who “have frank doubts about selection” and wouldn’t agree with me. Here’s Nelson’s email, published with permission:

Dear Jerry,

…I’m sending this email.  I’d post this in the comments of the new Shapiro thread, but I’m now persona non grata at WEIT. [JAC note: he's never been banned; he just feels unwelcome.]

Skepticism about the efficacy of natural selection is widespread within evolutionary biology (see below).  Jim Shapiro is hardly alone in this regard.  So when you tell your WEIT audience that natural selection is the only game in town for building complex adaptations, you can expect two consequences:

1.  Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so.

2.  Readers who do not already know about Davidson, Lynch, etc. — upon coming across their ideas — must wonder why you told them that natural selection is the sine qua non of evolutionary explanation.

Either outcome is bad.

Last Sunday, I gave a talk to several thousand people at Rick Warren’s church in southern California, where I made a case (a) that natural selection is quite real, but (b) that the process faces genuine limits, set by the logic of selection itself, to explain macroevolution.  I’d be curious to have your reaction to the presentation:

My title was “Darwin or Design: The Evidence of Nature and the Nature of Evidence.”  The talk also touches on atheism, at the opening and ending, in close connection to the role of natural selection in scientific understanding.

My remarks about the reality of selection occur at about 11:40 and following.

All the best,
Paul

I haven’t yet watched Nelson’s talk (some reader please do it and report back). But I do have Davidson, Lynch, Wagner, Gerhart, and Kirschner right here behind this sign!  I either know them or have read their work, and realized that Paul was talking out of his nether parts in his email. True, I’ve had scientific disagreements with Davidson, Gerhart, and Kirschner about theories of “evolvability” and “modularity,” but I never saw them claiming that natural selection is unimportant in forging the adaptations of organisms.

So I pulled all these guys out from behind the sign by sending them this email, which was designed not to support selection, but to solicit, without imposing bias, their opinions about the importance of selection (I enclosed Nelson’s email with mine):

Gentlemen:

I’m writing just to let you know that you were mentioned in an email sent to me by Paul Nelson, a Discovery Institute Fellow and young-earth creationist. His email was written in response to a post on my website criticizing Jim Shapiro’s contention that natural selection is relatively unimportant not just in evolution, but in accounting for adaptations. My post is here and links to Shapiro’s.

At any rate, if you wanted to comment on what Nelson says about your views of selection, I’d be glad to listen (if I can post them on my website, I’ll do so, regardless of what they are, but I would need your permission).  I have read the papers of many of you, and while I know that several of you question aspects of modern evolutionary theory, I wasn’t aware that any of you denied the efficacy of selection in accounting for adaptations.

I’m not speaking here of the prevalence among episodes of evolutionary change of selection versus other mechanisms such as drift, but of the prevalence of selection in explaining obvious adaptations like mimicry, the speed of cheetahs, and so on.  So, for example, from what I know of Lynch’s views, he advocates processes like drift in genomic change but doesn’t question selection as the impetus for the evolution of things that everyone regards as adaptations on the morphological level. But I may be wrong.

At any rate, if Nelson has accurately characterized your views, do let me know. And again, I won’t make anything public without your permission.

Thanks,
Jerry

All of them graciously responded and agreed to let me publish their responses (as did Paul with his original letter).  And here they are. None of them agree with Nelson’s characterization. But it’s typical of creationists to distort the views of evolutionists. Read for yourself.

Eric Davidson (developmental biologist at CalTech; member of the National Academy of Sciences):

Dear Jerry

Of course I would not disagree for one second about the importance of adaptive selection for species specific characters of all kinds, whether on protein or regulatory sequences.

I admire your willingness to take on creationists in public; I find their views so antediluvian that I can only ignore them.

Eric

*****

Michael Lynch (evolutionary biologist at Indiana University; member of the National Academy of Sciences):

Thanks for calling my attention to this. I don’t consider myself to be in the camp of those who question the legitimacy of “modern” evolutionary theory. On the other hand, I do question the motivations of those who argue that the modern edifice has been patently unsuccessful and needs to be dismantled so that a new evolutionary synthesis can be erected to save the day. Not much drives me crazier than folks who make such statements without providing any evidence of ever having attempted to read a single paper in evolutionary theory. I find this attitude about as defensible as ID. The ID crowd tends to misinterpret my embracing of what I call “nonadaptive” mechanisms of evolution (drift, mutation, and recombination) as implying a rejection of Darwinian processes.

You are correct that it is wrong to characterize me as someone who doesn’t believe in the efficacy of natural selection. Although I have pushed for a role for genetic drift a good deal more than other folks in evolution, my general stance is that the relative power of drift (and mutation) dictates the paths down which natural selection can (and cannot) proceed in different lineages. There is still a lot to learn here. In my mind, there is little question that drift plays a central role at the level of genome architecture (despite some of the nutty statements by the Encode crowd). I’m now trying to understand the extent to which this might also be true at the level of protein architecture and cellular features, although there is a lot that remains to be done in these areas. Getting this resolved should help us understand whether those who work at the level of outward phenotypes in multicellular organisms (i.e., most evolutionary biologists) have little to gain by thinking about the details at the molecular level.

*****

Andreas Wagner (evolutionary geneticist/developmental biologist, University of Zurich):

Dear Jerry (if I may),

just to avoid any misconceptions in response to the letter below and to Nelson’s letter.

I do believe that natural selection is essential for evolutionary adaptation. I also believe that we can understand the diversity of life through entirely natural causes, natural selection being an important one of them. I therefore do not espouse young earth creationist or intelligent design creationist views. As in any active research field where progress is fueled by new data, there may be reasonable disagreement within a community. That creationists try to use such disagreement to drive a wedge into the community is unfortunately not new, but merely a cheap ploy which reveals that their agenda is built on a weak foundation.

Regards,
Andreas Wagner

*****

John Gerhart (developmental and evolutionary biologist, University of California at Berkeley, member of the National Academy of Sciences):

I haven’t tracked down what Dr. Nelson said we said about natural selection—presumably that we don’t think it’s important. We do think it’s important, and our writing about the means by which organisms generate phenotypic variation wouldn’t make any sense without it. We emphasized contemporary models of cis-regulatory evolution, in which changes of DNA sequence lead to new times and places of expression of long-conserved protein coding genes. Then we wrote about ways in which this process of generating variation might improve in the course evolution as a result of repeated episodes of canalization of traits, during which episodes various genes become connected in synexpression groups and various multicomponent processes gain regulatory robustness and adaptability, the consequence being that further cis-regulatory changes can lead to new times and places of expression of larger groups of genes and of more compatible processes, our “facilitated variation” as a form of evolvability. For all of this, we assumed natural sepection was operating. How could we not? Perhaps Dr. Nelson thought we were belittling natural selection when we said we thought variation should be understood more deeply than it has been, if we are to gain a full understanding of the evolutionary process.  But that’s not the case.

*****

Marc Kirschner (cell and developmental biologist, Harvard Medical School, member of the National Academy of Sciences):

Dear Jerry,

I really do not know why any thinking person would believe that I question natural selection or the role of genetic change in evolution as agreed upon by population biologists.  I am not enough of an expert to opine on current developments in the field of population biology.  I am deeply impressed by what the fossil record has told us.  I see no role for other strange supernatural forces at work.  My only point of departure from population biologists  is to try add to our present knowledge of genetic change and selection something we now are beginning to know of how the phenotype is generated in development.  I believe this tells us something about the kinds of ways things might change more easily, all of course under selection, all of course requiring changes in the genes.  As for the genes, the definition must take into account changes in timing and level of expression, all of which are under selection.  RNA can play a role as a gene product (ribosomal RNA, tRNA, etc) and now to some degree as a product that regulates other genes (micro-RNAs).  I do not see why this poses any more of a problem than having genes encode transcription factors.  I think a lot about the facility of change can be understood in how the phenotype is constructed.  Most population biologists have not had the kind of background I have had, which deals with the processes of development and cell biology.  John Gerhart and I thought we could add something here to evolutionary biology about phenotypic change.  We did not write about genotypic change because others have written well about that, not because we doubt it in any way. Whether evolutionary biologists dismisses what we write as beside the point, I still endorse the basic idea of genetic variation and selection.  It is just that to go beyond the genes to the phenotype, which after all is under selection, we may want to learn how the phenotype is created.  People have written, hoping to see some wedge that we provide against the theory of evolution.  I have considered them simply  misinformed. I have not encouraged any of them.  If anything, our writings give a different kind of support to natural selection and evolution.  Maybe our work is more akin to paleontology, describing history and processes.  I think Darwin would have liked it.  We can now argue so much better as to how organs of perfection like the eye arose.

Best wishes.
Marc

_______________

Nelson can consider himself pwned, though of course he’ll take the above and somehow make it seem that they agree with him. Creationists are good at that kind of distortion, as we see from Nelson’s original email.

My object here was not to establish the hegemony or importance of natural selection by surveying the opinions of five biologists. That’s not how scientific consensus comes about. My object was simply to show that Nelson is either an outright liar or is completely ignorant of the views of these biologists. Nelson either hasn’t read their work, hasn’t understood it, or has read it and understood it but distorted it.  Regardless, it’s ignorance, willful or not. But this is what creationists must do if they want to make their ridiculous views seem respectable.

Expect to see Nelson defending himself in the comments below or at the Discovery Institute website.  I won’t ask you to be deferential to him, but I will ask you to be civil, though I’ve had a hard time myself, as you see above. I don’t deal well with people lying about evolution. But, of course, you can go after creationism and the tactics of its adherents as much as you want.

269 Comments

  1. Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Is Coyneslapped and acceptable term for what happened to Paul Nelson?

    • Victoria
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      How about JAC-slapped?

      • darrelle
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        JAC’d-up?

        • vall
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

          Coyne-tossed?

          • Observer
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

            Perfect!

          • TJR
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

            That does summon an unfortunate mental image…..

            • Ritchie Annand
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps Coyne-flipped would do, then? :)

              • Joel
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                JACpot

        • thh1859
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          or -off.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Coynecocked!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      As can be seen from the example, there is nothing Jerry-rigged in being Coyne-slapped!

  2. guilherme21msa
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    So all these guys think natural selection is important for evolution but also think that there are other mechanisms that are equally important. And somehow creationists want to equate that with not believeing in the active role of natural selection.

    Right.

    Considering that the disagreements among X-tians are far greater than the disagreements among scientists on natural selection’s role in evolutionary change, well how does that bode for the supposed truth of Christianity?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      ‘So when you tell your DI audience that YEC is the only game in town for building complex organisms, you can expect two consequences:

      1. Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Muhammad, Abraham, Confucius or Buddha (all of those religions, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about Jesus’s existence or godhood) must discount what you say about the centrality of christian creationism to religion — because they know that just isn’t so.

      2. Readers who do not already know about Muhammad, Abraham, etc. — upon coming across their ideas — must wonder why you told them that christian creationism is the sine qua non of religious explanation.

      Either outcome is bad.’

      • Mudz
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        The religious comparison works. Well done.

    • raven
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Considering that the disagreements among X-tians are far greater than the disagreements among scientists on natural selection’s role in evolutionary change, well how does that bode for the supposed truth of Christianity?

      Good point.

      Biologists have yet to fight a war that killed a million or more people over one point or another.

      AFAIK, not a single person died defending or attacking Punctuated Equilibrium or Genetic Drift.

      No one has been burned at the stake or hung either in the fight over whether birds are dinosaurs.

  3. Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    [sub]
    [*gets popcorn*]

  4. fuusio
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    I really admire all the work and effort you carry out in defending the evolution theory and fighting against the disinformation and plain lies produced by creationists and supporters of ID. This entry was just one example of that work.

    I find it very inspiring to follow your blog. Keep up the good work!

    • raven
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Same.

      Outstanding job.

      Now that you own Paul Nelson, what are you going to do with him?

      Xians have access to a lot of high powered weaponry and can be violent. They do not make good pets.

      How good is he at mowing lawns and gardening?

      • Karen S.
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Don’t know about mowing lawns, but he must be a great gardener with all that nitrogen-rich fertilizer he spews out.

  5. Griff
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand what Nelson thinks he could possibly gain by making claims that are so easily refuted, least of all to an evolutionary biologist.

    People make this sort of “argument from authority” claim all the time in public forums, usually because they think their interlocutor will simply accept their claim without verifying it, or because they haven’t verified it themselves.

    Perhaps he thought you just accept it – “Darn it, he’s right”

    • Dr. J
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      He isn’t making these comments to win over people that understand evolution. He’s making them to appeal to people that already reject evolution and science in general as he does.

      The folks he’s appealing to are not going to go and look up what these people he references really wrote. For most of them, this is as good as gospel that these folks recent natural selection. As someone else wrote below, is Rick Warren going to post a retraction now?

      • Griff
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Only in this case he made these claims in a direct email to Jerry. It’s that I don’t understand.

        • Sajanas
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          I suspect its just that he makes these sorts of arguments all the time to people that never question or look more deeply, and certainly never send emails to the people he mentions. So he probably just assumes no one would do that.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

            I think this is a case of someone believing his own propaganda.

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              If you’re working with horseshit all day, you’re not going to notice when you start treading it everywhere

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        After listening to his sermon on the Saddleback website (40 minutes of brain-numbing delusion), I can only conclude that Dr Nelson’s brain is mis-wired. I cannot explain his academic pedigree but to surmise that education cannot surmount idiocy, which is either inbred (his grandfather was a minister) or a result of years of believing his own propaganda.

        I appreciate Dr Coyne’s perseverence, but Nelson’s “sermon” convinces me that correcting these morons is useless. Every other sentence is either an outright lie or a hallucinatory misinterpretation of evolution.

        Clearly, Nelson is operating at an emotional level with his statements having no foundation in reason. His statements, as JAC has methodically shown, are just plain made-up.

      • Marvol
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Very good point. In the end, these are the people that believe the Bible is the word of God – because it says so. Or that Jesus existed and was God’s son – because Marc says it, and Matthew, and… And that marriage is between one man and one woman, because that’s what the preacher says the Good Book says. These people live their lives by arguments from authority.

        • Jay
          Posted December 20, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          Although it may seem a hopeless case to fight against someone like Nelson, don’t give up. You are communicating with his followers, not him necessarily. I was able to hear the truth and I was able to come out of that world. There are a few of us. It takes a willingness to actually say – it might be true. I agree that most do not have the willingness to say that and so shut out the actual evidence. But there are some of us. I couldn’t have made it out without Jerry (and PZ and Dawkins) as well as real life people who loved me who were honest thinking science-minded atheists.

    • raven
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I don’t understand what Nelson thinks he could possibly gain by making claims that are so easily refuted, least of all to an evolutionary biologist.

      It is simple.

      Paul Nelson is storing up Brownie points in heaven. Every time he says somethng cuckoo, an angel gets their wings. Or something.

      In the Book of Life, there must be a column for Number of Lies Told for Jesus. There is another one for Number of People killed as heretics, apostates, or atheists. For jesus. And one for Lives Ruined for jesus.

      And that is why I’m an ex-xian.

      (Fortunately, there is a huge amount of evidence that Paul Nelson’s god and heaven don’t exist. If it did, the earth would have to be hell.)

    • Marella
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      An acquaintance of mine who was religious said he’d been told that there were serious problems with evolution, when pressed he couldn’t say what they were but he was sure they existed. I told him that I was pretty familiar with evolutionary theory and I wasn’t aware of any real problems with it but I could see he clung to the idea. That is all people like Paul Nelson want, to be able to give to other deluded faithful the feeling that they can believe nonsense with a clear conscience. The details are irrelevant.

  6. DTaylor
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Remarkable response (and responses). Huge thanks to all of you!

    One small edit question: Is Paul Nelson “old-earth as stated in the second paragraph, or “young-earth” as in the first paragraph sent to your colleagues?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      He’s a young-earth creationist; I saw that error and corrected it.

      • Mudz
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        You probably need to correct it again. He doesn’t really seem to be either. He apparently advocates an age somewhere between the standard bounds of ‘young’ and ‘old’. He does seem to be a creationist though, who doubts the conventionally accepted age of the earth.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

          Any claim (or vague preference, as you describe) for an age less than those based on geological and astronomical data and theory, would be ‘young’.

          I can’t think of a reason to pick any particular age that isn’t supported by evidence, but that’s what religionists do.

          Personally, I can’t make up my mind between last-tuesdayism (standard YEC) or next-thursdayism: they’re both irrefutable (read: equally unfalsifiable) hypotheses. Creation of false memories, including the fossil record and the light from other galaxies, is necessaily easy-peasy for any young-earth-type creator, so I may be writing this in a false memory implanted after the future creation… which can be postponed indefinitely, without altering anything in observable reality.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

          You probably need to correct it again.

          nope.

          Paul is most assuredly a biblical YEC:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Nelson_%28creationist%29

  7. Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    “What a world. It could be so wonderful if it wasn’t for certain people.” — Woody Allen

  8. Pete Moulton
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    I’m predicting he’ll respond at the DI website, where, of course, no comments will be allowed.

    • Fastlane
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      You must be a real prophet! ;)

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I predict he will respond just as soon as he finishes his long-awaited work on ontogenetic depth.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        I think he’s been promising that for well over a decade now?

  9. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    I don’t even have to pay for this seat to watch the fun. Fantastic responses from the adults.

  10. Alektorophile
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    What a great, utterly perfect response! Thank you. If only life were always like this.

  11. Luke Adams
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    This line of discussion is both confusing and unsettling, on the part of Nelson. I’m not entirely sure why he is trying to take natural selection to task in the first place. All other mechanisms not withstanding, natural selection is the only way in which adaptions are inherited by future generations. There is absolutely no other way for that to happen. Natural selection says nothing about how those adaptions came about or how they become fixed in a population. Nelson would be better expressing his view by stating that he feels that natural selection gets trumped by genetic drift, or any other mechanisms that he is proposing. It is quite evident from the responses, that nobody understood Nelson at all.

    • eric
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      I’m not entirely sure why he is trying to take natural selection to task in the first place.

      According to #6, he’s a YEC. If that’s true, then he’s not trying to come up with an “other way for things to happen,” he’s trying to show that speciation doesn’t happen at all.

      Or to put it in a slightly different way, his “other way for things to happen” is special creation: God divinely poofs the animals into existence in their current forms.

      • Luke Adams
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Any YEC has to believe in a certain amount of variation. If the flood happened and all animals today came from the animals on the ark, then variation had to happen. The only way for this variation to pass from one generation to the next is natural selection. The only thing he should be arguing against is common descent and age of the earth, doing anything other than that is diluting what he is trying to say.

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re underestimating the ability of many YECs not to think too much about the implications of their beliefs. I’m quite certain it would never occur to many of them that there are simply too many species on the planet today to have been represented on the ark.

          • Mudz
            Posted December 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            Way to think impartially, dude.

            I’ve never met a YEC who had any issues with the diversification we see today. There are innumerable Noah’s Ark related articles written on it, and the numbers work out fine.

            You seem to think that ‘kinds’ must equal specific species like ‘labrador’ and ‘chihuahua’. It’s strange that it would be evolutionists to make this objection, since they make a big deal about the ‘evolution’ of dog speciation.

            I think you’re overestimating your own understanding of YECs. I won’t hold it against you though, since I was much the same myself. (I’m YEC myself, now.)

            • Posted December 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I don’t think mb or others here do.

              Note that mb said “represented” not “present”; i.e., one “kind” can represent one or many modern species.

              So:
              (a) How many and which kinds were present on the Ark?
              (b) How many and which post-deluvial species did each give rise to? (Simpler question: On average, how many of today’s at least 2 million animal species did each kind represent?)
              (c) And how, in only a few thousand years? (Specifically, how can “macro-evolution” have occurred so rapidly?)

              (I’ll leave aside for now the issue that the genetic evidence that the minimum population of any ancestral kind of modern animal species could not have had as few as 2, 7 or 14 ancestors.)

              /@

              PS. Btw, labradors and chihuahuas are different breeds of dogs, not species; and dogs themselves are a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus familiaris.

            • Posted December 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

              I never wrote that YECs “had issues” with or tried to deny the number of species we observe today (although that doesn’t mean I think there aren’t any that would try to deny it; there may well be). I only wrote that many (not all) of them don’t want to, or can’t, think meaningfully about what that diversification must mean for their beliefs. People can be quite content not to examine their beliefs like that and go on holding them in the face of countervailing evidence – it’s called cognitive dissonance and many people are content to live with it.

              So, the numbers work out fine, do they? As Ant asked: how many kinds were on the ark, and how do you know?

              There are just about 2 million described species on the planet, and an estimated 9 million! There must’ve been A LOT of baramins on that ark.

          • Achrachno
            Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

            Exactly! Not only will it not occur to them, but they will never think that, even if it’s carefully explained to them. Not thinking seems to be a finely honed speciality of theirs.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          he piles all the variation under “microevolution”, and claims there has been no fundamental changes in animals since… Noah.

          If you want a name for it, it basically most closely resembles baraminology.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Nelson would be better expressing his view by stating that he feels that natural selection gets trumped by genetic drift, or any other mechanisms that he is proposing.

      The mechanism he is proposing is that ‘God shat out another miracle!!11!

    • Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      But, how can he even state that natural selection gets trumped by genetic drift when the principals of genetic drift ARE the explanation of natural selection. They go hand in hand.

      Its just so weird to me that a man can speak at a church as though he’s an expert on a topic he didn’t research nor is interested in asking questions of the very scientists he includes to falsify their stance.

      What kind of a man does that?

  12. jose
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    A delightful smackdown!

    By the way, should I buy something by McLuhan or is his work obsolete now?

    • Kevin
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Way obsolete. And not about biology, but about communications and the media (radio/TV).

      His most-famous line encapsulates his entire oeuvre — “the medium is the message”. Meaning that the method by which a piece of information is disseminated is more impactful than the message itself.

      McLuhan did his work when TV was broadcast over the airways. Cable TV was in its infancy. No internet, no smart phones, etc.

      I think these days, it would be considered “quaint”.

      • coconnor1017
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Actually, Kevin “the medium is the message” is even more apt within our social media culture than it was in the time of broadcast. How a person is reached and then what one designs within that channel to pass the message along is an important compliment to what is said. “Narrowcasting” makes McLuhan’s insight relevant.

    • JMS
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Of historical interest, amusingly written, and very insightful about the media and culture of its day.

  13. eric
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Last Sunday, I gave a talk to several thousand people at Rick Warren’s church in southern California, where I made a case (a) that natural selection is quite real, but (b) that the process faces genuine limits, set by the logic of selection itself

    Did anyone else think immediately of Behe’s bacteria flub in Dover? I bet Nelson’s argument amounts to the same: if we ignore exaptation as a mechanism, then some combinations of traits are so improbable that it would take a whole cubic meter of bacterium a few decades to produce it.

  14. NoAstronomer
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I believe the modern expression is pwned!

    Mike.

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      And Jerry used that expression: “Nelson can consider himself pwned…”

      • Marella
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        He won’t though, he’ll just convince himself that these scientists just don’t understand the implications of their own work!

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          you can scroll to Paul’s posts in this very thread to confirm your statement firsthand.

  15. Doug
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    And the odds that Rick Warren will be notifying his congregation that the claims of their guest speaker have subsequently been refuted by the very authorities he misrepresents? Rather small, I should think.

    • Joe
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

      Why don’t we do that for him? You know, since he is so busy doing science.

  16. Desnes Diev
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    À propos de P. Nelson, in an interview published a few months before ID’s fiasco at Dover, he was saying:
    “Where is the ID movement going in the next ten years? What new issues will it be exploring, and what new challenges will it be offering Darwinism?
    Dembski: [...]
    Nelson: Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity”—but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.”
    (http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-06-060-i)

    He was very honest to admit that the Intelligent Design (hypo)thesis was nothing approaching a scientific theory by then. I wonder if he thinks IDeists have progressed in developping a full-fledged theory of biological design” since?

    Desnes Diev

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Since even Pat Robertson has abandoned the young earth hogwash, it would seem that Nelson has another problem to deal with too.

      • Kevin
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Pat was never at YECCer. He believes in instant creation by Yahweh (no evolution), but he’s one of those preachers who cites “for god a thousand years is like a day” (Psalm 90:4) to declare the bible compatible with an older Earth.

        Geology, at least, doesn’t flummox him.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          Psalm 90:4 succinctly shows how math-challenged the ancient texts and concepts of the world really were. Six days at a thousand years per day =still= is not going to get you much.

          “A thousand” was about as big a number two thousand years ago as “a billion” is today: inconceivably large.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

            >>“A thousand” was about as big a number two thousand years ago as “a billion” is today: inconceivably large.<<

            Right, you said it: thousand = billion. So, six days = six thousand years = six billion years. The bible got it right within an order of magnitude.
            Pretty good for bronze-age shepherds. Too good to be a coincidence. Must be god.

            Never underestimate the power of reinterpretation.

  17. SLC
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised he didn’t mention Prof. Larry Moran, who is a big advocate for the importance of genetic drift as an evolutionary mechanism. He constantly criticizes some of his fellow biologists for taking adaptations too ofter as just so stories. Of course, the folks at the Dishonesty Institute don’t like Moran either as he refers to them as IDiots.

  18. Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I’ll stand by what these authors (Davidson, Lynch, Gerhart, Kirschner, and Wagner) have published on the topic of the efficacy of natural selection. Below are representative passages from their books and articles. More from each author could be provided from the literature, if needed.

    Michael Lynch:

    …the uncritical acceptance of natural selection as an explanatory force for all aspects of biodiversity (without any direct evidence) is not much different than invoking an intelligent designer (without any direct evidence). True, we have actually seen natural selection in action in a number of well-documented cases of phenotypic evolution (Endler 1986; Kingsolver et al. 2001), but it is a leap to assume that selection accounts for all evolutionary change, particularly at the molecular and cellular levels. The blind worship of natural selection is not evolutionary biology. It is arguably not even science. Natural selection is just one of several evolutionary mechanisms, and the failure to realize this is probably the most significant impediment to a fruitful integration of evolutionary theory with molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

    – Michael Lynch, The Origins of Genome Architecture (Sinauer, 2007, pp. 368-9)

    Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart:

    There are limits on what selection can accomplish. We must remember that it merely acts as a sieve, preserving some variants and rejecting others; it does not create variation. If genetic change were random, what could ensure that enough favorable phenotypic variation had taken place for selection to have produced the exquisite adaptation and variety we see on the earth today? At various times, biologists thought that genetic change must be directed in some way to produce enough of the appropriate kinds of phenotypic variation. If selection were presented with a preselected subset of variants, that might greatly facilitate evolutionary change. Or if the organism generated just the right variants, selection might not be needed at all. Thus, the efficacy of selection would depend on the nature of phenotypic variation…Is genetic variation purely random, or is it in fact biased to facilitate evolutionary change?

    – Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma (Yale, 2005, p. 13)

    Eric Davidson:

    Of the first of these approaches (e.g., Hoekstra and Coyne, 2007), I shall have nothing to say, as mechanistic developmental biology has shown that its fundamental concepts are largely irrelevant to the process by which the body plan is formed in ontogeny. In addition it gives rise to lethal errors in respect to evolutionary process. Neo-Darwinian evolution is uniformitarian in that it assumes that all process works the same way, so that evolution of enzymes or flower colors can be used as current proxies for study of evolution of the body plan. It erroneously assumes that change in protein coding sequence is the basic cause of change in developmental program; and it erroneously assumes that evolutionary change in body plan morphology occurs by a continuous process. All of these assumptions are basically counterfac- tual. This cannot be surprising, since the neo-Darwinian synthesis from which these ideas stem was a pre-molecular biology concoction focused on population genetics and adaptation natural history, neither of which have any direct mechanistic import for the genomic regulatory systems that drive embryonic development of the body plan.

    – Eric Davidson, “Evolutionary bioscience as regulatory systems biology,” Developmental Biology 357 (2011):35-40.

    Andreas Wagner:

    …we know few of the principles that explain the ability of living things to innovate through a combination of natural selection and random genetic change. Random change by itself is not sufficient, because it does not necessarily bring forth beneficial phenotypes. For example, random change might not be suitable to improve most man-made, technological systems. Similarly, natural selection alone is not sufficient: As the geneticist Hugo de Vries already noted in 1905, ‘natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest’. Any principle of innovation needs to explain how novel, beneficial phenotypes can originate. In other words, principles of innovation are principles of phenotypic variability.

    – Andreas Wagner, “The molecular origins of evolutionary innovations,” Trends in Genetics 27 (2011):397-410 [footnote numbers omitted]

    I’d encourage your readers to watch my talk at Saddleback, which deals with issues of relevance to this website (in general), but to this issue (the role of natural selection) in particular; link is here:

    http://www.saddleback.com/mc/m/7ece8/

    • Sajanas
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Direct statements from the scientists > Quotes mined from articles.

      • coconnor1017
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Quote mining and arguments from authority are what modern day Evangelical Christianity is reduced to, it is why Christians of the Reformed School scoff at the “luke-warm” believers that dwell in Mega-Churches like Warren’s Saddleback. The fundamentalists are at least consistent in their systematic theology and don’t shy away of trying to defend the totalizing ideology it is (to them). Mega-church Christianity on the other hand is an approach to reality that is intellectually lazy and invites either meaningful or accidental dishonesty. The goal of today’s Evangelicals is not to look for a systematic method by which they can understand reality but to feel good about themselves and be happy within life’s randomness. Calvin, Luther and guys like Jonathan Edwards were looking to make sense of what it meant to be human within a supernatural tradition (they were mostly wrong due to their inability to have the evidence from science we have, but they tried). Today’s Evangelicals get no intellectual development and unfortunately copy the arrogance and pride of men like Calvin and Luther without the intellectual rigor they practiced. The benefit of the Evangelical Church is emotional comfort driven by perceived certainty through authority figures. People are looking for surrogate parents to pat them on the head and tell them they will be safe. It is magical thinking. It was very apparent to me that this was the only consequence of Christian assertions while I was a Christian. The arrogance and dishonesty in the arguments from authority and quote mining that Nelson practices above are very common in Christian circles. The ID movement and their wedge strategy were the catalysts to end my Christianity. Multiple encounters with evolution denial using Nelson’s tactics made me come to my senses in seeing how the slimy promotion of ID for the sake of keeping alive Christian theology is a blatant contradiction of the ethos to truth Christians claim in their theology.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Yes, we can thank Nelson and fellow IDers personally for many deconversions. They are more “strident” for atheism than Dawkins!

          • coconnor1017
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

            And I have been accused of being a strident atheist due to my deconversion but I have to see the Christian assertions to truth as immoral due to the obvious dishonesty necessary to keep the theology alive. I don’t confront the garden-variety believer much these days but when I encounter men like Nelson my blood seems to boil. The arrogance with which they propose their dishonesty (and they can’t but know they are being dishonest) is sickening to me.

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

          The practice seems particularly reminiscent of tendency among some Evangelicals of proof-texting. It seems likely there’s a common underlying psychological mechanism to both, perhaps relating to confirmation bias. The person listens to the message, their attention highlights the parts that sound like what they want to hear.

          This might tie to Jerry Coyne’s occasional askance glances at evolutionary psychology via the “Why do humans reason?” paper by Mercier and Sperber (doi:10.1017/S0140525X10000968).

          • coconnor1017
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            Yes indeed. My personal experience indicates that this practice exists to reinforce the emotional benefit one seeks when going to Church (most often, the message that “you are loved despite how hard your life is and how you might not measure up to the culture’s definition of being worthy of love.”) I personally became sick of accepting love from people who seemed to be obviously lying to me for the “good of my soul”. It stopped feeling like love and became much more consistent with fear-based control. The ironic thing is that my awareness of proof-texting was ignited when I migrated from a progressive mega-church to a conservative church that operated within a Reformed tradition. The emotional benefit the Reformed folks sought (certainty, repetitive reminders of their depravity and sin – odd authoritarian kind of stuff that was akin to S&M psychology) was abhorrent to me. The good is that I began to see Biblical interpretation as an imaginative act pretending serious analysis. There was no foundation for the conservative Christians to believe that there interpretation was any more correct than the progressive folks and vice versa. Today I just tell those I love that I love them and don’t pretend I need to love everyone (as Hitch pointed out, there are many people who are morally unworthy of love.)

      • vHF
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        These quotes are not “mined” in the pejorative sense of the word, that is they are not misleading. As far as I can tell they are indeed representative of their authors’ thinking. The problem is that Paul Nelson reads too much in these passages. Nowhere here is natural selection rejected as the central mechanism of adaptation.

        Personally I suggest reflecting on these passages is a better use of everyone’s time than bashing another hapless creationist. They demonstrate exceptionally clearly — for they were well-chosen, Paul Nelson’s only useful contribution here — some disagreements of their authors with the simplified view of the evolutionary process.

        • Childermass
          Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          In other words, Nelson is reading into the passages what the authors do not intend and using them for that purpose. This is the gist of why we rant on quote mining in the first place. Indeed, the unwillingness to figure out what the author was trying to communicate and instead wanting to read what one wants to author to have meant is the problem. As Radner and Radner (1982) say in their Science and Unreason, “They focus on the words, not on the underlying facts and reasoning.”

      • Moshe Averick
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        Sajanas,

        If what Paul Nelson did was quote mining, why isn’t what Jerry Coyne did quote mining?
        After all he has not responded the what these men have written in their books or articles. Also, what would you expect these men to say when Dr. Coyne asked for a response to “a young-earth creationist from the Discovery Institute”? – Those words are obviously a call to circle the wagons.

        If every time you see someone cite a source that challenges your preciously-held beliefs, it is summarily rejected as “quote mining”, then what are you prepared to accept? This attitude, of course, is routine throughout the history of science. Scientists have the same flaws as all other human beings, there are endless examples of great scientists tenaciously clinging to old paradigms when they are challenged. This is what led Max Planck(I think it was him) to say that Science advances one funeral at a time. For more on the history of the very human fallibility of scientists see the following: http://www.algemeiner.com/2012/12/07/the-myth-of-the-almighty-scientist-genesis-and-genes-by-yoram-bogacz-review/

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          If what Paul Nelson did was quote mining, why isn’t what Jerry Coyne did quote mining?

          what Jerry did was ask for the exact responses FROM the people Nelson was claiming to speak for.

          sorry, but in no way could that possibly be considered quote mining.

          fail.

          • Moshe Averick
            Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            How do you then explain the very clear statements made by the scientists in their own books and articles? Perhaps they let their antipathy towards “creationists” overwhelm their intellectual integrity. That is at least as reasonable explanation as any, until proven differently. After all, those statements very clearly substantiate what Nelson was claiming.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              did you actually read the exchange between Matthew, who is one of Lynch’s grad students, and Nelson, as he ran across the hall and directly ASKED Lynch about Paul’s claims?

              Perhaps they let their antipathy towards “creationists” overwhelm their intellectual integrity.

              project much?

        • Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          Science may advance one funeral at a time but at least it advances…unlike the alternative “ways of knowing.”

          As for the notion of the “almighty scientist”, I don’t buy it. The edifice of science is built on the foundation of confirming or disproving previous hypotheses. Scientists may think themselves correct, but science itself is never satisfied.

          Your article has wonderful examples of hypotheses that were refined and corrected through the scientific process. Alternative “ways of knowing”, ie religion, have no similar examples, except through war, pogroms, inquisitions, and bloody reformations.

    • TJR
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      These all say, in various ways, that It’s A Lot More Complicated Than We Used To Think.

      Unlikely to be many arguments from anyone here about that.

      How does any of it help ID, though?

    • steve oberski
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      In none of your “representative” passges do the authors express frank doubts about selection, they all discuss natural selection working in tandem with other evolutionary mechanisms.

      How do you account for the authors direct denials of your misrepresentions of their work ?

      Did Jerry Coyne make up the EMAILs from them ?

      Where the authors perhaps lying in their EMAILs to Jerry Coyne, for some reason repudiating their earlier positions ?

      Why do you publish from a site that has manufactured the controversy they want to teach by promoting a false perception that evolution is “a theory in crisis”, through incorrectly claiming that it is the subject of wide controversy and debate within the scientific community ?

      And why do you publish from a site that does not allow comments ?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        because…..because…..because….he has nothing else…..LOL

        Just like the losers on reality shows, he also is immune to looking foolish.

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Steve,

        If you’re interested, I’ll provide you with documentation (from Lynch, Davidson, etc.) for their skepticism about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary explanation, as stressed by neo-Darwinian theory. Please contact me at nelsonpa@alumni.uchicago.edu.

        I suggest you ask Lynch and the others why they responded as they did in their emails, when those emails are compared with their published statements.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

          That is already described in their emails.

          But in any case, the specific response on selection was enough. The bucket stops here, with the reader’s judgment that you “either hasn’t read their work, hasn’t understood it, or has read it and understood it but distorted it.”

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

            My vote is for willful malevolent deception.

            • TimL
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

              Got to be. The first mined section was pretty easy to understand. It basically says: “Believing that one method is the only method is as bad as being an ID idiot.”

              Which makes it pretty funny that he posted that as his evidence of why he was right.

        • steve oberski
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          Paul,

          I already know why they answered as they did; you are a dishonest lier and they are refuting your claims.

        • matthewackerman
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          I really feel that the quote you give from his book and the e-mail he [Mike] sends to Dr. Coyne are non-contradictory. Why do you feel there is a conflict?

    • Kevin
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      Seriously, did you not read the post?

      The people you mention are telling you that you’re wrong 12 inches above your head. ^^^^ Right up there. ^^^^

      Either reading comprehension is not your strong suit, or you’re so used to lying and having those lies believed that you’re unable to stop.

      My assumption is that you’re a dishonest person. Which means I will discount what you say from now until forever. You are not to be trusted.

      Way to brand yourself permanently in that way. It’s actually quite a public service to announce to the world “PAY NO ATTENTION TO ME. I’M A LIAR AND A FRAUD.”

      • coconnor1017
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        The emotional benefit Nelson gets from unconditional acceptance within a Christian tribe is more important to him than being honest.

    • GM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Mr. Nelson,

      There is an acute difference between what you said:

      “(all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection)”

      And what the authors are actually saying. Each individual forcefully expresses the opinion that selection is an important component of the modern synthesis. Not a single individual in their emails indicates that the modern synthesis should be torn down; rather, the authors are only saying that other processes can influence evolution in profound ways. For instance, small population size may render genetic drift more powerful than selection in certain cases. However, drift is almost certainly not responsible for the repeated and independent evolution of the eye, though drift may explain why some lineages have avoided the blind spot that we have in our eyes. I would most enjoy hearing why a supposed creator found it appropriate to outfit cephalopods with better designed eyes than humans.

    • imil42
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Good grief. The infamous Darwin’s eye quote lives and prospers. As if the direct reply from one of the authors was not enough, I’ve just googled the Kirschner and Gerhart paper, and what do I see right after the fragment picked by you?


      A few biologists tried to invent theories about how the environment might alter the parents’ genetic endowment to their offspring. As attractive as it would be to discover a process for loading the genetic dice, thereby improving the rate and course of evolution, there is in fact no evidence for facilitated genetic variation and there is conclusive evidence that it does not exist. The process of evolution receives no help from this quarter, and within our modern understanding of the organism it would be hard to imagine how such a process could work.

      http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/servlet/org.oclc.lac.ui.DialABookServlet?oclcnum=58919633

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        See their paper on “facilitated variation,” which is actually their alternative to the “random variation” component of the neo-Darwinian synthesis:

        http://www.pnas.org/content/104/suppl.1/8582.abstract

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          Now, I really like this paper,what part of it should one emphasize?
          What about:
          “By such reductions and increases, the conserved core processes facilitate the generation of phenotypic variation, which selection thereafter converts to evolutionary and genetic change in the population.”
          I suppose you read at least the abstract, don’t you?

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Replied as Jerry predicted, except didn’t bother to address the biologists’ comments, instead referring to snippets from their papers, incorrectly interpreted. No surprise there.

    • Alex T
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      I’m a little handicapped by not having the sources you cite to read the context. Given their clear disavowal above, would it be fair to say that the quotes you’ve chosen above are discussing the relative impact of random genetic drift vs selection and not, as you’ve implied, an outright rejection of selection?

      Given that the authors do not agree with your summary of their views, are you attempting to justify your mistaken impression or are you trying to argue that their statements to Jerry are wrong and that you know their true beliefs as revealed in these snippets? If the former then fair dues, a small apology and we can talk about how you formed the mistaken impression. If the latter, then whaaaaaa?

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Alex,

        I would be happy to send you the papers of any of the authors cited above, so that you can see for yourself their doubts about the emphasis placed on natural selection within neo-Darwinian theory. Please contact me at nelsonpa@alumni.uchicago.edu, thanks.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

          I’m disappointed that you failed to answer Alex’s very clear question. Again:

          are you attempting to justify your mistaken impression or are you trying to argue that their statements to Jerry are wrong and that you know their true beliefs as revealed in these snippets?

          I think it has to be one or the other. Which?

          • Kevin
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            Neither. It’s simple lying on his part.

          • DV
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            Paul Nelson, waiting for your answer on this.

        • matthewackerman
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          I promise you that Mike Lynch believes that natural selection is an important evolutionary mechanism underlying adaptation. He simply doesn’t believe that every phenotype is adaptive. It really is very simple: natural selection makes the good stuff, but not everything is good.

          He does not doubt the importance or emphasis placed on natural selection in adaptive evolution. He doubts the emphasis placed on adaptive evolution in phenotypic variability. While this may seem like a subtle distinction, it makes a sense in the context of literature which (used to) offers adaptive explanations for phenotypes (such as large genomes) that have no clear adaptive advantage. We cannot assume that all phenotypes are adaptive. That is all Mike is saying in your quote of him.

        • Alex T
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Hi Paul – thanks for the offer to send the full text. I was actually more interested in why you are posting these quotes and what your reaction is to the emails JAC posted.

          Are you justifying your earlier position and if so, are you changing your position now? If you’re sticking with your earlier characterization of their views by using these quotes, how do you square that with their clear, unambiguous statements rejecting your interpretation?

        • TimL
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          Why are you having such difficulty understanding the simple concepts they have posted? Are you being willfully ignorant?

          Each of your examples basically say the same thing: To think that only one thing causes all evolution is false and or damaging in the furthering of the study.

          I understood that much and I have no post HS education. Maybe you should pick up a new line of work? Flipping burgers maybe?

    • Griff
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      A slight digression – do you genuinely think the earth is thousands rather than billions of years old?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Only a complete buffoon would believe _that_.

        [I hope I'm civil, as I'm not commenting on specific persons but merely expressing what I believe is the science community judgment on everything from cosmology to biology.

        If it's not, I'll retract with apologies.]

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          “Buffoon” is mild. Although if Nelson’s reading comprehension is faithfully indicated by his comments so far, I guess we might be charitable and accept that he just doesn’t understand the mountains* of evidence against YEC.

          /@

          * sometimes literally

    • eric
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Paul Nelson says:

      I’ll stand by what these authors (Davidson, Lynch, Gerhart, Kirschner, and Wagner) have published…

      Nelson’s own quote of Lynch says:

      we have actually seen natural selection in action in a number of well-documented cases of phenotypic evolution (Endler 1986; Kingsolver et al. 2001)

      So, Paul Nelson, do you stand by the position that we have actually seen natural selection in action in a number of well-documented cases of phenotypic evolution?

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Erio,

        Yes, and I said as much in my talk at Saddleback (see my remarks starting at about 11:40). Natural selection is a real process.

        But did selection construct (for instance) animal body plans? There the answer is No.

        • DV
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Pray tell us what constructed animal body plans then?

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

            Their ancestors.

          • Alex T
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

            Genetic drift?

        • Sajanas
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

          No, the answer is absolutely.

          Haven’t you heard of hox genes, transcription factors, and other genetic regulators of development that can easily and radically alter the size and shape of an animal body? Because if dramatic mutations of those genes can give a fly an extra set of wings, its easy to imagine smaller changes in the size over hundreds of millions of years doing so gradually.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

            Sajanas,

            Watch the Saddleback talk. It deals specifically with the origin of animal body plans:

            http://www.saddleback.com/mc/m/7ece8/

            When I wrote my dissertation at Chicago (supervised by Bill Wimsatt and the late Leigh Van Valen, the latter one of Jerry’s departmental colleagues), I looked in detail at the problem of the macroevolution of animal form. The mutations you mention are not promising raw materials for adaptive change. Jerry can provide additional details.

            • Sajanas
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

              I’m familiar with how animal body plans are laid out. It seems perfectly reasonable, looking at how the hox genes are expressed, one after another along the body plan of an animal in the same order as they are laid out in the genome, and are clearly shown to be the subject of multiple duplications and alterations compared with more distantly related animals. And those hox genes are induced by earlier, more basal genes that are in turn expressed by the act of sperm and egg fusion.

              When you look at all the crazy things that go wrong in flies when you change that, I really don’t understand how you can look at them and not see how the animal body plan is laid out, and how easy it would be for small mutations to change that. Can you explain, in text (I have not sound at work) how it is impossible for this to be the case? Cause I see it as pretty simple, undergraduate level genetics. And I can guarantee, Dr. Coyne will not back you up, because you’re pretty much ignoring evidence in the same way that Behe ignored evidence until he was buried behind it in the Dover 2005 trial.

              • Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

                Mutations that disrupt body plan formation are inevitably deleterious. (There’s only one class of exceptions; see below.) This is the main signal emerging from over 100 years of mutagenesis in Drosophila.

                Text from one of my Saddleback slides:

                1. Animal body plans are built in each generation by a stepwise process, from the fertilized egg to the many cells of the adult. The earliest stages in this process determine what follows.

                2. Thus, to change — that is, to evolve — any body plan, mutations expressed early in development must occur, be viable, and be stably transmitted to offspring.

                3. But such early-acting mutations of global effect are those least likely to be tolerated by the embryo.

                Losses of structures are the only exception to this otherwise universal generalization about animal development and evolution. Many species will tolerate phenotypic losses if their local (environmental) circumstances are favorable. Hence island or cave fauna often lose (for instance) wings or eyes.

              • Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                I’m no expert, but wouldn’t that merely explain why all vertebrate life is based on modifications of one basic body plan? It only had to evolve once–and we can see how it evolved (adaptation or another process).

              • Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                Damn, forgot to sub.

              • Sajanas
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Wow, you really just leave most of modern evo-devo out in the cold don’t you? I wish PZ Myers were here to make a better thought out response.

                For starters, your original premise is wrong. I think its quite possible for mutations in body plan to be advantageous, or just neutral.

                The principal rational behind this is that the development process is very modular. Hox genes control the development of specific regions, so altering one of them changes just a particular region. Slightly enlarged eyes, larger wings, that sort of thing. Surely you can imagine that being useful? Over time, hundreds of thousands of generations, that could easily lead to enlarged and diverse body parts. You just have to look at the fantastic diversity of the insects to see how modular their development is. No one is trying to turn a crocodile into a duck here. It is quite possible for there to be mutations that only affect a specific section of an animal, and it makes sense when you consider our original ancestors were worm like creatures that were just repeating segments.

              • Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                As evidenced by our segmented spines!

                /@

            • BornRight
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

              Paul Nelson,

              Lethal mutations will kill the embryo. But
              what you’re totally failing to understand is that not all mutations are lethal. Many are tolerated. I heard you cite the example of HOX gene mutations in flies and how altering them kills the embryos. You didn’t mention the entire story there. Do you know that there are wild populations of flies having HOX gene mutations? Even in the lab, you can create viable HOX-mutant flies that have, for example, two sets of wings. In fact, simple non-lethal mutations in HOX genes can profoundly alter the morphology. It is these non-lethal mutations that natural selection “cherry picks”, provided they confer a survival advantage on the organism.

              Many mutations actually arise as recessive mutations, not as dominant ones. They spread through the population remaining dormant or having a mild effect, until there is a sufficient number of heterozygotes. Then, interbreeding between heterozygotes will cause homozygous mutations to arise suddenly throughout the population. If the new feature improves survival & reproductive success, it gets rapidly selected.

              But, macroevolution doesn’t happen in one fell swoop event, where multiple dramatic mutations radically remodels the organism beyond recognition. If that were the case, macroevolution wouldn’t require millions of years, it would happen in a generation or two!

              Macroevoltion is a gradual response to climate change and other environmental pressures. Organisms accumulate non-lethal mutations that changes their body plan bit by bit until they are well adapted to their changing habitat. This is what caused fish to transition into land vertebrates, dinosaurs to develop into birds, reptiles to form mammals, land mammals to produce whales and apes to turn into humans.

              Despite the seemingly vast differences, diverse organisms operate along similar lines. Closely related organisms show more similarities than distantly related ones. The fossil record also lends support to this. We always find closely related organisms appearing closer together in the fossil record than distantly related ones. This is strong evidence for common ancestry & macroevolution.
              If an intelligent designer had created species separately, why do we see such an ordering in the fossil record?! Why didn’t humans appear alongside other mammals?! Why do we see a gradual transition from apes through Australopithecus to H. habilis to H. Erectus to H. sapiens?! and why did all this take hundreds of millions of years?!

              Biology makes no sense whatsoever other than in the light of evolution.

              The minority idea that an intelligent designer created living things is downright nonsense. And, needless to say, you have totally failed in producing any evidence of what this intelligent designer is, how and where he operates and who created him in the first place!

            • BornRight
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Paul Nelson,

              Fantastic new research shows how fish developed limbs and moved onto land. Boosting the expression of Hoxd13a gene in zebrafish transforms their fins into limb-like structures that develop more cartilage tissue and less fin tissue!

              http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121210124521.htm

              http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1534580712004789

              Importantly, the overexpression of Hoxd13a in zebrafish was driven by a mouse-specific enhancer. This shows that the regulatory elements acting on the enhancer are present in both fishes and distantly-related mammals! Another strong case for common ancestry.

              This lends amazing support to the fossil record and the discovery of transitional species like Tiktaalik. This is the beauty & majesty of evolutionary theory. It’s being supported even by breakthrough genetics research. It also inflicts a severe blow to your foolish claims that developmental genes can’t undergo mutations that alter the morphology.

        • eric
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          What you call ‘animal plans’ are a form of phenotypic evolution. Lynch knows this.

          So you answer is that you don’t stand by it in the way that the author, Lynch, stands by it. What you stand by is a very different interprentation of the author’s claim than what the author meant. Correct?

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          Now starts the time where Paul engages his hyperdrive in order to exponentially move goalposts….

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

          so, you’re a baraminologist, right Paul?

          no fundamentally different species after the ark, yes?

          *titter*

    • DV
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      I believe the appropriate rejoinder at this point is: there is none so blind as those who will not see.

      Clearly the fellas Nelson quote-mined are not expressing frank doubts about selection itself but rather frank doubts about random mutation (they’re talking about genetic drift, for chrissakes) They even said it explicitly. Paul Nelson refuses to see, he prefers his blindness.

      To highlight Lynch again: “You are correct that it is wrong to characterize me as someone who doesn’t believe in the efficacy of natural selection. Although I have pushed for a role for genetic drift a good deal more…”

      • DV
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        I should complete that phrase “…a good deal more than other folks in evolution”. Lest it be chosen to be misunderstood as drift being a good deal more than selection.

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          DV,

          The “randomness” of variation (with respect to adaptive or functional outcomes) is a cardinal tenet of neo-Darwinian theory (ask Jerry, he’ll explain). Of the authors we are discussing, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner and Andreas Wagner argue that variation may be in some sense ‘directed’ towards functional targets. Here’s how Wagner puts it:

          “Would random changes in a typical complex technological system, say, a computer or an airplane, be a sensible recipe to improve the system? Hardly. There is something special about the architecture of life that makes it amenable to improvement through random change. This something is the subject of this book. I here provide evidence that it is more than a combination of natural selection and random change. Both are necessary but not sufficient for innovation.”

          A. Wagner, The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations (Oxford, 2011, p. 2).

          Wagner is not arguing for a greater role for drift, but rather for an entirely new perspective about how novel variations arise and are fixed in populations.

          Davidson is definitely NOT arguing for a greater role for genetic drift. See his papers (I’ll send them to you if you don’t have access). Lynch, for his part, strongly advocates a much more central role for non-adaptive processes, with selection doing very little. He’s your drift guy, for sure.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            …I can’t quite work out if I’ve misunderstood somewhere along the way, but it appears to my (untrained in the field of biology) eye that this quotation does not support your position. The quotation doesn’t mention any direction but appears to be alluding to a framework in which random variation (it’s right there in the quote) can improve a phenotype.
            A pound to a penny says that Wagner did not go on to suggest that this framework was Jesus.

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

              J,

              Of course Wagner’s “directing” agency is not Jesus. What he has in mind is (in part) yet-to-be-elucidated processes of self-organization:

              “For more than a century, evolutionary biology has focused on natural selection as the key process explaining life’s enormous diversity. The occasional suggestion that self-organization may be equally, or more, important than natural selection has been decidedly heterodox. In light of what I have said thus far, it is useful to re-examine the relationship between natural selection and self-organization. This relationship, it turns out, is not difficult to understand. The self-organization of genotype networks is essential for evolutionary innovation…These simple considerations show that both natural selection and self-organization are equally necessary in evolution. The success of one in bringing forth innovation depends entirely on the other.”

              A. Wagner, The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations (Oxford, 2011, p. 91)

              Ask Jerry if, in his view, self-organization is as important as natural selection for adaptive evolution (e.g., the origin of complex novelties).

              • NewEnglandBob
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

                Just like the self-organization of Christianity with its 35,000+ cults?

                Unbel,ievable that you call something that has billions of variations self-organizing.

          • DV
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

            Ok let’s put aside “randomness” issues for the moment, would you now say you were wrong in claiming these scientists had frank doubts about natural selection?

            I’ll quote Davidson again above: “Of course I would not disagree for one second about the importance of adaptive selection for species specific characters of all kinds, whether on protein or regulatory sequences.

            I admire your willingness to take on creationists in public; I find their views so antediluvian that I can only ignore them”

            • DV
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              nothing but the sound of crickets…

            • Seth Peck
              Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

              His use of the word “antediluvian” his PERFECT.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      So the response to being caught out lying (see the article) is … more lying (ibid).

      Sorry, I don’t see how that would “encourage” readers to anything but tell the world wide and loud what Dishonesty Institute is known for within science, _now by personal experience_.

    • drew
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      “…the uncritical acceptance of natural selection as an explanatory force for all aspects of biodiversity (without any direct evidence) is not much different than invoking an intelligent designer (without any direct evidence). True, we have actually seen natural selection in action in a number of well-documented cases of phenotypic evolution (Endler 1986; Kingsolver et al. 2001), but it is a leap to assume that selection accounts for all evolutionary change, particularly at the molecular and cellular levels. The blind worship of natural selection is not evolutionary biology. It is arguably not even science. Natural selection is just one of several evolutionary mechanisms, and the failure to realize this is probably the most significant impediment to a fruitful integration of evolutionary theory with molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

      – Michael Lynch, The Origins of Genome Architecture (Sinauer, 2007, pp. 368-9)”

      Let me try to paraphrase, “There are some who would claim that natural selection alone is sufficient to account for all observed biodiversity; I feel that this is false. We know that natural selection takes place, is important, and can, and have, observed it, but there are other factors that will influence biodiversity as well, and to ignore them seems folly.”

      This does not, I feel, display, as you put it “Skepticism about the efficacy of natural selection.” It instead, displays that there are, in addition to natural selection, alterations in allele frequencies that occur and become fixed by processes other than selection.

      “There are limits on what selection can accomplish. We must remember that it merely acts as a sieve, preserving some variants and rejecting others; it does not create variation. If genetic change were random, what could ensure that enough favorable phenotypic variation had taken place for selection to have produced the exquisite adaptation and variety we see on the earth today? At various times, biologists thought that genetic change must be directed in some way to produce enough of the appropriate kinds of phenotypic variation. If selection were presented with a preselected subset of variants, that might greatly facilitate evolutionary change. Or if the organism generated just the right variants, selection might not be needed at all. Thus, the efficacy of selection would depend on the nature of phenotypic variation…Is genetic variation purely random, or is it in fact biased to facilitate evolutionary change?

      – Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma (Yale, 2005, p. 13)”

      I’m uncertain how you think this quote makes your point. Most of this quote is pointing out that natural selection doesn’t make the changes but filters the organisms that result from the changes. In other words, it puts natural selection in precisely the place that it is held in the scientific consensus.

      The larger context of the work suggests that alterations in regulating genes and sequences, may help to better account for observed phenotypic variation than mutations in the regulated genes themselves would. So it’s suggesting mutations that alter a network of genes rather than a single one; that is, another source for the variants that selection works upon.

      Again, I don’t follow your contention that this displays “Skepticism about the efficacy of natural selection.”

      The quote by Davidson seems to offer the same issue as the one by Kirschner and Gerhart: That being the contention that the overwhelming view of the primary source of variation occurs in protein coding sequence tends to minimize the importance of changes in regulatory sequences/networks which can have a larger impact on phenotypic changes. Davidson is arguing that these sorts of mutations are more important in the evolution of the body plan, than individual mutations in protein coding sequences are, but once again, this doesn’t negate or eliminate the importance of natural selection acting upon the variants produced.

      And Wagner’s quote you’ve presented is basically right out of text book description of evolution by natural selection. Mutants arise and selection filters out those that are maladaptive, and benefits those that are more adaptive with greater chances for producing offspring. This so far from making your point that I wonder if you copy/pasted the text you meant to.

      None of these quotes by themselves, or taken as a whole, display this “Skepticism about the efficacy of natural selection” you referred to. Taken with the above statements directly from the authors you’re quoting, I must come to the conclusion that you’ve simply interpreted the passages as you want rather than as they appear.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        In any other context, finding that a mechanism stands supreme while discovering additional mechanisms that complements or elaborate would be acknowledged as a measure of the robustness of the original mechanism.

        A recent example is how general relativity was strengthened by discovering the standard cosmology. By the discoveries of dark matter and dark energy it became possible to test GR further out than ever before, and its incorporation in the self consistent SC likely means it will stand forever as an effective theory of gravitation.

        But a creationist has to try to distort that as much as possible. Nelson would say that cosmologists would display “Skepticism about the efficacy of general relativity.”

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Drew,

        Skepticism about natural selection must be seen within the context of neo-Darwinian theory as a whole. Over the past fifteen years, Michael Lynch (for instance) has strongly critiqued the uncritical reliance on selection, within neo-D, to explain complex features of organisms (see below) in the complete absence of the evidence selection itself requires. Here’s the opening of Lynch’s latest paper:

        “Although natural selection is one of the most powerful forces in the biological world, it is not all powerful. However, so ingrained is the belief in the extraordinary power of selection that when confronted by biological imperfections at the molecular and morphological levels, most investigators simply invoke pleiotropic constraints, i.e., negative functional relationships between two traits influenced by the same genes, resulting from molecular limitations, metabolic tradeoffs, etc. When made in the absence of any direct evidence, as is often the case, such adherence to the adaptationist paradigm discourages the likelihood of recognizing nonadaptive paths to the origin of organismal features.”

        (M. Lynch, “Evolutionary layering and the limits to cellular perfection,” PNAS Early Edition http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1216130109)

        It is a near-certainty that exceedingly complex features of eukaryotes, such as the enormous molecular machine the spliceosome, which Jerry would want to explain via natural selection (an adaptive process), Lynch would explain via non-adaptive population mechanisms.

        The same fundamental differences of emphasis — with respect to explanatory strategies — applies to the other authors in question.

        • matthewackerman
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          Mike doesn’t explain the origin of complex adaptations through purely non-adaptive process. You are misreading his work. He thinks that non-adaptive features of the genome may proliferate as a result of mutation pressure and drift. The spliceosome is not a non-adaptive feature: it is adaptive (or at least was at some point); however, any single intron may have no functional purpose. The large number of introns in eukaryotic genomes likely reflects the weakness of selection against intron gain, rather than the adaptive utility of each intron. However, the same argument does not apply to the spliceosomal machinery itself.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            Matthew,

            Dunno about that (re the primary evolutionary origin of spliceosomes in eukaryotes); see here:

            “As in the case of the expansion of gene- structural complexity via the passive accumu- lation of introns, elongation of untranslated regions, etc., once a protein complex becomes established by nonadaptive mechanisms, the novel architecture may serve as the substrate for the origin of more complex cellular adap- tations. In accordance with this view, sub- stantial evidence suggests that homodimeric forms often serve as launching pads for the
            evolutionary transition to more complex mul- timeric architectures via gene duplication and divergence of subunits (37, 95, 96). Specific examples of particularly complex traits include the flagellum (56), the nuclear pore complex (1), the spliceosome (98), the proteasome (36), and nucleosomes (79).”

            Lynch et al., Annu. Rev. Genom. Human Genet. 2011.12:347-366; pp. 358-9.

            “…once a protein complex becomes established by nonadaptive mechanisms” sounds pretty non-Darwinian to me. You can always email Lynch and ask him, too. ;-)

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

              Or just walk over to him in the lab, I guess, and ask him directly.

              I see you commented above about Lynch’s beliefs concerning the role of selection. As you work with him closely, I’ll weigh your emphasis carefully in the future — but against that, will also have to weigh what Lynch has published, contra selection as the process responsible even for “adaptive” features of organisms.

              • matthewackerman
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                I asked him, and I’m afraid he asked me how my projects were doing. I interpret this as his way of telling me not to waste my time on the Internet.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

                contra selection as the process responsible even for “adaptive” features of organisms.

                your ignorance knows no bounds, does it Paul?

                you turn specific exceptions where we try to understand how other mechanisms affect gene frequences for a blanket rejection of the role of selection.

                IOW, you completely fail.

                since I know this has been pointed out to you numerous times, including by the authors themselves, the only logical conclusion that can be made is that you deliberately choose to be dishonest about it.

                you’re a complete disgrace to academia. You emeritus status should be revoked, IMO.

              • Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

                I also asked Mike, … specifically about the evolution of the spliceosome. He gave me permission to post his reply.

                In any event, I certainly would say that numerous aspects of the spliceosome Could have arisen by nonadaptive pathways (at least those not involving the emergence of an entirely new function), but that’s not the same as insisting that this is the only way it could have happened. It’s pretty clear that today’s spliceosomes are under selection.
                …Michael Lynch

                It’s important to make the distinction between the origin of a feature and its preservation. What we’re talking about is whether a feature that is currently essential can only arise (historically) by natural selection.

                I think that nonadaptive processes can play an important role in the origin of currently adaptive features. I think Mike Lynch says the same thing. I think Jerry Coyne would disagree.

            • matthewackerman
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

              I think you are confusing different arguments here. The protein complex he is referring to is not the spliceosome, but rather heteromeric rather than homomeric protein complexes. The hint that his is the case is given by the fact that the heading of the section is “The Emergence of Protein Complexes” not “The Emergence of the spliceosome Complexes”

              No need to email him, I will go knock on his door.

              • matthewackerman
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                This comment should read :

                I think you are confusing different arguments here. The protein complex he is referring to is not the spliceosome, but rather heteromeric rather than homomeric protein complexes. The hint that this is the case is given by the fact that the heading of the section is “The Emergence of Protein Complexes” not “The Emergence of the spliceosome Complexes”

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

              Do you not understand what homodimeric means or something? Lynch is talking about how gene duplication and subsequent modification can turn a protein system with fewer distinct proteins into a protein system with more distinct proteins. E.g., the rod-hook-linker-propellor proteins of the bacterial flagellum all appear to be modified duplicates of each other.

              Lynch’s point here is about how simpler systems can become more complex through this mechanism — and how e.g. originally neutral gene duplications can accumulate through drift in some cases.

              (I suspect that Lynch is wrong here, and that in evolutionary time, most gene duplications that persisted actually were favored by selection e.g. for dosage effects before later modifications happened, but this idea has only started getting prominent attention/evidence in the last year or two AFAIK so he may agree with it now.)

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

              Paul, the real problem here is that you’re just not a very careful reader. Lynch’s main point is that “adaptationism” is wrong — i.e., the idea that every last feature of interest in organisms and genomes must be the direct product of selection. There are a lot of features, particularly in big genomes, where Lynch makes a compelling argument that this is not the case — features that accumulate in the genome, despite their oddity, apparent wastefulness, etc., simply because, particularly in large organisms with small population sizes, selection isn’t strong enough to remove weakly deleterious features.

              But Lynch saying that *not everything* is the product of adaptation is much different than saying “Lynch agrees with me that this list of things my creationism-addled brain is obsessed with are not the product of adaptation”.

              E.g. the spliceosome. Lynch would probably say that introns are largely present (in big genomes) because of insufficient selection pressure at the organismal level to remove them. But this is miles away from your crude, bald, misleading assertion that Lynch thinks the spliceosome just originated somehow in the first place sans natural selection.

              Actual careful reading and research about the topic would show that (1) the spliceosome structure is homologous to the structure of self-splicing introns; (2) self-splicing introns are basically RNA viruses and may go back all the way to the RNA world; (3) the assertion that viruses and similar parasitic elements are not finely shaped by selection would be considered silly by just about everybody.

              Careful reading and doing “due diligence” research-wise before opening your big mouth, particularly in front of thousands of members of the public, are the kinds of things you should have learned in graduate school, but apparently didn’t. Shame on you!

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                Paul, the real problem here is that you’re just not a very careful reader.

                no, Nick.

                the real problem here is willful and malicious dishonesty.

                it’s bloody obvious.

              • Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                Nick and Matthew,

                Lynch’s fullest treatment of the origin of the spliceosome appears to be his paper earlier this year in Molecular Biology and Evolution, “The Evolution of Multimeric Protein Assemblages,” MBE doi:10.1093/molbev/msr300.

                The following supports my interpretation, namely, that Lynch is arguing for an initially non-adaptive origin of the spliceosome:

                “These observations raise the possibility that, as in the case of gene structure and genomic architecture (Lynch 2007), variation in the power of random genetic drift among phylogenetic lineages has contributed significantly to the emergence of many of the complex (and often arcane) features of eukaryotic cells. Nonadaptive arguments for the origin of cellular infrastructure have been made before. For example, invoking a process called constructive neutral evolution, Stoltzfus (1999), Gray et al. (2010), and Lukes et al. (2011) suggested that the establishment of molecular machines such as the ribosome and the spliceosome may have emerged via the fortuitous, neutral establishment of interactions among lower-level protein components, which in turn suppressed the effects of subsequent mutations that would have otherwise inactivated the individual parts. Under this model, after the establishment of such degenerative mutations, the components of such a complex would then be mutually interdependent. In a related exercise, Frank (2007) argued that any evolutionary step that leads to increased robustness of a cellular function will also magnify the likelihood that the underlying component parts will acquire mutational defects, again leading to the growth of complexity at the expense of the previously autonomous parts. Although the latter arguments provide potentially plausible paths for the nonadaptive evolution of complex structures, key aspects of the evolutionary dynamics required to arrive at the postulated end points remain to be explored.”

              • Ichthyic
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                The following supports my interpretation, namely, that Lynch is arguing for an initially non-adaptive origin of the spliceosome:

                no, it doesn’t.

                In fact, Matthew already explained this to you.

                what’s more, the origin of variation is irrelevant to whether selection can then act on it.

                Try this Paul: What’s more likely? Someone close to Lynch and Lynch himself are misrepresenting THEIR OWN WORK, or you are, someone who has ZERO background in the relevant fields?

                come on buddy, turn that “lazer” insight onto yourself.

                Or, don’t. You always do serve as a source of great amusement after all.

              • matthewackerman
                Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

                Paul: You have gone to deep! I cannot reply to you anymore.

                Nick’s comment really anticipates everything you say, making my response extraneous; however, here it is anyway.

                Let’s briefly define constructive neutral evolution (which you will recall I referenced before). In its essence constructive neutral evolution is an argument about an entropy like property of complex systems: there are more ways to arrange the parts of a complex systems than there are ways to arrange the parts of a simple system. This means, surprisingly, that mutations can create complex systems from simple systems while natural selection only plays the role of the executioner of the unfit. However, natural selection is not absent from this story. Natural selection is still the process by which the original function is gained. Only after a function element has originated by natural selection can the process of constructive neutral evolution take over and generate irremediable complexity. This additional complexity does not generate additional functionality. In the view where the spliceosome originates by sub-functionalization of type II self-splicing introns, natural selection is the process by which the function of splicing is acquired by the type II self-splicing introns. This function is acquired by natural selection, and drift and mutation do not build on this function. Drift and mutation are only responsible for scattering this function among a large number of fundamentally extraneous parts which become necessary only because natural selection does not strongly oppose the mutational pressure towards greater complexity. I don’t think it would be fair to say that “non-adaptive population mechanisms” explain this process, since the structure of type II self-splicing introns is presumably shaped by the sequential fixation of beneficial mutations. If you look at Mike’s work he regularly includes the little letter s in his equations, which represents the action of natural selection. For instance, The Rate of Establishment of Complex Adaptations. Mike generally invokes selection more readily than my account here might suggest. For instance, in “Evolutionary layering and the limits to cellular perfection” Mike argues that natural selection may favor the acquisition of a new layer of complexity to enhance cellular function (for instance, replication fidelity), but that after the layer is added selection becomes weaker on other elements maintaining this function, and that subsequently drift pushes the cellular function back to where it started:

                “Moreover, although substantial improvements in fitness may sometimes be accomplished via the emergence of novel cellular features that improve on previously established mechanisms, such advances are expected to often be transient, with overall fitness eventually returning to the level before incorporation of the genetic novelty.”

              • Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

                Lynch’s fullest treatment of the origin of the spliceosome appears to be his paper earlier this year in Molecular Biology and Evolution, “The Evolution of Multimeric Protein Assemblages,” MBE doi:10.1093/molbev/msr300.

                The following supports my interpretation, namely, that Lynch is arguing for an initially non-adaptive origin of the spliceosome:

                [...]

                “These observations raise the possibility that, as in the case of gene structure and genomic architecture (Lynch 2007), variation in the power of random genetic drift among phylogenetic lineages has contributed significantly to the emergence of many of the complex (and often arcane) features of eukaryotic cells. Nonadaptive arguments for the origin of cellular infrastructure have been made before. For example, invoking a process called constructive neutral evolution, Stoltzfus (1999), Gray et al. (2010), and Lukes et al. (2011) suggested that the establishment of molecular machines such as the ribosome and the spliceosome may have emerged via the fortuitous, neutral establishment of interactions among lower-level protein components, which in turn suppressed the effects of subsequent mutations that would have otherwise inactivated the individual parts.”

                Meh, not really. This just looks like a poorly-phrased passage. For starters, both the ribosome and the spliceosome are fundamentally, at their core, RNA structures, not protein structures. So it is simply impossible for an RNA-based machine to originate simply by the “establishment of interactions of among lower-level protein components” — you need to get RNA in there! And neither are simply “features of eukaryotic cells” — ribosomes are found in prokaryotes (obviously!!) and IIRC the self-splicing intron relatives of spliceosomes are also found in prokaryotes. So what he is talking about is the origin of the increased complexity in either the “adding protein parts to the ribosomal core” phase, and/or the “adding additional complexity to the eukaryotic system” phase, in either case by the process of duplication and specialization of repeated protein subunits. As should have been clear to you from his title and abstract.

                Or from the ONLY other mention of the spliceosome in the whole article, in the introduction (his “fullest treatment”? Puh-lease!)

                “Many of the protein complexes that comprise cellular features are assembled from subunits derived from the same gene or from loci related via gene duplication rather than from products of unrelated genes. This appears to be the case, for example, for the flagellum (Liu and Ochman 2007), centrioles (Carvalho-Santos et al. 2010), the nuclear pore complex (Alber et al. 2007), the spliceosome (Scofield and Lynch 2008), the cytoskeleton (Löwe and Amos 2009), the proteasome (Hughes 1997), chromatin-remodeling complexes (Monahan et al. 2008), ion channels (Dent 2010), nucleosomes (Malik and Henikoff 2003), the ribosome (Smits et al. 2007), and many other components of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.”

                These are all just protein complexes or protein-RNA complexes that became more complex through internal duplication and specialization of parts. Lynch is arguing that much of that duplication & locking in of duplicates could have been neutral. I have my doubts, at least in the flagellum axial filament case the specialized duplicates have got clear, unambiguous specialized functions, but it’s a valid argument to have.

                In any case it’s miles from what you are trying to make him say. Shame, shame, shame! Have you no honor or sense of due diligence, sir???

                Paul: read more carefully. Think before quoting. Quote-mining and proof-texting are for fundamentalist Bible studies, not scientific scholarship.

                (PS: Lynch cites the incredibly flawed Liu & Ochmann paper, ugh, people should google that one.)

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Although natural selection is one of the most powerful forces in the biological world, it is not all powerful.

          Paul, your poor addled brain disconnected on the very first sentence, didn’t it?

          quite pitiful, really.

    • Nikolaj Mikkelsen
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      This reminds me of the incident of William Dembski quote-mining Peter Ward, summarized by Jason Rosenhouse in CSICOP,

      http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/why_do_scientists_get_so_angry/

      The article makes for a nice litmus test to offer fundamentalists. Ask them, is Dembski being honest, or not? It’s fascinating to watch the cognitive dissonance churn in their head. In response, one person got very huffy and refused to continue the conversation, and another person immediately banned me from his site. Great fun!

      • DV
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Exactly the same tactic. Down to the the repetition of the erroneous claim even after it has been shown wrong.

    • First Approximation
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      To take another movie classic, Paul Nelson seems like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

      “Here are five biologists who disagree about the centrality of natural selection.”

      “Here are emails from all five biologists saying you’re misrepresenting them.”

      “‘Tis but a minor point.”

      “Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arguments left.”

      “I’ll bite your legs off.”

    • MorsGotha
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Having read this entire thread, I think that Paul Nelson should be ashamed of himself.

      Ashamed of himself for promoting his blatant hogwash to people who dont know better. Fortunately the WEIT crowd DO know better.

      You are a disgrace Paul Nelson.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      so Paul Nelson continues to lie in order to misrepresent science.

      what else is new?

      Paul you are now, and have been for as long as I can remember, even back when I was a grad student at Berkeley, a disgrace.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      I could be wrong, Paul, but I should think that Michael Lynch, Marc Kirschner, John Gerhart, Eric Davidson, and Andreas Wagner ARE THE WORLD’S LEADING AUTHORITIES on what Michael Lynch, Marc Kirschner, John Gerhart, Eric Davidson, and Andreas Wagner THINK/BELIEVE about natural selection and the importance of its function in the (complex/complicated) evolutionary diversification of species and higher taxa.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

        Yeah, those guys are just incorrigible!

    • rockycherry
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      The impression that these quotes leave is that the scientists being quoted believe that natural selection is not only evolutionary mechanism. It’s not in any way a rejection of natural selection, nor in any way support for ID/creationism. How do you possibly think that these quotes help your case?

    • BornRight
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      These quotes are merely stating that there are additional natural mechanisms that work alongside natural selection to produce new species. They are not saying natural selection has no role in large scale modifications & speciation. In other words, they are not supporting a supernatural intervention (ID) for natural processes as you ridiculously believe.

    • Randy S
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      “I admire your willingness to take on creationists in public; I find their views so antediluvian that I can only ignore them.” – Eric Davidson

  19. Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    History repeats, ad nauseum. This isn’t the first time Nelson has lied about what some scientist has said, and been slapped down by none other than our host. From back when I was an optimistic young blogger who thought I was going to keep this sort of thing up regularly:

    http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.ca/2007/07/paul-nelson-lies-but-jerry-coyne-nails.html

    • DV
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Wow. So Paul Nelson has a history of this same lying tactic. Shameless lying for Jesus.

  20. truthspeaker
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to say I appreciated the way you used the film reference. And I don’t usually like Woody Allen!

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

      Because he married his daughter, right?

      (Yeah, a lot of people believe that. Fuzzy semantic categories can get switched for discrete ones in the course of a single thought.)

      Or was it because his funny films were before your time?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        His style of humor just doesn’t appeal to me.

        I did like “Sleeper”.

  21. Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    A Marshall McLuhan moment indeed. Well done! It’s really great to get this kind of contrary evidence to demolish the lies of these people. And how gracious of your correspondents to put their views so clearly so that Nelson is simply demolished! But this does go to show how insubstantial are the claims of the creationists about the numbers of scientists who agree with them, and that evolutionary biology is in a state of crisis, etc. etc., ad nauseam, as Eamon says.

  22. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I met Paul Nelson at a Skeptics conference sponsored by Center for Inquiry in 2002. One of the features was a 2+ hour debate on evolution with the pro-Darwin side being argued by Ken Miller and Wesley Elsberry- the creationist side being argued by William Dembski and Paul Allen. (Interestingly, all 4 debaters were Christians, though not the moderator, Massimo Pagliucci.)

    I found Paul was a much nicer and more affable fellow than Dembski- however at the same time Paul was much more forthright that his views stemmed entirely from fidelity to the Bible which for him trumped any scientific evidence to the contrary.

    I love Woody Allen, and the Annie Hall scene is a terrific analogy.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      At several ICCs (International Conferences on Creationism) in the ’90s I met and (with Bob Schadewald) dined with Paul Nelson, and even though I am a godless OEE I personally like Paul a lot, he IS (or back then was) an affable fellow, and I respect Paul’s candid acknowledgment of being a YEC among the Discovery Institute crowd. But just as the many who were Hitchslapped all deserved to be Hitchslapped, I do think Paul deserved to be Coynecocked, and Jerry Coynecocked Paul in fine style, I tip m’hat to Jerry!

  23. Alex T
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Since there are so few biologists blogging/websiting I sometimes wonder what their feelings are towards ID. It’s nice to see such firm, unequivocal rejection.

  24. Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    In the interest of reciprocity, I’ll mention that message distortion is one of the standard persuasion resistance tactics for humans (doi:10.1207/S15324834BASP2502_5), regardless of their cultural background. It does indeed seem to be more common among creationists (as Jerry appears to be suggesting), for whom a sizable majority appear to engage in the tactic, and with use increasingly common among those espousing the more extreme rejections. However, there appears to be at least an annoyingly large minority of atheists who seem able only to grasp straw-man versions of the creationist position.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      I *know*, accommodationists are so annoying when they strawman that science and religion is compatible! Que Nelson.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Wait…I only have a “straw man” view of creationism…

      Let’s see: A magic genie poofed the universe into existence using magic words 6000 years ago (according to Nelson, the person in question in this post, so let’s not play that game, OK). This magic genie then poofed all the plants and animals into existence whole and entire in “kinds”. He then created a single male human from mud, and a single female human from the rib of the mud man.

      The magic genie placed the mud man and rib woman into a petting zoo that he called a “garden”. Thing is, they were fairly mentally challenged, because the magic genie had not granted them the knowledge of right and wrong when he made them whole and entire out of mud and rib.

      So, a talking snake came along, and pointed out to the rib woman that there was some IQ-raising sin-fruit in the petting zoo. And if she and mud-man ate it, they would be smarter. They did, and it worked.

      This pissed off the magic genie. So he kicked the mud man and rib woman out of the petting zoo forever.

      Complications ensued.

      This is precisely and exactly what Mr. Nelson believes. What part of that is made of “straw”?

      • mandrellian
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Just a question: could the genie make a magic lamp that even he couldn’t escape?

      • Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Well, for starters, the issue could be raised that the جن are apocryphal additional creations, not the creator; you thus appear likely to be oversimplifying one of his conceptual categories beyond his actual beliefs. There might be some similar imprecision at “magic”. I’d also presume there’s some additional elements, such as why he believes that particular fable, which he seems likely to have blathered on about somewhere along the way. In so far as the “why” is part of his message, neglecting it would be further examples message distortion.

        However, the more serious problem would seem to be the habit of treating this type of view as the sole representative form of “creationism” — ignoring that there are variations on the silliness, such as whatever nonsense old-earth creationists come up with to reconcile the inconsistencies between Genesis and geology. While it may be an accurate representation of part of Nelson’s particular beliefs (I really don’t care to read enough of his drivel to figure out), the “let’s not play that game” seems to fit in as part of the distortion I’m talking about. You are actively trying to avoid dealing with the nuances of how creationist beliefs vary slightly from person to person, in favor of using a model made conveniently simple with any other nuances ignored.

        It’s doesn’t make the most blatant illustration of my point, but it will do.

        • drew
          Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          Well, for starters, the issue could be raised that the جن are apocryphal additional creations, not the creator; you thus appear likely to be oversimplifying one of his conceptual categories beyond his actual beliefs. There might be some similar imprecision at “magic”. I’d also presume there’s some additional elements, such as why he believes that particular fable, which he seems likely to have blathered on about somewhere along the way.

          I’d make a point of contention that this isn’t so much straw-manning as mocking.

          To your greater point that there are old-earth creationists, and that there are a some nuances that separate different creationists in their interpretation, I suppose that’s fair. However the people that are extremely vocal about creation are, more often than not, YEC types, at least in the US, including Mr. Nelson. This means that they take a literal view of the events in Genesis, as well as the view that it all started in 4004 BC (some will quibble and admit that it be as much as 6000 years older than that).

          To not take into account another creationist’s position when you’re clearly speaking of/to someone who doesn’t hold to those ideas isn’t straw-manning, it’s staying on point.

          • Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            True. There are an immense quantity of the individual cases where that “caricature” is fully accurate. However, there’s also considerable variety; and some atheists seem to only engage with the YEC position, even when talking to an OEC/ID/TE type.

            But even if “straw man” isn’t the most accurate term, deliberate mockery still would seem to fall under message distortion.

  25. Fastlane
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    [JAC note: he's never been banned; he just feels unwelcome persecuted.]

    FTFY. ;)

    It’s funny (in a Nelson haha kinda way) that these jokers want scientific ‘respect’ and try their best to sound all sciencey, but

    Last Sunday, I gave a talk to several thousand people at Rick Warren’s church in southern California[.]

    Pretty much says it all…..

    • mandrellian
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Precisely. If Mr Nelson had had the rapt attention of several thousand biologists (or even students) for a few hours, that would be one thing. However, essentially giving a sermon at a church proves little besides the fact that religious people like listening to other religious people talk about how awesome their particular religion is – and about how much better it is than its perceived competition.

  26. Fastlane
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    So, if I understand Nelson’s assertion, it’s like he’s going back to that old (and rather pathetic) assertion that we don’t understand how bumblebees fly, therefore god. Only he’s doing this with a slight twist, let me see if I can come up with an analogy from my field:

    Creationist: Airplanes only fly because we can put engines on them big enough to lift them off the ground.
    Smart Engineer: No, wings help. Look at gliders.
    C: Yes, but some engineers make things fly without wings.
    SE: true, but it’s more efficient to fly in an atmosphere with wings.
    C: so there are at least a couple of different mechanisms that make things fly?
    SE: Yes.
    C: therefore, gliders don’t exist.
    SE:

  27. Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    In his letter to Jerry, Paul Nelson said,

    Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so.

    I think this is basically correct. All of these authors question in some way or another the “centrality” of natural selection to evolutionary theory. We can quibble about the exact meaning of words and sentences but I, for one, don’t think Nelson is way off base here. Perhaps Nelson shouldn’t have said “expressed doubts about selection” because it could be taken to mean that the authors deny that positive natural selection exists. I don’t think that’s what Paul Nelson meant. He may be an IDiot but he’s not that stupid. (Shapiro, on the other hand, may be that stupid.)

    Jerry wrote to the authors stating …

    I have read the papers of many of you, and while I know that several of you question aspects of modern evolutionary theory, I wasn’t aware that any of you denied the efficacy of selection in accounting for adaptations.

    I’m not speaking here of the prevalence among episodes of evolutionary change of selection versus other mechanisms such as drift, but of the prevalence of selection in explaining obvious adaptations like mimicry, the speed of cheetahs, and so on.

    I don’t think Jerry’s question is fair. Paul Nelson was not accusing these authors of denying a role for natural selection in “obvious adaptations.”

    The irony here is that Jim Shapiro is completely oblivious to the ideas of Kirschner, Gerhart, Lynch, et al. He acts as though he’s the only person in the entire world who ever came up with a criticism of the hardened version of the Modern Synthesis. (Anyone ever heard of Stephen Jay Gould?) Sometimes he even “borrows” the ideas of others—like when he talks of his version of facilitated variation but doesn’t bother referencing Kisrchner & Gerhart.

    • GM
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Dr. Moran,

      I am quoting Mr. Nelson from above:

      “So when you tell your WEIT audience that natural selection is the only game in town for building complex adaptations, you can expect two consequences:”

      He then lists points that are intended as counter-points to the idea that natural selection is the only process that can build complex adaptations.

      So Mr. Nelson, at the very least, insinuated that these authors denied a role for selection in building complex adaptations.

      Therefore, when Dr. Coyne writes in his email, “His email was written in response to a post on my website criticizing Jim Shapiro’s contention that natural selection is relatively unimportant not just in evolution, but in accounting for adaptations.”, he specifies with very similar language the point Dr. Nelson raises.

      If this is not what Dr. Nelson intended to say then his obscurity is his own doing. In any case, I don’t see how one could maintain that Dr. Coyne’s email was unfair given the explicit similarity in language and content.

    • matthewackerman
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Larry Moran writes:

      Paul Nelson was not accusing these authors of denying a role for natural selection in “obvious adaptations.”

      Paul Nelson writes:

      It is a near-certainty that exceedingly complex features of eukaryotes, such as the enormous molecular machine the spliceosome, which Jerry would want to explain via natural selection (an adaptive process), Lynch would explain via non-adaptive population mechanisms.

      So, I think Nelson really is arguing that Mike would deny the role of natural selection in the origin of obvious adaptations (like the spliceosome). In reality, Mike would not do this.

      • Posted December 11, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        Matthew,

        This may be getting rabbinical (in the hair-splitting sense), but I’ve read just about everything Lynch has published over the past 20 years, and even ran a seminar at Biologic Institute on Lynch’s work a few months ago. I think Lynch is much more of a skeptic of natural selection than you allow.

        Ask him about this, for instance:

        “Despite the seductive nature of the idea that the apparently well-designed regulatory modules with functional significance in today’s organisms could have arisen only via natural selection, it remains to be determined how the alternations necessary for the construction of genetic pathways come about…stepwise mutations, operating in population genetic environments common to multicellular species, might encourage the emergence of the kinds of gene structures and genetic pathway organizations that are thought to be essential for the building of complex organisms, without any direct involvement of selection.”

        From his 2007 Sinauer book, p. 381.

        Here the “apparently well-designed” is coming to be “without any direct involvement of selection.”

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          Paul, answer the obvious questions instead of continuing to obfuscate. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.

          Do you, or do you not, claim that Lynch and the others deny the existence of natural selection? Do you, or do you not, claim that all of these authors deny that adaptations are caused primarily by natural selection?

          I will take your refusal to answer as evidence that Jerry was right and you really are ignorant (or lying) about the works of these authors.

          • Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            Seriously, Larry — nowhere did I say that any of the authors under discussion denied (a) the existence of natural selection, or that (b) natural selection produces adaptations.

            Please re-read my original email to Jerry, which he quotes above. My point concerned the central role or relative strength of selection, as compared to other possible processes, in the thinking of workers such as Michael Lynch. Anyone still reading this thread should familiarize themselves with Lynch’s now-classic 2007 paper on the topic, “The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity,” PNAS May 15, 2007, available as open access here:

            http://www.pnas.org/content/104/suppl.1/8597.full

            • Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

              Thanks, Paul. I interpreted your letter the same way you describe it but you must admit that you could have worded it better. Jerry Coyne jumped to the conclusion that you were saying something different about the views of those authors.

              I think your views have been unfairly represented in this thread. That does NOT mean I agree with your conclusions, as you well know.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.

            well, there’s your problem right there!

            When has that EVER worked in discussing anything with Nelson before, Larry?

        • matthewackerman
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Paul,

          I am a huge fan of Mike. I even begged him to take me on as his graduate student, a request that he foolishly granted. I have taken several classes from him, and I talk to him all the time. I doubt you are more farmilure with his views on selection than I am. He makes a number of subtle arguments about the evolutionary trends that increase the complexity of an organisms genomes. For instance ‘higher’ organisms typically have heteromeric proteins instead of homomeric proteins, complex regulation networks instead of simple regulation networks, and intron rich genomes instead of intron poor genomes. An important claim that Mike makes is that much of this complexity serves no function. This contrast with claims that heteromeric proteins, introns, or complex regulation networks are necisary to do something better. While I am a fan of neutral constructive evolution (the idea that drift is a necessary prerequisite to generate the generation on which natural selection acts) and I think Mike is too, you are grossly underselling the roll of natural selection in Mike’s world view. But don’t worry, as soon as he gets a break in his busy day of meetings with a bunch of Europeans (JEFFFFFF!) I will make sure to ask him for his opinion on the roll of natural selection in evolution again (despite the fact he already gave that opinion to you in an email he sent to Dr. Coyne).

          • matthewackerman
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

            The clause (the idea that drift is a necessary prerequisite to generate the generation on which natural selection acts)

            Should read: (the idea that drift is a necessary prerequisite to generate much of the variation on which natural selection acts)

          • matthewackerman
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

            Crap, and roll=role. Bah.

          • matthewackerman
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

            neutral constructive evolution=constructive neutral evolution. I am a horrible writer.

            • eveysolara
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

              So I take it you (and Mike) are not big fans of evolvability?

              • matthewackerman
                Posted December 12, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                Well, I was chastened by lab mates not to speak for Mike, but I am no fan of evolvability. Of course, it depends on what system you are trying to explain with evolvability. Evolvability has been used to argue for the adaptive benefit of intron-exon structure via exon shuffling. In my mind mutation pressure and drift are sufficient explanations for the proliferation of introns. While alternative splicing is a plausible immediate adaptive benefit for the spliceosome that may be involved in its origin, I would guess that the spliceosome did not originate to serve this function, but was likely exapted for this purpose.

                I am more sympathetic to evolvability in terms of regulatory networks (and I really am just speaking for myself now). I’m a big enough fan of Gould that I pay some attention to evolutionary competition between clades of organisms, and I like to imagine that an organism’s bauplan may be responsible for differential success over large tracts of time. I am not aware of any really compelling studies showing how developmental evolvability shapes evolutionary patterns, but I haven’t really gone looking for papers lately. If you happen to have any suggestions. . . .

          • DV
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            Why does Paul Nelson tell other people to ask Lynch? Shouldn’t he be the one most curious of all since he appears to have been refuted by his own sources, Lynch et al?

            • matthewackerman
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              Well, Mike is a busy man. It is quite plausible that if Paul Nelson sent Mike an e-mail, that e-mail would just end up in the spam box.

    • Notagod
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Larry, have you watched the video? I would very much like to know what you think of Paul’s rendition there. I’m not a biologist though I have tried and am trying to at least have a general understanding of what biology is and how it works. I found Paul’s rendition in the video to be extremely deceptive regarding the processes that are known to occur. To me what might be construed as deception in what he has stated here combined with what he presents in the video leaves little that can be defended.

  28. Ludo
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    ID = intellectual dishonesty

  29. raven
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Paul Nelson:

    I’m sending this email. I’d post this in the comments of the new Shapiro thread, but I’m now persona non grata at WEIT.

    If Paul Nelson is just going to Make Things Up, he should be persona not grata everywhere that the truth, reality, and honesty are valued.

    Which is why he is a creationist and affiliated with the Dishonesty Institute.

  30. Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Where’s your paper on Ontogenetic Depth, Mr. Nelson? At one time, you used to make noise about how you had a forthcoming paper on this concept, which you claimed would provide scientific proof that evolution is impossible… but it’s been quite a few years now, and no paper.
    Excuses and evasions, yes; Ontogenetic Depth paper, no.
    So… where’s that paper? What’s your excuse this time, Mr. Nelson?

    • Sunny
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Waiting for God, I suppose.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      Well, you know how hard peer-review is, especially when you’re convinced you’re smarter than the entire world. Really, I put it to you, who do you think he thinks is qualified to review his work? Other than Jesus (and even that’s questionable)

  31. Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I have no doubt that Christians would not falter in their beliefs one bit, even if were were able to pull Jesus himself from behind the movie sign.

  32. Yi
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Confront the liars! Well done!

  33. jim
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    While I am not at all qualified to evaluate the different aspects of natural selection, it is evident from the emails they (Davidson, Lynch, Wagner, Gerhart, and Kirschner ) do not agree with Paul Nelson’s claim.

    Still Paul Nelson seems be having difficulty accepting that. Reminds me of the quote from Chico Marx in Duck Soup:

    Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

  34. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Let me add that Mike Lynch was here yesterday and I not only spent half an hour chatting with him (during which he grumbled again about Nelson’s misrepresentation), but watched him give an excellent departmental seminar about natural selection and drift. His point was that while natural selection is constantly driving molecular features (in his seminar, genes affecting mutation rate) toward “perfection” (i.e., no mutations), there is a limit on perfection imposed by effective population size. If populations are too small, small selective coefficients (as might obtain when traits are near their optimum) are ineffective. The seminar, then, was about how drift can keep natural selection from reaching its optimum. He began the talk with the acknowledgment that he, like all evolutionists, recognizes the importance of selection.

    If that isn’t a refutation of Nelson’s characterization of Lynch’s views, I don’t know what is!

    And really, can you trust somebody who thinks the earth is young to characterize ANY scientific matter accurately? After all, in the service of Jesus, Nelson is ignoring mountains of data that have convinced everyone save blinkered fundamentalists.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Someone needs to do a study to look at the correlation between increased religiosity and a decrease in honesty, ethics and morality to look for a causal relationship.

      Nelson can be one of the test subjects.

      It could be entitled “Liars for Jesus: which comes first – lying or extreme faith?”

      • SteveJ
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Chris Rodda beat you there with her book on the Religious Right’s rewriting of history. http://www.liarsforjesus.com/

      • ambidexter143
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Lying for Jesus is a time-honored ritual for certain fundamentalist Christians. While lying is ordinarily considered a sin, it gets the God Seal of Approval when the lying is directed toward non-members of the liar’s particular cult.

        Or at least that’s what it looks like to normal people.

    • coconnor1017
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I am confused as to why Nelson is even addressing the current scholarship in evolution. His commitment to YEC and biblical literalism would make all that work irrelevant. Unless of course he is doing it to undermine the science in an effort to confuse Christian believers that empirical inquiry should not be trusted.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Unless of course he is doing it to undermine the science in an effort to confuse Christian believers that empirical inquiry should not be trusted.

        you’re being sarcastic with the obviousness of this statement, right?

        I’ve always wondered just how much money this game Nelson plays has made him over the last 20 years.

    • JBlilie
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Nelson is here, throwing plenty of sand into our eyes — or trying to.

  35. Mike Elzinga
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    This tactic of quote-mining had been a routine part of ID/creationism going back to when Henry Morris founded the Institute for Creation “Research” back in 1970.

    The ID/creationists are simply doubling down on the tactic. Granville Sewell has recently dragged up the old “evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics” routine again. And Sewell uses the same tactic of quote-mining every possible source he can find in order to make it appear the physicists are constantly fighting among themselves over the meanings of entropy and the second law.

    This is old, hackneyed stuff they do. When called out for it, they temporarily put it away; and when they think people have forgotten, they trot it right back out again. Their gullible followers are always the new recruits who don’t study history or science. So it seems to work within the ID/creationist circles.

  36. Posted December 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a lovely debate – the more so for informed scientists taking part on the website of another with whom they do not necessarily agree on every little point.

    This must stand as one of the best refutations and unmasking of the distortions of IDs recently. It should really be exposed to a wider audience. What about a summary in a widely-read news magazine?

  37. JBlilie
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Nice Dr. C. Love the Marshall McLuhan moment …

  38. Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    So biologists are developing more nuanced understanding of the different mechanisms of evolution (selection, drift, mutation, etc) and their relative importance and contribution at different scales and some YEC thinks that equates to a refutation of an important concept in evolutionary biology? That is just plain ignorant or deceitful. Either way it looks bad.

    I don’t believe in evolution. I understand why evolution is true.

    • Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      “That is just plain ignorant or deceitful. Either way it looks bad.”

      Worse, it is both, ignorance and deception: Pertinacious self-deception

      I have no doubt Nelson sincerely believes his own delusions. Behold: Religion’s incompatibility with science.

    • Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I forgot to add:

      “I don’t believe in evolution. I understand why evolution is true.”

      Perfect tie-in to the point of this website and Jerry’s book. Good comment, Glaisne.

  39. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    An honest person, when confronted with the evidence that he has misrepresented writers about their own position, would admit this and retract his claims.

    Paul Nelson is not an honest person.

    • MNb
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Exo 20:16 “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
      Is supposed to be part of PN’s belief system.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Since the scientists he’s representing are not members of his tribe (his “neighbors”), Paul may not be violating the letter of the commandment.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 12, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          ^misrepresenting

    • Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I prefer the term ‘intellectually honest’ to refer to this, rather than the broader ‘honesty’.

      As I said above, I have no doubt Nelson sincerely believes his delusions. I don’t think he’s intentionally dishonest. Rather, he is self-deceived.

      Intellectual honesty refers to a consciously adopted set of principles in which one admits: Though I may sincerely believe X, I understand that reasonable intellectual discourse requires that one maintain certain standards of behaviour based on the principles of reasonable discourse; therefore, I should not claim that X is true unless I can meet those standards, including the standards of reasonable evidence.

      By this reckoning, Nelson may be entire ‘honest’ in the colloquial/conventional sense, and yet remain intellectually dishonest in this specific sense, having obviously not adopted the principles of reasonable discourse.

      Elsewhere in this thread, someone proposed a different backronym for the DI as the Dishonesty Institute. Perhaps we could apply the same idea to the ‘theory’ of ID. The theory of Intellectual Dishonesty: The proposition that the universe is such (whether created or not) that to deny evolution, one must adopt a position of intellectual dishonesty.

      I would actually be a proponent of this theory, and I think Paul Nelson provides ample evidence that it is true.

  40. Ichthyic
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    HEY PAUL NELSON…

    How about that near decade old request for detailing what “Ontogenetic Depth” means?

    oh, and while you’re at it… please provide an objective measure we can utilize to construct hypotheses to test “specified complexity”.

    or do we have to wait another 10 years?

    come on, boy, your nobel prize is awaitin’ ya!

  41. Ichthyic
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Paul Nelson sez:

    1. Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so.

    what we really know just isn’t so? Paul’s dishonest misrepresentation of what any of these authors said, and his misrepresentation of the state of evolutionary theory itself.

    this, one can only hope, is at least now abundantly clear to anyone that ever had any doubts about Paul beforehand.

    Paul Nelson is a liar.

    Paul Nelson is dishonest.

    Paul Nelson SHOULD be “persona non grata”.

    he really does only belong speaking in places like Rick Warren’s church.

  42. Posted December 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    This has been highly entertaining, but not really a big surprise.

    Creationist misconstrues scientists statements.

    Scientist corrects creationist.

    Creationist Ignores scientists and continue to lie.

    I’ve seen merry-go-rounds more surprising than this.

  43. Chuck
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Nelson’s entire talk is a series of appeals to authority, category errors (how is the legal system like a controlled experiment? Common Christian trope) and cherry picking. He is the exact type of person that falsified for me the Christian faith. The willful dishonesty was too apparent to trust any meaningful conversion experience. I live in Evanston. I hope our paths cross so I can thank him for freeing me of the bonds of religion.

  44. genesisfix
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Genesisfix's Blog and commented:
    The site Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (author of a book of the same name) here takes on a creationist who rather purposefully takes items of debate about the influence of natural selection versus potentially equally influences such as genetic drift to make the “case” that scientists are in complete disagreement about evolution says. This is a read that gets richer as you go. In the end, a classic illustration of the honesty of critical thinking versus the sometimes disillusioned practice ideological thinking.

  45. kelskye
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Easily the best scene of the film, though this version does lose some of the punch by it being over email. Still, very nice to see!

    • kelskye
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Of course, there’s no expectation that Paul Nelson will acknowledge his error, or that he’ll strive to give a fair representation of evolution. Straw men are so much easier to knock over…

  46. Dan
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Paul Nelson,

    I just wanted to let you know that seeing all the dishonest quote-mining and misrepresentations from creationists was one of the main factors in getting me to do a lot of research into evolution, give up young-earth creationism, and eventually become an atheist. I remember reading one of Richard Dawkins’ books and becoming angry when I came across passage after passage that I remembered from creationist and intelligent design books and lectures that said something very different in context. Then I read more books by Dawkins and Gould and experienced that same righteous anger at the dishonesty of your side again and again.

    So I guess I want to say thank you; all the quote-mining and shady tactics of your side helped give me the moral strength to give up the creationism I had been indoctrinated with. I’m not sure if fibbing about what biologists believe helps you more than being truthful would, but at least it helped open the eyes of some of us.

    • jbarratt
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Thanks for posting this. I had a very similar experience; in case after case after case doing the tiniest bit of research into a claim showed that it was a total lie. It allowed me to feel much more comfortable rejecting entire classes of “weird claims” and finally be free*.

      (…for values of ‘free’ which involve your family still thinking you’re making an eternally suicidal mistake, and condemning their grandchildren, etc.)

  47. docbill1351
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Paul Nelson holds position 293 in the Encyclopedia of American Loons with the following entry:

    “Diagnosis: Mild-mannered but thoroughly confused ignoramus – the kind of guy who can sit through the most careful explanation of a phenomenon attentively, and still interpret it completely randomly as being evidence for whatever he wants to believe.”

    Seems to be an accurate reflection of Paul’s presence on this thread.

  48. eveysolara
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Certainly, the number of mutations that become established at the population level is critical. Population size is one of the main determinants of that; small populations experience a lot of drift, creating noise in the selective process, allowing more deleterious mutations to slip through, and fewer beneficial mutations to fix.

  49. johnnyrodgersmorris
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    You can tell they’re a nut job when they mention “macro-evolution”. lol

  50. Posted December 12, 2012 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    I got into the Nelson video as far as 5:13 and his categorisation of the atheist view of evidence as quantitative. The image of it being the “fuel” for a trip from “Atheismville” to “Beliefland” (based on a throwaway remark by Russell) seems so unlike the actual relationship between evidence and proof that I couldn’t be bothered any more.

  51. Neil Schipper
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Jerry does not mention an earlier Annie Hall moment he once described.

    I myself had one featuring the very same McLuhan stand-in. (There are comments to trawl though to appreciate it.) Some may find it painful to observe the mental machinations of certain overexuberant internet-addicted atheists.

    ==

    And speaking of overexuberant internet-addicted atheists, do some of you not realize that you gratuitously insulted Paul Nelson like five times? Don’t you think that at some point it starts revealing quite a bit more about you than he?

    I only have one: he appears to value his worldview nearly as much as life itself. There is so much about the human mind that remains unexplained!

    • raven
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

      They weren’t gratuituous insults,

      Nelson is about as warped and dishonest as they come. If you read this thread, you would know that.

      Don’t you think that at some point it starts revealing quite a bit more about you than he?

      A clueless comment like thsi reveals a lot more about you than what was said about Paul Nelson.

      I only have one: he appears to value his worldview nearly as much as life itself.

      No. He hates science and scientists and has been attacking them with any lies he can think of for many years.

      • raven
        Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:34 am | Permalink

        I only have one: he appears to value his worldview nearly as much as life itself.

        A religious cult that depends on endless lies decade after decade isn’t valuable. It isn’t even worthless. It has a negative value.

        One of the main reasons, I’m an ex-xian. A religion that lies and depends on lies is unlikely to be true.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

      I only have one:

      so you have an opinion about the value of gratuitous insults based on quantity.

      interesting.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Internet-addicted atheists might refer to this as Nelson’s “Portugese moment”.

  52. Dan
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    I was doing a little reading on Paul Nelson, and I found an illuminating example from several years ago where Nelson did something very similar to what he is doing now. He told a blatant untruth about someone’s views and when caught red-handed played semantics and pretended he wasn’t wrong. That time it was about a fellow evangelical Christian who is a theistic evolutionist.

    It’s one thing to accidentally misrepresent someone’s views, but when Nelson has shown a habit of standing by his convenient misrepresentation of people when proven wrong, instead of correcting the record, I think we can agree that Nelson is not to be respected. Maybe he things Genesis 1 is literal, but “don’t bear false witness” is metaphorical?

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2006/05/28/paul-nelsons-outrageous-lie/

    • DV
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Wow. He is an inveterate shameless liar.

  53. Sockatume
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Paul Nelson strikes me as the kind of man who reads a book on general relativity and forever after declares that gravity is not responsible for the motion of the planets.

  54. Lizard
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    ” My object was simply to show that Nelson is either an outright liar or is completely ignorant of the views of these biologists.”

    In an episode of the classic, 1980s, Transformers cartoon, Megatron, in a fit of well-justified rage, asks Starscream “Are you LYING or just STUPID?” I’ve found that, when debating creationists, this is what it inevitably boils down to. No one doesn’t “believe” in evolution; it’s like not “believing” in gravity. If someone says, “I don’t believe in evolution!”, there’s two possibilities:
    a)They don’t understand what evolution IS. This is extremely common. What a lot of people “don’t believe in” isn’t anything anyone with a fifth grade education would recognize as evolution.

    b)They DO understand what evolution is, and they’re lying about it, often to themselves first and foremost.

  55. Kural
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I have a minor thing to crow about in an argument with Paul at Larry’s Sandwalk. In a thread about abiogenesis and Miller-Urey residue Paul was blathering about some scientist’s criticism of Miller-Urey. I checked out said scientist’s website and quoted thence how the man hold’s creationism in absolute contempt and was arguing for a different synthetic route. Paul Nelson vanished, in a puff of smoke!

  56. Diego
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t see if anyone else already mentioned this (there are a LOT of comments here), and if so I apologize for the redundancy. I just listened to the latest Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast and they talked about this post of Jerry’s. However they got one thing very wrong– they used the dreaded “b” word to describe the site, and they used it over and over again. I laughed each time they said it– the silly fools. As we all know, Why Evolution Is True is most definitely not a B–g!

  57. bjritz
    Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Having read this entire thread I found it quite enlightening and yet predictable. Paul Nelson had clearly been following along and yet never replied to the original topic of the replies to Jerry’s by those he was using in his talk at the church. He still hasn’t.

    Where and how he entered the debate was to frame it in his terms. He was absolutely decimated.

    It shows the whole of his MO, to start where he wants and play where he wants, but not be accountable to those who call him out. He is not even accountable to himself.

    He does then “walk by faith and not by sight”. It must be hard for him to look in the mirror. This type of unwillingness to work through the very knowledge that you are living in cognitive dissonance must be difficult or he’s just so jaded to not come to terms with these actions.

    My experiences as a former pastor kept me bumping into this same sort of lack of integrity throughout Christian leadership. I had to quit. The delusions kept were more important than integrity.

    This thread is just wonderful and I’m glad I read it.

  58. Alex
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    What fun. We’ve all wished for that Annie Hall moment, and you’ve gone and done it. That was great reading.

  59. doodlebugger
    Posted December 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The saddest thing about the Paul Nelsons out there is that they drive people who go to church for healing , or a decent moral code or for inspiration , away. By cheapening faith, radicalizing religion and
    lying about science, they also force those who can think logically in those congregations, to question why they are there. They end up with the dysfunctional and the deluded because the moderates have left.
    At the end of the day, the Nelson’s and the Ken Hams and the Henry Morris’s, while lining their own pockets, are damaging everything around them. Its very difficult to have any type of interaction or positive opinion with someone who is so willfully deceptive for their own well being. Its rather sociopathic in its own way.


6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Here is an absolutely wonderful answer by Dr. Coyne to one of the letters he got. In a nutshell it deals with what leading evolutionary biologists actually think about the role of selection in the modern  evolutionary theory and what other people think leading evolutionary biologists think about the role of selection in the modern evolutionary. [...]

  2. [...] A Marshall McLuhan moment with creationist Paul Nelson (by Jerry Coyne).  This is the post that johnnyb criticized.  It has extensive comments (260 at the moment), including comments by Larry Moran (alluded to in the vjtorley title), and comments by Paul Nelson. [...]

  3. [...] Dr Coyne has published all the details and all the replies on his blog – so you can read it all here. [...]

  4. [...] blog, did a masterful takedown of a young-earth creationist. You can go and check it out here, and seriously you should, it is excellent. In fact, his whole blog is pretty sweet actually, I [...]

  5. [...] A Marshall McLuhan moment with creationist Paul Nelson (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  6. […] Institute colleague Paul Neslon was rightfully skewered by a couple prominent atheist-Darwinists, Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers, for being careless about representing people’s […]

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