Sunday: Duck report

All is still well at Botany Pond, though it’s hot today (about 35°C), and I fed everyone early so they could nap during the heat of the day. When I was approaching the pond this morning, a rather large mammal was walking on the nearby sidewalk. I thought, “Holy jeez: that’s a big cat!” before realizing it was a honking huge raccoon. I didn’t get a picture but I’m a bit worried it could snack on a duckling. I drove it away with a few shouts.

The pond is looking well, thanks to Spring and the landscaping crew. This is the small and shallow part of the pond, where I often feed the ducklings while sitting on the platform in the foreground. It’s also shallow enough for them to dabble and reach the bottom (see photos below):

The ducklings are growing, and are getting closer in size to Honey. They’re also shaped like adult ducks instead of round bathtub rubber ducks:

They’re growing their feathers in too, starting from the neck backward and the butt forward. There’s only a bit of yellow down left now; they’re becoming brown ducks:

But they’re still cute:

Here’s mom, her lovely appearance marred by a grain of corn that landed on her. It’s like having spinach in your teeth.

Yesterday the ducklings started to dabble big time, going upside down in the shallow end of the pond where they can reach the bottom for food. I’m not sure whether they learned any of this from Honey or whether it’s instinctive (I suspect mostly the latter), but she observes their dabbling intently:

Everybody upside down!

The beautiful game: The Economist’s choice of five classic World Cup moments

The Economist has an article (click on the screenshot below) that describes five epochal moments in the World Cup. You can read the article, but I’ve also dug up videos of all five moments and put them below. I’ve also added the Economist’s introduction (indented) and an excerpt from each event

PELÉ was nine years old when he first saw his father cry. It was 1950, the year of the Maracanazo—Brazil’s devastating loss to Uruguay, at the Maracanã stadium in Rio, which cost the team the World Cup. The child promised his father that he would avenge the defeat. When the two countries next met in the tournament, in the semi-final of 1970, Pelé was playing. With the scores tied at 1-1, he chased a pass deep into Uruguay’s half. The goalkeeper rushed from his line. Their foot race was also the climax of a story, or rather several: the story of the game, of Pelé’s career, of his country’s recovery from the Maracanazo.

With its mortifications and sense of worldwide communion, the World Cup—which begins on June 14th—is a kind of global religion. It is a form of soft diplomacy and a safe outlet for nationalism. For many fans, it is a potent quadrennial madeleine, each tournament summoning memories of previous ones, the lost friends with whom they were watched, past selves. Sometimes the football itself can be cagey and boring. But, especially on its biggest stage and canvas, sometimes football is art. Individual moves can be balletic, a team’s routines exquisitely choreographed. Grand narratives unfold and crescendo, tragedies and unlikely triumphs that feature heroes, villains and occasionally players who contrive to be both.

. . . In 1982 Britain defeated Argentina in a war over the Falkland Islands. Four years later, having emerged from a military dictatorship, Argentina faced England in a quarter-final in Mexico. “We were defending our flag, the dead kids, the survivors,” Maradona, the team’s captain, said later. In the space of four minutes he scored the most scandalous goal in history and the finest. First he surreptitiously punched the ball into the net (the “hand of God”, he called it afterwards). For the second goal, he seemed to function on a different plane to the hapless Englishmen. He pirouetted away from two defenders, ran half the length of the pitch, rounded the keeper and guided the ball home. Argentina won the game and, redemptively, the cup.

Before and afterwards, Maradona’s life was chequered. . .

Greatness in sport, as in art, often comes from unseen, grinding effort. But sometimes it arises from sheer inspiration—a wind awakening a coal to brightness, as Percy Bysshe Shelley put it, or the “flash in the brain” that Johan Cruyff said he experienced at the World Cup in Germany in 1974.

Cruyff was a master of flicks, feints, impudent shots and passes that described arcing lines of beauty. But it was his improvisation in a match against Sweden that made him immortal. By his own account, he had not practised what he did upon receiving the ball near the corner flag, a Swedish defender in close attendance. Cruyff appeared to be heading away from the goal, until, in a quicksilver feat of dexterity and imagination, he tucked the ball behind him, swivelled and set off in the other direction. For an instant he seemed to be running in both directions at once.

The “Cruyff turn” has since been attempted by players everywhere. . .

[Tofiq] Bahramov officiated at the World Cup final of 1966, played between England and West Germany at Wembley Stadium in London. With the scores level in extra time, a shot by Geoff Hurst, England’s striker, rattled the crossbar and bounced down over the goal line. Or perhaps it didn’t: the German players claimed to have seen chalk dust, indicating that the ball hit the line and thus that the goal should not be given. The referee jogged across to consult Bahramov, who briskly nodded an affirmative.

England won 4-2. English fans mostly remember the fourth goal, scored in the final seconds as the joyous crowd spilled onto the pitch. But it is the third that is a work of art.

I remember this well; it was in the final between Italy and France in Berlin, 2006:

The match in Berlin was heading for a penalty shoot-out; Mr Zidane, France’s captain, had already scored one in the game. With ten minutes to go, an Italian defender muttered something to him (about his mother, Mr Zidane alleged; only about his sister, the defender maintained). Mr Zidane headbutted the Italian in the chest. He was sent off. France lost the shoot-out.

This implosion was a tragedy in the purest sense.

And Pelé tries to get his revenge against Uruguay in 1970:

According to the Japanese aesthetic known as wabi-sabi, beauty is not perfect but flawed and incomplete. Leonard Cohen expressed the same thought in “Anthem”: “Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” So, inadvertently, did Pelé, after he won the race with the Uruguayan goalkeeper.

Perhaps no one but Pelé would have done what he did next. He did nothing. His mind whirring faster than his feet, he did not touch the ball, as the keeper expected, but let it run on—hastily collecting it, after his coup de théâtre, on the other side of his opponent. Pelé shot towards the unguarded goal—but scuffed his kick and missed.

He still avenged his father and the Maracanazo. Brazil beat Uruguay and won the final, in which Pelé scored. Still, much later he said he had dreams in which, after that audacious moment of restraint, his aim was true: “It would have been so much more beautiful had it gone in.” He may be the greatest football artist of all time, but, about this, Pelé is wrong. The kink in the masterpiece is what makes it human.



Title IX violations: does gender affect how they’re seen?

There’s a lot of kerfuffle this week about a female professor—a feminist professor—accused of a Title IX violation (sexual harassment or malfeasance), and how feminists and other authoritarian Leftists are defending her in a way that they presumably wouldn’t defend a male professor.  Much of the tale is laid out in the Chronicle of Higher Education article below (click on screenshot):

All we know about the “violation” is that Avital Ronell, a very famous professor of Germanic Languages and Literature and comparative literature at New York University (NYU), and also a feminist philosopher, was apparently accused of a Title IX violation. The details are murky, though if you read the addenda of the Leiter report (link below) you can get a hazy idea of what might have happened.  Naturally, and as is proper, NYU is not giving details, but that didn’t stop a group of Ronell’s supporters, including 9 NYU professors, from writing a letter to the President and the Provost of NYU defending Ronell (again, they know nothing about the nature of the investigation), urging her to be exculpated, and saying that because she is famous and accomplished, as well as having “grace, keen wit, and intellectual commitment”, she should be accorded “the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.” Whether Joe Schmo or some other non-famous defendant should be given extra special consideration is apparently not on the table.

The letter was apparently composed by Judith Butler of Berkeley, a scholar and obscurantist I have no use for (I’ve written about her before), and then sent around to various people for their signature. Brian Leiter got a copy of the letter, apparently really angering Butler, who denies on flimsy grounds that it’s the right letter. You can see the letter here from Leiter’s link:  Download BUTLER letter for Avital Ronell. It will download to your computer.

Further, without any knowledge of what happened, the signatories are plumping for Ronell’s exculpation. My Chicago colleague Brian Leiter takes apart the letter on his website in a post called “Blaming the victim is apparently OK when the accused in a Title IX proceeding is a feminist literary theorist“, and adds some useful updates.

Indeed, the victim is blamed right at the outset of the letter, which says this:

We have all seen [Ronell’s] relationship with students, and some of us know the individual who has waged this malicious campaign against her.  We wish to communicate first in the clearest terms our profound an enduring admiration for Professor Ronell whose mentorship of students has been no less than remarkable over many years. We deplore the damage that this legal proceeding causes her, and seek to register in clear terms our objection to any judgment against her.  We hold that the allegations against her do not constitute actual evidence, but rather support the view that malicious intention has animated and sustained this legal nightmare.

Yep, that’s victim-blaming. The astounding hypocrisy and mendacity of this group of scholars must be seen to be believed: just read the letter. (Leiter also notes that if Ronell had anything to do with the letter, or even if she didn’t, the presence of nine NYU faculty signing it could constitute legal grounds for a suit asserting retaliation against the complainant.) Leiter winds up in high dudgeon, and I agree with him:

Imagine that such a letter had been sent on behalf of Peter Ludlow, Colin McGinn, John Searle, Thomas Pogge or anyone other than a feminist literary theorist:  there would be howls of protest and indignation at such a public assault on a complainant in a Title IX case.  The signatories collectively malign the complainant as motivated by “malice” (i.e., a liar), even though they admit to knowing nothing about the findings of the Title IX proceedings–and despite that they also demand that their friend be acquitted, given her past “mentorship of students”.  (I imagine many faculty members found guilty, correctly, in a Title IX proceeding have also mentored lots of students, chaired a department, and produced notable scholarship.)  If Professor Ronell had any role in soliciting this letter, it looks to me like a clear case of retaliation against the complainant that will compound her and the university’s problems.

But you get a real sense of the hypocrisy and entitlement of these precious “theorists” in the concluding paragraph of the letter addressed to the NYU President and Provost:

We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.  If she were to be terminated or relieved of her duties, the injustice would be widely recognized and opposed.

We may put to one side that Professor Ronell’s “grace,” “keen wit” and “intellectual commitment” are irrelevant in a Title IX proceeding.  What is truly shocking is the idea that she is entitled to proceedings that treat her with “the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.”  Apparently in the view of these “theory” illuminati dignity in Title IX proceedings is to be doled out according to one’s “international standing and reputation.”  So while Professor Ronell “deserves a fair hearing, one that expresses respect, dignity, and human solicitude,” other “lesser” accused can be subject, without international outcry, to whatever star chamber proceedings the university wants.  Moreover, only one outcome of the process is acceptable, regardless of the findings:  acquittal.  Any other result “would be widely recognized and opposed,” I guess because grace, wit and intellectual commitment are a defense against sexual misconduct and harassment.

This is one of the problems of Title IX violations being judged by universities: men are assumed to be more guilty than women, and if the accused is a famous feminist woman, she’s assumed to be innocent from the get-go and deserving of special, kid-glove treatment—indeed, complete vindication.

If these things are adjudicated by universities rather than courts (and I prefer courts), it is at least fair to treat all people the same, regardless of their gender or their fame. Butler and her minions are trying to short-circuit whatever justice can come from such proceedings by writing directly to the higher authorities—and not knowing anything about the case. They are trying to get differential treatment for one of their friends and ideological compadres. That stinks.

h/t: j.j.

“Ballooning” crab spiders spin silk parachutes, and take off after testing the wind with their legs

A new study in PLoS Biology by Moonsung Cho et al. (free pdf here; reference below) uncovers some of the mysteries of how spiders (in this case crab spiders) balloon. “Ballooning” is an amazing form of spider dispersal. The spiders, usually very young ones, climb up on some high spot like a blade of grass or a twig, and then emit long strands of silk from their spinnerets on the abdomen; those strands then catch the wind and carry the spiderlets for long distances—even hundreds of miles.

Why do they do this? There are a number of reasons mentioned by Cho et al. including:

  1. Reducing cannibalism by fellow spiderlings
  2. Reducing competition for local resources
  3. Dispersing to new and more favorable sites
  4. Searching for mates and food

According to the authors, ballooning spiders have traveled hundreds of kilometers this way, colonizing distant “oceanic” (volcanic) islands, and have even been seen as high as 4.5 km above sea level.

Here’s what ballooning looks like (this Nat. Geo. video mentions the new results):

Despite this well known phenomenon, a number of questions remained. How do they know if the wind is right? What kind of “sail” do they produce, and how do they do it?

The PLOS biology paper is long, and I’ll summarize just a few interesting results: these were taken from observations in nature, from wind-tunnel experiments, and from outdoor experiments in which spiders were put atop artificial platforms that emitted a powder that showed the wind speed and direction.

First, the spiders actually test the wind conditions before they take off by raising one or two front legs into the air—just like humans test the wind direction by wetting a finger and raising it. They keep the legs up for about 6-8 seconds, thereby seeing if conditions are right for takeoff. If they are—and that means the winds are less than about 3 meters per second—they then turn their body around, get on “tiptoe”, raising their butts into the air, and emit a series of silken threads, several meters long, to form a triangular parachute. Here’s a figure from the paper showing the wind-testing, body rotation, and tiptoe posture. (All captions come from the original paper.)

(From paper): Sequence of active sensing motion with front leg (leg I) (negative images). (A) The spider first senses the condition of the wind current only through sensory hairs on its legs. (B) Then, if the condition seemed appropriate, the spider sensed more actively by raising leg I and keeping this pose for 8 sec. (C) If the spider decided to balloon, it altered its posture. (D) The spider rotated its body in the direction of the wind and assumed tiptoe posture.\

While the spider is standing on its blade of grass or leaf, it anchors itself to the substrate with a “drag line”, which is then passively severed after the spun “balloon” carries them away. The drag line not only anchors them firmly (they do this normally), but keeps them from blowing away before they’ve spun a sufficiently large parachute.

Below you can see the triangular shape of the balloon, spun on the tiptoe posture. The chute is several meters long and so light that it can take the spider long distances even with fairly gentle winds.

Three new facts about ballooning were uncovered. First, the crab spider does not evaluate the wind condition passively, but actively by raising 1 of its legs I. Second, this adult ballooner anchors its drag lines on the platform not only during its rafting takeoff but also during tiptoe takeoff. Third, the crab spider postures all its legs outward and stretched, when airborne, not only at the takeoff moment but also during the gliding phase.

One mystery discussed by the authors, and shown in the supplementary figure below, is that while ballooning the spiders keep their legs outstretched. That would seem to be aerodynamically inefficient. Wouldn’t it be better to curl up?

I have no answer here, but perhaps adjustment of body shape can help the spider “decide” where to land. It’s still not clear whether the spider has any say where it winds up, in terms of deciding where to settle, or just passively touches down when the wind abates.  Clearly many spiders die when their balloons put them in the water or unfavorable habitat (of course spiders often have huge broods), but for this behavior to evolve by natural selection, the reproductive advantage of ballooning must exceed the costs of accidental death as well as the costs of staying put (getting eaten by your siblings, competing for food, etc.).

See how the keep their legs stretched out when flying?

Spiders’ posture in takeoff and flight. (A, B) An anchored line was found during a tiptoe takeoff. As soon as spiders were airborne, they stretched the legs outward. (C) To ensure the behavior of outstretched legs during flight, the pose of a spider was observed during its gliding phase. (D) The spider kept its legs outstretched.

There is a lot of information in the paper about the nature of the silk used to make the balloons, but I suspect you, like me, would find this less interesting. The coolest part is the description of how the spider does this, especially their testing of wind direction and speed by raising their legs into the air. That wasn’t known before, and I find it amazing.

Here’s a video, put out by the magazine Science, that describes the paper’s results. I’ve put it here at the end because if you watched it you might not want to read any further!


h/t: Jon


Cho M, Neubauer P, Fahrenson C, and Rechenberg I. 2018.  An observational study of ballooning in large spiders: Nanoscale multifibers enable large spiders’ soaring flight 
PLOS Biology 16(6): e2004405.

Don’t forget to enter the World Cup contest

If you missed yesterday’s post about the World Cup Contest, you have the chance to win an autographed book by PCC(E), with a special soccer-playing cat drawn in it to your specifications. All you have to do is guess the two teams in the World Cup final, and the score of that game. Go here to leave your guesses in the comments. You have until 2 pm today (Sunday) to add your guess. You have nothing to lose.

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

We have two photos today from Tara Tanaka (Vimeo page here, Flickr page here) in Florida, as well as a video she took a while back that I’ve never posted. First, the photos.  Meet Marshall the marsh rabbit. Note the small ears, the long legs, and the square face, almost like a capybara.

Wikipedia says this about the marsh rabbit:

The marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) is a small cottontail rabbit found in marshes and swamps of coastal regions of the Eastern and Southern United States. It is a strong swimmer and found only near regions of water. It is similar in appearance to the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) but is characterized by smaller ears, legs, and tail.

Its range:

In Tara’s video below, filmed in 2015, a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks, (BBWDs; Dendrocygna autumnalis), tends their newly hatched ducklings who have leapt from the nest into the water. Almost immediately (about 1 minute in), a small alligator appears, ready to snack on the ducklings. While one of the pair tends the brood, the other does a “broken wing” display to lure the gator away from the chicks. Success! Tara notes this:

This was the very first brood of BBWD’s we had.  I had a less stable tripod and my hands were shaking as I was so nervous.  That same pair has since nested in that box multiple times, sometimes raising more than one brood in a year.

Be sure to watch this on the big screen, and don’t miss the credits at the end!

Secular Jihadist podcast today: Ali ‘n’ Jerry

Today, as Ali Rizvi’s Facebook page notes below, I’ll be on his Secular Jihadist podcast at 11 AM EST. If you subscribe to Ali’s podcast through Patreon, you’ll be able to see it live (it’s a Skype interview); but even if you don’t, it will be available for free later.  Patrons can see the podcast here and there’s also a subscription button on the same page.

I believe that, beyond religion, we’ll also be talking about evolution and the best way to teach the public about evolution and science in general.

Ali is, as you probably know, author of the very nice book The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason. (I think I have a blurb on one of the covers). The screenshot links to Amazon, where you can buy it:

Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, June 17, 2018, National Apple Strudel Day. It’s also World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. And of course it’s Father’s Day. Word has it that my own and only kids, the ducklings of Botany Pond, will be presenting me with algae as a thank-you.

Google has a special Father’s Day Doodle (below); but what is it? The Sun and other venues, largely in India, explain:

Google is marking Father’s Day 2018 with a commemorative Doodle.

The heartwarming design features six painted hand-prints with the colours matching those of the lettering on the search giant’s normal logo.

With the simple additions of a slender neck and a pair of eyes the prints become a multicoloured herd of diplodocus dinosaurs.

The quirky design is available across the many countries celebrating dads today, including the US, India and Canada.


On June 17, 1579, Sir Francis Drake (named after my mallard), claimed “Nova Albion” (California) for England. It’s a good thing it became part of the U.S., as otherwise you couldn’t get a decent sandwich in the state. On this day in 1631, Mumtaz Mahal, Empress Consort of the Mughal Empire, died in childbirth. Her husband, the Emperor Shah Jahan, then spent the next 17 years constructing the most beautiful tribute to love in history: her mausoleum, also called the Taj Mahal.

On June 17, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor from France—in parts. Its erection began over a year later.  On this day in 1901, the first standardized college test, the forerunner of the SAT, was introduced by the College Board. On June 17, 1939, there was the last public guillotining in France: the murderer Eugen Weidmann was beheaded in Versailles. There was such a public hubub (and malfunctioning equipment) that the French from then on lopped off heads in secret, stopping the practice only in 1977.  On this day in 1944, Iceland (who tied Argentina 1-1 at the World Cup yesterday), declared independence from Denmark. On this day in 1963, as Wikipedia notes, “The United States Supreme Court rules 8–1 in Abington School District v. Schempp against requiring the reciting of Bible verses and the Lord’s Prayer in public schools.” Would the court rule the same today? On June 17, 1972, five men, operatives of the White House, were arrested for their botched attempt to enter the offices of the Democratic National Committee and wiretap the phones. This, of course, ultimately led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation.

A sad day for biology: on June 17, 1987, the last individual of the subspecies the dusky seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus nigrescens) died in captivity under a failed breeding program. Here’s what they looked like:

Notables born on this day include Igor Stravinsky (1882), M. C. Escher (1898), Martin Bormann (1900), and Newt Gingrich and Barry Manilow (both 1943).  Those who died on June 17 include Mumtaz Mahal (see above; she was 38), Edward Burne-Jones (1898), and Cyd Charisse (2008).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Hili dialogue puzzled me, but Malgorzata explained that it’s simple:

“Hili is so simple that you must’ve been looking for something hidden there. There is nothing hidden. We have drought here. We can see that it is raining on the other side of the river and we hope it will come to us (the cherries need water!), but it never does. Hili knows that we are worried by the lack of rain and she tries to comfort Andrzej by showing him that it’s raining on the other side.”

Hili: It’s raining on the other side of the river.
A: Maybe it will come to us as well.
In Polish:
Hili: Za rzeką pada deszcz.
Ja: Może do nas też przyjdzie.

Some tweets from Heather Hastie:

Wouldn’t you like to sing a lullaby to a sleepy baby elephant? This one’s an orphan, too.

Grania sent an extremely pampered cat!

From Matthew, who’s going on a trip. Zermatt!

And the effect of thousands of footsteps:

Video of an echidna (a monotreme) in the wild:

Zelda, running low and charged:

A response to Jeff Sessions’s hamhanded remark about our immigration policy reflecting the dictates of the Bible:

A lovely beetle:

A Spinoza quote:

Be sure to watch the video on this one. I suppose the explanation is credible, but how do we know?


World Cup contest: guess the teams in the final game and the final score, and win a prize (act quickly)

Thanks to the urgings of reader George, I’m going to repeat the World Cup contest I held four years ago.  So here are the rules for this year’s contest.

The contest:

Guess the two teams who will play in the final World Cup match, the victor, and the score

Deadline for entering:  Tomorrow, Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m. Chicago time.

The prize:  An autographed copy of WEIT or Faith Versus Fact (the latter a hardback), with a special drawing of a cat playing football wearing your team’s colors.

Roolz:  In case of identical guesses, the first correct entry wins. If the final goes to penalty kicks, the winning score entry would be, for example, “1-1, team A wins on PKs”.  If nobody gets the final teams and the score, the winner will be the first person to correctly guess the two teams and the winner. If nobody gets even these things right, then nobody wins, and you’re a bunch of losers.

Remember, you have to give the teams AND the score! The judges’ decision is final.

Put all your guesses in the comments below, and remember, you can choose only two teams in a game and propose only one score. Violators will be disqualified. I’d suggest reading the entries that pre-dated yours so you don’t guess what somebody else already has.

Good luck!


Creationism and Coyne-dissing at The Daily Caller

It’s never wise for a serious conservative website to throw in its lot with creationism. Evolution is so well established—and my book gives only a small part of the evidence—that you just appear ignorant to question it—that is, unless you have some serious scientific knowledge and questions. And even then, I can’t imagine any evidence that would overthrow the entire edifice of evolution: that would deep-six at the same time the notions of evolutionary change, natural selection, gradualism, common ancestry, and the splitting of lineages, all of which are buttressed by masses of evidence.

The Daily Caller, however, is touting creationism in the guise of “problems with evolution”, and to its detriment. It’s a conservative site I look at occasionally, and just learned this from Wikipedia:

The Daily Caller is a conservative American news and opinion website based in Washington, D.C. It was founded by political pundit Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The site’s coverage includes politics, business, world news, entertainment, sports, education, technology, outdoors, and energy.

The Daily Caller launched on January 11, 2010, as a politically conservative news and commentary outlet and alternative to the liberal The Huffington Post, similarly featuring sections in broad range of subjects beyond politics. By late 2012, The New York Times reported that the site had quadrupled its page view and total audience and had become profitable without ever buying an advertisement for itself.

Reader Tim called my attention to this Daily Caller article, by F. LaGard Smith, which claims the “microbe to man evolution story” (in other words, evolution in general) is “dumb, bad science.” Click on the screenshot to see the fun—and ignorance. The Caller’s own description of Smith:

LaGard Smith is a former law professor (principally at Pepperdine University) and scholar in residence for Christian Studies (Lipscomb University). He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible and is the author of over 30 books. His most recent book is Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem: Exposing Evolution’s Fatal Flaw—The Origin of Sex.

Smith begins by saying that evolutionists’ objections to teaching the “problems with evolution” are twofold, and both wrong. The first of our misguided objections is that “there’s a hidden agenda to teach the biblical creation story.” But of course there is! Everybody knows that, and creationists, forced by losses in court to increasingly hide their religious agenda, are now pretending that their objections to evolution are scientific, as if every working scientist has been bamboozled. (I ask you this: why, among all well established scientific facts, is evolution the major one challenged by non-scientists? And why are the challengers always religious?) And this brings us to Smith’s second objection: that we evolutionists don’t take into account that the objections of people like Smith (who of course could never be motivated by his faith), are scientific ones! 

He says, for example, that evolutionists can’t explain exactly how sex evolved. Well, that’s true: we don’t yet understand it. But this is the familiar “argument from ignorance”—that if evolution cannot explain one particular phenomenon, it must mean both that creationism is true since God must have been involved, and that the whole edifice of evolution is wrong. Well, we have lots of good theories of how sex came to be (we are also, by the way, ignorant of why sex persists given the reproductive advantage of genes producing asexual reproduction, but Smith is too witless to know about that issue). If you want to see some of the theories for how and why sexual reproduction evolved, start here, here, and especially here. Since we weren’t around when sex evolved, though, these ideas are hard to test. Likewise, we’re ignorant of why the Stegosaurus evolved those plates on its back, as we weren’t there when it happened and at any rate couldn’t do experimental tests. Does our ignorance of that also constitute severe weakness of evolution and evidence for God? LOL! This is like saying that because we don’t know what Julius Caesar ate for breakfast on the day he was assassinated, he must not have existed.

By the way, if ignorance of evolution is evidence for God, then isn’t ignorance about God evidence for evolution? Doesn’t theologians’ inability to explain the reason why God would allow physical evils like cancer and tsunamis (which science can explain) invalidate the notion of a kindly and powerful God, deep-sixing Christianity? But let’s move on. Smith says this:

That’s only for starters. What school children must also never know is that the familiar “tree of evolution” (illustrating evolution’s bedrock assumption of common descent) could never have happened in actual fact. Natural selection could not possibly have provided simultaneous, on-time delivery of the first compatible male/female pair of each of millions of sexually-unique species. (Merely consider the weird, cannibalistic sex of the praying mantis! Or, even more problematic, the first-ever male and female reptiles, mating and reproducing as no amphibians before them.)

Now that’s just complete bull-goose stupidity, reflecting ignorance of how species form. In general speciation begins with the geographic separation of populations within a species, and then those populations undergo gradual divergent evolution, eventually transforms them into different species that are reproductively incompatible. That takes time—it’s not instantaneous except for oddments like autopolyploidy. A new species doesn’t “start” with a brand new sexually compatible pair of individuals that is incompatible with every other member of the species. It starts with a population that evolves, often adaptively, and eventually this evolution makes it reproductively incompatible with its sister species, which has also undergone divergent evolution.

By itself, Smith’s paragraph above disqualifies him as having no credibility for criticizing evolution. If you want to go after evolution, first understand what you’re going after!

Finally, he comes for me.

In his best-selling book, Why Evolution is True, even skeptic Jerry Coyne keenly appreciates where the crux of the evolution debate lies. “A better title for The Origin of Species,” says Coyne, “would have been The Origin of Adaptations. While Darwin did figure out how and why a single species changes over time (largely by natural selection), he never explained how one species splits in two.” (Would it breach “the wall of separation” to share an evolutionist’s corrective with school children?)

Coyne’s own attempt to hypothesize how species might have “split” has to do with “geographic isolation” causing genetic diversions. Problem is, there simply aren’t enough isolating mountains, rivers, or lakes on the planet to explain the origin of tens of millions of different species. So, we’re back to hard scientific reality. If there’s no evolved first generation of any given species, then there could be no evolution into any other species, nor certainly any higher species, most especially us humans.

First of all, I’m not a skeptic about speciation: I STUDY speciation and wrote my first book about it. And yes, Darwin was muddled about the origin of species, but my book is an attempt to show that we not only understand it much better after 150 years, but have evidence for the very splitting that was such an important part of Darwin’s book, even if he didn’t fully understand how it happened. (The sole diagram in The Origin is one of lineages splitting). Geographic isolation is indeed our best theory for how new species begin to form, but it’s not our only theory (polyploidy in plants doesn’t evoke geographic isolation, for instance). And at any rate Smith is just talking out of his fundament when he says that “there aren’t enough geographic barriers to account for the origin of species.” In fact new species originate at a very slow rate, and there’s no problem with envisioning geographic separation happening at that rate (see Speciation by Allen Orr and me). That book, by the way, gives plenty of evidence for the geographic-isolation view of speciation.

In the end, Smith goes back to the trope “if there’s no novel First Couple of any given species (including humans)”, then speciation can’t happen. Evolutionists must believe in an Adam and Eve of mammals, furry creatures that, says Smith, were reproductively incompatible with the very reptilian parents that sired them!  And he thinks that Adam and Eve were required to kick off Homo sapiens: that somehow we couldn’t have evolved from an isolated population of primates within our common ancestor with the chimps? The guy needs to learn some elementary evolution. I’d recommend the first three chapters of Speciation, though perhaps Smith should take Bio 101 and an evolutionary biology course first.

Further, the Daily Caller should think twice before casting in its lot with “irreducible sexuality” creationism. As the media says “This is not good optics.”


h/t: Tim