Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Robert Meyer Strikes Again

Some of you may remember Robert Meyer, a former Robert O’Brien Trophy winner we had some fun with a few months ago (see also here and here). He wrote an abysmal article packed full of blatant falsehoods about Stephen Jay Gould. He repeated a number of hoary old creationist chestnuts. For instance, he claimed that Gould and Eldredge developed Punctuated Equilibrium (PE) because of the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record (completely false, and debunked by Gould himself numerous times), and that PE was just like Goldschmidt’s Hopeful Monster notion (also false, also debunked by Gould himself). He also suggested, bizarrely, that there was no evidence of environmental changes in the history of the earth. Evidently he’s never heard of the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, after I corrected the numerous falsehoods in his article, I sent him a link to it and he offered an amusingly idiotic reply in which he didn’t bother to dispute any factual claim I had made or to defend any claim he had made, suggesting instead that it was okay that what he said was nonsense since, “Noboby is going to mistake an opinion piece for a technical research paper.” As if calling it an “opinion piece” suspended any need to be concerned about whether it’s accurate. The fact is that every single claim he made about Gould and his views was not only false, but were specifically addressed and shown to be false by Gould himself. Certainly anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty understands that if you’re going to say “Person A believed X”, you have an obligation to insure that you portay their views accurately. And in this case, with easy links that I provided to him, Meyer could have seen Gould’s words himself saying, “People say I believe X, but that is false; here is what I believe.” That Meyer didn’t make that effort in the first place is bad enough; that he didn’t seem to care that he had dishonestly portrayed Gould’s views even after having been shown what Gould actually believed means you can pretty much write Meyer off as an intellectually dishonest hack. So it’s hardly a surprise that he is back with more nonsense about evolution.

Writing for the American Daily (one of the numerous websites around that seem to cater to amateur right wing pundits who tend to write very, very badly), Meyer has three columns lately on evolution just packed with incoherent statements and twisted logic. Let’s take a look at some of the loonier bits, shall we?

This proposition of science in contrast to theology, philosophy or superstition sets up the classic false dilemma. Consider the statement that the only valid knowledge is that which can be empirically verified. It must be ascertainable through the five-senses, testable, observable, subject to falsification. If not, then such information is basically unintelligible and meaningless. We ask how many of these categories are representative of evolutionary theories? Who has observed the evolutionary theories we casually postulate with little mental reservation? Who has replicated Evolution in the laboratory.

This is an obvious misunderstanding of what science requires. Like most people who are utterly clueless about science, Meyer seems to think that it can’t be “real science” if it hasn’t been “replicated in the laboratory”. That would suggest that he has something along the lines of a 5th grade understanding of science. There are large fields of science that cannot be confined to the lab – astronomy, for instance. Many sciences are almost entirely concerned with the past, such as archaeology and physical anthropology. To suggest that the past must be “replicated in a lab” is, well, just plain stupidity. No one with even a high school level understanding of science would make such a ridiculous statement, which I think indicates what we’re dealing with in the intrepid Mr. Meyer. His statement is also incoherent because you cannot observe a theory, as he seems to think one should be able to do, you can only observe facts and use theories to explain them.

Whenever the fossil record is presented as a witness against evolution, we see retooling of the processes, but never doubt about the plausibility of the theory itself.

Simply a nonsense statement. The fossil record can’t be “presented as a witness against evolution” because only evolution can possibly explain what we see in the fossil record. And Meyer does not here even attempt to make any argument to the contrary.


How would Evolution be falsified if indeed it could be?

Quite easily. If a single mammalian fossil were found in situ in precambrian rock strata, evolution would be falsified. If the diverse forms of life on earth could not be grouped into nested heirarchies, evolution would be falsified. If the fossil record did not show a successional order of appearance both within and between the major animal groups, evolution would be falsified. There are lots of other ways too, and the fact that Meyer doesn’t know them again gives us insight into the depth of his ignorance of this subject.

Reasonable questions-but don’t dare to ask them without being quickly branded a stark-raving mad fundamentalist.

Is there anything funnier than a bunch of false assertions followed by a smug and sarcastic conclusionary statement? Sorry Mr. Meyer, but if you ask such questions, you’re going to be branded what you are – an ignorant blowhard without a clue about the subject he is pontificating about.

If both ID and Evolution are metaphysical theories, why give one consideration over the other with a virtual monopoly?

A big “if”, but also a false one. Evolution is not a “metaphysical theory”, it’s a physical one. ID, on the other hand, is metaphysical but not a theory because it isn’t falsifiable and it doesn’t explain anything. One gets consideration over the other because that’s where the evidence leads.

We wonder what it is that evolutionists fear? If they are correct on the basis of overwhelming scientific evidence, then comparisons with competing theories of origin will fold like a deck of cards. But they don’t want such comparative analysis to take place.

One wonders what the ID advocates fear, since they steadfastly refuse to actually do any research or offer an actual model from which one could derive testable hypotheses and then propose expirements. That is how scientists do things in any other field, but ID advocates refuse to take part, preferring instead to publish purely theoretical expositions for a popular audience. I absolutely want a comparative analysis of evolution and ID to take place, but there simply is no ID theory to compare anything to and no research that provides positive evidence for ID. It’s a purely negative statement – “not evolution, therefore God did it” – so what can possibly be compared?

One issue that needs to be resolved is the issue over transitional forms. Most who believe in ID, say there are no irrefutable “missing links”, whereas evolutionists attempt to cite certain examples. Apparently there is disagreement over what constitutes a legitimate transitional form. This issue must be settled before any meaningful dialogue can take place.

There can be no meaningful dialogue on this issue because creationists refuse to accept ANY fossil as transitional and there is no possible fossil that could be “irrefutible”. This is an old and very annoying argument. Anyone who has participated in debates with creationists can tell you that one thing always remains true – they will never, ever, ever, tell you what a fossil could possibly show that they would accept as “transitional”. They won’t tell you this because they know that no matter what criteria they provide, it can be met and then they’ll be forced to admit they’re wrong. So they absolutely refuse to say what they would accept as transitional so that whatever you show them, they will say, “But that doesn’t prove that it was a transition, it could have been just a similar species that died out.” They will demand nothing less than a videotape showing the transition as it happens, but that is of course something a fossil cannot possibly give you. Show them a perfect series of intermediates in a given lineage, with each successive species showing clearly the adaptation that took place in the perfect temporal and anatomical sequence, and they will simply brush it off. So there is no dialogue here; they won’t accept anything as transitional no matter how perfect the series is.

But there are troubling ramifications here. One would suspect most of the fossil evidence would consist of transitional forms, if man spent millennia upon millennia changing from an ape-like creature into his present form. Yet there are relatively few, and their discoveries are trumpeted with great fanfare. How many have been forgeries or falsely identified.

Ah, the classic fallacy of argument by insinuation. Okay, Mr. Meyer, I’ll answer your question (though it ends with a period, it is clearly in question form. Do they have editors at these hack webpages?). The answer is three. In the entire history of paleontology, there are 3 cases of forgery or mistaken identification that matter – Piltdown man, Nebraska man, and Archaeoraptor. Nebraska man was 80 years ago, was misidentified by a prominent scientist who had only a tooth, and then retracted two years later when more research at the same site found other specimens that showed the mistake. Piltdown man was nearly a century ago and was a forgery. It was discovered by scientists who knew that it did not fit with the rest of the evidence for human evolution, using a technique that was not around at the time the forgery was done. Archaeorapter was a fake specimen of two fossils put together and sold a few years ago in China; it was discovered as such before it was even published in a scientific journal. That’s it.

Note also the bizarre formulation of his claim that “man spent millenia upon millenia changing”. Man wasn’t here before a couple hundred thousand years ago, so it couldn’t have spent all that time changing. What was going on prior to that had little to do with us and everything to do with the species that preceeded us.

It is also worth noting that others who doubt creation have developed theories that do away with the need for progressive intermediates altogether. Francis Crick’s “Directed Panspermia”, and Gould’s “Punctuated Equilibria”come to mind. Why would these diverse, and in some cases, strange theories be presented if classic Darwinian evolution was a “lock”?

Wow. Stunning ignorance. Mr. Meyer seems to think that panspermia has something to do with the “need for progressive intermediates”. Only someone completely ignorant of the idea would make this claim. Panspermia says that life on earth was “seeded” from space, with simply biomolecules being transported to earth, probably on an asteroid or meteor, and then evolving. Panspermia has precisely nothing to do with the question of intermediates and it certainly doesn’t “do away with the need” for intermediates, since everything else about it just plain old evolution. It deals only with how the first biomolecules got here and from that point on, it’s nothing but conventional evolutionary theory. So it does not address in any way whatsoever the need for intermediates. Mr. Meyer is, as usual, completely full of shit.

As for Gould’s Punctuated Equilibrium, I have already addressed that, and I addressed it specifically to him. I showed him Gould’s own words in which he said that not only did PE not “do away with the need” for transitional forms, he pointed out numerous examples of transitional forms, including Archaeopteryx and the various therapsid reptiles. Because Mr. Meyer has been shown Gould’s own words on this, at this point one can only conclude that he is deliberately choosing to lie about it and continue to repeat the claim for which he has been shown the falsification. But this is my favorite part:

Call me a simpleton or make me the “fool of the month” on your blog, but I’ve got to call it the way I see it, not just conform to be thought of as “credible”. Other objections will be presented in future editorials.

Obviously a reference to me and his previous Robert O’Brien Trophy. Which means that he is well aware of the criticisms aimed at his claims before, and well aware that he has been shown Gould’s own words that show that his claims about what Gould believed are all completely false.

It appears that his third article is a rewriting of the first two (it was posted a couple weeks later and covers much of the same ground). But it isn’t improved any, containing the same nonsense and adding a bit more. The third one begins with this anecdote:

Recently I saw some news segments that featured debate on whether the teaching of Intelligent Design, should be curriculum taught along side of evolution in public school science classes. The individual taking the side of evolution was cornered at one point, regarding the origin of matter itself.

Bzzzt. Thank you for playing, but teh origin of matter has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution is the theory that modern life forms on Earth are derived from a common ancestor via descent with modification. That’s it. It has nothing at all to do with the origin of the Earth, or the universe, or matter itself. Like most creationists, Meyer is conflating evolution with atheism and they are not at all the same thing. Evolution is a specific theory that explains a specific set of data, it is not a “theory of everything” and it takes no more position on the existence of any Gods than does the germ theory of disease or the kinetic theory of gasses.

The evolutionist who says that the “fact” of evolution proves the non-existence of God, must derive such information outside the parameters of empirical scientific methods– a realm that he claims contains no meaningful truth. Thus, such a claim is that of religious dogmatism. Any masonry regardless of its ornate design or quality composition cannot be stacked four feet in mid air without a solid foundation. Those who claim evolutionary theories can do away with the need for God are attempting to do just that philosophically speaking.

And he is right, those who claim that evolution means God doesn’t exist are moving outside the parameters of science, which is exactly why Meyer is wrong to conflate evolution with atheism. Some people draw inferences from evolution to support their atheism; other people draw inferences from evolution to support their religious faith. In neither case are the inferences a part of the scientific theory, they are religious or philosophical inferences drawn from science, not a part of science itself. The amusing thing is that Meyer admits this while simultaneously claiming that evolution equates with atheism. Clearly, logic is not his strong suit.

It seems curious though, that some evolutionists and non-theists, such as Stephen J. Gould and Francis Crick, were not comfortable with the classical Darwinian paradigm of gradual changes via natural selection. Both came up with theories of origin, which made the need for intermediate types a non factor.

Already shown to be completely false above. And in fact, shown to Meyer to be false months ago, yet he continues to repeat it.

In Gould’s model of “punctuated equilibrium”, we see evolution happening in fits and starts, rather than more gradually. But if adaptations of the species by natural selection (survival of the fittest), to environmental changes, are the catalyst of classic Darwinian theory, what mechanism propels change in Gould’s paradigm?

At this point, one really must wonder whether Meyer is merely a liar or just incomprehensibly dense. You see, I explained this to him months ago. I pointed out to him that Gould’s PE model did not require any new mechanisms at all, that the mechanisms of speciation were precisely the same in PE as in mainstream evolutionary theory. Here is what I said to him then:

PE does not require any mechanism for speciation that is any different from any other model of evolution. In fact, the genius of PE was that it applied normal speciation mechanisms and population genetics to the question of what the fossil record would look like as a result. If the dominant mode of speciation is allopatric rather than sympatric, as numerous studies on population genetics going back to at least Mayr’s work in the 50s and 60s have shown, then the patterns found in the fossil record are what would be expected. Again, even a cursory familiarity with genetics and evolutionary theory would help you avoid making silly statements like this.

I even quoted Gould saying the same thing and gave him a link to an article by Gould discussing the differences between PE and Goldschmidt’s postulations of the “hopeful monster”. Either Meyer is completely dense and unable to understand this material, or he has chosen to lie. Take your pick. But here is the crowning achievement of his screed:

Of course I will get many angry replies to what I have said so far. I will be told that I misrepresented these ideas; that I am an idiot; or that my ignorance is neglecting the details and the technical nomenclature of these propositions. And that is generally the way the argument is debated. Either you believe in evolution by default, or else there is no place for you at the table of credibility. There is no objective forum to convey honest skepticism without banishment.

Utter bullshit. There is no place for Meyer at the table of credibility specifically because he has displayed dishonest skepticism. He was long ago shown with Gould’s own words that his claims about what Gould believed was false, yet he continues to repeat them as though they were true. That makes him either a liar or an idiot. And this has nothing to do with whether he accepts evolution as true or not. An honest and educated ID advocate, a Paul Nelson for example, would cringe at the nonsense this guy shovels out and especially at the lies he is telling, especially when he claims to be advocating a Christian worldview while telling those lies.

Comments

  1. #1 llDayo
    December 27, 2004

    I can’t believe no one’s commented on this entry! This was a very informative writeup and shows how dishonest the ID side of the issue is. I’ve run into numerous such arguments in forums of creationists misrepresenting data, quote mining, and showing an utter disregard for the scientific process. Then, when shown how ridiculous and wrong their arguments are, they turn their head, spout off a couple of Bible verses, and leave the debate, most likely heading out to another place and making the same claims.

    BTW, I hate how Robert is putting my last name to shame. Hopefully, you all won’t hold all Meyers to this type of thinking ;)

  2. #2 J2
    December 28, 2004

    hello

    Ah yes. The old: “thats just your opinion” retort.

    To which i kindly reply: “yes it is my opinion, however more than that i suggest it is an
    Accurate Opinion. As oposed to a Mistaken Opinion.”

    then “they” always eventually come back to “there is really no way of knowing”, meaning there is no such thing as facts. as reality, essentially. At which point i use Life as an example of a known fact.

    However the controlling “facts” which influence
    such people are not those pertaining to the issue being discussed, but rather facts of peer pressure, job security, neighborhood realities,
    and emotional selfcontrol. These are the facts of the context of their everyday life influencing their personal behavior which prevent them from facing “our” facts in an academic discussion.

    i.e. they are not gonna admit error unless “we”
    give them a hug, a job, and a place to stay or at least get them in a headlock.

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