Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Relpy to Gibbons, Take 4

It’s round 4 with our favorite PhD in creation science apologetics, William Gibbons. You can find his reply at the bottom of this post. I’m moving this all up top so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. He begins with the issue of plagiarism. I had pointed out that his first response was almost entirely plagiarized, virtually every word of it simply cut and pasted from various creationist webpages without any attribution at all. He had a three part response. First, he invented a mythical “evolutionist” who had allegedly done the same thing and gotten away with it:

It would seem that it is quite unacceptable for a creationist to use and quote from creationist and non-creationist sources when answering critics. It is perfectly plausible, however, for an evolutionist to quote, use, and parrot from evolutionist sources.

Typical persecution complex. Next, he said that it didn’t matter that he had plagiarized because it wasn’t a college paper or anything, just a response on a blog:

I was not writing a dissertation for any school or university, but challenging evolution on a garden variety Blog.

And lastly, he actually attempted to turn it around make it sound as though I had done something wrong in pointing out his plagiarism:

Therefore who would charge me with a breech of ethics except an evolutionist?

Well, you know us evolutionists, always a stickler for ethics. And if you think we’re bad, you should try those relativismists and gravityists. So anyway, that was all on August 2nd. On August 14th, without any hint of precursor, he leaves a comment that says this:

I will post my reply as soon as I have completed my research, which WILL include giving credit and referencing all sources used. I certainly concede to Mr. Brayton’s point that I was careless in not doing this earlier, and will ensure that there is no repeat of this.

Surprised by this sudden change of heart, I replied thusly:


Now suddenly, you “certainly concede” as though my point was just obvious all along and you had no reason to not accept it immediately. One wonders about this sudden change of tune. Were you just full of crap a couple weeks ago or are you pretending now to be far more reasonable than you really are?

A bit rude, I admit. But when someone goes to such lengths to excuse away his breach of ethics and then suddenly concedes the point as perfectly reasonable and obvious, one really must wonder why the sudden change of heart. Either he was spouting nonsense on August 2nd or he is now pretending to be more reasonable than he is so the subject will go away. His reply:


As I had stated earlier, I had given some thought to your comments and saw that yes, you were correct. I was careless, and should have taken greater care to have properly credited what sources I used. There was no “sudden change of tune.” I was simply wrong, and so conceded the point and will ensure that all quoted sources will be credited in future. However, your vulgar and ungracious response only reveals your own intolerant attitude.

But in fact he had not stated that earlier at all. Nowhere in his comments in reply to that thread was there any mention that he had reconsidered or changed his mind. Regardless, you were not only wrong you were wrong about being wrong. It was wrong to plagiarize without attribution and you were wrong to pretend that it was okay to do so. This has nothing to do with me being tolerant or intolerant, it is simply the truth. Had you not been so ungracious when you were rightly called on the carpet for your plagiarism, perhaps you would have gotten a more gracious acceptance of your current admission that you wrong. And now that that is settled, let’s move on to the real substance of the issue. On Gibbons’ confusion of cosmological evolution and biological evolution, he says:

On the contrary, if the Big Bang is where it all started, then the subject is very pertinent indeed to the whole question of origins. Evolutionary cosmologists assert that one of the principal elements of the Big Bang was hydrogen gas, which went on to turn itself into stars, planets, our solar system, including our own planet earth, with its an incredible diversity of life, including mankind with a three pound brain more complex than anything in the known universe! So, if the Big Bang theory is eventually proven false, then yes, this would have a very serious impact on the entire question of organic evolution on our planet.

This is simply nonsense, the usual creationist tactic of defining evolution as “every scientific theory about the nature of the universe all rolled into one”. But theories are distinct entities that explain specific sets of data. There is no “theory of everything”, there are many different theories. Cosmological evolution and biological evolution have nothing to do with each other and they explain entirely different sets of data. If you understand even the most basic elements of the two theories you would see the difference. Stars and planets do not reproduce or pass on traits; living organisms do. Evolution deals only with living organisms. The fact that the origin of the universe precedes the origin of life on earth is irrelevant to the question of whether one theory depends upon the other. The origin of the universe also precedes the invention of basketball, but that doesn’t mean that different philosophies of how to play basketball have to start with an explanation for the existence of everything. So let’s start with this basic definition of the theory of evolution:

Evolution: the theory that all modern life forms on earth are derived from one or a few common ancestors via descent with modification.

That is the theory I am defending and it is all I am interested in defending. I concede to you that the universe was created by some sort of supernatural entity (which in fact I do believe). I will even concede to you that it is entirely possible that the first self-replicating life form on the earth was placed here by some non-terrestrial source (we simply do not know yet, so it’s entirely possible). But that has no bearing on the truth or falsehood of the theory of common descent.

As for the first replicating systems, the onus is on you to prove that life appeared without a divine hand or any form of higher intelligence being involved.

Why is that onus on me? Why on earth should I have to prove a position I’m not taking? As I said, I’ll concede to you that the first self-replicating life form may have been placed on earth by a non-terrestrial source, either natural or supernatural. Now let’s talk about evolution, which is the theory I am defending.

Evolutionists Glenister, Witzke, Futuyma and Eldredge have all put the Camrian period between 540 to 600 million years in published literature. Hardly “nit picking” when sources like these can’t get it right either!

You don’t quote any of them, so I have no idea what you’re referring to, but you seem to be using the “Cambrian period” interchangably with the “Cambrian explosion” and they are not the same. The Cambrian period is from approximately 540 million years ago to 500 million years ago. A more specific estimate, from the UC Museum of Paleontology, would be 543-490 million years ago. But 600 million isn’t even close. 600 million takes us way back to the beginning of the Vendian. One of the problems here, of course, is that the length of the “Cambrian explosion” keeps growing as we find older and older fossil beds that fill in the details. Creationists once could claim that all these life forms sprung up in a mere 10 milion years, but then with more finds that 10 million years became 20 million, 30 million, and keeps on growing. We now have a rapidly growing fossil record for the Vendian that pushes back the origin of complex multicellular life back to 600 million years. So the “explosion” aspect of it all is pretty much gone. What we seem to have instead is a long radiation of life characterized in particular by the evolution of hard parts, particularly shells, which are much more likely to be preserved as fossils.


If the evolutionary development of all Cambrian known fossils has indeed occurred, the fossil record would be jammed with their transitional ancestors. But we find none, unless the aforementioned Keith Miller knows something that other evolutionists do not.

Are there paleontologists who accept evolution but do not think there were any transitional forms in the Cambrian? If so, please name one. I doubt you can. There are many books written on the subject of how to classify these organisms (not as easy as one might think) and how they are related. Furthermore, you still aren’t addressing, or apparently even understanding, that the nature of fossilization means that we would not expect to find such perfectly graded sequences to be found because only a small portion of all of the species that lived at the time are likely fossilized, particularly if there are no hard parts. It takes very special conditions for soft-bodied animals to be fossilized, that’s why we only find such fossils in particular types of depositional environments (the Chengjiang fossil beds are providing incredible fossils). Those animals were not limited only to Chengjiang, they were spread out much wider than that almost certainly. But only in certain places do the special conditions exist that allows fossilization. So it is simply false, given what we know about the process of fossilization, to declare that we should have a perfect record of every species and therefore should have a perfect sequence of fossils documenting every transition. This is the fallacy of the false prediction.


I challenge you to give me clear examples of the transitional ancestors of the Cambrian fossils, that show a continuous and unbroken lineage from simple single cell life forms to complex invertebrates with the step-by-step transitional forms that would have undoubtedly have existed in their millions, if not billions.

I gave you a long passage from Miller’s essay pointing to intermediate forms within the Cambrian fauna. You have had no response to his claims whatsoever. What you are demanding is, of course, patently absurd. Nothing but an actual videotape of the transition taking place would satisfy you, and of course you know that this is not possible to have. Just to show how ridiculously exaggerated your demand is, do this as a test: count up every single species we have identified and named from the Cambrian and Precambrian. How many do you suppose there are? A few thousand, at most, more likely a few hundred. Now given that we only have the fossilized remains of a few hundred species, why is it reasonable to demand that we also show you a few million or, for crying out loud, billion other species for which we do not have any fossilized remains?

Better yet, how about attempting to explain these life forms from a young earth creationist perspective. Give us your explanation for the Cambrian and precambrian fauna. Why is it that the oldest strata show nothing but bacterial life, then simple multicellular life like algae (stromatolites) in the rocks above that, then nothing but marine invertebrates like worms, and so forth all the way up the geologic column until we get to modern life? If all life on earth was created in a single week, why do we see the patterns we do in the fossil record?

ME: He also ignores the substantive critique of the misleading argument about “all modern phyla” appearing in the Cambrian, misleading because it fails to communicate the reality that virtually none of the plants and animals on earth today existed during the Cambrian – no mammals, no birds, no reptiles, no amphibians, not even any insects or flowers. The notion that modern life forms just “jumped” into existence in the Cambrian is simply false.

Gibbons: Evolutionist, Richard Fortey who wrote:

“The beginning of the Cambrian period, some 545 million years ago, saw the sudden appearance in the fossil record of almost all the main types of animals (phyla) that still dominate the biota today”. (Fortey, “The Cambrian Explosion Exploded?” Science, vol. 293, No 5529, 20 July 2001, p. 438-439.

So go pick your bone with Fortey, who is a committed evolutionist and is apparently 5 million years out on his dating of the Cambrian period (according to you, Mr. Brayton).

You’re still missing the point here. The point is that just because it is thought that all of the major “phyla” were present in the Cambrian doesn’t mean modern life forms were present in the Cambrian. In fact, they are not. The sole member of the phylum chordata – which means all forms of life that have a backbone – found in the Cambrian is a tiny little organism called Pikaia. Pikaia is not a vertebrate, but a very primitive little inch and a half long worm that appears to have a notochord, which later developed into the backbones common to all vertebrates today. That’s it. In all of the Cambrian, there is not a single reptile, amphibian, mammal or bird, not even any insects, and only very primitive fish. And here again one must ask what is the creationist explanation for this? If all fish were created on the same day, why do we find only jawless fishes in the lowest strata? Why do we not see whales and dolphins until the most recent strata? Did God create this way to fool us into thinking that life evolved?

The Cambrian rocks are a rich source of many complex fossils. These include trilobites, clams, soft bodied and hard-bodied sponges, sea cucumbers, sea lilies, worms, snails, brachiopods, jellyfish, etc. These are all highly complex creatures, especially the trilobites that we are told evolved over hundreds of millions of years.

Let’s take a closer look at those trilobites. Trilobites lived on the earth for some 300 million years, from the lower cambrian to the late permian, and they were found all over the world in enormous variety. There are more than 1500 known genera of trilobites identified in the fossil record, with several thousand species within those genera. Now, if all those trilobites were created on the same day of creation and only lived for a few thousand years, as Gibbons must believe, we would expect that they would remain the same in all of the strata they are found in, regardless of age. But in fact, there are very distinct patterns found in the fossil record of trilobites. They didn’t just all appear at once, they evolved over a very long period of time.

For instance, in the early Cambrian, trilobites are by and large smooth-bodied creatures. In the Silurian/Devonian they began to develop bumps and spines of various size and length, likely to support their weight and keep them from sinking into soft sediments. The spines even got long enough that the thorax and the pygidium would be kept out of the ground entirely. They also likely functioned as a defense mechanism to keep predators away. This is a clear adaptation that was not present in early trilobites but developed in later trilobites. Likewise, the shape of the body changed significantly, determining how the creatures rolled up so that only the exoskeleton was exposed, protecting it from predation. Here is a long and detailed explanation of how trilobites evolved over the course of 300 million years. What is the creationist explanation for this? If they were all created on the same day and only existed for a few thousand years, why do we see such clear trends in diversification throughout the fossil record of trilobites? Was God just trying to fool us?

If we look at older rocks were find the Precambrian, which has revealed fossilized remains of microscopic single celled, soft-bodied bacteria and algae.

Actually, we are also finding much more complex creatures in the Precambrian, and that is entirely my point. With new finds, the time of this “explosion” has been pushed back tens of millions of years into the Precambrian, which changes dramatically the time allowed for such diversity to evolve. And no doubt there are many more we have yet to find that will fill in the blanks like pieces of a puzzle.


Such fossils have even been found in rocks as old as 3.8 billion years, according to evolutionary literature. If this is the case, then why are there no clear ancestors to the hard bodied complex creatures found in the Cambrian? If the simple evolved into the complex, then the transitional ancestors of all Cambrian life would have been preserved over such a vast expanse of time and at each stage of their evolutionary development.

Again, this simplistic nonsense – “if they existed, we should have found them”. But that’s just false given what we know about fossilization. You think we should find a perfect record of every single species that existed 600 million years ago, but that is not going to happen, ever. Their existence does not equal their fossilization. But you’re right that before the precambrian, we have found nothing but single-celled and algal life (stromatolites). Again, what is the creationist explanation for this? The bible doesn’t mention this life at all, or what day they were created. But we find nothing but this simple life for over 3 billion years. Was God just warming up? Was he just practicing on creating different types of bacteria for the first 3 billion years, working his way up to something harder?

Whale Evolution

On the subject of whale evolution, Gibbons is still peddling the quote from Gingerich admitting that he and other paleontologists were wrong about whales evolving from mesonychids and that they really evolved from artiodactyls. I had noted that he had the wrong source for the quote. He gave the quote from P.D. Gingerich, N.A. Wells, D.E. Russell, and S.M.I. Shah, Science 220(4595):403-6, 22 April 1983, but that is not the correct cite. The quote from Gingerich is actually from a 2001 Reuters article that reported on Thewissen’s recent finds. It was Thewissen’s work that convinced Gingerich and other paleontologists that whales had evolved from artiodactyls and not mesonychids. Now on to the actual evidence on whale evolution:

The entire premise of whale evolution is based on mere fragments and incomplete fossils. There is not a jot of evidence that any land mammal evolved into a whale. All fossil whales are complete, functional whales. Gingerich believes that Pakicetus a good example of an intermediate or transitional fossil. Yet, Pakicetus is known only from some cheek teeth and fragments of the skull and lower jaw, so we have no way of knowing what form of locomotion this creature had. But we do know that its hearing mechanism was that of a land mammal and that it was found in fluvial sediments with other land animals.

This is simply false. Pakicetus is known from much more than just skull fragments. In fact, Thewissen’s webpage contains a photograph of all of the skeletal bones that have been found from Pakicetus (not a drawing, mind you, an actual photograph of the fossilized bones laid out in articulation to each other). We do in fact know how Pakicetus got around – he walked. Pakicetus, you see, was primarily a land mammal. The fact that it was found with other land mammals, then, is hardly a shock. It lived near the water, however, and spent a fair amount of time in the water. Pakicetus was the very beginning of the transition from land to water, but lived primarily on land. It is important to whale evolution primarily because it shows the relationship to artiodactyls rather than to mesonychids. And as Thewissen notes, the ear is actually the key diagnostic trait that indicates whale ancestry:


Pakicetids did not look like whales at all, and resembled land mammals. However, the skulls of pakicetids have an ear region that is highly unusual in shape, and only resembles that of modern and fossil whales. These features are diagnostic for cetaceans, they are found in all cetaceans, and in no other animals. These features are main why pakicetids are considered whales. In many other features, pakicetids are also similar to some whales, but those features are not shared by all whales. An example of the latter is the dentition. Pakiceid teeth look a lot like those of fossil whales, but are unlike those of modern whales. Pakicetids did not live in the sea. The rocks in which their fossils are preserved indicate that the bones were buried in a shallow stream, and that the climate was hot and dry. It is likely that pakicetids waded in these streams. Their bones are unusually thick, possibly an adaptation to make the animal heavier counteracting the buoyancy of the water.

Gibbons then ticks off a list of things that would have to change between land mammals and marine mammals, ignoring all of the fossil evidence after Pakicetus. The only other fossil whale he mentions is Ambulocetus, but his claim makes little sense:


Interestingly, the Ambulocetus fossils that have also been touted as the ancestors of modern whales have been found in the lower to middle Eocene strata. Fossils of whales of the suborder Archeoceti have been found in lower Eocene strata, so Ambulocetus is unlikely to be an ancestor of modern whales.

Achaeocetes are classified as all of the early whales during the eocene period, from 55 to 37 million years ago. The earliest are the Pakicetids, followed by the Ambulocetids. To say that Archaeocetes are found in earlly Eocene strata and therefore Amulocetids could not be ancestral to them is to say nothing at all because Ambulocetids ARE Archaeocetes. See Thewissen’s cetacean chart here. Gibbons also ignores all of the other fossil evidence, comprised of far more than just a few fragments here and there. In fact, we have a nearly complete post-cranial skeleton of Ambulocetus and it shows precisely the transition that he demands be seen. Ambulocetus is clearly beginning the adaptation to marine life and this can be seen in a variety of traits. And the Ambulocetids (50 mya or so and found only in Pakistan and India) are followed by the Remingtonocetids (49-43 mya and found throughout South Asia), the Protocetids (48-35 mya and found all over the world in the oceans), the Basilosaurids and Dorudontids (41-35 mya and also found globally) and so on through to all of the types of modern whales. Throughout this series of fossil species, you can see the gradual adaptation and diversification in all of the key diagnostic traits of whales – dentition, the ear canal, the loss of hind limbs, the development of the tail fluke, the placement of the nostrils to the blowhole, and so forth. And lo and behold, they just happen to be found in exactly the right anatomical and temporal order that evolution would predict. What is the creationist explanation for this? Well, there is none. But maybe God was just playing games with us, or working his way up to a real whale.

I’m skipping all the hominid stuff for now. I’ve got a response written out to the many silly claims Gibbons made on the subject, but I have invited Jim Foley to write a more thorough response to it since that is his specialty and I thought he might enjoy it. Jim is in Australia, however, and I may not have a reply until tomorrow. If he decides to do it, I’ll post it when he’s finished. If he doesn’t have time, I’ll post my own response.

New Information in the Genome


Here Gibbons asked the now-classic, but profoundly silly, question of how mutation can result in “new information in the genome”. After my long and detailed answer as to why this question makes no sense and asking for more specific definition of his terms, as well as giving a textbook example of how mutation leads to entirely new traits, Gibbons simply repeats himself:

Sorry if the question sounds “silly” to you old boy, but the entire axiom of biological/organic evolution hinges on new information being input into the genome of all living creatures – and this is precisely what evolution requires.

Again, this just shows a complete lack of understanding of mutation and genetics. I gave him a perfectly good example of mutation leading to “new information in the genome” with the nylon-eating bacteria. A frame shift mutation reorders the DNA resulting in the production of an entirely new enzyme which allows a flavobacterium to digest nylon. Here we have an entirely new trait that did not exist before, we can identify the actual mutation that did it, and we know for a fact that it could not have existed a mere 70 years ago. His response is, well, rather amusing:

According to agricultural scientist, Dr. Don Batton, new research on the nylon-eating bacteria has revealed that this is not due to a frame shift at all, but through a plasmid-encoding enzyme for nylon oligomer degradation. More than one species of bacteria has the ability to eat nylon, as they already resided on plasmids. This reveals that the bacteria already had the information encoded within, and was merely passed on between different types of bacteria.

Yes, this is the answer that AIG has offered. But it’s not well thought out. In fact, it’s quite absurd. Plasmids are units of extraneous DNA found inside a cell, particularly in bacteria. It replicates within the cell independent of the chromosomal DNA. Plasmids often contain genes that help the bacteria survive, and some types of plasmids can insert themselves into the chromosomal DNA of the bacteria, so plasmids become part of the genome of the bacteria itself. In this case, they are right that the frame shift mutation took place in a plasmid contained in this particular type of bacteria. But how on earth does this change anything? It’s still a frame shift mutation that results in the evolution of a new trait. In fact, the very existence of plasmids is a great example of how new information can be inserted into a genome through lateral gene transfer from one organism to another. This is an utterly illogical argument because whether the mutation took place in a plasmid or in the chromosomal DNA, a new trait was created by the mutation. That has absolutely nothing to do with whether the trait “already existed” and to claim it does is just so much handwaving. The trait could not have existed before because nylon didn’t exist before. The enzyme in question has been tested against more than 100 other possible existing substrates and it metabolizes none of them. It is useful only for digesting nylon, but nylon didn’t exist before 1935. If the bacteria had the DNA coding for an enzyme that didn’t have any useful function, mutations would have rendered it completely useless long ago. Thus, we can be absolutely certain that this is a new trait. And more importantly, we can identify the specific mutation that created it by comparing the genome of the nylon-eating organism with the genome of the non-nylon-eating variety of the same flavobacterium. This is just a bunch of hand waving. The response is substantively irrelevant to the argument.

On the Evil Dr. Eugenie Scott

In his prior reply, Gibbons had called my friend Genie Scott a “virulent atheist” and said, “The very fact that Dr. Scott has a portrait of Charles Darwin hanging on the wall behind her desk says it all.” He didn’t bother to say what it said, only that it said it all. This is just empty rhetoric and I treated it with all the respect it is due, which is none. I said:


Oh my god, a portrait of Darwin behind her desk! Burn in hell, you heathen wench! I’m sorry, but this had me laughing out loud at the screen. Is this what they teach you when you get a “PhD” in “creation science apologetics”? It’s always funny to me to hear people I know described by people who don’t know them. Genie Scott is a friend of mine. I assure you that should you ever meet her the word “virulent” will not be one that comes to mind. I actually have no idea whether Genie is an atheist or not, nor do I care. But she’s not a virulent anything. She’s a delightful and charming person and a damn sight better educated than Mr. Gibbons. What is the What is the point of saying that these prominent evolutionary scholars were atheists? Many others are not. Francisco Ayala is a Christian, as are Ken Miller, Keith Miller, Howard Van Till, Wes Elsberry and many other prominent evolution defenders. Does this mean that evolution is inherently atheistic or Christian? Neither, of course. The religious views of an individual has nothing to do with whether evolution is true or not. But this is the sort of heated and inflammatory rhetoric that one must engage in when they have nothing of substance to offer.

To which our intrepid creationist responded:

Once again Mr. Brayton, you missed the point. But should I be surprised? I have read numerous science books and textbooks that all claim that Darwin was the “most important biologist in the 20th Century.” This is utter bilge.

I agree, that is certainly utter bilge. You know why? Because Darwin didn’t live in the 20th century. If you’ve read textbooks that claim that Darwin was the most important biologist in the 20th century”, you have come across someone as utterly clueless as yourself.

Darwin had no scientific training of any kind, and his only degree was in theology. He was a clever man in his own right and keen observer of nature, but he was not a “great scientist” as humanists contend. Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, Joseph Lister, Joseph Clerk Maxwell, John Bell Pettigrew, Richard Owen, Edward Hitchcock, John Henry Gilbert, William Huggins, Balfour Stewart, P.G. Tait, James Glaisher, and hundreds more scientists who were either contemporaries of Darwin or came after him, firmly rejected Charlie’s ideas. They positively dwarfed Darwin in intellect and scientific achievement.

Wow. How do you even respond to something this astonishingly idiotic? Darwin came up with one of the half dozen most influential and important ideas in science. Evolution is the central unifying theory of a dozen separate fields of science. Only a handful of men in all of human history have had such a dramatic influence on our understanding of the world. Period.

So Genie is a friend of yours? Well of course, she would be wouldn’t she?

Well yes, she would be. She doesn’t have to be, of course. It’s not inevitable that she be a friend. But she is. What on earth is the point of this juvenile little sneer of yours, Mr. Gibbons?

. She challenges schools that dare to give a voice to creation science or Intelligent Design. If she can’t persuade the school board to drop the idea, then she picks up the phone and calls her friends at the ACLU, one of the most evil organizations in the USA. They then threaten the school or school board with a lawsuit, so they back down and our kids continue to be indoctrinated with the usual man-to-molecules philosophy. Almost any subject in our public education system can be debated openly, except of course, the question of origins. What Dr. Scott and the ACLU are afraid of is knowledge – real knowledge.

I’ll take more empty and moronic rhetoric for $1000, Alex.

I am sure that Dr. Scott is as charming and as well educated you say Mr. Brayton. However, is she “educated” or simply indoctrinated? Nit picking about my own doctorate does you no credit – especially as you refuse to debate me face-to-face. It is all too easy to call me names by email and on your blog, but that doesn’t take a lot of courage, now does it?

Well, Genie has a genuine PhD in physical anthropology, as opposed to the fake and worthless PhD you possess in “creation science apologetics”. I dare say the last thing you want to be doing here is comparing credentials and educational achievements. For crying out loud, the “college” you got your degree from has a free Tripod web page. And they didn’t bother to teach you even the most basic things about evolutionary theory. You don’t even know what allopatric speciation is, yet you’re sure evolution is false. And you want to claim someone else is afraid of “real knowledge”? I’m sorry, but you’ve pretty much gone off the irony charts here.

Comments

  1. #1 Chuck
    August 25, 2005

    Gibbons makes the common mistake of completely mischaracterizing the nature of biological evolution. It is this error that has caused him to misinterpret “evolution” as a grand unified theory for the history of the universe, and indeed for any process described by science. The universe is full of change, and itself has been subject to change. But the universal expansion in space and local condensation into galaxies and stars by gravity are not examples of the universe “evolving” the way species evolve. The common error is to assume that biological evolution is a simple one-step continuous change. The other error is that evolutiono a series of saltations in which God creates new species from scratch every few million years. Both mistakes are due to ignoring the statistical nature of a population of individuals, and from therefore ignoring the presence of variation in populations. Biological evolution, as I said in other comments here, is what Mayr (and Lewontin) called “variational” rather than “transformational” evolution. Evolution is both vertical (selection of favored varieties in response to environmental pressure in a given region to yield adaptation) and horizontal (the differential branching of populations from migration into different regions with different selective pressures that generate species with different adaptations). Evolution involves both the creation of variation in each generation and the sorting out of variation by natural selection. The engine of all evolutionary change is therefore the variation within each population. That you are not genetically identical to your parents, thanks to recombination, is the raw material of evolutionary change. Eventually populations diverge so much that stop breeding with one another, usually at first because they won’t, but after a while because they can’t. The expansion of the universe, the condensation of gases in space by gravitational attraction, chemical reaction processes, and all other physical changes, are all examples of “transformational” evolution. The two are not the same, and creationists are mistaken to conflate them in an attempt to look for holes in Darwinian biology by applying it to phemonena it isn’t intended to explain.

    Ongoing work in some fields, however, is showing that the basic Darwinian principle of selection on variation can be applied to many populations consisting of individuals with slight differences among them, including corporations in a market, and RNA molecules and other autocatalytic systems in a test tube. Darwin doesn’t explain the origin of life, and we probably will never completely be able to describe the process, but we can apply Darwinian principles to the problem of the origin of life in a rational way.

  2. #2 Raging Bee
    August 25, 2005

    Wow, you really have a lot of patience to refute such grindingly silly “arguments.” I merely got to the “Your friend is part of the establishment conspiracy against me” and the “evil ACLU” bits and realized this guy was completely out of touch with reality.

    Which is, I suspect, how his kind operate: keep on repeating moronic arguments, no matter how often or how conclusively they’ve already been refuted, until everyone else just gives up; then declare victory.

  3. #3 Chuck
    August 25, 2005

    By the way, what exactly are creationists hoping to gain in a discussion of the so-called Cambrian Explosion? It was a roughly 40-million year long span of time. Conditions on the earth were favorable for the filling of new niches. Multicellular life forms had been around for at least 100 million years before the Cambrian Explosion. There are bauplans in the Burgess Shale that are truly bizarre and quite long extinct – morphological experiments that lingered for a while (tens of millions of years, or more, that is) but soon went extinct as have 99% of all other forms. Hardly evidence for a divine creation. All creationists are achieving in discussing the Cambrian Explosion is the admission that the Earth is very old, and that life has been around for a very long time indeed, and that it was once quite bizarre and different from life now (indeed, most of the things that creep upon the earth or fly above it are not found in deposits ~570-530 Ma).

  4. #4 Charles Winder
    August 25, 2005

    This guy should take a few basic biology courses, if only to avoid embarassment. But then again, ignorance is apparently the best sort of data in support of creationism.

    (BTW, I think you left out a blockquote on the paragraph that starts “On the contrary, if the Big Bang…”)

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    August 25, 2005

    “By the way, what exactly are creationists hoping to gain in a discussion of the so-called Cambrian Explosion?”

    A discussion. As long as there is a “debate”, no matter how repetitive, asinine, or absurd, they have something to hang their political agenda on. Unfortunately, in the US at least, scientists can’t just do the appropriate thing and ignore the IDiots until they do some research or propose a real theory. The way the media and politics work in the US means that scientists can’t just abandon the field – crackpots get a platform in the US, and there are astonishing numbers of people who believe them, not just on this issue.

  6. #6 raj
    August 25, 2005

    Unfortunately, in the US at least, scientists can’t just do the appropriate thing and ignore the IDiots…

    I suspect that that is one of the intentions of the IDiots–to divert scientists from doing science. There are only so many hours in the day, and if time is diverted to responding to IDiots, that time is not available for them to be doing science.

  7. #7 Don
    August 29, 2005

    ‘A discussion. As long as there is a “debate”, no matter how repetitive, asinine, or absurd, they have something to hang their political agenda on.’

    Exactly. In ‘A Devil’s Chaplain’ Dawkins has a telling essay on how, shortly before Gould’s death, the two old sparring partners agreed a joint position on not dignifying creationists by sharing a platform with psedo-scholars.

  8. #8 Ed Darrell
    August 29, 2005

    Great smackdown, but it may be news to some readers to see the facts.

    Gibbons said (like Dave Barry, you couldn’t make this stuff up):

    Darwin had no scientific training of any kind, and his only degree was in theology. He was a clever man in his own right and keen observer of nature, but he was not a “great scientist” as humanists contend. Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, Joseph Lister, Joseph Clerk Maxwell, John Bell Pettigrew, Richard Owen, Edward Hitchcock, John Henry Gilbert, William Huggins, Balfour Stewart, P.G. Tait, James Glaisher, and hundreds more scientists who were either contemporaries of Darwin or came after him, firmly rejected Charlie’s ideas. They positively dwarfed Darwin in intellect and scientific achievement.

    Darwin got a general degree, not one in theology. Cambridge didn’t offer degrees in specific subjects in 1831. He took an extra load in geology, however — so were we to say he “majored,” we’d have to say it was in geology. After he took his degree (with honors, by the way), he stayed on for graduate lectures in geology. After having demonstrated particular acumen in lectures and in discussion, one of the two greatest geologists in the world at the time, Dr. Adam Sedgwick, asked Darwin to spend the summer with him tramping England to study geology and take samples. This would be akin to a post-doc fellowship being offered to a master’s candidate, on the basis of the candidate’s being absolutely brilliant. So, Darwin had perhaps the greatest scientific training possible in his day and age. Sedgwick was one of the guys who pulled strings to get Darwin aboard the Beagle, by the way. //

    Darwin’s contributions to the collections at the British Museum have never been exceeded by any other collector. On his collecting and describing acumen alone, Darwin was nominated for membership in the most esteemed science society in London — by Sedgwick, among others — in order to persuade Darwin to stick to science. In short, considering his voyage a doctoral dissertation, he won top honors and a Pulitzer. Darwin was, at 27, among the youngest to be recognized that way. //

    We need not belabor the point, claiming Darwin’s “greatness” to be of any particular degree. But is worth noting that, though Pasteur publicly expressed doubts about Darwin’s work, when the church and French officials challenged Pasteur’s work, Darwin defended him and his work, with Darwin’s influence and money. Darwin recognized others for their own greatness, and he was a supreme, superb gentleman. //

    And Lord Kelvin? Well, Darwin’s estimates of the age of the Earth were much more accurate than Lord Kelvin’s. And Darwin functioned solely off of what he observed in nature, saying the Earth had to be several millions of years old, certainly past 200 million years. Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Earth at about 20 million years, based on his measurements of the temperature in deep coal mines, and his calculations that a body of molten iron like the Earth would cool at a consistent rate once it had been assembled. Of course, Lord Kelvin failed to account for the heating effect of nuclear isotopes. Rutherford wrote about delicately saying Lord Kelvin could not have known, in order to save face for Lord Kelvin — but that was years after Darwin’s death. //

    And as to the Sun, Darwin said nothing. Lord Kelvin carefully calculated its age as well (somewhere around 200 million years at the outside), based on how long it would take molten iron (which he assumed the Sun to be) to cool from white hot to its present color. //

    Darwin’s science was based on observation. He recorded what he saw. William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, made great assumptions, and calculated from there. //

    To claim that Darwin’s star shone less brightly that those others named, whom he bested gently in science, is simply bizarre. Perhaps they towered over Darwin in intellect — we get, then, a demonstration of the value of perseverance, hard work and humility. //

    Funny. That would make a good Sunday school lesson.