Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Gibbons, take 8

I have to confess to being tired of answering William Gibbons’ occasional replies. It’s to be expected that someone with a “PhD in creation science apologetics” (which is roughly the same as having a PhD in defending astrology) would have mastered the “Gish Gallop”, but Mr. Gibbons, it appears, simply has not a shred of intellectual honesty or concern for accuracy. Rather than offering a line by line response, let me point ouf the evidence on which I rest that conclusion. To begin with, let’s look at his disturbing habit of appropriating the work of others and pretending they are his own. In his first long reply, I caught him doing this and I called him on it, pointing out that virtually every paragraph of his reply was copied directly from creationist webpages, including even some passages from the radical Muslim creationist Harun Yahya. When I pointed out that this sort of plagiarism would get one thrown out of a professional scientific organization, his initial response was to try and turn it around on me and imply that I was doing something wrong by pointing out his plagiarism, attempting a quite preposterous tu quoque argument:

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.

Leaving aside the fact that he apparently thinks “plausible” and “acceptable” are synonyms, the argument is still quite absurd. I have never excused away the plagiarism of anyone defending evolution, so Gibbons’ tu quoque has no grounding in reality whatsoever. In a private email, he offered a different excuse:

I was not writing a dissertation for any school or university, but challenging evolution on a garden variety Blog. Therefore who would charge me with a breech of ethics except an evolutionist?

Yes, of course. Only us nasty “evolutionists” would insist on ethical behavior. That’s rather ironic, don’t you think? It is the creationists who constantly argue that evolution destroys any basis for moral or ethical behavior, yet here our intrepid creationist is excusing away his own unethical behavior (not to mention violation of copyright laws). But wait, it gets worse. Much worse. All of that was said on August 2nd. On August 14th, he had a sudden change of heart:

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…

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.

Which brings us to his latest response, where he is once again cutting and pasting the work of others without attribution. Here is one passage from that response:

In 1872 Darwin was even refused membership in the prestigious Zoological Section of the French Institute for which they gave the following reason:

” . . .the Origin of Species and still more the Descent of Man, is not science but a mass of assertions and absolutely gratuitous hypothesis, often evidently fallacious. This kind of publication and these theories are a bad example, which a body that respects itself cannot encourage.” (From Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Vol.111, pp.224).

And here is the same passage, with only a single word changed, from a webpage called The Darwin Papers:

In 1872 Darwin was refused membership in the prestigious Zoological Section of the French Institute for which they gave the following reason: ” . . .the Origin of Species and still more the Descent of Man, is not science but a mass of assertions and absolutely gratuitous hypothesis, often evidently fallacious. This kind of publication and these theories are a bad example, which a body that respects itself cannot encourage.” (From Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Vol.111, pp.224, note.)

One of my readers pointed this out, and noted that the author of the webpage being cited had even demanded on this webpage that the text could only be used with attribution (“The Darwin Papers may be freely copied and distributed for non profit use provided acknowledgement is made for material written by the author.”). And here is Gibbons’ excuse this time:

Dave S. I did indeed go to the trouble of securing permission to quote from thedarwinpapers.com, including seeking the assistance of Ashby Camp and Peter Beach with other areas. Sorry I didn’t include the credit when editing my reply.

What do Ashby Camp and Peter Beach have to do with the Darwin Papers? Nothing that I can see. The owner and author of that page is James Foard, and he is the one who owns the copyright. It’s right there on the front page to the site. Indeed, a google search of that site shows that neither Ashby Camp nor Peter Beach are even mentioned on the site. So here is the bottom line. After being caught repeatedly plagiarizing the work of others without attribution, Gibbons has offered the following excuses:

1. It’s not a dissertation, so it doesn’t matter.
2. “Mommy, that’s not fair, he’s saying I did something wrong but he’s not saying anyone on his side did anything wrong even though I don’t have any evidence that anyone on his side has ever done what I did.”
3. Only an evolution would accuse me of a breach in ethics over this.
4. Okay, so I did commit a breach of ethics and it won’t happen again.
5. Oops, I did it again. But this time I got permission from two other irrelevant people, so it’s okay.

I can hardly wait to see what his next excuse is going to be. It appears that the one thing they teach you while getting a “PhD in creation science apologetics” is how to cut and paste and present the work of others as your own without attribution. And even after being caught and called on it multiple times, he still just can’t help himself. Is it any wonder that I don’t take him terribly seriously?

Here’s another example both of his carelessness with the facts and with his ability to do the Gish Gallop. In his first reply he wrote:

The Cambrian explosion supposedly happened some 500-550 million years ago. The living creatures found in the strata belonging to the Cambrian period emerged suddenly in the fossil record, with no pre-existing ancestors.

I made two principal arguments in response to this. First, that “sudden” emergence was in fact a period of over 40 million years. Second, that even that 40 million years during the cambrian had been pushed back well into the precambrian by numerous finds of fossil beds dating to the precambrian. in fact, the radiation of diversity that took place is now known to have taken place over a period of time well over 100 million years, and within that period of time there is both fossil and molecular evidence of diverging ancestral lineages taking place. Here is his reply:

In covering this in an early post,I would again point to the so-called Cambrian explosion, 600 million years ago, where all kinds of complex life forms suddenly ‘appeared’ and without any race of transitional ancestors.

Notice how now he is pushing the cambrian “explosion” back to 600 million years, adding another 60 million years to this “sudden” emergence of all these life forms. Is this just sloppiness with the facts or cognitive dissonance? Does it really matter? This pattern repeats itself over and over again throughout this exchange. So rather than wasting my time again giving a line by line refutation, I’m going to go back to the challenge I posted at the very beginning, a challenge that Gibbons said he would answer and never has. Indeed, no creationist has ever answered my challenge and I doubt any ever will. There is no answer to it from a creationist perspective that is acceptable and that is exactly why they continue to change the subject. I will paste that challenge below for, by my count, the 5th time in this exchange. Here it is:

If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect? Well, we would expect that since each of these new groups split off from an already existing one, the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general. If the first amphibians split off from fish, then the first amphibians could only be slightly different than fish; if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles; and so forth. And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that. The first amphibians to appear are the most fish-like, so much so that they retained internal gills and were still primarily aquatic. Over time, amphibians become more and more diversified and less fish-like, with later forms being successively more terrestrial and less aquatic. The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like. The same can be said of the first mammals, which are so identical to the therapsid reptiles that they evolved from that where exactly you draw the line between the two groups is largely academic. And just like the other lineages, they start out with only one or two species that looks just like their presumed ancestor, then over time new branches appear that are successively less like those ancestors and more like modern mammals. This is exactly what evolution would predict. Indeed, if it wasn’t that way, evolution would be falsified. If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles, and the same is true of every other major animal group. But they don’t appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts.

This is called “biostratigraphy”. As you go up the geologic column, from older strata to more recent strata, the types of plants and animals that you find fossilized within them change rather dramatically, but they change in a very specific pattern. In the oldest rocks you find nothing but bacteria and the chemical traces thereof, and that continues for over 2 billion years of the earth’s history. Then you find simple multi-celled organisms in the form of algal stromatolites. Then in the late Precambrian, more complex life forms begin to appear, all marine invertebrates. The pattern continues in this basic order: hemichordates –> chordates –>jawless fishes –> jawed fishes –> amphibians –> reptiles –> birds and mammals. That’s a very rough overview, of course, and there is a lot of detail to be filled in. But the important fact here is that the order of appearance is exactly what one would predict if evolution is true, and within each of those major animal groups we find the same predicted order. Now, from the perspective of a young earth creationist, what is the explanation for this order of appearance?

Mr. Gibbons’ next reply will either attempt to answer this challenge directly or it will be removed. I’m tired of the word games and the dishonesty. If Mr. Gibbons cannot answer this challenge directly, then he is wasting everyone’s time here. Anyone wanna take bets on whether he’ll do so or whether he’ll whine about how unfair it is and try to change the subject? The odds begin at 10-1.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan
    December 31, 2005

    Only 10 to 1??? I’d be tempted to take some of that action, even given those paltry odds. But of course, I’ve sworn off betting with you.

  2. #2 pough
    December 31, 2005

    Don’t all creationists simply answer that by saying that the whole geologic column thing is a load of horseshit, so none of that matters anyway? The only prediction that they believe in is the one that says that evilutionists would say that the geologic column fits their predictions no matter what they find or where they find it.

    I mean, if the earth truly is 6000 years old and everything was created in a poof, then the obvious truth is that evilutionists are either deluded fools or sinister liars. And if that’s true, then anything they say can simply and easily be dismissed.

    BTW, happy new year! ;-)

  3. #3 Cliff
    December 31, 2005

    This “Gish Gallop” really is very tiresome. Scientific progress is based on the idea that a theory is the best explanation for the given body of evidence and its validity is held up by the addition of new evidence. Mr. Gibbons asserts that evolution by natural selection is not supported by the available body of evidence.

    It is easy to point out areas where the body of evidence supporting evolution is less than complete. One may point out missing gaps in the evidence to support any theory. In order to credibly invalidate a theory as successful as evolution one must present a clear counter example.

    My challenge to Mr. Gibbons is for him to explain his theory regarding the origin of species, why he feels that it is supported by the entire body of evidence and what novel, testable predictions his theory will advance. Without a competing theory, his arguments are hollow. They only serve to point out that the field of biology is still evolving.

  4. #4 raj
    January 1, 2006

    I find a strange disconnect here. Gibbons claims to be a “young earth creationist” but, from the excerpts recited, seems to acknowledge events that he admits occurred either 60 or 600 million years ago. In most of my readings from YECs, young earth creationists believe that the earth was formed and life began within the last 10,000 or so years. There is a considerable difference between 10,000 years and even 60 million years, much less 600 million years.

    I haven’t followed the discussion in the previously linked-to comments (and I’m not going to waste the time to make the effort to do so), but it seems to me either that Gibbons is being disingenuous or (to utilize a mid-western-ism) he’s pulling your leg.

  5. #5 Charles Winder
    January 1, 2006

    I imagine some responses to your biostratigraphy challenge might include a few classics of creationist “flood geology”, including the ‘divine arrangement of floating mats of stuff’ argument, or the ‘differential settling rates of drowned organisms according to taxonomy’, or ‘the smarter animals made it to higher ground and thus drowned last’ hypothesis. I suppose they could ultimately just say “God (or Satan) put the fossils that way for some reason that we shouldn’t even try to comprehend, so stop trying.”

  6. #6 spyder
    January 1, 2006

    Anyone wanna take bets on whether he’ll do so or whether he’ll whine about how unfair it is and try to change the subject? The odds begin at 10-1.

    If this were a hold-em game, you would be looking at a pair of aces w/ the flop showing A-K-K, and Gibbon’s would be smiling thinking the “J” on the paint in his hand means it is a joker and it is therefore wild. He also believes that it only takes four cards to make a straight. And when all this is pointed out to him, he will claim he was cheated.

  7. #7 Duck
    January 1, 2006

    raj –

    From a YEC perspective, there are two ways to argue against evolutionary biology. Everyone agrees that if evolutionary biology is true, then the earth is really old. Given this, YEC’s can argue either that the earth is in fact not really old (which all by itself would entail that e.b. is false) or that even if the earth is really old, it still doesn’t follow that e.b. is true. When he refers to 600-million-year-old events, Gibbons is doing the latter. It doesn’t mean he really accepts an old earth. As Ed points out, Gibbons then owes us his own story about what actually happened, which could be any of the things Charles W. suggests; and of course he will eventually have to address the astronomical, physical, and geological arguments for an old earth anyway, if he wants to establish YEC in particular. YEC’s sometimes seem to think that given the supposed weakness (!) of the non-biological arguments for an old earth, the only reason people believe it to be old is that it has to be old if e.b. is true. If so, then it makes sense to start by showing e.b. false, even if it means assuming an old earth for the sake of argument. Unfortunately, this can devolve (no pun intended) into exchanges like this one, where each regards the other as claiming dogmatically that “there (are plenty of/aren’t any) transitional forms” in the fossil record. Without an agreed-on conception of what would count as a “transitional form,” then we’re stuck (with respect to this debate, that is).

  8. #8 Martin Striz
    January 1, 2006

    Has anybody else caught the irony of a creationist named Gibbons?

  9. #9 raj
    January 1, 2006

    Duck at January 1, 2006 03:32 PM

    I understand what you posted, but it made no sense. You must be lampooning YECs ;-)

  10. #10 Beaming Visionary
    January 2, 2006

    “If Mr. Gibbons cannot answer this challenge directly, then he is wasting everyone’s time here.”

    After spending roughly an epoch poring over this protracted exchange, I tentatively submit that the consequent of this statement is true regardless of the truth of its antecedent.

    The problem with a thorough and informed writer maintaining an excellent pro-evolution blog like this one is that it inevitably results in having to deal with semiliterate, childish figures such as Gibbons. Plagiarisms aside, his rhetorical style is the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?” approach most of us abandoned as third-graders, along with the “just-you-wait!” “tactic” upon which creationists shamelessly rely when asked to present evidence. (In re the plagiarism issue: Sadly, while exposing Gibbons as a rapscallion as well as a fool, it is fundamentally irrelevant to the “debate” because virtually everything he’s pilfered is standard creationist tripe anyway. Such layering of insults to the intellect is part and parcel of these extended imbroglios.)

    Gibbons is supremely ignorant and duplicitous and I’m tempted to say it’s a shame you’ve been distracted by him at great length. But the usual silver lining is there: Battling with such a bumblefrig secondarily allows observers of the fray to learn a lot of evolutionary biology.

    Gibbons at this point is in the final phase of the creationist argument scheme: He has silently cried uncle and in continuing to posture and yap is merely waiting for you to start ignoring him so he can claim “victory.” Also, he enjoys the attention you’ve given him and would rather be maligned than ignored. So he’s going to keep behaving the same way whether this continues for another week or another decade. Therefore, unless you are having enough fun with this to justify your labors, I can’t imagine why you’d want to gallop along on this crippled and insane horse for much longer.

    Great work, anyway.

  11. #11 Dave S.
    January 2, 2006

    I am posting my reply to the previous posting on this topic here rather than there as it seems more relevant.

    WG) No, it means that I actually went to the trouble of seeking their kind assistance and permission, not that you are interested anyway.

    The issue here Mr. Gibbons is citation. It’s irrelevant that you got permission. EVERYONE has permission to quote his website already via his publically stated citation policy, but that doesn’t unburden you of the responsibility to your readers to properly cite your source within your post.

    This is high school stuff Mr. Gibbons, and frankly I’m shocked a supposed academic with some sort of Ph.D. seems totally unaware of proper procedure. Yes it’s only a blog, but still its deceptive to copy anothers words and present them as if they were your own. The principle does not disappear because the medium is less formal.

    WG). Weasel words. Again, I sought permission to quote from those sources. As for lying, you (an evolutionist) are hardly in the position to point fingers when it comes to “ethics.”

    As above, seeking permission is not the issue. The issue is proper citation, and wasn’t it you Mr. Gibbons who admitted you fell short in this area already and would not do so again? And still you persist. If you want to accuse me personally of such a breach Mr. Gibbons, then please point to a specific instance or retract your statement.

    Did you or did you not say in a response to THIS POST

    “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.

    Emphasis added.

    You did say that, didn’t you Mr. Gibbons? Did you ensure your last posting was properly cited? You seem to be arguing you did.

    WG)I’ll get to the information theory in good time along with the last post by Jim Foley on human evolution, not that it will interest you of course as you have already sold out to the wholly uprovable case of macroevolution anyway. You are not really interested in “answers” are you?

    Actually I am interested, which is why I asked. Interesting that you chose to ignore the request for the definition (a quantitative biologically relevant, definition, not analogies) again. I know such definitions do exist. The problem for the anti-evolutionist is that normal evolutionary mechanisms (such as mutation and selection) can account for information so defined increasing.

    WG) If it really is an “honest interpretation of the evidence” then why do you still believe in macroevolution?

    One reason is the evidence from biostratigraphy. I noticed it’s been many long posts now, and still you have not even begun to address Mr. Brayton’s original request for you to explain the order of appearance of the major fossil groups in the geologic record other than by using macro-evolution. Instead you meander off into irrelevancies like the incompletness of the fossil record, which no-one contests.*

    And yes, I really do want to hear the explanation.

    * That the fossil record is incomplete does not mean that we don’t have a great deal of fossil evidence that can be explained scientifically only by macro-evolution.

    Unless you have another explanation….and you seem not to.

  12. #12 raj
    January 2, 2006

    I haven’t bothered to do a google search on Gibbons’s posts, but I will merely remind him that, if he is not the ultimate source of the substance in the posts, it makes it difficult to determine the provenance of the information provided, from which, in turn, others of us can assess it’s reliability.

    In plain English, just because Gibbons posts it, doesn’t make it so.

  13. #13 Raging Bee
    January 3, 2006

    I love it — Gibbons quotes all of the questions he can’t answer, and promises he’ll have all the answers we demand “soon enough” or “in good time.” Next thing you know, he’ll be sounding like George W. Bush and saying disproving evolution is “hard work!!” Oh well, at least he’s admitting he read the questions. And attributing his sources too!

    What a joke.

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