Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Ray Comfort’s 10K Challenge

Those of us who have dealt with creationists for any period of time are used to seeing ridiculous monetary challenges. Kent Hovind has had one for years, so do Joseph Mastrapaolo and Karl Priest. They are all fake and pointless and, to a sane person, would be a source of profound embarrassment to those who offer them. The latest is from Ray Comfort, the Batman to Kirk Cameron’s Robin. True to form, it betrays a rank ignorance of evolution. I’ll post the full text below the fold:

The $10,000 Offer

A transitional form (or missing link) is an example of one species “evolving” into another species. Excited scientists thought they had found one when they discovered “Archaeopteryx.” The fossil led to the theory that the dinosaurs did not become extinct, but rather all turned into birds. The Field Museum in Chicago displayed what was believed to be an archaeopteryx fossil on October 4-19, 1997. It was hailed as “Archaeopteryx: The Bird That Rocked the World.” However, Dr. Alan Feduccia (evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina), said, “Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleo-babble’ is going to change that.” [Science, February 5, 1993]. So here’s my challenge: I will give $10,000 to the first person who can prove to me that they have found a genuine living transitional form (a lizard that produced a bird, or a dog that produced kittens, or a sheep that produced a chicken, or even as Archaeopteryx–a dinosaur that produced a bird). Species do not cross, no matter how long you leave them. The whole of creation is proof that evolution is truly “a fairytale for grownups.”

The reference to Feduccia is absurd. The only difference between Feduccia and other paleontologists is that Feduccia believes that there were lots of birds around before and after Archy and that the common ancestor of modern birds came after the extinction of dinosaurs. The dispute is over which exact group birds evolved from, not over whether evolution is true. Just another quote mine that means nothing.

As for the rest of it, it clearly shows that Comfort doesn’t know a damn thing about evolution. If a sheep gave birth to a chicken, evolution would be disproved, not proved. This is nothing more than ignorant blather from a dolt who knows nothing at all about evolution but feels qualified to spout off about it. And the sad thing is that his even more ignorant followers will lap it up like kittens with a bowl of milk.

Comments

  1. #1 MikeQ
    May 16, 2007

    “However, Dr. Alan Feduccia (evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina), said, ‘Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleo-babble’ is going to change that.’”

    Alan Feduccia might be a real scientist, I wouldn’t know and don’t really have time to look it up. But this comment goes right back to Richard Owens’ original classification of Archaeopteryx as a bird, despite the fact that it had–if memory serves–a small keel, a limited reportoire of feathers, and teeth, to go along with digits on its wings. Richard Owens was a creationist who was worried that, with the publication of Origin of Species in 1859, the discovery of archaeopteryx in 1861 would lead the specimen to be viewed as a missing link.

    Essentially, Richard Owens engaged in some shoddy science and questionable ethics in the service of his cause, and muddied the waters around archaeopteryx just enough to allow creationist drivel like Comfort’s above to be spouted nearly 150 years later.

    I don’t know whether Archaeopteryx itself is the progenitor of birds (or as some would say, avian dinosaurs), but it was obviously something like archaeopteryx in the Jurassic or even the Triassic that gave rise to birds. With regard to the creationists: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  2. #2 Brian Thompson
    May 16, 2007

    Do evolutionary biologists use the term “transitional forms”.. ever? Isn’t that some poppycock creationist word? According to evolutionary biology, EVERY living thing is a transitional form. He’s accurate in saying that “species do not cross”, but we’re not talking about crossing species to make some freakish hybrid sheep-chicken, we’re talking about the long slow process of species gradually changing to different species. The amusing thing is that he even makes the claim IN THE CHALLENGE that its not possible to win the money.

    Here’s my rebuttal:
    “I hereby offer $10,000 to anyone who can disprove my existence by showing that I don’t exist. But I exist, so you’ll never get the money! Hahaha!”

  3. #3 Matthew Young
    May 16, 2007

    It’s not entirely relevant, but I remember being dumbstruck when I saw my first Cormorant. It has low buoyancy, sits very low in the water, swims incredibly well and struggles like hell to fly. I don’t know the precise tree that relates it to penguins and flighted birds, and I know that all of these are different branches of the same tree, rather than three stages in a distinct lineage. Nevertheless, it was such a clear indication of how penguins presumably evolved I was gobsmacked. It may not be a transitional form, but it’s as close as you’re going to find, surely. Almost halfway inbetween.

    [/digression]

  4. #4 Matthew Young
    May 16, 2007

    By close as you’re going to find, I mean as an illustration, not an actual scientific example.

  5. #5 Michael Suttkus, II
    May 16, 2007

    Hey, Mr. Comfort! James Randi has been offering a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate the supernatural! His organization has confirmed to me that demonstrating creationism would qualify. What’s keeping you from racing over to claim the money?

    Idiots.

    There are, of course, several living transitions, or, at least, species in the middle of transiting. Pandas are in a transition from carnivore to herbivore. Their teeth, musculature, digestive system, etc. all reflect their in-between state. Tigers are transitional between diurnal and nocturnal. Grey squirrels are transitioning in the opposite direction.

    Of course, he says “species cannot cross”. We have hundreds of observed examples of new species evolving, so if that is his standard, he can make the check out to the name below. Of course, it isn’t. He’s just hasn’t bothered to actually think through that which he blithers and is too ignorant to understand “species” anyway.

    Feducia is a real scientist, but he has a slightly alternate view of bird evolution. He thinks (or thought last time I checked) that birds are not descended from dinosaurs but from a dinosaur sister group that are so similar to dinosaurs even experts have trouble telling them apart. Frankly, Feducia could be completely correct and it would amount to no more than a shift of one line on the standard tree of life. The problem is that Feducia, like so many others, likes to paint his propositions in the most sensationalistic language possible, giving the creationists plenty of quotes to mine for nuggets. His actual position offers the creationists nothing.

    Cop 1: “I think the murderer came up the elevator.”

    Cop 2: “No, I think he came up the stairs.”

    Creationist: “Ha ha! The cops can’t agree how the murderer got there, so clearly getting there is impossible and there was no murder!”

    A quick search for “protoavis” will give you more information on this controversy than you ever cared to know.

  6. #6 Michael Suttkus, II
    May 16, 2007

    Hey, Mr. Comfort! James Randi has been offering a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate the supernatural! His organization has confirmed to me that demonstrating creationism would qualify. What’s keeping you from racing over to claim the money?

    Idiots.

    There are, of course, several living transitions, or, at least, species in the middle of transiting. Pandas are in a transition from carnivore to herbivore. Their teeth, musculature, digestive system, etc. all reflect their in-between state. Tigers are transitional between diurnal and nocturnal. Grey squirrels are transitioning in the opposite direction.

    Of course, he says “species cannot cross”. We have hundreds of observed examples of new species evolving, so if that is his standard, he can make the check out to the name below. Of course, it isn’t. He’s just hasn’t bothered to actually think through that which he blithers and is too ignorant to understand “species” anyway.

    Feducia is a real scientist, but he has a slightly alternate view of bird evolution. He thinks (or thought last time I checked) that birds are not descended from dinosaurs but from a dinosaur sister group that are so similar to dinosaurs even experts have trouble telling them apart. Frankly, Feducia could be completely correct and it would amount to no more than a shift of one line on the standard tree of life. The problem is that Feducia, like so many others, likes to paint his propositions in the most sensationalistic language possible, giving the creationists plenty of quotes to mine for nuggets. His actual position offers the creationists nothing.

    Cop 1: “I think the murderer came up the elevator.”

    Cop 2: “No, I think he came up the stairs.”

    Creationist: “Ha ha! The cops can’t agree how the murderer got there, so clearly getting there is impossible and there was no murder!”

    A quick search for “protoavis” will give you more information on this controversy than you ever cared to know.

  7. #7 Michael Suttkus, II
    May 16, 2007

    Ooops, sorry about the double post. Stupid hiccup.

    I want to retract my cop analogy, though. I realize now that a more apt analogy would be to have the two cops talking about two identical elevators right next to each other.

  8. #8 Dave M
    May 16, 2007

    I love this sentence: “The fossil led to the theory that the dinosaurs did not become extinct, but rather all turned into birds.” That’s just priceless.

  9. #9 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 16, 2007

    However, Dr. Alan Feduccia (evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina), said, “Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleo-babble’ is going to change that.” [Science, February 5, 1993].

    Sure, “paleo-babble” isn’t going to change anything. But new fossil information will:
    Earliest Bird Had Feet Like Dinosaur, Fossil Shows

    Nicholas Bakalar
    for National Geographic News
    December 1, 2005

    A 150-million-year-old fossil of Archaeopteryx, long considered the oldest bird, may put to rest any scientific doubt that dinosaurs–specifically the group of two-legged meat-eaters known as theropods–gave rise to modern birds.

    The fossil is the ninth example of Archaeopteryx known to science.

    The latest specimen is among the best preserved. It is a slightly broken skeleton in a single slab of pure limestone, showing clear wing- and tail-feather impressions.

    Of Feet and Toes

    The animal’s feet, both of them perfectly preserved, attracted the researchers’ particular attention. Archaeopteryx, the fossil shows, had a hyperextendible second toe. Until now, the feature was thought to belong only to the species’ close relatives, the deinonychosaurs. (The name means “fearsome claws.” The deinonychosaur Velociraptor wielded switchblade-like examples of these talons in the movie Jurrasic Park.)

    Contrary to all previous reconstructions of Archaeopteryx, the hind toe of the new specimen is not completely reversed to form a “perching” foot as it is in modern birds. The researchers believe that the fully reversed hind toe in other Archaeopteryx fossils shifted during preservation and never existed in the live animal.

    In the new fossil, the foot looks more like that of the four-toed foot of Velociraptor and its other nonwinged theropod relatives. The specimen clearly lacks a reversed toe.

    Because Archaeopteryx lacked this stabilizing toe, it almost certainly did not habitually perch in trees.

    Too bad for Comfort he’s using ancient data.

  10. #10 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 16, 2007

    Here’s the peer-review paper in Science:
    A Well-Preserved Archaeopteryx Specimen with Theropod Features
    [Subscription-only, I presume]
    Science 2 December 2005:
    Vol. 310. no. 5753, pp. 1483 – 1486
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1120331

    Now i just have to check out the fine print on collecting my $10,000 from Mr. Banana.

  11. #11 Flying Fox
    May 16, 2007

    MikeQ-that’s an interesting tidbit about Richard Owens. Not that this is relevant, but didn’t Owens coin the term dinosaur? This is relevant, now that I know Richard Owens was a creationist, his disagreement with Darwin makes more sense. One implication of Darwin’s work was a new definition of the term species. Owens argued that a species had to be concrete and immutable.

  12. #12 mark
    May 16, 2007

    That quote from Ray is so precious! I hope someone keeps a copy for him so that years from now, when he is ready to graduate from high school, he can see what a cute little bugger he was.

  13. #13 Michael Suttkus, II
    May 16, 2007

    The irony is that it was Richard Owens’ early work which revealed the theropod similarities to birds which, in turn, led to Darwin and others predicting they would be related. It was generally treated as strong support for EVILution, even before an explicit transition fossil was found. Indeed, every theropod dinosaur is a transition between stem Archosaurs and birds. Just like every paleozoic reptile is a transition between amphibians and birds.

    Creationists just don’t get that we are awash with transitions.

  14. #14 Emory K.
    May 16, 2007

    Brian Thompson inquired whether paleontologists ever use the term “transitional form.” Yes, they frequently do – the term is not a creationist invention. Unfortunately, even among paleontologists the uses and meanings of “intermediate” and “transitional” haven’t been consistent over the years, leading to some loss of clarity.

    Considering punctuated equilibrium, speciation will often occur relatively rapidly within a small sub-population, so fossils of animals actually caught in the act of speciation will be not just rare, but “rare squared” due to both the short times and small populations involved.

    Even without any caught-in-the-act fossils, evolution can still be strongly proven just from detailed study of the morphology of all the many fossils of animals that lived in large equilibrium populations in the long spans between speciation events. As Mr. Thompson suggested, there’s a strong sense in which ALL fossils are intermediate (excepting end-of-the-line species that went extinct without leaving daughter species.) And that’s more than plenty to prove evolution, whether you have any ultra-rare “caught-in-the-act” fossils or not.

    However you choose to use the words “intermediate” and “transitional” please be careful about the above distinction. In debating a creationist, try to figure out whether they’re claiming that highly common intermediate forms – in Mr. Thompson’s sense of intermediate – don’t prove evolution, or whether they’re demanding highly rare “caught-in-the-act” fossils. Very different responses are called for, but we win either way.

  15. #15 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 16, 2007

    Do you think a camel that gave birth to a camel-llama hybrid would meet Comfort’s requirements?

  16. #16 vic viper
    May 16, 2007

    Is it weird that even when I took the bible more or less at its word that I still accepted the concept of evolution (albeit at a much diminished time depth)? I mean, the whole idea of natural selection changing species over time seemed so obvious to me. It seems to me that these young-earth creationists would have much easier lives if they could just accept the principles of evolution as having been set into motion at the same time that life began 6,000 odd years ago or however long ago they suppose it was. They’d still be wrong about the age of the earth and they’d still have to deny common descent, but at least it would save them the embareassment of making ridiculous claims about sheep-chickens and the like. I mean, when it comes down to it, they really do believe in an omnipotent deity who can create an entire fucking universe, cause donkeys to speak, make a woman asexually produce a male child who is also the physical embodiment of itself, etc. Is really just so hard for them to just say right out that “God did it” and leave it at that. If you believe all that, it doesn’t take much to also have faith in a young-earth creation while at the same time recognizing the obvious truth of the most basic evolutionary claims of natural selection and descent with modification. But no, any concessions to the Darwinian Priests will lead people down that perilous road to Atheism and before you know it they’ll all be gay pot-smoking godless libero-fascist Communist-Nazis dedicated to aborting all the fetuses on the planet.

  17. #17 Science Avenger
    May 16, 2007

    I offer up: the lungfish.

    Where do I collect?

    Seriously, Mr. Comfort, do you believe all humans have a common ancestor? Surely you do. I suspect you name them “Adam” and “Eve”. Well, it stands to reason that you believe Africans, Europeans, and Asians descended, within a “kind” if you like, from those ancestors, correct?

    Prove it.

    Do so under the same demands you make here. Show me a transitional form akin to “a dog that produced kittens”. Show me a European woman that gives birth to African babies. If you prefer Mr. Cameron’s example of a “crocoduck”, then fine. Show me a person with the head of an African and the body of an Asian.

    That’s not an analogy sir. That is your EXACT argument applied to us. Stupid, isn’t it?

  18. #18 Leni
    May 16, 2007

    Ed wrote:

    And the sad thing is that his even more ignorant followers will lap it up like kittens with a bowl of milk.

    I really must take issue with the way you’ve so callously defamed and slandered kittens. I’ve alwasys suspected it, but now we have before us direct evidence of your bigotry against kittens!

  19. #19 Ebonmuse
    May 16, 2007

    Show me a person with the head of an African and the body of an Asian.

    This has got to be the funniest illustration of Comfort’s idiocy I’ve ever read. I think this one ranks even above asking the creationist, “If Americans came from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?”

  20. #20 Troy Britain
    May 16, 2007

    Brian Thompson: Do evolutionary biologists use the term “transitional forms”.. ever?

    Yes they do. Personally I prefer the term intermediate form because “transitional” implies a level of certainty about decent relationships that are practically impossible to obtain with fossil organisms.

    Isn’t that some poppycock creationist word?

    No it isn’t, though they misuse the term certainly.

    According to evolutionary biology, EVERY living thing is a transitional form.

    This is inaccurate, and the seemingly pervasive use of this argument by people trying to defend evolution is starting to become a pet peeve of mine.

  21. #21 Pastor Art
    May 17, 2007

    Here is how you can contact Dr. Feduccia

    http://www.bio.unc.edu/Faculty/Feduccia/

    Easy to find thanks to Mr. Google.

  22. #22 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 17, 2007

    Yesterday I sent in my application for the $10,000, based on the more recent Archaeopteryx paper as mentioned above, to the e-mail address listed on Comfort’s web page. I haven’t heard back yet; he’s probably at the bank making a withdrawal.

  23. #23 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    May 23, 2007

    Perhaps this would satisfy Mr. comfort: Rabbit-headed cat

  24. #24 Russ
    May 26, 2007

    I think it is funny that Michael Suttkus calls Ray Comfort an idiot for wanting someone to actually prove the natural and he’s making fun of Ray for not claiming the money for proving the Supernatural. Wouldn’t be easy to prove the natural and no one has, but Ray is an idiot for not making God prove the supernatural. I think the idiot is calling the idiot one, maybe it really does take one to know one… idunno

  25. #25 Science Avenger
    May 26, 2007

    Russ, Ray Comfort is an idiot, because his challenge has either been met many many times, or is absurdly not representative of what a transitional fossil is, based on how what he is saying is interpreted. Asking someone to produce “a lizard that produced a bird, or a dog that produced kittens, or a sheep that produced a chicken” isn’t a challenge, it’s an admission of ignorance, as has been established by the many posters here.

  26. #26 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    May 28, 2007

    Still no word from Ray Comfort on my $10,000. A small suspicion introduces itself to my mind.

  27. #27 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    June 20, 2007

    Nothing yet. No money, no word.

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