Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Fisking Eugene Windchy

Eugene Windchy, the author of the book The End of Darwinism that was being promoted by Pat Buchanan in his absurd column about evolution recently, showed up to comment on my fisking of that column. He unsurprisingly makes more false claims on top of the ones that have already been debunked. I thought I’d move it up to the top to look at them one by one. Let’s begin with that tried and absurd claim about Darwin and Hitler:

It is true that whether Darwin influenced Hitler is not relevant to the validity of Darwin’s theory. Buchanan said just that in his review. Buchanan simply was making the point that much evil has come from the theory.

Of course, one could just as easily point to the many statements Hitler made about being motivated by Christianity, as I and others have done many times. And to the fact that Hitler was following in a long line of Christian leaders in Germany who called for the Jews to be attacked and killed, beginning with the most important and influential of all German theologians, Martin Luther.

You will, of course, dismiss that evidence while believing similar statements about evolution. This is what logicians call special pleading. I, on the other hand, dismiss both causal arguments and recognize that Hitler used whatever was at his disposal to justify his madness depending on his audience at each moment. But if you’re going to make this claim about evolution and Hitler, at least give the whole picture. That’s what an intellectually honest person does.

Until recently virtually every public school textbook reported gills in the human embryo. My book mentions a biology textbook published in 2005 by McGraw Hill.

I’d be willing to wager that the text did not claim that human embryos had gills in them. They might have used a term like “gill arches” or “gill slits,” which has often been used as a synonym for the pharyngeal arches that develop into different structures in different animals but appear in the early embryos of nearly all vertebrates to be virtually identical, but I doubt very much that it says human embryos have “gills.” How about providing a specific citation for the book and a specific quote of what the book said in this regard?

Brayton slides over the feather problem, which is huge. Harvard’s Ernst Mayr admitted there was no Darwinian explanation for the feather.

This is a classic creationist red herring. It’s quite easy to declare that science has no answer to (fill in the blank) when one knows that A) their audience is not going to go and actually research the question, and B) the question they are talking about is a matter of ongoing research. One can make a short, pithy little claim like this because it would take reference to volumes of ongoing research to refute, research that is dismissed out of hand by those at whom the claim is targeted.

This particular question is, of course, one of the most thriving areas of research by evolutionary biologists because we now know that feathers originated in theropod dinosaurs long before the lineages that led to modern birds evolved. Feathers did not originate in birds, they originated in reptiles. The precise biological pathway that led to their development is not yet known and may never be known, but it is the subject of some very good research and one of the most exciting areas of current research.

And the history of science is littered with a virtually limitless number of things about which someone once declared that science could not explain. Such bold declarations of science’s impotence to explain (fill in the blank) are a fool’s game engaged in primarily by demagogues rather than by serious analysts.

Nebraska Man began as an error, but the debunking could have been reported much earlier–in time for the Scopes Monkey Trial.

This is absurd. The original article on Hesperopithecus was published by HF Osborn in Nature in 1922. Osborn announced his find very tentatively, saying, “I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry, because I consider it quite possible that we may discover anthropoid apes (Simiidae) with teeth closely imitating those of man (Hominidae)…Until we secure more of the dentition, or parts of the skull or of the skeleton, we cannot be certain whether Hesperopithecus is a member of the Simiidae or of the Hominidae.”

Knowing that they had to put those two teeth into proper context to get an accurate identification, Osborn arranged for a research expedition to take place at the site where Harold Cook found the original specimen, led by his friend William King Gregory. That field expedition began in Spring 1925. What they ultimately found was evidence that the teeth actually came from an extinct peccary and were weathered to resemble primate teeth. Gregory published a retraction of Osborn’s original identification in 1927.

This claim about the Scopes trial is ridiculous for two reasons. First, because the field research was still going on when the Scopes trial took place in July 1925. Second, because Nebraska man didn’t have a thing to do with the Scopes trial. Creationists have long claimed that scientists had testified at the Scopes trial and used Nebraska Man as proof of evolution, but that claim is false. Nebraska Man was never mentioned at the Scopes trial.

Piltdown Man was a hoax. This crude forgery fooled the world for 40 years. It was exposed very easily when Piltdown Man no longer fitted the latest theory of human evolution, which, ironically, since has been revised.

Another old red herring from the creationists. Piltdown Man never did fit into the patterns of evidence for human origins in the first place, which is why it was viewed with suspicion by so many scientists. But as I said in my original post, the hoax was discovered by scientists doing science. It was proven to be a hoax by using new dating techniques developed by scientists that were not available at the time the fossil was “discovered.” If those techniques had been available earlier, the hoax would have been proven earlier. Again, this is an example of how science self corrects itself.

This whole argument is so idiotic. I would love to hear Mr. Windchy offer an explanation for why Piltdown Man is a problem for evolution. Here, I’ll start it for him:

Piltdown Man is relevant because to the truth or falsity of the theory of evolution because it shows….(fill in the blank).

Because it shows what, exactly? Yes, it shows that a century ago some con men were able to pull off a hoax, which scientists exposed by applying the standards and techniques of science because that is what scientists do, continually challenge and question their findings.

Buchanan did not say anything about common descent, and I do not see how that subject is relevant to the validity of Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said life has descended from a “few forms” or one.

The modern theory of evolution IS the theory of common descent.