Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More Coulter Stupidity on Evolution

Not content to show her complete ignorance of evolutionary biology once, Ann Coulter doubles down with yet another screed that would get her flunked by a competent high school science teacher. She begins with this unintentionally amusing statement:

More people know the precepts of kabala than know the basic elements of Darwinism.

And then she proves it by displaying her own ignorance of the subject.

Darwin’s theory was that a process of random mutation, sex and death, allowing the “fittest” to survive and reproduce, and the less fit to die without reproducing, would, over the course of billions of years, produce millions of species out of inert, primordial goo.

The vast majority of mutations are deleterious to the organism, so if the mutations were really random, then for every mutation that was desirable, there ought to be a staggering number that are undesirable.

Actually, most mutations are neutral. Coulter, and all of us, have hundreds of mutations in our DNA at the very least, and the overwhelming majority of the time they affect us hardly at all. In some cases, they cause serious disease. And in other cases they can aid in survival. This is not even remotely controversial. We see it happen in both the lab and the wild literally every day.

If we sequence a genome and compare it to earlier versions of the same genome, we can identify the specific mutations. Richard Lenski has done exactly that with a population of bacteria, which are particularly useful for such experiments because they reproduce so quickly. Not only can we see the specific mutations and their effects, we can watch a particular trait evolve over time as new mutations pile up on top of the old ones and create new pathways and new molecular structures.

We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record – for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.)

But that’s not what the fossil record shows. We don’t have fossils for any intermediate creatures in the process of evolving into something better. This is why the late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard referred to the absence of transitional fossils as the “trade secret” of paleontology. (Lots of real scientific theories have “secrets.”)

Ah, another dishonest quote mine. This one irritated Gould himself, who addressed the question head on when he wrote:

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists — whether though design or stupidity, I do not know — as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups.

And indeed they are. In fact, Gould himself wrote a good deal about one of the transitions that Coulter questions, the evolution of whales from land mammals (not from bears but from Artiodactyls). Paleontologists have now found numerous transitional forms from land mammals to modern whales and they form a fairly complete series. Gould wrote in 1994:

“If you had given me a blank piece of paper and a blank check, I could not have drawn you a theoretical intermediate any better or more convincing than Ambulocetus. Those dogmatists who by verbal trickery can make white black, and black white, will never be convinced of anything, but Ambulocetus is the very animal that they proclaimed impossible in theory.”

Coulter continues:

If you get your news from the American news media, it will come as a surprise to learn that when Darwin first published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, his most virulent opponents were not fundamentalist Christians, but paleontologists.

Another lie. It’s certainly true that there were scientific critics of Darwin’s theory, but the primary opposition came from the church. Thus, the famous debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce. What Coulter conveniently leaves out is that Darwin’s theory gained very rapid acceptance among scientists quite quickly because it explained such a wide range of data extremely well. And that continues to this day. Coulter doesn’t know any of this because she is as ignorant of the scientific literature on evolution as I am of auto mechanics. Unlike her, however, I don’t go around declaring that all auto mechanics don’t know a thing about how to fix a car or that the internal combustion engine couldn’t possibly work.

But things have only gotten worse for Darwin.

Thirty years ago (before it was illegal to question Darwinism), Dr. David Raup, a geologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, said that despite the vast expansion of the fossil record: “The situation hasn’t changed much.”

To the contrary, fossil discoveries since Darwin’s time have forced paleontologists to take back evidence of evolution. “Some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record,” Raup said, “such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information.”

Another dishonest quote mine. What a shock that new evidence would alter explanations. This is, of course, one of the great strengths of science — and one of the great weaknesses of religion. More detailed information should modify our explanations, and in science they do.

The rest is more of the same, rote regurgitation of long-discredited creationist arguments. Ironically, the very man she quoted in her last ignorant diatribe on the subject, Michael Behe, accepts common descent and agrees that the fossil record clearly supports it. He just gives God a divine assist at the molecular level.