Pharyngula

This article is part of a series of critiques of Jonathan Wells’ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design that will be appearing at the Panda’s Thumb over the course of the next week or so. Previously, I’d dissected the summary of chapter 3. This is a longer criticism of the whole of the chapter, which is purportedly a critique of evo-devo.

Jonathan Wells is a titular developmental biologist, so you’d expect he’d at least get something right in his chapter on development and evolution in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, but no: he instead uses his nominal knowledge of a complex field to muddle up the issues and misuse the data to generate a spurious impression of a science that is unaware of basic issues. He ping-pongs back and forth in a remarkably incoherent fashion, but that incoherence is central to his argument: he wants to leave the reader so baffled about the facts of embryology that they’ll throw up their hands and decide development is all wrong.

Do not be misled. The state of Jonathan Wells’ brain is in no way the state of the modern fields of molecular genetics, developmental biology, and evo-devo.

Here’s my shorter version of Wells’ chapter 3, titled “Why you didn’t ‘evolve’ in your mother’s womb.” It may sound familiar to many of you.

The strongest evidence for Darwin’s theory was embryology, but Karl Ernst von Baer, who laid out the laws of development, did not think they supported evolution, and Ernst Haeckel twisted and distorted von Baer’s laws and faked his data to support Darwinism. He was wrong, and the earliest stages of vertebrate embryos do not resemble one another at all, so Darwinism was built on a false foundation, and they’re still using Haeckel’s faked data in our textbooks. Oh, and mutant fruit flies are still just flies.

That’s right, it’s a rather boring rewrite of a premise of his book, Icons of Evolution, which I hammered on over three years ago. He hasn’t learned a thing since, and he’s making exactly the same arguments. I’ll take a different tack this time and expose the sleight of hand he’s pulling.

Here’s the centerpiece of his ploy. It’s a basic concept in evo-devo, proposed in the early 1990s by Duboule and Raff as a summary of 150 years worth of observations, called the developmental hourglass.

i-11950d499a84770bc6d19bb9a9964c70-gerhart_kirschner_hourglass.gif

What it illustrates is that we have great diversity in the earliest stages of development, in the blastula and gastrula and neurula, but that they all converge on a more similar form, the pharyngula, at what’s called the phylotypic stage…and then they diverge once again to achieve the diversity of adult forms. This is a great opportunity for a creationist. You see, when you dig into the developmental biology literature, you will find some papers taking about the similarities of embryos at the neck of the hourglass, and you will also find other papers talking in some detail about the great differences before and after that stage. You will also find marvelous possibilities for confusion in the vague and malleable term “early”—to me, for instance, anything before the pharyngula stage is early, and everything after is late and relatively uninteresting. To put that in perspective, though, humans reach that stage at the 4th or 5th week of pregnancy—so I’m basically declaring month two and later of the human pregnancy to be late development. We do tend to throw around the terms early and late as relative measures of the timing of events, but we also name specific stages and processes…the fine details of which Wells leaves out, to make everything that much more confusing.

This is the heart of Wells’ strategy: pick comments by developmental biologists referring to different stages, which say very different things about the similarity of embryos, and conflate them. It’s easy to make it sound like scientists are willfully lying about the state of our knowledge when you can pluck out a statement about the diversity at the gastrula stage, omit the word “gastrula,” and pretend it applies to the pharyngula stage.

Literally. He is actually that dishonest.

Here’s how Wells quotes William Ballard (a well known elder developmental biologist, who has done a lot of work on fish and is therefore familiar to me):

It is “only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence,” by “bending the facts of nature,” that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates “are more alike than their adults.”

Always be suspicious when you see partial phrases quoted and strung together by a creationist. Little alarm bells should be going off like mad in your head.

This is from a paper in which Ballard is advocating greater appreciation of the morphogenetic diversity of the gastrula stage—that is, a very early event, one that is at the base of that hourglass, where developmental biologists have been saying for years that there is a great deal of phylogenetic diversity. Here’s what Ballard actually said:

Before the pharyngula stage we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. Only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that “gastrulas” of shark, salmon, frog, and bird are more alike than their adults.

See what I mean? He has lifted a quote from a famous scientist that applies to the gastrula stage, stripped out the specific referents, and made it sound as if it applies to the pharyngula stage. It’s a simple game, one he repeats over and over in this chapter.

One might argue that maybe Ballard also thought these semantic tricks applied to the pharyngula stage, and so Wells was representing his general views accurately. Alas, this cannot be. The paragraph before his mangled quote says this, rather plainly:

All then arrive at the pharyngula stage, which is remarkably uniform throughout the subphylum, consisting of similar organ rudiments similarly arranged (though in some respects deformed in respect to habitat and food supply). After the standardized pharyngula stage, the maturing of the structures of organs and tissues takes place on diverging line, each line characteristic of the class and further diverging into lines characteristic of the orders, families, and so on.

It’s a classic quote mine. Wells has edited the quote to suit his ends, and has also utterly ignored the sense of the paper, which directly contradicts his claims, to produce a grand lie and tie it to the reputation of a distinguished senior scientist.

I could stop here. With that one example, Wells is exposed as a disreputable scoundrel, a sloppy ideologue whose ‘scholarship’ is untrustworthy and willfully distorted. You simply cannot believe one word he says. I will go on a little further, though, and try to explain some of the ideas he has treated so shabbily.

The developmental hourglass

There is a fair amount of debate in the evo-devo community about the reality of the developmental hourglass, but Wells doesn’t seem to touch on the actual arguments at all—merely these strawman complaints and garbled chronologies that he uses to cast false doubt on the evolutionary process. One serious question is about how wide the waist of the hourglass actually is: an overzealous Haeckelian interpretation would be that it is very narrow indeed, but serious embryology (none of which seems to be done by Intelligent Design proponents) demonstrates that there is a significant amount of variation within the phylotypic period. Michael Richardson relaunched a critical reevaluation on the basis of morphology, and there have been a number of attempts to analyze the molecular basis of the model (several papers are cited at the end of this article; some find no detectable evidence of a consistent molecular pattern, others do.)

If it does pan out as a universal and coherent property of developing embryos that they should have a conserved stage, the next question is “why?” What is it that shelters the phylotypic stage to some degree (as yet unquantified) from the evolutionary divergence so common in other developmental processes? I actually rather like Raff’s explanation: that it is a matter of scope. The diagram to the right below outlines this idea.

i-447cbea02917160cf98ba765931eb172-raff_hourglass.gif

Development is a process of increasing complexity (the grey line). The assembly of an integrated body plan requires, at some time, a pattern of global interaction—there has to be information generated at some point to specify where the head will be relative to the tail, etc., and some processes operate over large areas of the animal. For instance, somites, one of the body elements characteristic of the phylotypic stage, form under the influence of a somitic clock, rhythmic waves of molecular activity that sweep the length of the trunk and tail. One idea is that these ‘whole body’ specification events are conserved and are difficult to uncouple from one another, so all the features for which they are responsible tend to appear together in a coordinated fashion…and that coordination is what we call the phylotypic period. Other processes are more modular and more local, not needing that level of global interaction, and are more free to diverge. The dark line in the graph indicates a peak time of long range interactive processes (and again, the real argument is about how broad that peak might be, and how much are the different fundamental processes, such as myotome and branchial arch formation, unlinked), and how subsequent developmental events become more independent.

That there are active, open questions in this particular area of developmental biology, though, does not suggest the field of evo-devo is wrong. It means that biologists are working on interesting problems, and a survey of the field would show that evolution is the productive framework of choice. Intelligent Design creationists like Wells are reduced to irrelevant carping from the sidelines…and even their criticisms are all wrong.Darwin’s debt to embryology

Another feature of Wells’ book, and creationists in general, is the obsession with Charles Darwin. I like the guy, I think he was brilliant, and it was his insights that launched modern evolutionary biology. But come on—he’s been dead for 124 years. He didn’t have all the tools we do now: no genetics, no molecular biology. Science has moved on well beyond Darwin’s day, but not for the creationists, who still think they can whimper and whine about errors in a book almost 150 years old and thereby dent work that nowadays depends in large part on molecular and genetic and population genetics…fields that didn’t even exist for Charles!

Darwin did argue that embryology was an important piece of the evidence for evolution, a fact that is still true and probably even more so than in his time. What Wells does, though, is again mislead his readers about Darwin’s views. He claims that:

…von Baer’s view “was confounded with and then transformed into” the evolutionary doctrine that the embryos of higher organisms pass through the adult forms of lower organisms in the course of their development. It was this evolutionary distortion of von Baer’s work that Darwin considered the strongest evidence for his theory.

In the 1860’s, German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel (pronounced “heckle”) made some drawings to illustrate this distorted view, and Darwin relied on the drawings in later editions of The Origin of Species and in The Descent of Man (1871).

There’s that Wells sleight of hand again. Haeckel’s ideas about recapitulation (this idea of embryos passing through the adult forms of ‘lower’ organisms, which even Haeckel did not hold as simple-mindedly as Wells pretends) would be very difficult to find in the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859…note the date of Haeckel’s work. Pore through the Origin, and you won’t find reference to Haeckel’s theory (later editions cite him once), and you certainly won’t find any reliance on his drawings.

Darwin refers to embryology as the “strongest single class of facts” in favor of a change of forms in a letter to Asa Gray, and even there we don’t see the kind of adherence to recapitulation that Wells proposes.

It is curious how each one, I suppose, weighs arguments in a different balance: embryology is to me by far the strongest single class of facts in favour of change of forms, and not one, I think, of my reviewers has alluded to this. Variation not coming on at a very early age, and being inherited at not a very early corresponding period, explains, as it seems to me, the grandest of all facts in natural history, or rather in zoology, viz. the resemblance of embryos.

Hmmm. He’s talking about the timing of the onset of accumulation of variation, not that there is some constraint to follow adult forms. The description above actually fits very well with von Baer’s ideas of development proceeding from the general to the specific, not the “evolutionary distortion” (which is not part of evolutionary theory, anyway!) Wells describes.

In the Origin, we see even more nuance.

We can see why characters derived from the embryo should be of equal
importance with those derived from the adult, for a natural
classification of course includes all ages. But it is by no means
obvious, on the ordinary view, why the structure of the embryo
should be more important for this purpose than that of the adult,
which alone plays its full part in the economy of nature. Yet it has
been strongly urged by those great naturalists, Milne Edwards and
Agassiz, that embryological characters are the most important of
all; and this doctrine has very generally been admitted as true.
Nevertheless, their importance has sometimes been exaggerated, owing
to the adaptive characters of larvae not having been excluded; in
order to show this, Fritz Muller arranged by the aid of such
characters alone the great class of crustaceans, and the arrangement
did not prove a natural one. But there can be no doubt that
embryonic, excluding larval characters, are of the highest value for
classification, not only with animals but with plants. Thus the main
divisions of flowering plants are founded on differences in the
embryo,- on the number and position of the cotyledons, and on the mode
of development of the plumule and radicle. We shall immediately see
why these characters possess so high a value in classification,
namely, from the natural system being genealogical in its arrangement.

Notice: no claim that embryos recapitulate adult forms, an acknowledgment that the importance can be exaggerated and that there are confounding characters, and the citation of well-known authors (Agassiz, by the way, was an opponent of evolutionary theory) that embryology is important for analysis in systematics. This doesn’t resemble Wells caricature in the slightest.

What about later editions? I mentioned that Haeckel was cited once, and here it is:

Professor Haeckel in his Generelle Morphologie and in other works,
has recently brought his great knowledge and abilities to bear on what
he calls phylogeny, or the lines of descent of all organic beings.
In drawing up the several series he trusts chiefly to embryological
characters, but receives aid from homologous and rudimentary organs,
as well as from the successive periods at which the various forms of
life are believed to have first appeared in our geological formations.
He has thus boldly made a great beginning, and shows us how
classification will in the future be treated.

Again, no mention of recapitulation of adult forms, and in fact, the emphasis is on using multiple lines of evidence to build a phylogeny: embryological characters, homologous and vestigial organs, and paleontology. That sounds reasonable to me. Does Wells disagree?

Wells’ treatment of the historical relationship of Darwin and Haeckel is as shoddily done as his discussion of the phylotypic stage. He relies entirely on mangled chronologies and the dishonest attribution of ideas to the targets of his slanders.

Modern developmental genetics and evo-devo

At the end of the chapter, Wells throws away several pages in a common creationist complaint, that mutant flies are still flies, not shrimp or horses. In particular, he focuses on work by McGinnis and colleagues, who have been working out the details of how Hox genes affect morphology; in one well-known work a few years ago, they demonstrated that a fly gene, Ubx, had evolved limb-suppressing properties that are not present in the crustacean version of Ubx. Flies, of course, only have legs on their thoraxes, not their abdomens (where Ubx is expressed), while shrimp do have abdominal limbs. It’s great stuff: it demonstrates how large-scale morphological properties of organisms are regulated by fairly small changes in the sequences of key genes.

Wells response?

…even if they had shown how ancient shrimp lost a few legs, their experiment would not have even begun to explain how a water-dwelling shrimp-like animal could acquire the ability to breathe air and fly.

It’s a classic example of goalpost shifting. The intelligent design creationists are always demanding step-by-step explanations for the evolution of an organism, but when a legitimate researcher uncovers one step, they immediately resort to demanding a grand explanation of the whole leap. McGinnis explained one piece in the process; his goal wasn’t to explain the respiratory system or wings, but the pattern of limbs, and he did an experiment to test his ideas. Wells wants to criticize a study on legs because it didn’t look at wings, but you know that if it had looked at wings, he would have just complained that it didn’t explain legs.

What we have in evo-devo is a promising, exciting field of study that is revolutionizing our understanding of life on earth, and all Wells has to offer is the vapid sophistry of Intelligent Design (the “designer did it”) and no experimental work at all, while making the same crude and ignorant arguments—“mutant fruit flies are still just fruit flies”—that creationists have been making for decades.It’s all of a piece. I keep looking for a word to summarize this book, and I keep coming back to “dishonest”; devious, unethical, deceitful, underhanded, shifty, false, unethical, and untrustworthy would also fit. I predict that in the coming reviews of other chapters in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by my colleagues at the Panda’s Thumb, they’re all going to be using permutations of that concept of contemptible fraudulence to express their feelings about Wells. It’s the kind of book that makes knowledgeable people want to wash their hands obsessively.


Ballard WW (1976) Problems of gastrulation: real and verbal. Bioscience 26(1):36-39.

Bininda-Emonds OR,
Jeffery JE,
Richardson MK (2003) Inverting the hourglass: quantitative evidence against the phylotypic stage in vertebrate development. Proc Biol Sci. 270(1513):341-6.

Hazkani-Covo E,
Wool D,
Graur D (2005) In search of the vertebrate phylotypic stage: a molecular examination of the developmental hourglass model and von Baer’s third law. J Exp Zoolog B Mol Dev Evol304(2):150-8.

Poe S,
Wake MH (2004) Quantitative tests of general models for the evolution of development. Am Nat 164(3):415-22.

Richardson MK Hanken J Gooneratne ML Pieau C Raynaud A Selwood L & Wright GM (1997) There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development Anat. embryol. 196 91-106.

Comments

  1. #1 Steviepinhead
    August 24, 2006

    YOu used “unethical” twice in your culminatory laudry list of reasons Wells’ crap is so dishonest.

    Which was perfectly appropriate. You could just as well have used several of your other terms more than once, and been just as appropriate: devious, deceitful, underhanded, untrustworthy…!

  2. #2 Kristine
    August 24, 2006

    These “Politically Incorrect” screeds are ulcer-inducing to me, because I know people who will read it and think, “Hmm, good point.” (!!!)

    Tara at Aetiology has a take-down of Wells’ final chapter at her site as well. How I wish that I had Tara’s anti-flapdoodle super powers. May I just say how grateful I am that busy scientists like you guys spend your time, your precious time, refuting this garbage! Why does it even exist.

  3. #3 Doc Bill
    August 24, 2006

    I pulled out my old Biology textbook from high school dating back to 1962 or so (yes, I kept all my books) and Haeckel is nowhere to be found. I think I saw a reference to Haeckel in a History of Science course I took in college, but that’s about it.

    Wells must be referring to Haeckel’s diagrams appearing in Christian Biology textbooks. Yeah, that’s it.

  4. #4 Steve LaBonne
    August 24, 2006

    Actually I think the Christian Biology textbooks probably feature Heckle and Jeckle.

  5. #5 Great White Wonder
    August 24, 2006

    Slightly OT but this definition of ID from lying peddler o’ crap Casey Luskin seems even stupider than usual:

    http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/living/religion/15093153.htm

    •Despite court setbacks, “ID (intelligent design) is still in great shape.” | Casey Luskin, program officer for the Discovery Institute

    Luskin said the media often misidentifies intelligent design. He offered this definition: It’s “a scientific theory that says some aspects of nature are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are identical to objects we commonly know were designed by human intelligence.”

    So now the flagellum isn’t “like” a boat propeller. It’s identical to a boat propeller!

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    August 24, 2006

    Tara at Aetiology has a take-down of Wells’ final chapter at her site as well. How I wish that I had Tara’s anti-flapdoodle super powers.

    I just want to note that I only addressed a *paragraph* of Wells’ terrible last chpter, and that alone was enough for an entire post because it had so many misleading statements. Someone else from PT (I think Burt Humburg) is working on the rest of that chapter, and as PZ notes, they’ll be coming to PT in the coming days.

  7. #7 John Pieret
    August 24, 2006

    It is “only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence,” by “bending the facts of nature,” that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates “are more alike than their adults.”

    If it is all right with you, I’d like to adapt your response to this (with a link to the full article) for the Quote Mine Project. While Wells is the only source for this quote mine (as far as I’ve found), it is spread around wide enough on the web to warrent an entry.

  8. #8 natural cynic
    August 24, 2006

    In further posts, why don’t you use *strike* on the word “Politically”?

  9. #9 DF
    August 24, 2006

    A masterful explanation of why Wells’ awful book is, well, offal. Thank you for continuing to find time in your busy schedule to write brilliant posts like this one.

  10. #10 RPM
    August 24, 2006

    What’s with all the elipses? Modifying your writing style or quoting yourself out of context?

  11. #11 Paguroidea
    August 24, 2006

    Great job PZ! Thanks for explaining this information.

  12. #12 Ginger Yellow
    August 24, 2006

    I really don’t understand how you stay as calm and civil as you do, PZ. I’m not even a scientist and it makes me spitting mad to see someone distort science so blatantly and so maliciously. If I were in your position you I’d be the Rude Pundit of ScienceBlogs.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    August 24, 2006

    I just want to note that I only addressed a *paragraph* of Wells’ terrible last chpter

    Yeah, and I spent a lot of time on that one gross misquote of Ballard. That’s the thing with sleaze artists like Wells: it’s effortless to fling out lie after lie, and we have to explain at length each little paragraph he breezes by.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    August 24, 2006

    If I were in your position you I’d be the Rude Pundit of ScienceBlogs.

    Some people already say I am!

  15. #15 coturnix
    August 24, 2006

    Great job! I love the top image. Is the bottom image from Raff’s book?

  16. #16 quitter
    August 24, 2006

    Eh, you shouldn’t even give him credit for being a ‘titular’ developmental biologist. He’s never published a first author paper in a scientific journal, he got a couple of second-author papers, clearly that’s how he got his PhD, but the man has never once had his ideas subjected to real peer review. He might be a ‘titular’ PhD, but he’s never done enough for developmental biology to suggest he knows anything about it.

    My reasoning is that he can’t even weakly described as a developmental biologist if he’s never actually contributed to the field. Anyone desiring to be called a developmental biologist shouldn’t have as his entire publication record two second author papers, and a couple of abstracts he’s slipped into ASCB under the radar over the last few years. The guy has essentially never written a single paper, and even his pathetic little “centrioles are turbines” abstract has been totally disproven.

    I’m thinking we should reduce him from ‘titular developmental biologist’ to ‘titular PhD’. Shit, no thesis committee at my school would give you a PhD for two second-author papers. Who knows how he squeaked by.

  17. #17 Dave Carlson
    August 24, 2006

    Great post. Any specific reason why this didn’t get posted at the “Thumb?”

  18. #18 Mike
    August 25, 2006

    PZ: is there any reason you couldn’t re-post that take-down on Amazon? Along with as few stars as can be given.

  19. #19 Shane McKee
    August 25, 2006

    Maybe you could shorten “titular developmental biologist” to “tit”?

  20. #20 Thursday
    August 25, 2006

    You’re all crazy. This is what happens when science doesn’t have a philosophical basis; what is to be found here means almost nothing at all. Wells, PZ, all you people are just two sides of the same coin.

  21. #21 T_U_T
    August 25, 2006

    This is what happens when science doesn’t have a philosophical basis

    What the heck do you mean with that ???

    Wells, PZ, all you people are just two sides of the same coin.

    Being just is not what you are good at, is it ?

  22. #22 Kleyau
    August 25, 2006

    I thought the philosophical basis of science was the scientific method.

  23. #23 Sanguinity
    August 25, 2006

    Hey, wait. I thought we were supposed to be googlebombing The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Whatcha linking to Amazon for?

    Oops. Sorry.

    Good sir, I notice you linked to Amazon. Surely that was an oversight? Perhaps you meant it ironically?

  24. #24 Keith Douglas
    August 25, 2006

    I’m a philosopher of science (at least in part and trainingwise), and I see no evidence that PZ is ignoring the philosophical basis for science here. Thursday, would you care to explain further?

  25. #25 George
    August 25, 2006

    So a basic problem remains. As PZ notes that it takes a group to unravel the lies of Wells. Wells is foisting his FUD on non-experts, especially those that already believe in god. How can we truly educate unless we develop high school curriculum to specifically debunk this crap as a part of teaching biology?

  26. #26 micheyd
    August 25, 2006

    Aww PZ, do I have to assume best intentions, really?

    You’re all crazy.

    Mmm, projection-tastic!

  27. #27 TritoneSubstitution
    August 25, 2006

    “misuse the data to generate a spurious impression of a science that is unaware of basic issues. ”

    An unfortunate phrasing that begs “Quote mine me, please!”

    Then again, people who are gonna quote mine are gonna find something in just about anything you write or say.

    I just want to tell you Dr. Myers that I really enjoy your blog. I have shown it to my 13 year old daughter and she has taken to asking her science teacher about some of the concepts she reads about here. Since I live in rural central Indiana, I fully expect her to come home with a scarlet “E” on her shirt any day now. She doesn’t mind a little controversy and the first tenet of our family creed is “It’s more important to know things than to own things.”

  28. #28 Steve_C
    August 25, 2006

    Is thursday officially a troll now?

    Or are we to engage?

  29. #29 Warren
    August 25, 2006

    Science has moved on well beyond Darwin’s day, but not for the creationists, who still think they can whimper and whine about errors in a book almost 150 years old […]

    Well yeah. After all they regard as unimpeachable, concrete and invariant fact things that were written 6000 years ago. The idea that modern discoveries and learning might trump the more “spiritual” past is anathema to them, and they certainly are incapable of grasping the idea that not everyone holds old writings as sacred as they do.

  30. #30 Sjoerd
    August 25, 2006

    German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel (pronounced “heckle”)

    That, to me, says it all right there. How nice and transparent, attaching a verb with negative connotations to him right off the bat. Let me guess, this is the only one in the book?

    Even nicer is that it is incorrect. “Heyckle” is much closer to the actual pronounciation.

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 25, 2006

    Good show. Now I remember the slightly nauseous experience from when I read from your expositions on Well’s the first time. I see that the Incorrect & Political Guide holds the same low and dishonest standard.

    I look forward to read Tara’s et al debunkings.

    That said, now I have to rinse my brain thoroughly. (In alcohol, I think, it’s friday after all.)

  32. #32 Ken Davis
    August 25, 2006

    Since I am in Seattle I should be able to hang out on the sidewalk infront of one of the entrances to the Book kickoff event. I am looking for some compact quotes to make into signs.

    What I have so far

    Wells mangled Quote of William Ballard, ch 3:
    It is “only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence,” by “bending the facts of nature,” that one can argue that the early embryo stages of vertebrates “are more alike than their adults.”

    Correct quote:
    “Before the pharyngula stage we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. Only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that “gastrulas” of shark, salmon, frog, and bird are more alike than their adults.”

    Are all Moonies this transparent at lying?

    Can I get a page number or some ideas for a better sign?

    Calling him a “lying sack of crap” is probably a little to precise for Seattle but it depends on my mood that day…

  33. #33 Don Hyde
    August 25, 2006

    “How can we truly educate unless we develop high school curriculum to specifically debunk this crap as a part of teaching biology?”

    As a one-time high-school teacher, this caught me. Is there a place where real scientists post reviews of real high-school science texts? If not, I sure wish someone would start one. Not being a scientist, I am, of course, safe from actually being expected to volunteer myself…

  34. #34 Owlmirror
    August 25, 2006

    Is there a place where real scientists post reviews of real high-school science texts?

    Didn’t Richard Feynman have a rather entertaining essay his experience with textbook review?

    http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm

    It looks like the main site may have more reviews. There’s also a smackdown on Intelligent Design.

    http://www.textbookleague.org/

  35. #35 Liz Craig
    August 25, 2006

    Someone asked how Wells managed to get a Ph.D. I communicated with someone who was in the same department at Berkeley with Wells — knew him and purchased Girl Scout cookies from his daughter.

    Apparently, Wells was assigned to a professor who was either retired or not engaged in any research. Wells was the head investigator on zero projects. The colleague at Berkeley said the most Wells probably did to get his name listed on a few papers (Two? Three?) was to help another researcher with a procedure.

    Not only that, but the minute Wells got his Ph.D., he skedaddled out of Berkeley and was not even there for his supposed “post-doc” time.

    In a diary of his I read sometime back, he said after he left Berkeley, he managed a lab for a short time (no specifics mentioned), and after that he went to work for the Discovery Institute’s CRSC.

    So in other words, Wells has done next to zero actual work in science. As noted earlier, his sole purpose in obtaining a Ph.D. was to “destroy Darwinism.”

    There are others like Wells, like Kurt Wise, who had the privilege of studying under Stephen J. Gould, yet still retained his YEC ideas (The power of denial must be very strong.). And, of course, the few Ph.D.’s in any scientific field who are Fellows of the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research, and other pseudo-scientific organizations.

    I might add, on a personal note, that Wells is a nasty little man who is inclined to threaten lawsuits if anyone dares to question his veracity. Seems to me that public exposure of his lies would be the last thing he would want, but hey, his own books are the best evidence against him, as PZ and others have pointed out here.

    Unfortunately, the anti-evolution crowd won’t read the truth at PT or elsewhere. I imagine there will be church classes based on Wells’s new book, as there were for “Icons.” Which would seem at odds with denials that there is any religious basis for the bald-faced lies that are the whole cloth of ID.

  36. #36 Ichthyic
    August 25, 2006

    When did Wells graduate again?

    I do wonder if I met the man when I was at Berkeley in the zoology dept.

  37. #37 Ichthyic
    August 26, 2006

    Aww, crap, it’s true. he entered MCB the same year I entered the zoology dept (1989).

    I did, in fact, have lunch with this guy on several occassions.

    Something I now regret VERY much.

  38. #38 Larry Fafarman
    August 26, 2006

    It took a while for me to figure out what Ballard was saying, partly because I am not a biologist. Here is how I would paraphrase what he said (my additions to his original words are shown in bold) —

    In the gastrula stage, which comes before the pharyngula stage, we can only say that the embryos of different species within a single taxonomic class are more alike than their parents. However, only by semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence can we claim that “gastrulas” of species in different taxonomic classes — e.g., a shark, salmon, frog, and bird — are more alike than their adults.

    Actually, the adult forms of sharks, salmon, frogs, and birds are so different that I find it hard to believe that the gastrulas of those species are even less alike than the adults, as Ballard indicates.

    Also, it seems that Ballard is overgeneralizing about taxonomic “classes.” The level of taxonomic classification — e.g., phylum, class, and order — is not necessarily an indication of the diversity of form within that level of classification. For example, “class” is fairly specific in taxonomic classification but can have great diversity — e.g., the class of mammals includes whales and porpoises, which are like fish, bats, which are like birds, and of course there are land mammals. There is also great diversity among the reptile class, e.g., there are lizards, snakes, tortoises, and sea turtles. In contrast, the phylae, which are supposed to be a broader category than class, includes phylae that have little diversity — for example, there are separate phylae for several different kinds of worms.

  39. #39 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 26, 2006

    “For example, “class” is fairly specific in taxonomic classification but can have great diversity — e.g., the class of mammals includes whales and porpoises, which are like fish, bats, which are like birds, and of course there are land mammals.”

    Taxonomy, while not cladistics, are still built on phylogenetic relationships. For example, whales and porpoises arent’t like fish, they are like mammals.

  40. #40 Larry Fafarman
    August 27, 2006

    Torbjorn Larsson said ( August 26, 2006 11:26 PM ) —

    “For example, ‘class’ is fairly specific in taxonomic classification but can have great diversity — e.g., the class of mammals includes whales and porpoises, which are like fish, bats, which are like birds, and of course there are land mammals.”

    Taxonomy, while not cladistics, are still built on phylogenetic relationships. For example, whales and porpoises arent’t like fish, they are like mammals.

    Whales and porpoises are shaped like fish and have fins, so are easy to mistake for fish. Of course, there are major differences when you look closer — the whales and porpoises are air-breathing, nurse young, have a skeletal structure that is different from fish, etc.. And there is a shark that looks like a whale, mainly because of its size — hence the name “whale shark.”

    Anyway, my point is that contrary to what Ballard’s statement implied, the level of taxonomic classification — e.g., phylum, class, and order — is not a good indication of the level of diversity. For example, there can be more diversity within particular classes than there is within particular phyla (I spelled it “phylae” before, but “phyla” appears to be more accepted).

    I agree that Wells quote-mined Ballard, but that does not mean that I agree with or understand everything that Ballard said.

    Also, the original taxonomy, Linnaean taxonomy, preceded evolution theory and genetics by many years. According to Wikipedia, phylogeny-based “cladistic taxonomy” has been a trend since the 1960’s and so is relatively new — see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cladistics#Cladistic_classification

    As for Haeckel, Wikipedia says of him,

    Haeckel advanced the “recapitulation theory” which proposed a link between ontogeny (development of form) and phylogeny (evolutionary descent), summed up in the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. He supported the theory with embryo drawings that have since been shown to be oversimplified and in part inaccurate, and the theory is now considered an oversimplification of quite complicated relationships. It is thought that Haeckel deliberately faked the images to get more support for his ideas.

    Also, many other sources I have seen have claimed that Haeckel’s drawings of embryos were faked.

    I have been accused of excessive reliance on Wikipedia, but I have generally found Wikipedia to be objective, fair, and reliable.

    Anyway, it is apparent that many of these popular books on science could benefit from review by experts (“peers” when the author is an expert in the scientific field).

  41. #41 Alexey Merz
    August 27, 2006

    Actually, the adult forms of sharks, salmon, frogs, and birds are so different that I find it hard to believe that the gastrulas of those species are even less alike than the adults, as Ballard indicates.

    The argument from personal incredulity is a Fafarman specialty. That a dimwit holocaust denier finds a claim hard to believe – and, as usual, adduces no evidential basis whatsoever for his claim – does not make that claim any less true.

  42. #42 Larry Fafarman
    August 27, 2006

    Alexey Merz said ( August 27, 2006 02:04 PM ) —

    Actually, the adult forms of sharks, salmon, frogs, and birds are so different that I find it hard to believe that the gastrulas of those species are even less alike than the adults, as Ballard indicates.

    The argument from personal incredulity is a Fafarman specialty. That a dimwit holocaust denier finds a claim hard to believe – and, as usual, adduces no evidential basis whatsoever for his claim – does not make that claim any less true.

    Calling me a “dimwit holocaust denier” is just an ad hominem attack. That attack hurts your credibility and not mine.

    I think that an argument from incredulity is better than an argument from credulity or gullibility, which is what your arguments are in addition to being ad hominem.

    I think that my statement that you quoted above is reasonable. Embryos in their earliest stages — e.g., the gastrula stage — tend to have very simple structures, systems, and organs, so it is difficult to imagine gastrula-stage embryos of a shark, a salmon, a frog, and a bird as being less alike than the adult forms. Also, Ballard said that gastrula-stage embryos of different species within a taxonomic class tend to be more alike than their parents whereas gastrula-stage embryos of species of different taxonomic classes tend to be less alike than their parents, and that of course makes no sense at all. PZ Myers’ opening post offers no explanation for this — he only offers an explanation for the convergence of embryo characteristics at the pharyngula stage (he calls this convergence “the developmental hourglass”). Also, as I said, I feel that Ballard has overgeneralized about “taxonomic classes,” because the level of taxonomic classification — e.g., phylum, class, and order — is not a good indicator of the diversity of adult forms under a given classification.

    Also, as for my adducing “no evidential basis whatsoever” for my claims, I am entirely dependent on others’ observations of the evidence, and those observations might be different from what I would have made. Anyway, the opening post says that there is still a lot to be learned about this area of embryology.

  43. #43 Jim Wynne
    August 27, 2006

    Anyway, the opening post says that there is still a lot to be learned about this area of embryology.

    There certainly appears to be a lot left for Larry to learn, but he proved long ago that his personal ignorance is not an impediment to his own blathering.

  44. #44 Ichthyic
    August 27, 2006

    Calling me a “dimwit holocaust denier” is just an ad hominem attack. That attack hurts your credibility and not mine.

    sticks and stones, right Larry FarfromSane?

    trust me when i say, nobody could hurt your credibility more than you have done yourself.

    it’s simply an impossibility.

    Are you getting treatment yet? What’s your brother up to these days?

  45. #45 Alexey Merz
    August 27, 2006

    Calling me a “dimwit holocaust denier” is just an ad hominem attack.

    Let’s start with the second claim first. I linked to a thread in which Fafarman engaged in holocaust denialism (more links to other examples of Fafarman’s holocaust denial can be found in that same thread). The fact that Fafarman is a holocaust denier provides strong evidence that he is, in fact, not to be taken seriously.

    The epithet “dimwit” is an insult, meant to convey my personal antipathy toward Fafarman. My opinion (based reading on many hundreds of posts by Mr. Fafarman and replying in detail to dozens of them) is that he not only has poor analytical skills, but is probably forming his opinions at least in part on the basis of a discredited and ethically bankrupt political philosophy. After all, his opinions have to be coming from somewhere, and they are certainly do not originate in any understanding of biology — as he himself admits. Thus it is useful, I think, to point out from time to time where this guy is, apparently, coming from.

    I think that my statement that you quoted above is reasonable. Embryos in their earliest stages — e.g., the gastrula stage — tend to have very simple structures, systems, and organs, so it is difficult to imagine gastrula-stage embryos of a shark, a salmon, a frog, and a bird as being less alike than the adult forms.

    More personal incredulity from Fafarman. He finds something difficult to imagine, and supposes that the limits of scientific knowledge are coextensive with with the limits of his own, tiny, intellectual universe. At least he’s not alone in doing this. He does, after all, have Hovind, Wells, Dembski et alia as company.

  46. #46 Larry Fafarman
    August 27, 2006

    PZ Myers said in the opening post —

    Another feature of Wells’ book, and creationists in general, is the obsession with Charles Darwin.

    No one is more obsessed with Charles Darwin than the Darwinists themselves. Just look at the huge Darwin Day Celebration — I think it’s disgusting. They are even linking Darwin and Lincoln just because the two happen to have the same official birthdates — they have virtually nothing else in common.

    As for Haeckel’s embryology, I think that is a dead horse that the anti-Darwinists should stop kicking.

    Some more thoughts about Ballard’s article —

    Comparing the degree of similarity of the adults of different species and the degree of similarity of those species’ early embryos may be like comparing apples and oranges because the structures of the adults and the early embryos are completely different. Unless the embryos are very similar, the comparisons must be completely subjective and arbitrary. I don’t see how it can be said that the early embryos of fish and birds are more different than the adult forms, but that is what Ballard said.

    Also, I think that the opening post should have been more civil and less prejudiced, even considering that Wells was wrong on some points —

    I could stop here. With that one example, Wells is exposed as a disreputable scoundrel, a sloppy ideologue whose ‘scholarship’ is untrustworthy and willfully distorted. You simply cannot believe one word he says.

    I keep looking for a word to summarize this book, and I keep coming back to “dishonest”; devious, unethical, deceitful, underhanded, shifty, false, unethical, and untrustworthy would also fit. I predict that in the coming reviews of other chapters in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by my colleagues at the Panda’s Thumb, they’re all going to be using permutations of that concept of contemptible fraudulence to express their feelings about Wells.

    That kind of invective turns a lot of people off. I have used such invective myself, but generally only in retaliation for personal attacks on me.

    Also, the second paragraph above shows a lack of an open mind about the other chapters of the book.

    Alexey Merz and Ichthyic are two stupid fatheads who have done nothing here except attack me personally. They are not worthy of a reply.

  47. #47 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 28, 2006

    Larry:

    “Whales and porpoises are shaped like fish and have fins, so are easy to mistake for fish.”

    They have evolved to be adapted to water. What is your point?

    “Anyway, my point is that contrary to what Ballard’s statement implied, the level of taxonomic classification — e.g., phylum, class, and order — is not a good indication of the level of diversity.”

    Of course it isn’t an indication of diversity, it is an indication of a relationship, phylogeny. As species evolve you *expect* diversity.

    But this has nothing to do with Ballard’s statement where he was comparing gastrulas and adults of related species to each other and compared that to a comparison of gastrulas and adults of unrelated species. It was a relative comparison and it was fine. You are also indulging in “semantic tricks and subjective selection of evidence”.

    “According to Wikipedia, phylogeny-based “cladistic taxonomy” has been a trend since the 1960’s and so is relatively new”

    Yes, but through cladistic analysis one can see why taxonomy is to compress history onto the surface view of ‘now’. It can’t be, and isn’t, a perfect account. If it was, birds would taxonomically be called dinosaurs and men monkeys. My point is that cladistics is compatible with the dynamic nature of phylogeny as observed in evolution, while taxonomy is by nature fuzzified in regards time and relationships.

    “As for Haeckel”

    As for Haeckel, read PZ’s link where he explains why you are flogging a dead horse. Nothing you say haven’t been said many times before and it is still as wrong as when Wells said it.

    “Also, the second paragraph above shows a lack of an open mind about the other chapters of the book.”

    It shows a genuine familiarity of Wells’ work. Again, read PZ’s link to Wells’ earlier book. As you, Wells repeat old arguments even after they are debunked to the satisfaction of an intelligent reader.

  48. #48 Ichthyic
    August 28, 2006

    there is no point in attempting rational conversation with Larry.

    He is not capable of it, nor does he wish to be.

    good thing you don’t have many rules here, or he would try to break every one of them over and over again so he could get banned and claim he was persecuted.

    He’s beyond “demented fuckwit” and on into “Fuckin’ nuts”.

    really, don’t even bother.

    We spent months dealing with his insanity on PT before we finally gave up.

  49. #49 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 28, 2006

    Larry:

    “No one is more obsessed with Charles Darwin than the Darwinists themselves. … They are even linking Darwin and Lincoln just because the two happen to have the same official birthdates — they have virtually nothing else in common.”

    Darwinism is a small part of the theory of evolution as it is today, which is a small part of science. This day is a celebration of a great scientist and science like the celebration of Einstein 2005 a 100 year after his “miracle year”. If you look at the information link halfway down the page you see that the joint celebration is a practical thing.

    “In America we are aware that both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, in the same year, February 12, 1809. As a result of this coincidence I was asked the following question during an interview on BBC in Shrewsbury, England (Darwin’s birthplace) on July 30, 2003 : “Since Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day, how do you deal with this obvious problem when you’re celebrating science and humanity on Darwin’s birthday?

    I replied: “In my view, Feb. 12, 1809 was a very good day for our planet because Lincoln became the great emancipator of the slaves in America, and Darwin became the great emancipator of the human mind, so they both deserve to be celebrated!” As I thought about this reply after the broadcast, it seemed to me that there was something particularly poignant about the relationship between Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, published November 24, 1859, that freed the human mind from superstition, thus permitting the interpretation of scientific data through the lens of naturalism instead of through the lens of theology, and Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, that freed humans from physical servitude.

    The magnitude of these accomplishments by visionary men, born on the same day, in the same year, gives their achievements a unique resonance, and enormous benefits have accrued to humankind ever since. Today both men are recognized around the world for the ongoing positive effect their efforts have had on developing the ethics of progressive modern thought.” [Bold added]

    Seems to me they had a practical concern that developed from a bad coincidence to a nice correlation.

  50. #50 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 28, 2006

    “We spent months dealing with his insanity on PT before we finally gave up.”

    Yes, I recognise him. Do you think he will start to frequent here too? Wells, Fafarman, and Cordova are boring repeaters of their own debunked argument (but each with their own avoidance strategy against effective argumentation – IIRC Fafarman is the hit, duck, throw unrelated arguments and run type) and if a mark of insanity is to repeat a failed strategy ad infinitum they are indeed insane.

    BTW, I should probably stop now. 🙂

  51. #51 Larry Fafarman
    August 28, 2006

    Torbjörn Larsson said ( August 28, 2006 12:55 AM ) —

    “Whales and porpoises are shaped like fish and have fins, so are easy to mistake for fish.”

    They have evolved to be adapted to water. What is your point?

    There was no point — I was just responding to the statement, “whales and porpoises arent’t like fish, they are like mammals.” They are like fish in some ways and like mammals in other ways. In outward appearance, they resemble fish.

    “Anyway, my point is that contrary to what Ballard’s statement implied, the level of taxonomic classification — e.g., phylum, class, and order — is not a good indication of the level of diversity.”

    Of course it isn’t an indication of diversity, it is an indication of a relationship, phylogeny.

    But Ballard implied that the level of taxonomic classification was an indicator of diversity because his criterion for predicting whether the gastrula-stage embryos of two different species are more alike or less alike than their parents was whether or not the two species belong to the same taxonomic class. As I pointed out, there is far more diversity within the mammalia class than there is within some phyla of worms, though “phylum” is supposed to be a broader classification than “class.” Also, as I pointed out, Ballard’s findings appear to be the opposite of what would be expected. Anyway, as I subsequently pointed out, comparing the degree of similarity of early-stage embryos to the degree of similarity of the corresponding adult organisms is like comparing apples and oranges unless the embryos are very similar. Ballard’s findings are arbitrary and paradoxical and I think that he just created a lot of confusion. I strongly suspect that he did not have enough data to make the findings that he did. Also, I am wondering what Wells’ purpose was in quote mining him.

    Yes, but through cladistic analysis one can see why taxonomy is to compress history onto the surface view of ‘now’.

    Well, you know the lines from the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” — “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” It is not necessary to know the “why” of taxonomy — if there is a “why” — in order to use it. Linnaen taxonomy — which I presume is still the most widely used taxonomic system — was developed many years before the introduction of evolution theory and genetics, showing that neither evolution theory nor genetics is necessary for taxonomic classification.

    “As for Haeckel”

    As for Haeckel, read PZ’s link where he explains why you are flogging a dead horse.

    Who is flogging a dead horse? What I said was, “As for Haeckel’s embryology, I think that is a dead horse that the anti-Darwinists should stop kicking.”

  52. #52 Larry Fafarman
    August 28, 2006

    Ichthyic said ( August 28, 2006 01:20 AM ) —

    “We spent months dealing with his insanity on PT before we finally gave up.”

    Yes, Ichthyic, I know how frustrating it is to be unable to counter my arguments because of my superior logic and great references.

    Torbjörn Larsson said ( August 28, 2006 01:21 AM ) —

    “In America we are aware that both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, in the same year, February 12, 1809. As a result of this coincidence I was asked the following question during an interview on BBC in Shrewsbury, England (Darwin’s birthplace) on July 30, 2003 : “Since Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day, how do you deal with this obvious problem when you’re celebrating science and humanity on Darwin’s birthday?”

    Lincoln’s birthday was never a federal holiday, but has been a legal holiday in a few states. We now have a federal holiday called “Presidents’ day,” which falls closer to Washington’s birthday in the same month.

    I think that Lincoln is not as popular in the USA as he used to be. I think that recently there has been more recognition of his faults — his racist statements (though typical of politicians of his day), his flagrant violations of civil rights, and his warmongering. Personally, though, I have nothing against Lincoln. He is prominently featured on the penny and the $5 bill.

    I am convinced that if Lincoln and Darwin did not share the same official birthdate, probably no one would have ever thought of associating the two men. They really have virtually nothing else in common. I think that there is more of a connection between Darwin and Hitler than between Darwin and Lincoln.

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