Pharyngula

Transitions

Whenever I spot some old thread suddenly getting a surge of new comments, I can guess what has happened: a creationist or two has come to visit. That’s happening right now on this very short article that mentions the peppered moths; we’re up above 200 comments now, and it seems to have very little to do with moths anymore. Instead, we’ve got a creationist complaining about the absence of transitional species and the Cambrian ‘explosion’, with a little quote-mining of Richard Dawkins. You commenters are taking care of him ably, but there are just a few things I want to mention, and a few questions I want to ask of the creationists.

First, the quote mine. This creationist plucks out a quote from Dawkins that Dawkins himself has already addressed:

I once introduced a chapter on the so-called Cambrian Explosion with the words: “It is as though the fossils were planted there without any evolutionary history.” Again, this was a rhetorical overture, intended to whet the reader’s appetite for the explanation. Inevitably, my remark was gleefully quoted out of context. Creationists adore “gaps” in the fossil record.

There are a great many mysteries in our histories. For instance, my aunt’s genealogical research revealed that I have a great-great-great grandmother named Zerusha, with no further information on who she was. I do not interpret this to mean that she was conjured out of thin air or deposited on this planet by visiting aliens or that she stepped out of the forehead of a god; I think it’s highly likely that she, like my other relatives, was a human being with her own ordinary but interesting biography, which has merely been lost to me. Missing data doesn’t imply miraculous origins, whether it is my recent human ancestors or the many-times great grandparents of trilobites, over half a billion years ago.

I would ask creationists two questions about this. Why do you even bother to take quotes out of context from people like Dawkins or Darwin or Gould or Gee or Patterson? You know they aren’t expressing doubt about the theory of evolution. These are authorities who are well aware of the wide range of evidence available and have firmly ensconced themselves on the side of evolution, and so we all know immediately that you’re up to something dodgy when you try to pretend Dawkins is on your side with a fragment of a quote. You don’t catch us trying to recast D. James Kennedy as a firm believer in the science of evolution, after all, so it’s more than a little weird when you try to weave the illusion that Darwin was a defender of creationist thought.

And then I’ve always wondered why you think a transition that is incompletely understood is evidence against evolution. It’s not, you know; it’s not as if we’ve been saying for years that the beautiful transitional fossils leading up to the first trilobite are the sole evidence around for evolution. We’ve got people saying we don’t have a good picture of the pre-Cambrian origin of arthropods, but we do have good evidence for organisms like cetaceans or humans, and we’ve got all these lovely molecular connections between various lineages, so trilobites are an interesting problem. Do you have this odd idea that the only good explanations are complete ones that pin down every possibility and answer all questions? Because your own bible or the musings of your favorite IDist don’t even come close to accomplishing that, you know.

And then we get these astonishing declarations: “The fossils embedded in the Cambrian strata are quite inconsistent with what we would expect from Darwinian evolution.” I have heard that phrase quite often; usually it quickly emerges that our intrepid inquisitor doesn’t know anything about the distribution of fossils in and before the Cambrian, and has some weirdly distorted view of what evolutionary theory would predict. In this case, our creationist doesn’t seem to know what lagerstätten are, hasn’t read any of the paleontological literature, and in fact is operating entirely on the fumes from creationist bloviations on the subject.

Here’s a recommendation. If you want to talk about the evolution of trilobites, you don’t have to read a technical review like Valentine’s On the Origin of Phyla(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) (it’s very good, but it isn’t light reading; I have a short discussion of a relevant part of the story online, though). You should, however, know something about the subject, and third-hand distortions filtered through your local minister or Ken Ham or the Discovery Institute don’t count. I recommend Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Richard Fortey as a good introduction — it’s readable and entertaining.

(NOTE: do not read it with a plan to quote-mine Richard Fortey. He’s far more familiar with the physical evidence than you are, and he’s strongly pro-evolution. Coming back from that book having ignored all of the substantive content and arriving at the conclusion that Fortey has a few phrases that can be used to shore up your claim that trilobites were created by magic or alien technology 520 million years ago means you really are an idiot, because Fortey definitely does not provide any support for that thesis.)

Here, for instance, is a simpler, cleaner version of a similar diagram you can find in Valentine. We don’t know specifically what the direct predecessors of the trilobite lineage were, but it’s not as if everything went poof at one instant at the beginning of the period, 545 million years ago.

i-a64d48571afdeddaae0d4f06032724ba-cambfauna.gif

Hints and fragments and little traces bridge the Precambrian-Cambrian transition. Think about what a trilobite is: a small (mostly) armored arthropod. Think about what its predecessors would have been: small or smaller partially armored arthropods. Think about what their predecessors would have been: small or smaller unarmored bilaterians, soft wormlike burrowers. Now look at that diagram, and what do you see? A period of soft-bodied creatures that fossilized poorly and only under remarkable circumstances, followed by the appearance of burrows and other trace fossils and odd fragments of partial cuticular armor (the ‘shelly fauna’), and then, later, fossils of animals like the trilobites that have complete armored exoskeletons that fossilize relatively easily. And all of this is over a period of millions of years.

If you ask me, what evolution predicts we should see in the evolution of trilobites and what the fossil record actually shows us are in pretty good concordance, even if we are missing big chunks of the story. The mystery of the Cambrian isn’t how an individual lineage emerged, but why so many different animal lineages evolved in parallel towards larger size in the same relatively narrow window of time — we’re looking for mechanisms of coordination of evolution of different phyla.

Now here are some more puzzlers for the creationists. When rational, sensible people, geologists and paleontologists (and many of whom are actually Christians and believers of various sorts), look at the evidence, we see that the history of the earth was old and complex, rich with successions of very different flora and fauna, and with the hallmarks of transitions — that is, the beasts of the field didn’t just appear in an instant, but over long periods of time, and with apparent ancestral forms in deeper periods of time. They came to these conclusions in the 19th century, before Charles Darwin proposed mechanisms that would drive change in biological lineages. This is an important but apparently very subtle distinction: even Michael Behe gets it, while most creationists don’t. Evolutionary change and the revealed pattern of history is inarguable and distinct from whatever mechanism is proposed for it. So why do you argue against a specific Darwinian mechanism by arguing from ignorance against the facts of geology and paleontology? It doesn’t make sense.

Let me make this concrete with a simple analogy. My family and I have slowly worked our way across the country from the 1980s, when we lived in Oregon, to now, when we live in Minnesota. We have a few photo albums that show our younger selves in a series of places, from Oregon to Utah to Pennsylvania to Minnesota, but we don’t actually have gas receipts or video tapes of our drives between those places, when we’d pack our belongings into a truck and make the actual moves.

Now imagine that we face a group of anti-transportationists — they don’t believe we did that. Sure, they believe in micro-transportation, like short commutes from home to work and back again, but macro-transportation where whole households can move thousands of miles must be impossible. When I show them my family album, they’ve got two responses. One, my pictures are faked, we couldn’t possibly have come from Oregon, ever, and those are different people with no relationship to us — people arise suddenly in one place and never go anywhere else. The other response is that sure, that might be a photo of me and the wife on a beach in Oregon, but trucks were impossible in the 1980s — we were actually lofted to Minnesota in a flying saucer piloted by Jesus. Each response on its own could be addressed in some detail, except that these nay-sayers use both, unaware that they’re mutually contradictory.

If I dig up additional documentation, school records and tax forms that show I actually lived in Utah, for instance, they might briefly concede the point, only to shift gears and claim that the Oregon-Utah transition could not have been handled by these mythical “trucks”, and we get the cargo-carrying UFO story. If I point to existing trucks and calculate rates of movement and fuel use, they say that maybe in theory such a thing is possible, but I still can’t show a mile-by-mile log of every step of our journey, and look, that photo on the Oregon beach shows a more slender, youthful fellow — that’s not the Myers they know. It’s the creationist two-step. They juggle two inconsistent rebuttals, never quite getting to the point where they look at both and notice that they mutually annihilate each other.

And of course the final irony of the debate is that they pretend to know more about that personal history than the people who spent 20 years working through it, in detail.

Comments

  1. #1 Stanton
    September 9, 2007

    Despite all of that twit’s complaints about “Darwinism,” he has yet to produce how Intelligent Design can explain any of the transitional forms, or trilobites or placoderms or even peppered moths better.
    Dinars to donuts says he never so much as even glanced at a closed biology textbook in his entire life.

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    September 9, 2007

    PZ,

    I admire your tenacity. I would have quickly tired (and been frustrated) of constantly making the same arguments over and over to creationists. Kudos!

  3. #3 Zeno
    September 9, 2007

    A creationist acquaintance of mine once brought a sheaf of printed-out Web pages to the lunch group we both frequented. The pages featured the trilobite as an argument against evolution. Why? Because trilobites had existed for millions of years without ever changing! (No, really. That was the argument.) In response, I brought my copy of Richard Fortney’s book to the next luncheon. The creationist’s response? He accused Fortney of being an evolutionist.

    Damn! He was right!

  4. #4 Zeno
    September 9, 2007

    Oops! Fortey, not Fortney. Duh!

  5. #5 Mark
    September 9, 2007

    “The mystery of the Cambrian isn’t how an individual lineage emerged, but why…”

    I don’t want to sound catastrophic, but I always found it interesting that Venus experienced a massive upheaval of its crust about 700,000,000 YA, “shortly” before the Cambrian explosion. Coincidence?

  6. #6 Hal
    September 9, 2007

    Also, it’s been reliably reported, though naturally suppressed by the religion industry, that Kennedy renounced christianity on his deathbed.

  7. #7 Clem DiMilo
    September 9, 2007

    AhA! If trilobeits “evolved’ from arthripod’s, than why is there STIL ARTHORPODS?

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 9, 2007

    My take is that Creationists do this because they keep on hoping that whatever they throw against the wall to defeat “darwinism” (which includes cosmology, btw,) someday something will actually stick. It won’t slide down. Something has to work to defeat secular interpretations of evolution because they “know” that it is wrong. And why is it wrong? Because it contradicts with their particular view of the universe (whatever it is.)

    And as soon as they finally destroy Darwinism, well, then they can address the heresies of the other creationists. So, they do what they do not as an end, but as a means.

  9. #9 Richard
    September 9, 2007

    RE the first question to creationists:

    Quoting Dawkins, Darwin or Gould out of context is not really meant to convince or confound serious people in a serious discussion. It’s to bamboozle the absolute layman, the casual observer (who’s never read Dawkins, Darwin or Gould) in more innocent, casual situations. It’s done strategically: to systematically, again and again, cast doubt, however small and unconvincing, on the credibility of those scientists. To systematically, tenaciously misrepresent their ideas. Keep it up for months, years, decades, centuries and it’s going to have an effect.

  10. #10 SLC
    September 9, 2007

    The reason for the quote mining of Gould, et al is very simple. It’s the same strategy used by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. When telling a lie make it a big lie tell it loudly and tell it ofter. Eventually, people will come to believe it.

  11. #11 Zach GB
    September 9, 2007

    If trilobites evolved from arthropods, how is it that there are PYGMIES + DWARFS ???

  12. #12 Sacred Beef
    September 9, 2007

    Is it requisite to being wrong that one uses the phrase “so-called” a lot? I’ve found that the two generally coincide.

  13. #13 Karey
    September 9, 2007

    You know, if you’re just a person who thinks life is beautiful and ponder that unfathomable question of where we came from, what our origins are, how is the bible or any other creationist account of origins a good answer to that? There’s fundamental problems with ID on a logical level that has nothing to do with present scientific facts and explanations even. If you honestly wonder about origins you could see that when considering creationist explanations.

  14. #14 Owlmirror
    September 9, 2007

    I may be wrong in this, but I think the thought process behind quote-mining may go something like this, prompted by some thoughts on Natural Theology (hah!), as raised by the current Creationist I’ve been arguing with:

    Creationist/Fundamentalist: “I believe in God. So does everyone in my church. Believing in God has an ancient history, and is the natural state. Therefore, atheists are perversely rejecting this natural state; they disbelieve not because they have carefully examined religion’s claims and rejected them, but because they don’t want to believe. Therefore, we shall look for any slip-up that scientists/atheists make, and highlight it. That will show that even they aren’t so sure of their so-called science and philosophy; they are actually covering up the natural desire to believe in God.”

    The struck-out portion is something that I think they either don’t think of at all, or rather, perhaps carefully avoid thinking. The whole mindset is probably caused by psychological projection — Fundamentalists mask their own doubts and uncertainties about the consistency and factuality of their beliefs by projecting that uncertainty on their philosophical opposites.

    That’s a first pass armchair analysis, anyway.

    I wonder if Kent Hovind would submit to an fMRI exam, perhaps in exchange for some time off of his sentence? Would it show brain damage in the areas relating to truth-telling? Or not?

  15. #15 Foster Disbelief
    September 9, 2007

    While I doubt quote-mining Dawkins could sway someone who was fence sitting on the issue, let alone change the mind of someone who actually is educated on the subject, I can see how it could be useful to keep the flock unquestioning and faithful.

    I figure that the vast majority of creationists will never read Dawkins or any other competent writer on evolution. So the quote-mine can be unleashed as a “See?! Even the leader of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy is a creationist. He just promotes evilution to do the bidding of Satan!”

    *shrug*

    And in response to Hal:

    When I visited D. James Kennedy the night before he died, he was distraught, worrying that his years of lying for jesus would condemn him to hell. He admitted that the whole “christian nation” thing was a horrible lie, and that he only walked the path he did for power, fame, and fortune. He was ashamed, constantly wondering what his hero, Charles Darwin, would have thought of him. He did fall asleep in peace however, when at his request, I read him passages from “The God Delusion.” Poor, misguided soul.

    Was that Lady Hopeish enough?

  16. #16 AlanWCan
    September 9, 2007

    Another giveaway is the titles used to address specific people. Whenever you see “Mr. Dawkins” or “Dr. Ham,” it’s obviously some cretinist boob that’s overly impressed with academic credentials and thinks everyone else is too. It’s often done together with “so-called”. Can we get an equation for that please? “Mr. Dawkins, a so-called scientist..>” and “Professor Dr. Grand Pooh Bah Ken Ham…”

  17. #17 Sam Dyuaa
    September 9, 2007

    If the Myers family came from Oregon, HOW IST I THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE IN OREGON??

  18. #18 Kyle
    September 9, 2007

    I once asked my super-Christian boss “why” we’re here, if religion is true. His answer was simple, of course: To worship God. I asked him, “Is it really worth it to live in constant servitude?” He said, “If God is perfect, then servitude and worship of Him are the right things to do.”

    I was wondering if he’d ever read the book 1984, or Animal Farm, both by George Orwell of course.

  19. #19 Steve_C
    September 9, 2007

    Cargo UFOs are real! I saw one in a dream. Ever since then I’ve believed in Cargo UFOs. I know most people believe in moving trucks… but does anyone really see where the trucks go after they drive away? I think they’re loaded onto the UFOs. It makes me feel good to know the aliens are here to help.

  20. #20 Sili
    September 9, 2007

    I actually like this ‘parable’. I’ll file it away for future use.

    Sadly, I recently learnt that one of my acquaintances is a creationist. Naturally I was distressed, but we agreed to ignore the issue. Still, I like to gather ‘ammunition’ in case it ever rears its ugly face again.

  21. #21 Mark (Monty) Montague
    September 9, 2007

    I have often looked at this quote-mining, and wondered if there are two completely disjoint creationist type… it would seem as though there have to be “educated proponents” and “ignorant followers,” and that the followers are perhaps never exposed to these documents in any context other than quote-mining, and really don’t know anything about the reasons scientists have for believing what they do. But the quote-miners seem to, by necessity, have been exposed to the scientific ideas, and either choose to actively reject or suppress them. I’m not sure how this works, whether some may be motivated by actual disbelief, and others just by a sense of relativism in which they get social or political value from preaching this, so they they misrepresent more out of motive than genuine belief. Of course, in a psychology of blind faith sense, people (including scientists) will often have what the psychologists call “cognitive biases”– which often amount to delusions of rationality with huge lack-of-objectivity due to subconscious “I need to believe this” or “I want to believe this” attitudes. So maybe even the “educated proponents” really believe this stuff at some level, although I suspect many don’t.

  22. #22 SEF
    September 9, 2007

    I recommend Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution … by Richard Fortey

    I don’t. I found it dull. It lacked all the detail on trilobites which I was expecting and wanted of it. Instead it had lots of boring and pointless (to me) anecdotes and literary references. But then I’m the sort of person who likes to see equations and tables in books, whereas the publishers reckon nearly everyone else is turned off by those).

  23. #23 anti-nonsense
    September 9, 2007

    the reason creationists quote mine is because they know it will fool some gullible people who aren’t familiar with the people involved and aren’t familiar with the mountains of evidence for evolution. Their arguments target the gullible, and ignorant because those are the only people they have a hope of convincing. They know they can’t win in a scientific debate so they lie and manipulate the public in an attempt to get the scientists silenced and ignored by the public.

  24. #24 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2007

    Then you must like the Valentine book, which has all the details and tables (although it isn’t focused on trilobites) and leaves out all the anecdotes and generalities.

  25. #25 Steve_C
    September 9, 2007

    I just heard a thing about myths and lies on npr. They did a study and found that over time people forgot that a statement has been proven false and begin to believe the false statement even though it was originally presented as a false statement. Happens quicker with older people. True statements remain true however.

    Kind of backs up how negative campaigning works. Candidate A makes a false statement about candidate B. The press repeats the false statement, investigates is and does a truth squad report on it, Candidate B attacks candidate A for the lie. Even after the lie has been proven to be false… eventually a fairly high percentage of the people who got that the lie was a lie, believe that lie after a while.

    That’s why lies and propaganda work. Lie about the war and your opponents and those that have a world view that coincides with those that are lying accepts the lies even when they’re shown to be false.

    Did that make sense?

  26. #26 RBH
    September 9, 2007

    I think the creationist quote mining is part of an effort to show that even the most prominent supporters of evolutionary theory do not themselves believe it, but rather are promoting it for some other reason. If (as the quote mines purport to show) the supporters of evolution do not really believe it, then they must have some other motivation for supporting it, and that motivation must be an anti-Christian agenda. That leads naturally to the Evil Atheist Conspiracy and what it entails by way of the destruction of Christian America. Evolutionary theory is merely a weapon cynically used by the anti-God atheist movement to destroy Christianity.

  27. #27 RBH
    September 9, 2007

    Clicked “Post” too soon.

    Put another way, the creationist quote mining is a manifestation of the Lady Hope syndrome.

  28. #28 386sx
    September 9, 2007

    Quoting Dawkins, Darwin or Gould out of context is not really meant to convince or confound serious people in a serious discussion. It’s to bamboozle the absolute layman, the casual observer (who’s never read Dawkins, Darwin or Gould) in more innocent, casual situations. It’s done strategically: to systematically, again and again, cast doubt, however small and unconvincing, on the credibility of those scientists. To systematically, tenaciously misrepresent their ideas. Keep it up for months, years, decades, centuries and it’s going to have an effect.

    Sometimes that, and sometimes they think that the people they are quoting are slipping up and disproving evolution but are too dumb to realize that they are slipping up and disproving evolution.

    Then of coarse there are the people like Sal Cordova who do it out of sheer spite.

  29. #29 386sx
    September 9, 2007

    Yeah what RBH said, too.

  30. #30 soteos
    September 9, 2007

    If you atheists are so smart, what about this direct quote by Darwin you all seem to neglect: “I think evolution is completely wrong, even though I spent my entire life trying to prove otherwise. Not only that, evolution turns people gay, started World War 2, and will be the cause of every single societal problem 125 years after my death. Also, PZ Myers is wrong about everything.”

  31. #31 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2007

    It’s PROOF of Darwin’s omniscience, and therefore makes the rest of his work that much more inviolate!

    (It’s kind of like those people who blew through here a while back claiming the prophecies of Daniel proved the truth of the Bible, therefore Genesis was literally accurate.)

  32. #32 Susannah
    September 9, 2007

    Re quote mining:

    A couple of reasons that it is so prevalent among creationists, I think, is that (1) it is the way most of them read the Bible; in lists of “proof texts” and snippets from Genesis to the prophets to the Paulines all in one brief explanation. It is how opposing doctrines are supported. So it makes sense to them to read “evolutionists” in the same manner.

    And (2) I have known many hard-core creationists and I think all of them would agree on this: that “evolutionists” really know the truth, but dislike it, and that therefore, they sometimes suffer slips of the tongue, where, without meaning to, their choice of words reveals the truth that they know. The quote miner has gone searching for those nuggets of truth, just as he does with “Holy Writ”.

  33. #33 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 9, 2007

    They did a study and found that over time people forgot that a statement has been proven false and begin to believe the false statement even though it was originally presented as a false statement.

    IIRC there may also be evidence for that taking notice of these false statements, even to debunk or ridicule them, serves to further anchor them in the minds of the individuals who believes in them.

    Heads denialists wins, tails skeptics lose.

    Sven DiMilo:

    ARTHORPODS?

    Posted by: Clem DiMilo

    :-) Have you mutated, “Clam”? Or, in creo circles, is it DEVULVD?

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 9, 2007

    They did a study and found that over time people forgot that a statement has been proven false and begin to believe the false statement even though it was originally presented as a false statement.

    IIRC there may also be evidence for that taking notice of these false statements, even to debunk or ridicule them, serves to further anchor them in the minds of the individuals who believes in them.

    Heads denialists wins, tails skeptics lose.

    Sven DiMilo:

    ARTHORPODS?

    Posted by: Clem DiMilo

    :-) Have you mutated, “Clam”? Or, in creo circles, is it DEVULVD?

  35. #35 Susannah
    September 9, 2007

    … and I just wrote, “The quote miner has gone searching for those nuggets of truth, just as he does with “Holy Writ”.”

    Which could be nicely quote-mined to say that I believe that those out-of-context twisted bits represent real “truth”. Just another Freudian slip.

    For the record, out-of-context quotes are lies.

  36. #36 Sastra
    September 9, 2007

    I think Owlmirror (#14) makes a good point, especially when “evolutionists denying evolution” quotes are being promoted by the Joe/Jane Average Creationist. They start out with the assumption that everyone knows there’s a God. Everyone. God’s existence is self-evident, because we can see the Creation.

    Now, irrational, perverse people telling lies are eventually going to slip up. They can’t keep the facade up. It’s too much work, goes against human nature. Right? And right here we have evidence of it happening: Evolutionists — who are, in a moment of weakness, breaking apart and admitting their theory is wrong. Cries from the heart.

    It’s the Creationist version of No-Atheists-in-Foxholes.

  37. #37 Tom Hall
    September 9, 2007

    …Lie for jesus!…………..Economical with the truth!………….Thats what the Creator would have wanted!

  38. #38 Stanton
    September 9, 2007

    …Lie for jesus!…………..Economical with the truth!………….Thats what the Creator would have wanted!

    Reason is Satan’s prostitute! Facts are the Devil’s playing cards!

  39. #39 xebecs
    September 9, 2007

    I highly recommend the Cambrian part of the evolution exhibits at the Field Museum in Chicago. It’s *far* better than the static exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

    We spent nearly half an hour watching the video on the wall cycle — Anomalocaris rippling along above a sea (sea floor, actually) of Opabinia, Pikaia, Hallucigenia, Wiwaxia and many others.

  40. #40 Toni Petrina
    September 9, 2007

    I’ve recently had a discussion with IDist. When I confronted him to give me better explanation for existence of various species that show some progress, he replied that ID made it. Whatever we find, ID did it, or should I say a wizard did it. And to him, that’s a better explanation.

    Or to paraphrase Will Dembski: “ID can explain everything that evolution does and more.”

  41. #41 yoyo
    September 9, 2007

    These guys can hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time. Just watched an evil video on the Christian Woman, (think it was on godtube), round minute 4 of the poisonous screed, minister misogynist states that people should not use contradicting quotes from the bible and next breath says there are no contradictions in the bible. They DONT CARE if their arguments are illogical or untruthful.

  42. #42 katie
    September 9, 2007

    Here’s hopin’ one of those creationist trolls doesn’t with that 500,000th comment thingy…

  43. #43 ing
    September 9, 2007

    Someone should start a list containing every time that a prominent creationist has used the word “evolve” (no matter how out of context). That way, we could point to it every time a creationist starts to quote-mine.

    It obviously won’t convince the opponent (or anyone with any rational capability), but perhaps it might nullify the quote-mine’s effectiveness on by-standers.

  44. #44 ghl
    September 10, 2007

    Good stuff, PZ.

    But isn’t moving from Oregon to Minnesota an admission of “lesser” genetic character? Did you get pushed out of Oregon by more aggressive humans (a major cause of human migration according to cultural anthropologists). Or, has the study of evolution not calibrated to the fact that humans do silly things, (like move to Minnesota), for money — which has no practical use beyond the fact that there is a somewhat common consensus of its value. Tongue in cheek, I hope you see.

  45. #45 csrster
    September 10, 2007

    PZ, you forgot the anti-transportationists quote-mining your statement that “I don’t really remember much about the trip from Oregon” as evidence that there never was such a trip.

  46. #46 Drad Frantle
    September 10, 2007

    I only skim-read this, but Shelley Fauna sounds kinda hot. Anyone got her phone no.?

  47. #47 hoary puccoon
    September 10, 2007

    PZ wrote,
    “…the beasts of the field didn’t just appear in an instant, but over long periods of time, and with apparent ancestral forms in deeper periods of time. The… [geologists and paleontologists] came to these conclusions in the 19th century, before Charles Darwin proposed mechanisms that would drive change in biological lineages.”

    Actually, PZ, People like Baron Cuvier, Comte de Buffon, and James Hutton reached those conclusions in the 18th century, before Charles Darwin was born. (His own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had an earlier version of evolution.)

    The essential point was that comparative anatomy and geology were correlated, so that deeper and deeper geological layers bore fossils that varied systematically, looking less and less like what we see today. In the 20th century, physicists discovered that the age of rocks measured by radio isotope decay was highly correlated with the comparative anatomy and geology data. Now, in the 21st century, the data are pouring in for a strong correlation between the relatedness of species as measured by their comparative anatomy and fossil records and their cell chemistry.

    That’s a monumentally high correlation between four independent variables (comparative anatomy; depth of geological stratum; age of geological stratum measured by isotopes; and molecular cell biology.) Add to that the laboratory and field studies of ‘micro’ evolution that show exactly how evolution operates, and the structure is unassailable.

    The BEST arguments on the other side are simply picking at minor points in a way that shows a deplorable lack of understanding of applied statistics, along with the misunderstandings of the ‘hard science’ fields. No wonder they have to resort to quote-mining, character assassination, and threats of eternal hellfire. What else have they got?

  48. #48 Brendan S
    September 10, 2007

    I like your little story there, PZ, but you left out the part at the end:

    After you’ve finally found that credit card statement showing your gas for the journey, and found documented evidence that U-Haul #3016894 make if from Oregon to Minnesota, the Transportation denialist concedes that transportation is POSSIBLE, but Jesus must have been showing you how to drive, where to turn, etc.

    Then spend two posts claiming that’s what they meant all along.

  49. #49 David Marjanovi?
    September 10, 2007

    Comment 47 is spot-on.

  50. #50 David Marjanovi?
    September 10, 2007

    Comment 47 is spot-on.

  51. #51 Willey
    September 10, 2007

    You lived in Utah? As one stuck in this place, I would like to apologize, and know why you fled.

  52. #52 frog
    September 10, 2007

    PZ,

    Since grandma Zerusha can not be clearly identified, I say she was an alien visitor.

    Prove me wrong!

  53. #53 mark
    September 10, 2007

    Because trilobites didn’t change?

    There was a report by Mark Webster in the 27 July issue of Science on trilobite diversity, the point of which was trilobite diversity peaked in the Cambrian. Rates of new species emergence and species extinction were also higher during the Cambrian. This sort of pattern apparently is fairly common. I doubt the Creationists have any reasonable explanation for this, either.

  54. #54 Monado
    September 13, 2007

    PZ, this is exactly why Creationist arguments are so frustrating and irritating! Can’t they tell they’re lying? Do t hey fail to notice that the little bit they’ve chipped out of context is contrary to the meaning of the text as a whole? Who do they think they are fooling?

    And that double vision of “it can’t happen/it does happen but it’s not evolution” is enough to make my eyeballs vibrate.

    Thanks for putting this so clearly. It’s my favourite post of the month. I nominate it for Talk.origins letter of the month.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!