Pharyngula

Junior Birdmen of the Discovery Institute

And when you hear the grand announcement
That their wings are made of tin.
Then you will know the Junior Birdmen
Have sent their box tops in.

i-3fd407fc2577a7539fb4d24abd9c9f9d-flight_birdman.jpg

Human beings cannot fly.

It’s simply impossible, and we’ve known it for centuries; there is, however, a conspiracy of committed, dogmatic aerodynamicists who have a vested interest in preserving the myth of Wilbur and Orville Wright, and despite the obvious impossibility of flight which is readily apparent to anyone with common sense, they persist in promoting their “theory.”

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There are honest engineers who can lay out in detail for you the impossibility of flight. The dogmatic Wrightists simply ignore weight-to-lift ratios, surface area, power output, and Reynolds numbers. Reynolds numbers prove that humans can’t fly, but you will never, ever see that in any aerospace engineering textbook. There is a world-wide cover-up: they don’t want to risk their cushy grants and their payola from the aerospace industry.

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They hide the truth. That strange “flying machine” to the right? It never got off the ground! It fell apart on the first attempt to fly! Yet you still find it portrayed in the textbooks, intact and looking like it’s about to leap into the air. This is a long-running and disgraceful fraud. And if you look at the history of the Wright brothers, you’ll see that they relied on the prior work of people like Lilienthal and Maxim and Boeing and Curtis, all frauds and charlatans. How can you trust a theory built on failure and fakes?

You want to show me what?

i-4f297cce2e0de9becaafd700231b1d86-flight_boeing.jpg

That proves my case.

i-3fd407fc2577a7539fb4d24abd9c9f9d-flight_birdman.jpg

Look at this birdman. We can all agree that that guy never flew — it would be a joke to think otherwise. Yet you expect me to believe that you can add many tons of weight, millions of complicated parts, and make it all out of metal, and now it can fly? You’ve amplified all the problems in the original design a million-fold, and now you try to tell me it works? You silly Wrightists.


No, I haven’t gone insane. I made the absurd argument above just to give you a sense of what I feel when I read the latest from the Discovery Institute. They have this ridiculous site, Judging PBS, that purports to be a rebuttal to the PBS documentary on the Dover trial. It’s actually just another rehash of the dishonesty found in Wells’ Icons of Evolution — a series of misrepresentations of the state of biological thought. I keep hammering on the lies in that dismal book, but the DI keeps using it. In this case, it’s particularly egregious; the PBS documentary didn’t say anything about the specific issues they’re trying to rebut. It’s as if they’ve got nothing else but the same old recycled garbage.

The strategy they’re relying is the Big Lie: they make ten points (the same ten they always do), and practically every sentence is wrong—and they know we’d have to write a whole book to document and refute it all. So, as usual, I’ll just go after the one I know best, their bogus claims about Haeckel. You’ll see why I used the example of disbelieving in flight. If you’re already familiar with the absurdity of their Haeckel claims, skip ahead to the conclusion. I don’t mind, I’m rehashing old arguments they’ve never answered myself.

Here’s how their argument starts.

PBS observes that Darwin boasted that embryology provided “the strongest single class of facts in favor of” his theory of evolution. But Darwin penned those words in the 1860s, and developmental biologists have learned much since that time. In fact, Darwin staked much of his evidential support upon the work of the 19th century embryologist Ernst Haeckel.

This is completely false. The facts Darwin is referring to were first documented by Karl Ernst von Baer in the first half of the 19th century, and were noted and repeated by many other embryologists since, right up into the modern day. Haeckel published after Darwin.

After Darwin, it was discovered that Haeckel promoted fraudulent data to falsely support vertebrate common ancestry by overstating the similarities between vertebrate embryos in their earliest stages of development.

This is also false. Haeckel did reuse some woodcuts in a later publication; the infamous diagram was not one of them. He did oversell the similarities between embryos to make his case, and he did select embryos that fit his thesis. There is still a real phenomenon to be explained, however: vertebrate embryos do go through a stage where they resemble one another.

Haeckel’s infamous embryo drawings obscured the differences between vertebrate embryos in their earliest stages, leading to widespread belief in the false idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (i.e. development replays evolutionary history).

This is correct: Haeckel did promote an idea called the biogenetic law, or “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The DI does leave out a significant point, however.

When was the biogenetic law rejected by biologists?

The 19th century.

They’re flogging a dead horse. It isn’t merely dead, it’s skeletal. It’s bones are scattered. The worms have eaten it all. It’s gone to dust. The dust has blown away. There ain’t no horse there, but merely the memory of a horse, and even that is scarcely recollected. That horse is a freakin’ myth. Yet the DI keeps flogging.

The factual data reveal that vertebrate embryos develop very differently from their earliest stages in a pattern that is unexpected if all vertebrates share a common ancestor. Darwin himself was a victim of Haeckel’s fraud, and had Darwin known the truth, perhaps he might never have made the statement that PBS quotes above.

Whoa. This one is devious. How would you expect embryos to develop if they share a common ancestor? Apparently the DI expects that they would follow Haeckel’s biogenetic law and recapitulate their phylogeny. But as I’ve just said, biologists don’t accept the biogenetic law, and haven’t done so for over a century.

So what they’re complaining about is that the pattern of development does not fit a pattern that evolutionary biologists and embryologists rejected long ago.

Darwin was not a victim of “Haeckel’s fraud”. His interpretations were not based on Haeckel, but von Baer. Darwin was a conscientious fellow; I’m sure that if he knew of the complaints against Haeckel, he would have revisited the embryological work he’d referenced, but it would not have required changing any of his conclusions.

For example, vertebrates, sea urchins, insects, and various other invertebrate groups all use the same regulatory genes to control growth of their widely diverse types of limbs, but it is not thought that their common ancestor had a common limb. Similarly, vertebrates, insects, and jellyfish use similar master control genes to control the development of their widely different eyes, but their alleged common ancestor is not thought to have had a common type of eye. In these cases, living animal groups would NOT be expected to have inherited their genetic “tool kits” from a common ancestor because there is no reason to believe that the common ancestor was using that genetic toolkit for some common body part. As Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, plant geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Genetics writes, “No theorist in evolutionary biology will ever derive chicken and insects from a winged common ancestor, and yet, clearly related sequences are specifically expressed in wing buds and imaginal disks.”

Finally, a somewhat more difficult argument that doesn’t rely on lying about the history of developmental biology…but it’s still wrong.

It is correct that the wings of birds and insects are not homologous (that is, bird wings and fly wings did not evolve from a common ancestral organ, but instead arose independently), yet they also use many similar genes. Lönnig’s claim is irrelevant, since no evolutionary biologist is trying to claim that they are derived from a winged common ancestor.

We can see this when we look at the molecules, too. Bird limbs are specified in a different way than insect limbs; they have different networks of genes that pattern the limbs, too. However, the limbs are built using similar molecules: for instance, BMP-2,4/Decapentaplegic signaling proteins are used all over the place, and they’re often regulated by Hedgehog proteins. There are homologous gene modules that get co-opted in many ways and at many different times. That’s what developmental biologists mean when they refer to a genetic toolbox — it’s not loaded with legs and eyes and livers, it’s a collection of genetic circuits that we see getting used over and over in different tissues.

We do not think that the last common ancestor of bugs and birds had limbs. But it did have have a little genetic sub-program to organize mesoderm and ectoderm to make a generic protrusion from the body wall, and it used something like the Decapentaplegic gene; and it had a set of genes, the Hox genes, that set up axial patterning information. Those common elements got recruited in different ways to make non-homologous insect claws and bird wings — but we can still see the molecular homology.

Who is this Lönnig fellow, and how can he be working as a geneticist and be so unaware of a basic finding of comparative molecular biology? This is a non-issue, so I’m more than a little surprised to see anyone bringing it up as an objection…but then, this is from the Discovery Institute.

Watch as they make their ignorant incomprehension even worse:

Darwinists try to resolve such quandaries by appealing to extreme examples of convergent genetic evolution, what one might term genetic predestination. But such examples of extreme convergence strain the credulity of Darwin’s mechanism. Can blind and undirected natural selection cause many animal groups to independently deploy precisely the same genetic toolkits for development? Such a high level of genetic similarity seems highly unlikely to evolve independently numerous times in the history of life.

What? No one uses bird wings and insect legs as examples of convergent evolution, nor are the similarities of some of the regulatory modules ascribed to convergence. This is a very strange claim from the DI; only someone completely ignorant of modern molecular/genetic developmental biology would even propose it.

The reason that arthropods and chordates use similar families of genes to regulate development is because they inherited from a common ancestor, and that’s what any developmental biologist will tell you. It’s not due to convergence, which given the breadth and ubiquity of these genes would be absurd. These genes evolved in unicellular and colonial organisms for universal functions like gene regulation and cell signaling and signal transduction — multicellular animals have them because we inherited the core processes from eukaryotic bacteria.

This one question — “Can blind and undirected natural selection cause many animal groups to independently deploy precisely the same genetic toolkits for development?” — is such concentrated ignorance it’s hard to know how to deal with it all. Natural selection is not random, as they want to imply, but it is irrelevant: these molecular homologies are not the product of natural selection, but of common descent. The organisms are not “independently deploying” these genes: they are a product of their contingent history, and are not independent at all. That’s what the developmental biologists are saying repeatedly, and with great clarity, in their publications — the toolbox genes they describe are of interest because they represent a shared pool of potential regulatory networks that we have inherited from a common ancestor.

I don’t know whether to accuse the Discovery Institute of simply appalling scholarship and ignorance, or of outright dishonesty and misrepresentation. I should probably play it safe and slam them for both.

Their presentation is both irrelevant and wrong, and fails spectacularly for anyone at all who has any knowledge of the fields they are criticizing — their site is shamelessly targeting the grossly ignorant. I know, that’s a good-sized market share, but still, it’s further refutation of their claim to be trying to do science. They are doing propaganda, nothing more, and even that is being done incompetently.

  • They have attempted to sidestep the criticisms levied against them in the PBS documentary on the Dover trial by raising completely irrelevant arguments against “Darwinism”. This is a distraction campaign, not an effort to inform.

  • In this one example that I have dissected, they have demonstrated an abysmal ignorance of the subject they are trying to critique. There are evo-devo explanations of the phenomena they describe; what they purport to be our explanations are comical in how far off they are.

  • Their complaints are ahistorical and anachronistic. Darwin built on the foundation of embryological knowledge present in 1859, which did not include Haeckel. Haeckel was influential, all right, but on scientists in the last third of the 19th century.

  • The most damning hole in their ridiculous assault on evolution, though, is that the basis of their complaint is an antique, discredited theory that has nothing at all to do with modern comparative developmental biology, or evo-devo. It’s like complaining that buggy whips have no effect on combustion engines, or that Da Vinci’s flying machines wouldn’t work, therefore modern transportation technologies are flawed. It misses the point to such a degree that they should be embarrassed, if ever they had a sense of shame.

Here are two little movies to illustrate the problem. The DI is trying to show us the one on the left, the one that shows vintage ideas and experimentally falsified exercises; early efforts in anything tend to go off in all kinds of directions, with various dead-ends and non-starters. Haeckel’s hypothesis is exactly the same. It’s a well-intended scientific hypothesis that was a bit oversold and that flopped spectacularly, and was left by the wayside while other scientists, such as Roux and Conklin and Morgan and Spemann and many, many others moved on in productive directions that did work.

Those other productive directions have led us to modern genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology — sciences that have strengthened the theory of evolution. Modern biology is a sophisticated, complicated enterprise, dependent on hard-earned technologies that have allowed us to look deeper and farther than ever before; like the space shuttle, it works, it might yet have a long way to go, but its existence is not refuted by the existence of past mistakes.

Everytime the Discovery Institute brings up the case of Haeckel, you should be wondering — are they so hard up for errors in evolutionary biology that they have to go back 140 years to find one?

Comments

  1. #1 Moses
    December 23, 2007

    They’re like Kudzu. No matter how much you kill, more grows back.

  2. #2 Dave Carlson
    December 23, 2007

    The DI said:

    The factual data reveal that vertebrate embryos develop very differently from their earliest stages in a pattern that is unexpected if all vertebrates share a common ancestor.

    I thought that the DI and the ID movement in general had no problem with common descent per se and only argued against natural selection as generator of complexity. I guess I was wrong.

  3. #3 wildlifer
    December 23, 2007

    We should invade their corporate offices, kill their leaders and convert them to reason.

  4. #4 wildlifer
    December 23, 2007

    LOL the coulter snark tags went invisible … lest anyone think I’m serious.

  5. #5 fardels bear
    December 23, 2007

    Thanks PZ! I’m so thankful I got to read your post before traveling! I almost believed those Wrightests and took one of their “airplanes” home for the holidays. Now I know better and will walk.

    I hear the Wrighests build their airplanes by going to the junkyards where a tornado has been.

  6. #6 Andrew C. James
    December 23, 2007

    I’m convinced those at the DI are fully knowledgeable of Evolution, and they themselves do in fact know it to be the correct explanation for the development of life on Earth.

    Their arguments imply a knowledge of it. Despite this, they twist the known facts to purposefully lie about Evolution to the willing masses. They lie outright for the express purpose of their own gain. Its disgusting, it is evil if evil can be said to exist. This makes sense considering the dogma they support is that of a god whom they claim already tried once already to destroy all life on Earth, which they think is glorious. Their ideology is less than useless.

    They use the same tactics, for the same reasons, that Hitler and Stalin did to control their populations, propaganda, and lies. Now we just have to wait for Creationist martyrs.

    We all must speak out against these lies and this evil and never give them a rest, never allow them to go unchallenged.

  7. #7 DLC
    December 23, 2007

    So, one guy in the 19th century was wrong, ergo all evolutionary theory must be wrong ? Has the DI ever heard of peer review ? Anybody ? Bueller ?
    You know, the practice whereby others in your field look at your work and offer criticism ? Haeckel cherry picked samples and tailored his data to fit his hypothesis — he should be the patron saint of the cdesign proponentsists.

  8. #8 Bing
    December 23, 2007

    Andrew C. James said:
    [I]Now we just have to wait for Creationist martyrs.[/I]

    Sternberg and Gonzalez aren’t enough for you? What about Dembski’s firing from Baylor and his subsequent wandering in the wilderness of Bibble Collages?

  9. #9 Ian H Spedding FCD
    December 23, 2007

    Dawkins, as ever, put it most succinctly:

    It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

    That the Discovery Institute is simply ignorant of the mass of evidence for evolution accumulated by biologists is the most charitable interpretation of why they write what they do. It’s hard to sustain, though.

    These people are not stupid. They have degrees, they are literate, they write books and articles. If they are ignorant they have no excuse for it.

    Neither do they appear to be insane, unless you count a delusionary belief in the existence of a god.

    So, whether we prefer to consider it or not, that just leaves wicked – and that’s not meant in the contemporary slang usage, either.

  10. #10 Evan
    December 23, 2007

    “These genes evolved in unicellular and colonial organisms for universal functions like gene regulation and cell signaling and signal transduction — multicellular animals have them because we inherited the core processes from eukaryotic bacteria.”

    I have to ask — what are the eukaryotic bacteria?

  11. #11 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    The factual data reveal that vertebrate embryos develop very differently from their earliest stages in a pattern that is unexpected if all vertebrates share a common ancestor.

    Whereas it isn’t unexpected if God crafted each organism individually, because nothing is unexpected in that case. Whatever we see, God did it that way, and so we can predict … well, nothing.

    Of course the claim that what we do see is “unexpected if all vertebrates share a common ancestor” is completely absurd. It could only be unexpected relative to a specific developmental model — say, Haeckel’s. But since we haven’t explored every possible developmental model consistent with common ancestry, we can’t (honestly or intelligently) say that the pattern is unexpected given common ancestry. Going back to PZ’s analogy, it’s like saying that an object flying is unexpected if the object was built by man. The sweep of the generalization and the failure to attend to — or discover — details is IDiotic.

  12. #12 Dan
    December 23, 2007

    It’s like complaining that buggy whips have no effect on combustion engines…

    You could have stopped right there, PZ. That’s a perfect way of describing the gripes of the DI, and expecting them to actually catch up to what people are doing in the here and now is a huge mistake. These nutters have no objections to rewriting history to fit their feebly agenda.

    I say, if they want to cripple their arguments by building them upon errors which have already been dealt with countless times in the history of scientific study, let them.

    Thank you for once again pointing out the intellectual and academic dishonesty of these Disco-Institute frauds.

  13. #13 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    I have to ask

    No, you don’t.

    what are the eukaryotic bacteria?

    What is a google?

    [“give a man a fish …”]

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 23, 2007

    My late mother always set an example of giving people the benefit of the doubt, but the Fellers stretch my capacity to the limit. Having seen in person John West tap-dance over eugenics, I know they know the steps of the dance of evolution. And so I can only conclude that they are willfully spreading lies and feigning ignorance. If Wells was able to complete a PhD, then he can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on the score of ignorance.

    But they are the Wayne Hungs of evolution; they know they have no talent yet they expect the fame and notoriety that comes with auditioning. That they can’t hold a tune is irrelevant, they know the words to the song and that is all they want us to hear.

  15. #15 Citizen Z
    December 23, 2007

    Just look at what the Wright brothers themselves said about flight:

    “No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris.” – Orville Wright

    “I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years.” – Wilbur Wright.

    Ipso facto it’s false. Also the Wright Brothers led directly to the Luftwaffe.

  16. #16 Citizen Z
    December 23, 2007

    In fact, I demand that all you Wrightists go ahead and denounce the Luftwaffe right now.

  17. #17 Helioprogenus
    December 23, 2007

    It’s so irritating that we have to spend time to defend reasoning from these creationist assholes. The sad fact is that millions of credulous individuals believe in whatever religious dogma they were indoctrinated with, and therefore must find some kind of quasi-scientific sounding proof. This alone should make one wonder whether this inherent desire to find rational proof could be more productive had they had some kind of decent science-based education.

    Ultimately then, the solution to all this bullshit is to make science education as important as reading and math skills. Yet, would the religious authorities allow this to happen? They feed and thrive on ignorance. Education and critical thinking are their enemies. Richard Dawkin’s wasn’t exaggerating when he described religion as child abuse.

  18. #18 Foggg
    December 23, 2007

    PZ was afraid to post a pic of the supernatural Gossamer Condor because it violated the second law of aerodythermonamics
    http://www.bfi.org/images/content/frontpage_events/gossamer.jpg

  19. #19 Feòrag
    December 23, 2007

    Got you! That picture you claim is of modern flying machines? The ones pretending to be Canadian? That’s so obviously a computer-generated forgery!

  20. #20 Feòrag
    December 23, 2007

    Got you! That picture you claim is of modern flying machines? The ones pretending to be Canadian? That’s so obviously a computer-generated forgery!

  21. #21 Rey Fox
    December 23, 2007

    Waiting for some concern troll to come in and start whinging about wildlifer’s comment #3.

  22. #22 Chris R.
    December 23, 2007

    I am an aeronautical engineer and I am fairly sure that if the Wrightists got wind of my deeply-held religious beliefs about the impossibility of flight, I would lose my job and probably be horrendously ostracized.

    Teach the controversy!

  23. #23 Frank Oswalt
    December 23, 2007

    There are two strategies for defeating creationists: ridicule and cold hard facts. This post combines the two in a spectacular way. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

  24. #24 Felicia Gilljam
    December 23, 2007

    Re #13 – you might wanna look at those google hits yourself. According to biology textbooks, there’s no such thing as eukaryotic bacteria, which I presume was Evan’s point. If they did exist at some point and PZ has inside knowledge, I’d love to hear the explanation.

  25. #25 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    In these cases, living animal groups would NOT be expected to have inherited their genetic “tool kits” from a common ancestor because there is no reason to believe that the common ancestor was using that genetic toolkit for some common body part.

    Such carefully crafted sophistry cannot be accidental. Indeed “there is no reason to believe that the common ancestor was using that genetic toolkit for some common body part“, but it is not true if one simply omits that prepositional strawman, which is irrelevant to the hypothesis that living animal groups have inherited their genetic tool kits from a common ancestor.

    Can blind and undirected natural selection cause many animal groups to independently deploy precisely the same genetic toolkits for development?

    Uh, yes, of course, if they are all descended from a common ancestor that had that genetic toolkit. Duh.

    Such a high level of genetic similarity seems highly unlikely to evolve independently numerous times in the history of life.

    In other words, anything but common ancestry is highly unlikely. And anything but intentional deception on the part of the authors also seems highly unlikely.

    Who is this Lönnig fellow

    According to http://www.jehovahs-witness.com/6/51229/1.ashx he is a Jehovah’s Witness who has been banned from spreading his ID views via the Max Planck Institute website.

  26. #26 Russell Seitz
    December 23, 2007

    PZ, there is only one device capable of deconstructing the DI site– the Fearsome PoMo Engine:

    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/12/critical-theory.html

  27. #27 robbrown
    December 23, 2007

    Hey truth machine, I’m sure Evan was appreciative of your googling lesson. I’ll give another one: try quotes around the phrase so you actually get people talking about “eukaryotic bacteria” rather than discussing both eukaryotes and bacteria. If you do so, you quickly get to links like this one:

    http://www.marsroverblog.com/dyn/reply/19548/8

    which says:

    “There’s no such thing as eukaryotic bacteria. Bacteria are, by definition, prokaryotes.”

    Which is my understanding as well, and generally what I find by using google. I don’t dispute that maybe the term has some meaning (since PZ used it, and he seems to be a smart fellow), but I still think that Evans question was valid.

    Incidentally wikipedia has this to say: “Bacteria are prokaryotes. Unlike cells of animals and other eukaryotes, bacterial cells do not contain a nucleus and rarely harbour membrane-bound organelles.”

  28. #28 robbrown
    December 23, 2007

    Oops Felicia (#23), I didn’t see your post before I posted mine… :)

  29. #29 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    Re #13 – you might wanna look at those google hits yourself.

    Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  30. #30 Tony Popple
    December 23, 2007

    Our faith in modern aviation is horribly misplaced.

    Isaac Newton was influenced by medieval astrologers and philosophers. As his life drew to a close, he abandoned science for mysticism.

    Obviously, this means we need abandon anything based upon his ideas.

  31. #31 Crudely Wrott
    December 23, 2007

    Actually, the Luftwaffe was a grand example of what people can do when they apply that basic human ability, science. The variety of aircraft produced by the Germans for “civilian applications,” the effectiveness of many of these designs, the sheer numbers produced and the fact that by the end of WWII they were on the cusp of producing aircraft of surpassing performance testify to what can be done when science is combined with the means of production and broad support by the population and the government. Don’t forget, we got to the moon thanks to German rocket science. (Thank you, Werner.)

    The fact that this was done under the direction of a thoroughly despicable regime in no way disgraces the very good science that was done nor the useful and ubiquitous spin offs that we enjoy daily.

    Some people seem unable to separate knowledge of something from the use of that thing. I have the impression that the folks at UD and IDiots in general have a lot of history to catch up on. And, they need to grow up. That is, GTFU.

  32. #32 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    Which is my understanding as well, and generally what I find by using google. I don’t dispute that maybe the term has some meaning (since PZ used it, and he seems to be a smart fellow), but I still think that Evans question was valid.

    It was, and my response was hasty and stupid. I suspect PZ meant to say “prokaryotic bacteria”, since he referred to “unicellular and colonial organisms for universal functions like gene regulation and cell signaling and signal transduction”, which predates eukaryotes. But perhaps he’s alluding to some transitional phase of eukaryotic bacteria that no longer exist.

  33. #33 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    P.S.

    But perhaps he’s alluding to some transitional phase of eukaryotic bacteria that no longer exist.

    Actually, I think the proper term for that would be protista (coincidentally a term coined by Haeckel).

  34. #34 Felicia Gilljam
    December 23, 2007

    Truth machine, actually Protista is a phylum consisting of mostly unicellular eukaryotes and other organisms we had no idea where they belonged in the tree of life. It’s turned out the taxon is monophyletic and hence we don’t really use it anymore, as it doesn’t tell us anything interesting about the organisms in particular.

  35. #35 Felicia Gilljam
    December 23, 2007

    Not phylum. Kingdom. Kill me now.

  36. #36 Janine
    December 23, 2007

    I would love to see Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, defend the Junior Birdmen in court.

    On a more serious note, I see DI’s anti-PBS page and Dinesh D’Souza debating style as sharing common trait. Both rely on tossing out so much bad information, anyone trying to correct their mistakes has no time to advance a true argument.

    Try listening to any debate with D’Souza. His opponent is so busy addressing any number a silly statements that his opponent ends up looking defensive. Hence, D’Soaza claims victory. Even though those who knows about the issues knows that D’Soaza’s claim are pure BS.

    The same can be said DI. Everyday, I can read students reducing the claims of DI to rubble. But the sad fact is this, the everyday person does not know as much about evolutionary biology as someone like ERV. (I want to stress, I mean nothing derogatory in pointing out ERV’s student status.) DI is making hay with the ignorance of the average person.

    So someone like PZ came make a beautiful piece like this. He does a great job of pointing out how silly DI is. How DI is unable to even get their facts straight by combining two of their talking points (Attacking Darwin personally and harping on Haeckel.) by creating a claim that can only be true if time travel is used. Yet despite the thousands of people who are able to show the stupidity of DI, DI will continue on their merry way. (Hello Huckabee!) DI keeps tossing out the stupid (Much like D’Soaza in debate) and much more knowledgeable people keep trying to clean up the mess. And look, DI keeps “winning” the debate. Never mind that the facts are not there.

  37. #37 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2007

    I want those fuckwits to tell me why the “designer” used vertebrate legs as its templates for vertebrate wings. I’ve asked them repeatedly, and they simply fob it all off and bring up even more irrelevancies.

    But just so they know I don’t forget that they haven’t answered those or any other crucial questions, I will ask once again why their “designer” did what no known designer has done or would do, which is to take limbs evolved for (initially, at least) tetrapodal locomotion, and turn them into wings, something that only evolution would actually predict in such a context.

    I eagerly await their stony silence, which tacitly acknowledges for the 10 millionth time that they have no scientific explanations at all.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  38. #38 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    Truth machine, actually Protista is a phylum consisting of mostly unicellular eukaryotes and other organisms we had no idea where they belonged in the tree of life.

    I said “protista”, not “Protista” — I wasn’t referring all Protista, only to the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes; the first eukaryotes were protista. PZ referred to “unicellular and colonial organisms” — those sound like protista.

    It’s turned out the taxon is monophyletic

    You mean paraphyletic.

  39. #39 Brownian, OM
    December 23, 2007

    “It’s turned out the taxon is monophyletic and hence we don’t really use it anymore”

    Felicia, what do you mean by this? Monophyletic clades are generally the goal in cladistics, so there’s nothing about monophyly in a taxon that implies we wouldn’t use it.

    Did you mean to write ‘paraphyletic’ instead?

  40. #40 Don Quijote
    December 23, 2007

    Who is this Lönnig fellow, and how can he be working as a geneticist and be so unaware of a basic finding of comparative molecular biology?

    He is indeed a Jehova’s Witness and one of the most prominent (or rather infamous) ID promoter in Germany. After he had to move his rubbish from the institutes’s website to his private homepage he started to whine about being prosecuted and a victim of an ‘inquisition’ (how ironic!) and of ‘dogmatic materialism’. He talked about a ‘terroristic understanding of science like in communist regimes’. Then there was a film about him, in which he continued his accusations…

    Doesn’t this sound very familiar somehow?

    Source for those who master the language of Goethe

  41. #41 Colugo
    December 23, 2007

    Ernst Haeckel and necromantic reanimation. Who knew?
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=2uq3fGkvtBM&mode=related&search=

  42. #42 Monado
    December 23, 2007

    I think that Felicia meant “not monophyletic”.

    There’s a lovely letter of the month in TalkOrigins that likens someone saying that evolution is impossible to someone standing in a modern airport while proclaiming that flight is impossible.

  43. #43 grinch
    December 23, 2007

    Great post – you are “preachin’ to the choir” here.

    Those ludDItes might be crap at science but they have a large market, eager to sniff their own shit. Just the fact that Huckabee is getting is getting some air time is really scary.

    A merry squidmas to you all.

  44. #44 Brachychiton
    December 23, 2007

    Maybe ‘eukaryotic bacteria’ refers to those endosymbiotic bacteria that gave rise to the eukaryotes and which persist as mitochondria and chloroplasts and stuff.

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    December 23, 2007

    I have to ask — what are the eukaryotic bacteria?

    the intelligently designed ones?

  46. #46 rrt
    December 23, 2007

    Just want to second Dave Carlson’s comment in #2. It’s well worth noting. We’re told time and again that ID isn’t creationism, that it’s oh so sophisticated and educated, that they have no problem with nearly anything in evolution…and then they attack common descent. Not that they’d have anything even if they weren’t so pathetic…their “sophisticated” arguments are as inept as the rest of them, as PZ wonderfully shows. But gah, I’m so sick of these creeps. Creationism in a cheap tuxedo indeed.

    “Oh, no Ma’am, I’m just a dolphin.”

  47. #47 Phoenix Woman
    December 23, 2007

    So, one guy in the 19th century was wrong, ergo all evolutionary theory must be wrong ?

    It’s even worse than that:

    One guy in the 19th century was wrong, and seen to be wrong by his peers and contemporaries (note to creationists: “Contemporary” when referring to a person means “somebody who was alive at roughly the same time somebody else was alive”), who then discarded his wrong theory — yet even though this discredited theory is no longer part of the underpinnings of modern evolutionary and hasn’t been for well over a century, the DIs are pretending that their flogging this dead straw horse completely discredits the whole of modern evolutionary theory.

    Has the DI ever heard of peer review ? Anybody ? Bueller ?

    Of course not. Their idea of ‘peer review’ is Bishop Ussher.

  48. #48 Russell Seitz
    December 23, 2007

    How unfair to Ussher- the Primate’s views were subject to review by a host of Irish peers, including Robert Boyle’s brother, the quite skeptical Earl Of Cork

  49. #49 Ichthyic
    December 23, 2007

    “Oh, no Ma’am, I’m just a dolphin.”

    ah, that brings back memories.

    http://www.truveo.com/Saturday-Night-Live-Season-1-Land-Shark/id/1415496980

  50. #50 Dennis
    December 23, 2007

    This is a dead horse I have flogged before, but to be redundant. They are not talking to you and me they are talking to their (DI) audience. Refuting them in this forum does’nt effect their message to their constituency. They can flog these dead dogs forever. The audience they speak to is completly insulated from facts. They believe him!

    You and I have no visibility in the Evangelical community (don’t even think about Penticostals). Your first sentence is viewed as satanic the rest are never read.

    He can say whaterver he wants, He knows it, and does. You can say whatever you want, and his audience won’t see it, but your does, with no impact to his. He gets a larger audience than if only christians heard his message. He wins!

    I don’t know how to defeat this dynamic. This is my quest.

  51. #51 truth machine
    December 23, 2007

    Maybe ‘eukaryotic bacteria’ refers to those endosymbiotic bacteria that gave rise to the eukaryotes and which persist as mitochondria and chloroplasts and stuff.

    But it couldn’t properly be said that multicellular animals inherited the core processes of gene regulation, cell signaling, and signal transduction from mitochondria and chloroplasts, and surely the bacteria that became components of eurkaryotic cells were not themselves eukaryotic.

    Perhaps PZ mean eubacteria, as distinguished from archaeobacteria. But, confusingly enough, both eubacteria and archaeobacteria are prokaryotes, not eukaryotes.

    Here is an interesting article about eubacteria vs. archaeobacteria, theories of the origin of life and of eukaryotes (protists), etc.:

    Although archaebacteria and eubacteria, Earth’s two main bacterial groups, diverged almost from their inception nearly 4 billion years ago, they came back together about 1.5 billion years later to form the third branch of life, the eukaryotes, according to William Martin of the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf in Germany and Michael J. Russell of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in Glasgow. They conjecture that an evolutionary quantum leap happened after an archaebacterium swallowed a eubacterium.

    Other scientists are now discovering that the deep ocean is a hotbed of unconventional symbiotic relationships that they say may yield clues about eukaryotes’ oldest ancestor. Microbiologist Joan M. Bernhard of the University of South Carolina in Columbia has found a diversity of single-celled eukaryotes, called protists, bearing bacterial partners. She describes the deep-sea environment as a “symbiotic oasis.” Some of the critters, including members of two major protist groups–the whip-tailed flagellates and hairy ciliates–harbor bacteria internally. Still others are coated in bacterial partners.

    The inner workings of these pairings haven’t yet been defined, but their abundance suggests that teamwork is a useful solution to the stark ocean environment, Bernhard says. It’s possible that the first eukaryotes originated in similar communities, she adds.

    The first examples of bacterium-bacterium collaborations have begun to surface. Two years ago, Antje Boetius of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremen, Germany, and her colleagues found clumps of archaebacteria surrounded by a rind of sulfate-reducing eubacteria–the first example of a pairing between the two bacterial groups (SN: 10/7/00, p. 231). The duo apparently feeds on methane in the oxygen-depleted ocean.

    These and more recently discovered bacterial assemblages account for the “massive biomass” at the seafloor, forming mats up to 4 feet deep, Boetius’ team reports in the August 9, 2002 Science. These organisms might represent the kinds of associations that led to the first eukaryote, Boetius says.

    The only known instance of a bacterium within a bacterium–the structure proposed as the origin of eukaryotes–has turned up inside abdominal cells of a mealybug insect (SN: 7/28/01, p. 53: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20010728/fob4.asp).

    So, why haven’t such species collaborations more often led to new life-forms? Martin suspects that the shift from symbiosis to wholesale melding of the partners’ genomes only rarely proves possible, let alone viable.

    However, he admits, any theory of eukaryotic origins faces a grand challenge. “It has to be plausible enough to have happened once, but not so easy that it happens a thousand times,” he says.

  52. #52 ngong
    December 23, 2007

    You pharynguloids are missing the forest for the trees. You critique individual arguments, but miss the fact that the DI offers proof positive that random flailings produce NO NEW INFORMATION.

  53. #53 Helioprogenus
    December 23, 2007

    I’m sure someone’s mentioned this point before, but the proof that there is no intelligent design is because these creationist assholes exist. Besides all the rational and empirical reasons for evolution, there is no way an intelligent being would create such credulous, assheaded, lying, stealing, and child abusing thieves as these morons.

  54. #54 Sastra, OM
    December 23, 2007

    I once used the Wright brothers example against, of all things, the Lady Hope story. Some creationist told me, as a clincher argument, that “Darwin renounced his theory on his deathbed.”

    Not true, of course, but even if it had been — so what? Nobody would care, I told her. Evolution doesn’t rest on Darwin’s belief, Darwin’s data, or Darwin’s sincerity. It’s gone on. If Darwin really had recanted it would have no more effect on biology than finding out that the Wright brothers were fakes would have on aviation.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are going to be forced to an emergency landing — word has just come that the Wright brothers never really flew at Kitty Hawk. Our deepest apologies. You’ll have to find some other means of transportation: we suggest fairy wings, as an alternative. Thank you for your patience.”

  55. #55 Christine Janis
    December 23, 2007

    Hey, so I guess that nobody *else* spotted that the DI folks think that Richard Lewontin is a paleontologist

  56. #56 Jud
    December 23, 2007

    Sastra wrote:

    If Darwin really had recanted it would have no more effect on biology than finding out that the Wright brothers were fakes would have on aviation.

    Yah, I always thought that was the coolest thing about scientific theories and data – they just go on being correct regardless of anyone’s political or religious opinions.

  57. #57 Tom
    December 24, 2007

    I am going out to the airport tomorrow and start disassembling my airplane.

    It always cracks me up when I see they don’t have the guts to provide a way to make comments. They must have given up on deleting negative comments and just disable the function.

  58. #58 Gregory Earl
    December 24, 2007

    Pharyngulites are very much like Christians. Their prophet PZ mentions “eukaryotic bacteria”, which are known not to exist. PZ’s followers fall over themselves trying to come up with rationalizations and interpretations of what their prophet meant, rather than simply admitting that their prophet is fallible. PZ remains silent — he wants his followers to believe in the absence of evidence (if he cleared up the issue, it wouldn’t require faith to read his blog, would it now?). Well, I’m glad that science is so unlike religion…

  59. #59 truth machine
    December 24, 2007

    Posted by: Gregory Earl

    Stupid effing troll.

  60. #60 Felicia Gilljam
    December 24, 2007

    I did indeed mean not monophyletic or paraphyletic. I was apparently half asleep when I wrote my comment. Many apologies.

    Gregory, you’re an idiot. Trying to figure out what PZ MEANT to say doesn’t equate believing he’s infallible. He made a mistake (hey, just like I did!) and since we know he’s not stupid and that his grasp of elementary biology’s better than that, we assume he must’ve meant something else. It’s rather as if Mike Huckabee had said “I love gays” – we know he don’t, so if he said that we must assume he meant something else. Or that he’s lying, of course…

  61. #61 Ichthyic
    December 24, 2007

    Well, I’m glad that science is so unlike religion…

    we’re so glad you can demonstrate the fact that creobots project their authoritarian value system onto all they see.

    I’ve added your comment as a datapoint.

    statistically speaking, the numbers showing that creobots are only able to interact with others while projecting went beyond significant over 3 years ago, but adding another datapoint to the thousand or so I’ve already entered is always good.

    larger sample size the better, and all.

    don’t actually have to do statistics on it, since I have yet to run into a creobot that didn’t project.

  62. #62 me
    December 24, 2007

    Are these creationists disingenuous? Are they liars and cheats, frauds and hucksters?

    Personally, I like to see the good in all people.

    So I’ve got to believe they are bat shit crazy delusional lunatics. Complete and utter morons who should shut the fuck up and go away because they make total asses out of themselves.

  63. #63 coathangrrr
    December 24, 2007

    You pharynguloids are missing the forest for the trees. You critique individual arguments, but miss the fact that the DI offers proof positive that random flailings produce NO NEW INFORMATION.

    Not to feed the troll, but I feel I must.

    So, you claim that every single individual argument fails and yet the whole argument remains correct? That’s about as likely as me doing a math problem, getting every step wrong and then getting the answer right. In other words, not going to happen.

  64. #64 Xanthir, FCD
    December 24, 2007

    coathangrrr #62:

    Shadow troll! ^_^ The dude meant that the DI’s random flailings produce no new information.

  65. #65 Stegve
    December 24, 2007

    You pharynguloids are missing the forest for the trees. You critique individual arguments, but miss the fact that the DI offers proof positive that random flailings produce NO NEW INFORMATION.

    You are quite right. The DI’s random flailings produce no new information, no new discoveries, and no useful science — just continuous tired old rehashings of the same disproven arguments.

  66. #66 prof weird
    December 24, 2007

    You pharynguloids are missing the forest for the trees. You critique individual arguments, but miss the fact that the DI offers proof positive that random flailings produce NO NEW INFORMATION.

    It is a good thing that natural SELECTION is not ‘random flailings’, isn’t it ?

    And this ‘proof positive’ that the IDiots gibber about is what again ? Mathematical masturbations, linguistic legerdermain, wishful thinking, ‘arguments’ from improbability and personal incredulity have never been considered ‘proof positive’ of the impossibility of anything to anyone except IDiots and creationuts.

    Your ‘definition’ of ‘new information’ is what again ?

    Without a coherent definition of what qualifies as ‘new information’ in a biological context, it is IMPOSSIBLE to know whether information was increased, decreased, or merely changed.

    Which is a core IDiot defense – by leaving key terms undefined, they can weasel and evade; vagueness is the grease that keeps their goalposts mobile.

  67. #67 ngong
    December 24, 2007

    #62, 64, 65…Chill out, the joke is on the DI.

    It’s astonishing that the DI has nothing to offer in terms of science. If there really is some sort of hidden barrier to “increased information”, then all these fools need to do is show that information-restoring back-mutations occur at a lower frequency than would be otherwise expected.

    Another research proposal worthy of the DI: sequence the salamander genome.

  68. #68 Badger3k
    December 24, 2007

    “Everytime the Discovery Institute brings up the case of Haeckel, you should be wondering — are they so hard up for errors in evolutionary biology that they have to go back 140 years to find one?”

    You have to remember that to the DI Hacks, the older something is, the better and more reliable it is.

  69. #69 JJR
    December 25, 2007

    “Also the Wright Brothers led directly to the Luftwaffe.”

    And Pearl Harbor!

    Thank goodness it also lead to RAF Spitfires, the US Navy F4U Corsair, the Enola Gay, and the Soviet Air Force…the Lord doth work in mysterious ways…

  70. #70 JJR
    December 25, 2007

    In all seriousness (albeit off topic slightly), I listened recently to a really cool episode of THE ENGINES OF OUR INGENUITY by Dr. John Lienhard of the University of Houston’s College of Engineering (if you haven’t heard of this program, do try to find it in your local public radio listings, and if it’s not there–ask for it! It’s fabulous–and the transcripts are also archived online); In this episode Dr. Lienhard discusses a theoretical scientist (I forget who, exactly) writing in the 1700s about flight and by means of reason and mathematical calculation concluded that the ideal shape of an aeroplane would resemble the body of a fish, with wings, and he envisioned silvery fish-shaped flying machines traversing the air;
    (this line in the episode made me tingly all over with excitement)…but he concluded (correctly) that for now in his time there wasn’t enough propulsive force that man could generate with 18th century technology to make such machines work, and so he laid his investigations aside to pursue other matters.

    How cool that the IDEA for a modern jumbo passenger jet right down to its approximate appearance/shape was developed in the 1700s. Not mere science fantasy, but based on known science of the 1700s.

    Intellectual history, and especially the History of Science and Technology, is so freakin’ COOL.

  71. #71 Russell Seitz
    December 25, 2007

    69

    See Also a charming volume entitled – Some Ingenious Engines_ for a staggering evolutionary example of how a couple of modest power recovery turbines tacked on to an early airplane piston engine grew until a dozen turbines provided more power than as many pistons in the final model of the Rolls-Royce Merlin.

    At which point punctuation happened , and the turboprop emerged

  72. #72 Ion
    December 25, 2007

    It’s a damn shame I missed the discussion on this post because of holiday travel, but as an aerospace engineer, this absolutely cracked me up. It’s rare I see anything here of which I have more than an interested layperson’s knowledge, so this was a delight.

    PZ, if you think the Wrightists are intellectually dishonest, one day I’ll tell you what us Goddardists do to keep the hoax going! ^_^

  73. #73 Will Von Wizzlepig
    December 26, 2007

    This isn’t flying, but boy it is cool:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmZyB_ghpa0

  74. #74 Owlmirror
    December 26, 2007

    This isn’t flying,

    …It’s falling with style!

  75. #75 Kseniya
    December 26, 2007

    “Also the Wright Brothers led directly to the Luftwaffe.”

    I realize this is a (good) joke, but from a distance it’s very nearly true. A scant 15 years after the Wrights got their powered aircraft off the ground, as WWI was drawing to a close, people had already been using airplanes to shoot at and drop bombs on each other for several years.

    The aerospace technology curve from 1903 (the Wright Bros) to 1969 (Apollo 11) is absolutely astonishing: After countless earthbound millenia, it took only sixty-six years to fly from Kitty Hawk to Tranquility Base.

    BTW – Nice “Coulter-snark” and “random flailing” jokes earlier. I laughed. The Coulter line was so obvious, the tags weren’t even necessary. 😉

  76. #76 Jedidiah Palosaari
    December 27, 2007

    This was really well written! You hit the points dead-on.

  77. #77 Amadan
    December 29, 2007

    That’s not just falling: it’s Intelligent Falling(TM)!

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