Pharyngula

Another creationist list of lies

It’s always amusing to see creationists try to explain why Charles Darwin was wrong, especially when they make up lists of reasons “Darwin’s theory of evolution does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.” These are always people who wouldn’t know what scientific scrutiny was if it knocked them immobile with a carefully measured dose of Conus snail toxin, strapped them to an operating table, and pumped high-intensity Science directly into their brains with a laser. As I often wish I could do.

Anyway, some ignorant jebus-lover hacked together a list of 10 “mistakes” that Darwin made. Strangely, they completely miss his actual errors (probably because they’ve never read anything by Darwin and don’t have enough knowledge of biology to recognize where he has been superceded) and babble on about what are actually creationist errors.

1. “Warm little pond” theory: There is no solid evidence of life arising spontaneously from a chemical soup.

Actually, there is. We know that organic chemicals arise spontaneously all the time in nature — they’re even detectable floating about in space. We also know that biology is chemistry, and that every process driving biological phenomena is ultimately physical and chemical. We also know that life arose in a geologically brief period early in the history of the earth. It’s certainly a better explanation than that some invisible guy said some magic words and poof, life appeared spontaneously with all the complexity of extant forms.

By the way, the “warm little pond” wasn’t part of Darwin’s theory. It was a brief speculation made in an 1871 letter to Hooker.

“It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh what a big if) we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, – light, heat, electricity &c. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter wd be instantly devoured, or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.”

That’s actually still an entirely reasonable hypothesis, and not a mistake at all, especially when you recognize that he was suitably cautious in his publications. Here’s what he said in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, for instance.

“As the first origin of life on this earth, as well as the continued life of each individual, is at present quite beyond the scope of science, I do not wish to lay much stress on the greater simplicity of the view of a few forms, or of only one form, having been originally created, instead of innumerable miraculous creations having been necessary at innumerable periods; though this more simple view accords well with Maupertuis’s philosophical axiom ‘of least action.’”

2. Simplicity of the cell theory: Scientists have discovered that cells are tremendously complex, not simple.

Total fiction, but an oft-repeated lie by creationists. Scientists in Darwin’s day had access to light microscopes with resolution as good as ours today; they were actively studying the structure of the cells, identifying and naming organelles, teasing apart the choreography of cell division. They were entirely aware of the mysteries and complexities of the cell’s contents.

And again, there was nothing in any of Darwin’s writings that presupposed that cells had to be simple.

3. Theory about the cell’s simple information: It turns out cells have a digital code more complex and lengthy than any computer language made by man.

Wait, isn’t this the same as #2? I’m seeing some padding going on already.

But no, the genome is not a computer program written in a complex computer language. The words “digital code” are not magic, nor do they imply any supernatural origin.

4. Theory of intermediate fossils: Where are the supposed billions of missing links in the evolutionary chain?

Oh, really? This is the most absurd creationist claim: we keep digging up transitional fossils and waving them in front of their noses, and they just close their eyes and chant “lalalalala”.

5. Theory of the variation of species: Genetic adaptation and mutation have proven to have fixed limits.

They do? Where is this “proof”? When I can see from the molecular evidence that a fruit fly, a squid, and a human all share a common core of related genes, I have to say that if there are such limits, they are very wide — wide enough to encompass the entirety of life on earth.

If he means that there are limits such that a mouse will not give birth to an orangutan or a cabbage, I’d agree…but no biologist proposes any such ridiculously saltational view of evolutionary change. It’s always the creationists who demand that a cat give birth to a monkey before they’ll believe in evolution.

6. Theory of the Cambrian Explosion: This sudden appearance of most major complex animal groups at the same low level of the fossil record is still an embarrassment to evolutionists.

They are so embarrassed about it that they keep writing about it and studying it!

Remember, though, “sudden appearance” means over tens of millions of years…and it’s a creationist who believes the whole of the earth’s history is about a thousandth of the length of just this one geological period who is claiming that 20 million years is untenably sudden. It’s also not true that that animals abruptly appeared: we have evidence of precursors, and even within the Cambrian we see patterns of change from beginning to end.

7. Theory of homology: Similarity of structures does not mean the evolution of structures.

This is the one case where this creationist has dimly caught a glimpse of a real argument within biology. We’ve been wrestling with the concept of homology for a long, long time — with problems of definition and implementation. These arguments, however, do not cast doubt on the evidence for evolution, so I’m not about to get into them here (this is where a philosopher of science would be much more useful!)

8. Theory of ape evolution : Chimpanzees have not evolved into anything else. Neither has man.

But a proto-chimp/human — our last common ancestor — evolved into both humans and chimps.

This is a very silly argument. It’s like claiming that because none of my children have yet reproduced, it is impossible that my wife and I produced them.

9. Theory of the tree of life: Rather than all life branching from a single organism, evidence has revealed a forest of life from the very beginning.

Goddamn you, New Scientist! Ever since they ran their stupid, misbegotten cover, the creationists have been crowing about Darwin being proven wrong. The tree model is still largely accurate for multicellular life, but we have to add a component of horizontal gene transfer, and we recognize that at the root of the tree of life, in all those single-celled organisms, the profligate exchange of genes across species is much, much more common.

But this is still evolution! It’s also an entirely natural mechanism; there aren’t angels or gods mediating bacterial conjugation or viral transduction.

10. Rejection of an intelligent designer: This opened the door for many to reject God, the Bible and Christianity.

That’s no mistake. You should reject gods, holy books, and various cults, because they’re all bullshit.

That was a pathetic effort, so typical of creationists. I’ve seen many such lists of Darwin’s errors, and there’s a lot of overlap…but there’s one thing I’ve never seen appear on any of them. Why don’t they ever mention Darwin’s biggest mistake, his theory of blending inheritance, pangenesis? It was completely wrong, it was even incompatible with natural selection, yet the creationists never seem to latch onto it as a tool for defaming Darwin. Is it because then they’d also have to understand that another natural mechanism, one that is intrinsically about chance and statistics, so thoroughly replaced Darwin’s mechanism? Is it because they neither understand the theories Darwin proposed, nor Mendelian genetics?

(Also on FtB)

Comments

  1. #1 joeski
    April 27, 2012

    DevNull,
    See the journal The American Biology Teacher from 2/2012. I came up with 18 items. I prefer to phrase the items “Whay Darwin didn’t know” rather than “What Darwin got wrong.” These items are all from the first edition of the Origin of Species, in which he didn’t mention pangenesis.

    Here’s an unformatted version of the table in the article:

    What Darwin Didn’t Know

    On the Origin Of Species (1st Edition 1859)

    Pages 17 and 254: all dogs not descended from any one wild species All dogs from gray wolf by genetic analysis (Vila 1997)

    Page 86: “natural selection will ensure that modifications consequent on other modifications at a different period of life shall not be in the least degree injurious…” Antagonistic pleiotropy model states that a trait that is detrimental late in life may still be selected for if it enhances reproductive fitness early in life (Williams 1957)

    Page 87: short-face tumbler pigeon bred so that fanciers must assist in the act of hatching Bull dogs are bred with phenotypic features that require cesarean section for birth, and lack of selection against a small human pelvis or a large newborn head may have similar effects in humans (Walsh 2008)

    Page 144: “What can be more singular than the relation between blue eyes and deafness in cats, and the tortoise shell color with the female sex…” Phenotypic traits can be linked due to proximity on same chromosome (Morgan 1911) and;
    X inactivation and mosaic phenotypic effects for X-linked genes (Lyon 1961)

    Page 134: inheritance of acquired characteristics
    (but admits on page 135 that mutilations are not inherited) Separation of soma from germ line cells prevents inheritance of acquired somatic characteristics; experiment on cutting off mouse tails (Weismann 1889)

    Page 184: From observations of explorer Samuel Hearne in Canada, Darwin could see how a bear ancestor could have evolved into a whale Whales most related to artiodactyls (Thewissen 2001)

    Pages 190 and 452: swim bladder, an organ of flotation, was then adapted for respiration as lung Dorsal swim bladder and ventral lungs not strictly homologous, with complicated evolutionary ties (Perry 2001)

    Page 210: the mutualism of ants and aphids due to ants offering cleaning service by removing honeydew from the aphids Aphids provide honeydew, ants supply protection (Way 1963)

    Page 237: selection for sterile workers in bees due to family level selection Haplodiploidy and kin selection are the sources of apparent altruism and selection for sterile castes (Dawkins 1989)

    Page 273: First cross causes decreased variation in offspring, and then increased variation with succeeding generations Particulate nature of inheritance with F1 heterozygosity and dominance causing decreased phenotypic variability in F1, which then increases in second and succeeding generations (Mendel 1865)

    Page 275: The offspring of a male horse and a female donkey ( a hinny) looks different than the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (a mule) due to prepotency Parent sex specific phenotypic effects can be due to differential X chromosome inactivation or genomic imprinting (Monk 1990)

    Page 287: reasoning from denudation of the Weald gives 300 million years time from latter Secondary Historical explanations for age of Earth explored, including Kelvin’s 1862 estimate of 93 million years based on heat dissipation from Earth, and current ideas (Burchfield 1974)

    Pages 287 and 309: Darwin accepts Lyell’s proposal that land masses oscillate vertically, causing cycles of flooding and water retreat Isostatic post-glacial rebound can cause land to oscillate vertically, mechanism plausible when plate tectonics theory accepted in mid-twentieth century. Darwin accepted Agassiz’ theory from 1839 of ice age glaciations. (Herdendorf 1990)

    Page 321: “…apparently sudden extermination of whole families or orders, as of Trilobites at the close of the palaeozoic and of Ammonites at the close of the secondary period…” Impact extinctions mean there are examples of catastrophism instead of absolute gradualism (Alvarez 1980)

    Page 357: dispersion over water was the key in distribution of flora and fauna throughout the continents, as continents were not united “within the recent period.” The Theory of Continents and Oceans outlined continental drift, which in essence created the land bridges to which Darwin was opposed (Wegener 1968), and plate tectonics provides the complete modern theory (Dawkins 2009)

    Page 310: “The several difficulties here discussed, namely our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links…” Fossil evidence for transitional forms for fish-amphibians (including Tiktalik 2004), reptile-bird (including Archaeopteryx 1860, and recent Chinese fossils), artiodactyls –cetaceans, and hominins. (Coyne 2009)

    Page 480: “Nature may be said to have taken pains to reveal…her scheme of modification, which it seems that we willfully will not understand.” Even today there is resistance to accepting the fact of adaptive evolution by natural selection, such that only 40% of people in the United States believe that evolution is a fact (Gallup 2009)

    Page 484: “…probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form…” The base of Darwin’s tree of life probably looks more like a web than a linear branching stem because of horizontal gene transfer (Lawton 2009), but given the near universality of the genetic code there probably was just one instance of the origin of life (Dawkins 2009)

    References
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    Burchfield, J. (1974). Darwin and the Dilemma of Geologic Time, Isis, 65 (3), 300-321.
    Costa, J. (2009). The Annotated Origin. Cambridge, Ma: Belknap Harvard.
    Coyne, J. (2009). Why Evolution is True. Oxford University Press.
    Darwin, C. (1871). Pangenesis. Nature, 3, 502-503. facsimile online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/pdf/1871_pangenesis_F1751.pdf
    Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene (2nd edition). Oxford University Press.
    Dawkins, R. (2009). The Greatest Show on Earth. Free Press, New York
    Burkhardt, F. et al, ed. (2010). The correspondence of Charles Darwin, volume 18: 1870. Cambridge University Press
    Gallup Poll. (2009). http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/darwin-birthday-believe-evolution.aspx accessed 1/24/11
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    Mendel, G. (1865). Experiments in Plant Hybridization. Read at the February 8th, and March 8th, 1865, meetings of the Brünn Natural History Society. 1901 Bateson translation on line at: http://www.esp.org/foundations/genetics/classical/gm-65.pdf
    Monk, M. and Grant, M. (1990). Preferential X-chromosome inactivation, DNA methylation and imprinting. Development, Supplement, 55-62.

    Morgan, T. (1911). Random segregation versus coupling in Mendelian inheritance. Science 34, 384.
    Perry, S. et al. (2001). Which came first, the lung or the breath? Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol, 129(1), 37-47.
    Thewissen, G. et al. (2001). Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls. Nature 413, 277–281
    Vila, C. et al. (1997). Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science 276, 1687.
    Walsh, J. (2008). Evolution and the Cesarean Section Rate. The American Biology Teacher,70 (7), 401-404.
    Way, M. (1963). Mutualism between Ants and Honeydew-Producing Homoptera. Annual Review of Entomology, 8, 307-344.
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    Weismann, A. (1889). Essays upon Heredity Volumes 1 and 2, 431-433. Oxford at the Clarendon Press. facsimile on line at: http://www.esp.org/books/weismann/essays/facsimile/

    Williams, G. (1957). Pleiotropy, natural selection, and the evolution of senescence. Evolution 11, 398-411

    Wilson, J. (1963). Hypothesis on the Earth’s behaviour. Nature, 198, 849–865.

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