Being Casey Luskin

Sometimes I wonder what it is like to be a blogger for the Discovery Institute. Imagine the strain of getting up every morning, swallowing every ounce of pride and intellectual integrity you might possess, and searching desperately through the media for something, anything, you can present as hostile to evolution or favorable to ID. It's exhausting work. Yet somehow there are folks like Casey Luskin who seem not just able, but actually willing to do it.

On Wednesday I discussed the recent hominid fossils found in Africa, one belonging to Homo habilis, the other to Homo erectus. From the dates assigned to the fossils, it appears that habilis and erectus existed contemporaneously, contradicting what was previously believed about these species.

That's it! That's the big news! Two species that were thought to have missed each other completely turn out to have overlapped in time. But aided by a sensationalist news media that turns every two by nothing discovery into a major revolution, and by scientists who sadly have an incentive to exaggerate the importance of their finds (and who are often not quoted accurately, I might add), people like Luskin have all the material they need for a blog entry.

Here's Casey explaining the significance of these fossils:

An Associated Press article titled “African fossils paint messy picture of human evolution” explains that common popular conceptions of human evolution are incorrect: “Surprising fossils dug up in Africa are creating messy kinks in the iconic straight line of human evolution with its knuckle-dragging ape and briefcase-carrying man.” Indeed, the inappropriateness of such “straight line” depictions of human evolution was one of Jonathan Wells' main points in chapter 11 in Icons of Evolution, “From Ape to Human: The Ultimate Icon.” A Harvard biological anthropologist stated the newly reported fossils reveal, “how poorly we understand the transition from being something much more apelike to something more humanlike.”

And later:

After this latest find, one researcher realized its implications and was quick to quash any doubts this may spark regarding human evolution, stating: “All the changes to human evolutionary thought should not be considered a weakness in the theory of evolution, Kimbel said. Rather, those are the predictable results of getting more evidence, asking smarter questions and forming better theories,” he said.

I'm all for “asking smarter questions and forming better theories,” and it logically follows that I therefore must also favor abandoning theories that aren't working. The aforementioned Harvard biological anthropologist, Daniel Lieberman, apparently did not get the memo about refraining from making statements that might lead to doubts about evolution: he stated in the New York Times that these latest fossil finds regarding habilis:

show 'just how interesting and complex the human genus was and how poorly we understand the transition from being something much more apelike to something more humanlike. (emphasis added)

Indeed, as explained here, the first true members of Homo were "significantly and dramatically different" from our alleged ape-like ancestors, the australopithecines. So far, the data isn't doing a very good job of explaining precisely from what, if anything, did our genus Homo evolve.

Go back to the original for links.

This is what happens when you learn your evolution from short articles in the science sections of newspapers. As I explained on Wednesday (a) The idea of a simple linear evolution from an ancient Australopithecine to modern Homo sapiens was discarded decades ago and (b) These fossils don't, in fact, provide a serious challenge to the idea that erectus is the evolutionary descendant of habilis.

Luskin, relishing his role as mindless Discovery Institute automaton, finds it easy to ignore such banal facts. He favors discarding theories that aren't working, he tells us, without actually saying which theory he intends to discard based on these fossils. And he tells us that Jonathan Wells was all over this in Icons of Evolution, neglecting to mention that Wells says considerably more in his chapter than merely that “ladders” are poor metaphors for the processes of evolution. He actually tries instead to suggest that the difficulties in tracing specific lines of descent through the fossil record somehow casts doubt on the whole idea of common descent.

The only significance of these fossils for the validity of common descent is that they were found in rocks of the correct age. Erectus fossils alongside Australopithecines, now, that would be news. The fact is that the human fossil record is an embarrasment of riches for evolutionists. The human fossil record shows a remarkable collection of fossils showing numerous transitional forms between mostly ape-like hominids at one end and mostly human-like hominids at the other. Dozens of different species, all in rocks of the right age, all in the correct physical location. Somehow ID folks have to dig out from under this landslide of evidence. So they laughably try to argue that the practical difficulties in tracing lines of descent through the numerous candidates provided by the fossil record somehow casts doubt on the validity of common descent. From their arguments it would seem that the more transitional fossils you discover, the less likely common descent seems.

How can people stand thinking like this? How is it possible that people can devote their lives to the shameless promotion of ignorance requiring nothing more that a moment of clear thought to see through? It's a useful skill when you are called upon to write about subjects you know nothing about. Most people, however, have consciences that keep them from doing it.

More like this

Today's New York Times has this interesting article about some recent hominid fossil finds. Alas, it falls into the familiar trap of reporting every mundane find as if it is a scientific revolution: Two fossils found in Kenya have shaken the human family tree, possibly rearranging major branches…
Today is a big day for cranks in two separate areas, but the interesting thing is the similarity of the responses. First we have Casey Luskin of the "top think tank" the Discovery Institute (wow, they must be right up there with Cato and CEI!) blathering about paleontologists don't know anything…
The Intelligent Design Creationists are always getting annoyed at the third word in that label -- they're not creationists, they insist, but something completely different. They're scientists, they think. They're just scientists who favor a different explanation for the diversity of life on Earth…
I had mentioned in a previous post that I was skipping William Gibbons' claims on human evolution for the time being because I was hoping that Jim Foley would weigh in with his thoughts. He has done so now and I will post it below. Jim chose not to do a line by line response, but instead to focus…

It's ridiculous... I remember being taught the non-linearity of human descent in a high school world history class... 25 years ago. Made perfect sense to me then , especially after learning about genetics in a high school biology class (where, irongically, the teacher refused to teach evolution), and makes perfect sense now. This isn't any more revolutionary than the recent news about certain species of dinosaurs overlapping in time.

These people are desperate and will jump on anything... especially if it's something appearing controversial in a sensationalist news report.

By Brett McCoy (not verified) on 10 Aug 2007 #permalink

...swallowing every ounce of pride and intellectual integrity you might possess...

I suspect there is no problem here for Mr. Luskin. Some people who oughtto be embarrassed about what they say, are not.

Luskin is just an ignorant tool.

He seems to have a very tenuous grasp on reality, and struts about fancying himself (in his own words) " . . an attorney and scientist".
The poor devil has shown us time after time that he is neither.

Casey's education has taught him a "sciency" vocabulary, but he apparently never learned to think.

By waldteufel (not verified) on 10 Aug 2007 #permalink

It's an act of faith on his part. The more absurd his position is, the stronger his faith has to be to take it anyway - so stating absurd positions, and publicizing them as much as possible, is a social signal of extreme piety.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 10 Aug 2007 #permalink

I thought that the only folks clinging to the "'straight line' depictions of human evolution" were Jonathon Wells and his fan base -- because it makes such a neat-o straw hominid to attack.

Two species that were thought to have missed each other completely turn out to have overlapped in time.

I'm not sure that is completely the case. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks notes:

But this idea of contemporaneity of H. habilis and H. erectus is neither interesting nor new. ... Why is it old news? Well, we could look back at Bernard Wood's 1991 Koobi Fora monograph, which went into long detail about the assignment of fossils to Homo aff. H. erectus -- fossils that in every case were older than the latest occurrence of Homo habilis at Olduvai.

At least, they thought they were older...

And then he goes into Africa vs Asian populations. And dating:

But wait, there's more! Last year, Frank Brown's geochronology group redated many of the early Homo specimens from Koobi Fora, with the surprising result that early Homo erectus no longer included any cranial fossils that were demonstrably older than 1.65 million years. ...

This is an amazing problem, now. The consensus that Homo habilis and Homo erectus overlapped in time was thrown completely open by the redating. This paper by Spoor and colleagues, by presenting both a new H. erectus specimen and a very late H. habilis specimen, was directed toward this problem. If they are right, it re-establishes the status quo: ...

But in any case Luskin is wrong. As the post's title notes: "Man bites dog".

By Torbj�rn Lar… (not verified) on 11 Aug 2007 #permalink

T Larsson--
Thanks. So Spoor et. al. not only didn't cast any doubt on evolution, they actually reestablished the status quo ante! That's the first thing I've read about these finds that was exciting information.

By hoary puccoon (not verified) on 12 Aug 2007 #permalink

From their arguments it would seem that the more transitional fossils you discover, the less likely common descent seems.

That would be Gish's Law: the more fossils you have, the more gaps in the fossil record, and therefore, the less certain you should be. Think of it as homeopathic paleontology.

By Science Avenger (not verified) on 12 Aug 2007 #permalink

Perhaps you elitist scientists should have taken the time to get it right the first time. YOUR always backtracking and revising things.

The TRUTH is, people who have open minds have an option to those who can only offer provisional answers, an option that gives them Inerrant Revelation.

You will NEVER understand that.

Rev Hipple:
Oh, what's the use...nevermind.

The sad thing is, I'm mostly sure the good Rev. Hipple's blog is satire....but it's impossible to tell anymore....


Ok. I see now. You had me going there for a while though, "Rev Hipple". Good stuff.

This man fancies himself a scientist, and he's quoting, as his scientific source, the Associated Press???

By Alex, FCD (not verified) on 18 Aug 2007 #permalink