A Discovery Institute hack watches Cosmos

I told you that the Discovery Institute really hates Cosmos. On Sunday night, Jay Richards, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Ph.D. in philosophy and theology, former instructor in apoletics at Biola, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, watched the show and occasionally curled his lip in disdain on Twitter. It was very amusing, and rather revealing. These guys really are just gussied-up creationists.

I can't help myself. I have to reply to these nonsensical complaints.


On #Cosmos, Neil Degrasse Tyson is recapitulating Darwin's non sequitur that artificial selection + time = natural selection.

Oh, right: his Twitter name is "FreemarketJay". You are allowed to laugh.

Cosmos introduced the concept of selection by first describing how dogs were domesticated by selection for a subset of animals that were less fearful of humans and could scavenge from our garbage; we have since selected for variations that produce the great diversity of dog breeds, much of it done over the last few centuries. The lesson: you can get radical biological change from artificial selection in a very short time.

Then Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how you don't need humans to provide the selection: the environment can also favor different variants, using the example of bear coat colors.

Where was the non sequitur? It was quite clear that the situations were analogous and obvious, and remarkably hard to argue against. Artificial selection demonstrably works, natural selection requires no novel mechanisms, it all hangs together beautifully.


Anyone think Neil Degrasse Tyson will summarize the known evolutionary limitations of random genetic mutations? Nah. #Cosmos

Oh. That's his objection, that there are some imaginary evolutionary limitations. Yes? What are they? Richards doesn't say. Go ahead, explain how you can make Great Danes and Chihuahuas by selection from an ancestral generic, wolf-like dog, but you can't possibly have pigment mutations produce white bears from brown bears.

He won't be able to. The actual limitations are nothing but the inability of creationists to comprehend a simple process that makes them uncomfortable.


Cool. Dogs evolve into ... dogs, and bears...into bears. #Cosmos

If only the dogs had evolved into frogs, and the bears into broccoli, then at last he'd be able to accept evolution. Sorry, guy, evolution predicts that dogs will only evolve into doglike descendants, and that the ancestor of modern dogs and bears was a primitive mammal (but they're still only mammals!) and before that, primitive tetrapods (but we're all still only tetrapods!) and before that, primitive animals (but we're still only animals!).

That Richards would think that is a reasonable objection is just more evidence that he doesn't understand even the simplest basics of evolution.


On eye evolution, the #Cosmos editors again failed to do a Google search: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=1061

Cosmos referred to the calculations by Nilsson and Pilger that the morphological changes to transform a flat light sensitive patch into a spherical eye ball with a lens that could form an image on a retina would require conservatively a few hundred thousand generations. They did this by incrementally modeling the shape of an eye is it transformed, determining that a) 1,829 steps with a magnitude of a 1% change in shape were required, and b) calculating the optical acuity at each step, and showing that each 1% change would increase acuity slightly (no backtracking or loss of optical quality was required in any step). They then used reasonable estimates of heritability and phenotypic variance and weak selection to calculate that a 0.005% change in shape in each generation was possible, meaning that you could easily get the whole transformation in 364,000 generations.

At every step they used minimal, conservative estimates for all parameters. The whole point was to demonstrate that this one process could be easily completed in geologically tiny amount of time.

Richards cites an awful attempt at a rebuttal by David Berlinsky, which consists mostly of sneering and posturing and complaining that it was improper to refer to the calculations as a "simulation" (never mind that a computer simulation of the process was produced; the paper describes the calculations). I have to say — why would anyone complain that the Cosmos writers hadn't made note of a sloppy and pretentious internal document — it was not published anywhere — that actually didn't refute the content of the Nilsson and Pilger paper in the slightest? Maybe because Richards has a ridiculously inflated view of the importance of his nest of loons in Seattle.


An eyeball isn't a visual system. #Cosmos

Nor has it ever been claimed to be. They were talking about one piece of the visual system, and demonstrating that natural processes can produce that structure in a fraction of a million years. The Discovery Institute claims that no significant physiological or morphological change can occur at all, so simply demonstrating that making an eyeball from an eyespot is possible effectively refutes the Intelligent Design creationism position.

They're just moving the goalposts. They say that making an eyeball is impossible; we show that it is, and not that hard, and they then say we have to show that every single step is possible. You know, we can show the molecular basis for light perception is present in single-celled organisms, that all of the molecular pathways are homologous and linked, and that general developmental processes can produce functional connections between sensory cells and visual perception centers of the brain, and they still claim that it requires their magic deity.


I can't believe how bad #Cosmos is. They must have given up all hope of persuading anyone but the already persuaded.

No, but I'm sure we've all given hope of persuading the dogmatic, the ignorant, and the obtuse. Someone first has to be willing to look at the evidence, and if you're up to that, then yes, I think Cosmos can be an effective tool for letting people understand the basics of evolution.

All bets are off for IDiots.

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Even simpler: "There's a black guy on TV who's smarter than me, and I'm jealous as hell. Waaaaah!"

Somehow we need to goad people like this Free Market Jaybird guy into admitting in public that they don't believe in the germ theory of disease either.

The actual "limitations" are nothing but the inability of creationists to comprehend a simple process that makes them uncomfortable.

This is a good line, which (naturally) supports my contention that Creationism represents a failure of the imagination. How long does one of them take to evolve?

I feel sorry for the parents who pay for their children to attend your institution. You spend so much time in blog wars it's hard to imagine you're doing any science or teaching. I will be requesting a formal breakdown on how your time is spent at the university. Surrender you position to someone more interested in teaching and less involved in cyber gang banging and writing novels.

Why concentrate on the nutters

Not sure why you think he's concentrating on anything. There's this moron on Twitter, and PZ points and laughs; why shouldn't he. :-|

You spend so much time in blog wars it’s hard to imagine you’re doing any science or teaching.

:-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

Blogging takes a lot less time than you seem to imagine!

I will be requesting a formal breakdown on how your time is spent at the university.

...Don't you think they'd have fired him already...?

Seriously, what are you imagining?

cyber gang banging

That's... not nice to the actual victims of actual gangbanging, you know.

writing novels

PZ hasn't written any novels to the best of my knowledge, just one non-fiction book of which half the chapters are Pharyngula posts.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 19 Mar 2014 #permalink

I could not get eight minutes into the new Cosmos before I quit in disgust. To sum it up quickly, Carl Sagan's Cosmos, with his unnecessary and hokey control panel beats this new edition hands down. I like Tyson, but not near as much as Sagan. As one of Carl's segments proclaims it, "The Persistence Of Memory" says it all. As an analogy, to those who remember the old Nature series on PBS hosted by the deceased George Page, the program was professional , enlightening and without crashing music and silly analogies to distracting side comments. Of course if one is totally ignorant in Astronomy, then this hokey crap will appeal to the so diminished intellect. The alternate resources are there, and the intelligent mind will avail herself of the wealth.

Evolutionist vs. Creationist

I understand the concept and reality of Micro-Evolution, but have yet to hear the proof of Macro-Evolution without the "we think, might haves and could haves" during the discussions. When you look at what science needs in order to explain the earthly affects on the human body, I can't find any realism for Macro-Evolution. Still listening tho.

By Richard Douglas (not verified) on 20 Mar 2014 #permalink

Macroevolution isn't anything different from microevolution, it's just summed-up microevolution. It's inevitable; there is no magic limit that tells DNA polymerase "nope, you mustn't make a mistake here, you've already made enough".

And besides, creationism can't explain a single champsosaur. :-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 21 Mar 2014 #permalink

"I can’t believe how bad #Cosmos is. They must have given up all hope of persuading anyone but the already persuaded."

The aim of Cosmos is to educate, not to persuade. But education requires a willingness to learn, and I've seen little evidence of that.

By John Cherry (not verified) on 30 Mar 2014 #permalink