Stark raving mad…

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Well, it looks like Ed Brayton beat me to this one, but since I penned most of this post by the time I saw his, I figure I’ll go ahead and share it anyway.

After Jason’s excoriation of Sisson, I thought we’d hit rock-bottom in terms of ignorant dilettantes. If only it were so. Rodney Stark, professor of sociology at Baylor (home to another favorite of ours), proves that there really is no rock-bottom when it comes to anti-evolutionist diatribes. His just published bit in The American Enterprise is titled Fact, Fable, and Darwin. And man is it a doozy.

He starts out with a disingenuous disclaimer and then jumps in with both feet:

I write as neither a creationist nor a Darwinist, but as one who knows what is probably the most disreputable scientific secret of the past century: There is no plausible scientific theory of the origin of species!

You might think at this point that Stark would go into a lengthy discussion of allopatry vs. sympatry, mechanisms of reproductive isolation, chromosomal speciation, and other well-known theories of speciation that have been written about at length over many decades. Uh-uh. Instead, what we get is a litany of ridiculous claims, no clearly defined terms, ad hominems of every kind, and above all, quote-mining. (And man, is there ever some serious quote mining - he even reproduces the canard about Gould saying there were no transitional fossils, candidly dispatched by Ed Brayton here.) The usual creationist blather is all dragged out: biologists are covering up a dark secret; they’re guilty of deception; they all know it’s all false but just won’t say so because of orthodoxy; their entire motivation is atheism – in other words, the sort of stuff that strikes everyone but true believers as an absurd and dishonest attempt to discredit scientific expertise.

I won’t spend time going through all of Stark’s rambling opus and refuting each bit of nonsense as it crops up - there’s way too much of it, and I would hate to deprive our peanut gallery the chance to take it apart piece by piece - so I’ll just get to the heart of the matter. Stark writes:

The biological world is now classified into a set of nested categories. Within each genus (mammals, reptiles, etc.) are species (dogs, horses, elephants, etc.) and within each species are many specific varieties, or breeds (Great Dane, Poodle, Beagle, etc.). It was well-known that selective breeding can create variations within species. But the boundaries between species are distinct and firm–one species does not simply trail off into another by degrees.

(waits for laughter to die down…)

Needless to say, anyone who thinks that mammals are a genus and that elephants comprise a single species needs to be hit over the head with a grade-school text book and forever disbarred from opening his mouth when it comes to biology. His bombast about species boundaries being firm and distinct is hard to take seriously given that he doesn’t even know what a species is. If he did, he might realize that speciation has been observed on multiple occasions, and that there are innumerable examples of how species blend into one another, as is the case with Darwin’s finches, and with ring species. Heck, even elephants make a good example.

The fact that Stark doesn’t clearly define what he’s talking about makes it easy for him to connect a number of disjointed issues into one seamless stream of dishonest nonsense, which rambles from topic to topic with little in the way of coherence. Scientists quoted about speciation are treated as if they were talking about higher-level evolution, and vice-versa. Mechanisms of small-scale evolution are confused with common descent, and so on. To a person knowledgeable about biology and evolution, there is no meaningful continuity in Stark’s piece, and certainly nothing that’s not grossly misleading.

The typology that Stark so brazenly insists is biological reality was abandoned by scientists long ago, not because of some metaphysical bias as Stark indulges himself to believe, but because the facts just don’t fit. It’s just not possible to shoehorn biological organisms into Platonic types; they consistently confound any attempt to do so because they contain too much variation, and in some cases, they blend right into each other. That’s why there’s more than one species concept - it can be very hard to tell when you’ve got two or more species, or when you have a single species with many varieties. The only reason that higher-level taxonomic groups are so distinct is because extinction has wiped-out the intermediates.

Creationists (from whom Stark appears to have borrowed all of his arguments) have long insisted that typologically distinct organisms (what they call “kinds”) are real, but their arguments are entirely unpersuasive. Most poignantly, they have been unable to come up with a consistent definition of “kinds” that can withstand trivial counter-example. Does “kinds” mean species? Well, observed instances of speciation make that untenable. Attempts to define “kinds” as being equivalent to higher taxonomic categories are inconsistent and invariably end up with completely different categories for different taxa – sometimes it’s genera, sometimes it’s phyla, and at other times it’s anything in between. (The one consistency is that humans and chimps are never in the same “kind”, even though far more dissimilar species frequently are.) But at least creationists realize the scope of the problem. Rodney Stark, on the other hand, is not yet up to that level of sophistication.

3 TrackBacks

Another Fisking of Stark from Dispatches from the Culture Wars on August 3, 2004 8:54 AM

Steve Reuland, my fellow Panda's Thumb contributor who is finishing his PhD in genetics, has also written a fisking of Rodney Stark's pathetic attempt to jump into a field he has no knowledge of. I particularly liked his response to Stark's silly claim... Read More

While scanning through the posts on Panda’s Thumb today I stumbled across an article in The American Enterprise by sociologist Rodney Stark. The story, titled “Fact, Fable, and Darwin”, opens with this paragraph: I write as neither a creationist nor... Read More

While scanning through the posts on Panda’s Thumb today I stumbled across an article in The American Enterprise by sociologist Rodney Stark. The story, titled “Fact, Fable, and Darwin”, opens with this paragraph: I write as neither a creationist nor... Read More


Notice the usual mispelling of Niles Eldredge’s name in the Dr. Stark’s article.

Why does he have to have that disclaimer at the start of his article claiming some sort of neutrality? One would think a neutral professor would have read works from both sides. One would hope he would flunk students for doing what he has done.

The article is about as bad as the stuff by Kent Hovind.

– Anti-spam: replace “usenet” with “harlequin2”

This is shocking and quite tragic. Rodney Stark is an eminent sociologist, and should stick to what he knows. Quite a few points in my master thesis (history, sociology) was based on his work :(

One ought to mention here that even had he got the Linnaean ranks correct, they are artificial anyway. Even Linnaeus said so. In fact Linnaeus thought that variation was continuous across the biological world, as any Great Chain of Being theorist would have. Natura non facit saltum

Just another example of not knowing the difference between science and rationalizing. I suspect it’s not dishonesty, but ignorance. Ignorance can be highly effective with an appropriate audience.

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck then it must be a platypus.

Time to do a quote mining count. The following quote can be traced back via several ID sites, and Remine.

Rodney Stark Wrote:

According to Steven Stanley, another distinguished evolutionist, doubts raised by the fossil record were “suppressed” for years.

Full quote: “The Modern Synthesis was perhaps not so much a true synthesis as it was a victory for gradualistic genetics. The evolutionary discipline least happily accommodated was the one about which I have said least but in the following chapter will say most: paleontology or, as it is commonly called today, paleobiology. The known fossil record is not, and never has been, in accord with gradualism. What is remarkable is that, through a variety of historical circumstances, even the history of opposition has been obscured. Few modern paleontologists seem to have recognised that in the past century, as the biological historiam William Coleman has recently written, “‘The majority of paleontologists felt their evidence simply contradicted Darwin’s stress on minute, slow, and cumulative changes leading to species transformation.” In the next chapter I will describe not only what the fossils have to say, but why their story has been surpressed’ (Stanley 1981, p. 71).

As Andrew MacRae argues

The actual ‘surpression’ was due to, “the crystallization of Darwinian gradualism and the accompanying misguided attack upon the quality of the fossil record [which] sent paleontology into a major decline.” (Stanley 1981, p. 109). It was the thought that the fossil record could not provide detailed information which led to a decline in the input of paleontology into evolution theory - that was the ‘supression’. There was no actual conspiracy.

More later… The Stark story is full of errors and misquotes. Wow…

This from the person who was quoted to say

Not being religious is similar to any other shortsighted, risky and impulsive behavior that some men – primarily young males – engage in, such as assault, robbery, burglary, murder and rape.”

Which puts the claim

I write as neither a creationist nor a Darwinist, but as one who knows what is probably the most disreputable scientific secret of the past century:

Into its proper perspective, especially given the fact that this ‘secret’ is more a quote mined ‘strawman’…

And while Stark argues elsewhere that Christiniaty and science go hand in hand, he has shown here a good example where religion clouds the mind.

The following quote can also be found on many creationist websites in various forms.

Stark Wrote:

Today, the fossil record is enormous compared to what it was in Darwin’s day, but the facts are unchanged. The links are still missing; species appear suddenly and then remain relatively unchanged. As Steven Stanley reported: “The known fossil record…offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid.”

Full quote form here

“Some distinctive living species clearly originated in the very recent past, during brief instants of geologic time. Thus, quantum speciation is a real phenomenon. chapters 4 through 6 provide evidence for the great importance of quantum speciation in macroevolution (for the validity of the punctuational model). Less conclusive evidence is as follows:…(5)The known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid. Evaluations of overall genetic distance, which ignore the fact that large evolutionary steps result from a very small number of regulatory genetic changes, have little bearing on the distribution of morphologic changes within phylogeny.” [Steven M. Stanley, Macroevolution: Pattern and Process, W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, 1979, p. 39]

Stanley is arguing against phyletic gradualism here and in favor of PE.

Would be interesting to get a response from Stanley

for example

“This test is labeled the test of adaptive radiation because its conclusion is that during a typical adaptive radiation, major evolutionary transitions have occurred during geological intervals that have been brief relative to intervals over which species produced during the radiation have survived almost without change. Established species are evolving so slowly that major transitions between genera and higher taxa must be occurring within small, rapidly evolving populations that leave no legible fossil record. In the present contribution I will describe new evidence that strengthens the verdict of the test of adaptive radiation in favor of the punctuational model.” [Steven M. Stanley, “Macroevolution and the Fossil Record”, Evolution, Vol. 36, No. 3, 1982, p. 460]

Sad to see how Stanleys comments were taken out of their proper context.

Another Creationist quote mine example:

stark Wrote:

“Many of the discontinuities [in the fossil record] tend to be more and more emphasized with increased collecting,” noted the former curator of historical geology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“… experience shows that the gaps which separate the highest categories may never be bridged in the fossil record. Many of the discontinuities tend to be more and more emphasized with increased collecting.

Separate the highest categories…

Stark Wrote:

Writing in Nature in 1999, Eörs Szathmay summarizes that, “The origin of species has long fascinated biologists. Although Darwin’s major work bears it as a title, it does not provide a solution to the problem.”

Anyone access to

When the means do not justify the end

EÖRS SZATHMÁRY reviews Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species by Jeffrey H. Schwartz

review of Stark’s: For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery - Book Review

Daniel L. Pals Wrote:

It is true that in getting to these nuggets, needs to show patience with mannerisms that can easily annoy. Topics get introduced with tightly compressed summaries of earlier scholarship that end with ritually brusque dismissals: “All false”: “Not so!”; “Nonsense and outright fabrication.” Further, in Stark’s prickly reckonings, indictments rain on liberals and secularists, while religious conservatives routinely walk free. Along with Freudians, Marxists and advocates of political correctness, the index of the highly disfavored includes all rationalists who lived in, or now admire, the age of Enlightenment, all scholars with biases too pro-Protestant and progressive or prejudices too anti-Catholic, all secular humanists, theological liberals, moral relativists, scientific atheists, confident Darwinians and sundry similar voices among religion’s cultured despisers. It is, to say the least, odd that an author so alert to the partisan motives of others should extend a different courtesy to himself, curtly announcing from the outset that “my personal religious views are of concern only to me.”

Irritations aside, this study offers much that followers of the Christian story in both the academy and the churches can draw upon with real profit, so long as they also read with critical eves. To summarize things in theological terms, there may be only one Professor Stark, but he appears to exist in three persons: the sociologist who resigned on principle at the start of the project; the comparative religionist who signed on but then declined to compare; and the church historian who conscientiously shouldered most of the work. All credit then to the historian, who works hard and well to discern the Christian soul of the cultural West–and mostly succeeds in finding it.

More context to Stark’s ‘though processes’

Stark correctly notes on page 176 that the historic “battle over evolution is not an example of how ‘heroic’ scientists have withstood the relentless persecution of religious ‘fanatics.’ Rather, from the very start it has been primarily an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science in an effort to refute all religious claims concerning a Creator - an effort that has also often attempted to suppress all scientific criticism of Darwin’s work”

Sad how in name of religion, good science seems to have been poorly represented. Seems to sort of go against Stark’s thesis in the book “For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, & the End of Slavery”

Ironic that ID seems to be doing worse and worse in presenting its ‘facts’ and ‘arguments’.

There’s so much info, I think the Fox News / WorldNutDaily crowd will probably succeed in not only convincing their followers that ‘real’ science comports with the bible, evolution’s wrong, global warming’s wrong, the earth is young, etc, but doing so with so much misused info that talking sense into them will be impossible. For the most part, we’ve seen attacks against science at the public school and school-board level, but biologists like PZ should probably expect to see more comprehensive movements which seek to influence your university curricula soon, as a result of this.

In Europe, the field of sociology has great prestige and continues to attract high quality researchers and theorists. Alas, American sociology, like American journalism, is for the most part an affirmative action program for the lazy, inept, and shallow.

A review of Stark’s recent book in the Washington Post can be found here. The most relevant bit:

I fear that this book has been deliberately pitched at those who would dearly like to believe that the unifying thread through European and North American progress toward modernity has been and remains an explicitly Christian set of beliefs. I base this conclusion on a section that Stark tucks into the discussion of the emergence of science and which is headed “Evolution and Religion.” Here he argues with characteristic directness that the hostility of Christianity to evolutionary theory derives from shortcomings within that theory, rather than from any more general difficulty the church may have had historically with science. Darwinism, he maintains, is not actually a theory at all but rather a set of surmises. Problems with evolutionary theory have been “hushed up.” A recent survey of biologists found that 45 percent “acknowledged that the process of evolution is guided by God.” In spite of his many disclaimers, stressing the even-handedness and sociological rigor of his approach, Stark appears here himself to adopt the skeptical position of the creationists.

I suppose if the creationists are wrong, then that up-ends Stark’s entire thesis. No wonder he defends them.

Stark claims that, “There is no plausible scientific theory of the origin of species!”

Obviously, that is the crux of his argument whether he is able to support it or not. The question seems to be batted about in the Creationist/Evo arguments but I can’t recall ever seeing it addressed in a definitive manner.

If a layman (such as myself) were to ask what *is* the most plausible scientific theory of the origin of species what would be the answer. Gradualism? PE? Is there a dominant theory? Many plausible explanations?

Perhaps shedding some light on that matter would help clear up the confusion.

Once two groups get reproductively isolated, their gene pools will start to drift apart. At some point they no longer could reproduce fertile offspring between the groups.

Biologists have seen several speciations. Looks like they’ve just seen another.[…]l/2004/802/3

Hi Joe,

There are probably several equally plausible answers to that question. How do you define species?

***There are probably several equally plausible answers to that question. How do you define species?***

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I assumed that there was a rather standard definition.

I think most people who aren’t that knowledgeable about the subject are curious about the variation in morphological body types. I can grasp, at least on the theoretical level, how the process could work between similar species (i.e., gene pool drift) but I hear different things when the body types vary. For example, Dawkins proposes a gradualism (the climb up Mt. Improbable). But I had always thought that Gould put an end to that sort of theory.

I’m a “creationist” in the broad sense of the term. I believe that ultimately, whatever process occurred, God is responsible. So I’m open to giving a hearing to a range of ideas and don’t have a particular bias against any particular view. But as soon as I think I have a handle on what the basic consensus is on the origin of species, I find that either the terms have changed (i.e., the old school definition of species) or the theories appear to conflict (i.e., PE vs. gradualism).

What theory gives a general enough overview that you could say, “This is the basic consensus” and the scientific community would nod their head in agreement?

To you too I will recommend Ernest Mayr’s What Evolution Is as a good starting point for learning the basics of the theory.

John Wilkins wrote:

One ought to mention here that even had he got the Linnaean ranks correct, they are artificial anyway. Even Linnaeus said so. In fact Linnaeus thought that variation was continuous across the biological world, as any Great Chain of Being theorist would have. Natura non facit saltum …

The perception that the pattern of nature conformed to an ordered hierarchic system reappeared with the birth of modern biology in the 18th century. and was expressed clearly by Linneaus in his Systema Naturae. As knowledge of biology increased during the late 18th and early 19th century, the underlying hierarchic order of nature was increasingly reaffirmed by nearly all (except LaMarck) of the great naturalists of the time.

Thus it was that from the end of the 16th century to the end of the 18th century, the project of distributing all living beings, animal or vegetable, into a hierarchy of collective units enclosed one within another, gained such a hold upon naturalists, that it finally seemed to them the formulation of their scientific task. Lovejoy A.O. (1961) “The Great Chain of Being” Harvatd University Press pg 228

The relationship between evolutionary theory and the obvious predominance of hierarchal structure is curiously ambiguous. It is one of the great sleights of hand that Darwinists, whose theory requires the existence of unambiguous sequential or “continuous” arrangements were able to adapt this clear discrepancy to support their theory by looking for direct evidence, not in the hierarchy itself, but rather in the abstraction of an “evolutionary tree” in which the nodes of the tree never were never meant to imply natural descent from a common ancestor, but were intellectual conceptions, with no evolutionary significance.

What we call branches express, in fact, a purely ideal connection between animals, the intellectual conception which unites them in creative thought. It seems to me that the more we examine the true significance of this kind of group, the more we shall be convinced that they are not founded upon material relations. Louis Agassiz (1857) “Essay on Classification” reprinted 1962 Harvard University Press pg 147


The most popular species defintion is the “biological species” concept developed by Ernst Mayr. This defines a species as one or more interbreeding or potentially interbreeding populations. If two populations cannot interbreed, and if there are no intermediate populations through which their genes can flow, then they are considered separate species. There are problems with the biological species concept, because reproductive isolation is often ambiguous, and there are serious practical limitations in applying it. (For example, it doesn’t apply to asexual species.) But it’s still the most commonly used definition because for evolutionary purposes, it gives us a way to assess when speciation has occured. When two gene pools become permanently isolated, such that they can never again share genes, then they will from that point forward tend to drift further and further apart. Hence, reproductive isolation is the definitive point at which two populations begin to diverge.

The question then becomes how reproductive barriers get set up in the first place. There are many recognized reproductive barriers, which can be genetic, morphological, or behavioral. All of these traits are known to vary within populations, so it’s a matter of individuals (or subpopulations) within a larger population changing to the point at which they can no longer interbreed with the larger population. This can be caused by something as simple as a small shift in the mating season, a minor change in breeding colors, or a slight alteration to a receptor protein in a gamete. These things change all the time due to drift, but the question is, how does a subpopulation become distinct when it’s constantly sharing genes with the larger population? Normally, hybridization will smear out distinctiveness.

The most widely accepted answer is that small populations become geographically isolated from larger ones. This geographical isolation prevents a small population from hybridizing with the larger one, so it’s able to change over time along its own distinct path. This change may be due to drift, selection, or a combination of the two (people argue about which is more important). And it may be given a kick-start by the founder effect or by a bottleneck event. But either way, after sufficient time has passed, the isolated populations will have changed to the point at which they can no longer interbreed. And at that point, they are considered separate species, even if their geographical ranges once again begin to overlap. This process is known as allopatric speciation.

It gets a lot more complicated than that (and I’m certainly no expert), but that should give you plenty to think about for now.

Steve Reuland wrote:

The most popular species defintion is the “biological species” concept developed by Ernst Mayr. This defines a species as one or more interbreeding or potentially interbreeding populations. If two populations cannot interbreed, and if there are no intermediate populations through which their genes can flow, then they are considered separate species.

I read this at about the same time I was reading this article in Science:

Catching Fish Evolving Aug 2, 2004 “Science Now”

The myriad of colorful cichlid fishes of the African Great Lakes is a classic example of explosive evolution, with thousands of species having appeared in the geological equivalent of a blink of an eye. Now, in a paper in this month’s issue of Molecular Ecology, biologists report a close-up look at one spark in that burst of evolution.

Lake Malawi, shared by Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, is home to at least 500 species of cichlids, all of which probably took less than a million years to evolve from a common ancestor. Still, evolutionary biologist J. Todd Streelman of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and his colleagues were not prepared for the speed of evolution they discovered at the lake’s Thumbi West Island.

Here, at a 100-meter-long promontory called Mitande Point, a fish dealer in the 1960s released Cynotilapia afra, a species restricted to the other end of Lake Malawi. Twenty years later, the fish hadn’t ventured beyond Mitande Point. But in 2001, when the team dipped nets into the water at six spots along the island’s 5-km-long coastline, the scientists found that it had spread everywhere. At each station, they netted some 40 individuals and recorded the color pattern for each. They also took a so-called microsatellite DNA fingerprint.

As it turned out, C. afra had evolved into two distinct varieties in less than 20 years. The ones along the northern coast of the island had developed about four vertical blue bars on the black dorsal fin, whereas the ones along the southern coast had only two or three. (The original stock had no blue bars on the dorsal fin.) Also, DNA fingerprints of fish from the north coast sites were significantly different from those of fish in the south, making it likely that the two are well on their way toward becoming separate species. Fish evolution this hasty has been recorded so far only in salmon and sticklebacks. “We were not expecting [this],” Streelman says.

Evolutionary ecologist Jacques van Alphen of Leiden University in the Netherlands is amazed at the speed with which C. afra has split in two. “It’s a very nice finding,” he says. But he hopes the researchers will continue their work to find out what is different about the two sides of the island to have caused the two forms to evolve.

I was reminded of the Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” where Frank Gorshin plays Commisioner Bele, whose body is white on one side and black on the other. He is trying to defeat Lokai. Bele considers his coloration superior to Lokai and others of “his kind.” Kirk doesn’t understand because to him they appear the same, both black on one side and white on the other. Bele rages “don’t you see? He is black on the left side while I am black on the right side!” It just made me wonder again what evolutionists mean when they use the terms “species” and “variety”, which basically end up being whatever you think they mean.

Steve wrote:

Biologists have seen several speciations. Looks like they’ve just seen another.

Read the article again. Despite the title, there are no claims being made of speciation.

The claim is that speciation has clearly begun, but not yet culminated. If my words were imperfect, people can always read the article. That’s why I posted a link.

In some of the previous known examples of speciation, the beginning and end states are known, but the transitional data is unknown. Why I posted the article is, this is a great example where speciation is probably underway, and frequent data taken yearly for the next decade or two can show us genetic snapshots of a speciation event. How cool is that. Darwin would be drooling for that data.

Creationists in 2024 are going to have a bitch of a time arguing against that data, in between promoting whatever Capitalized Pseudoscientific Concept will come after IC and the EF and CSI and etc.

Not to mention the two NFLs. No Free Lunch and Nelson’s FLaw.

Charlie Wagner Wrote:

It just made me wonder again what evolutionists mean when they use the terms “species” and “variety”, which basically end up being whatever you think they mean.

You write this immediately after quoting me, where I gave a straight-forward definition of what a species is. Amazing. Actually, not so amazing, given that you’re stone deaf, but irritating nonetheless.

It’s certainly true that there’s a certain amount of fuzziness when it comes to telling species apart. But thems are simply the facts of life. Species evolve from other species, and when they do, they don’t usually split asunder over the course of an afternoon – they instead tease apart slowly, sometimes going through many cycles of convergence and divergence before finally going their separate ways. We’ve seen incipient species at every stage of speciation, from slightly different varieties living in the same area, to complete reproductive isolation, and everything in between. The fuzziness of species boundaries is just what we’d expect if evolution is true.

Now if creationists want to make an issue of species ambiguity, they’re more than welcome to do so. Creationists with their “fixed and distinct kinds” are going to have a pretty hard time explaining just why species are neither fixed nor distinct. And that’s why creationists have generally given up on this one, setting their “fixed and distinct kinds” at a much higher taxonomic level (though just what, we can never tell), and have conceded speciation to evolutionary theory. Except for Rodney Stark, who is just that much more clueless.


Lions and tigers are cross-fertile, though matings between the two occur only in captivity - the only place their ranges overlap any more is in India. I believe the offspring is usually fertile.

Horses and donkeys are cross-fertile, though the resulting mules are almost always sterile. Occasionally, I believe, there is a fertile female mule born. I think horses and zebras are also cross-fertile.

Domestic dogs, grey and red wolves, coyotes, foxes and jackals are all cross-fertile, and I think the offspring is almost always fertile.

I tend to think that the degree of fertility of offspring would have something to do with how long ago the isolation began.

Steve Reuland wrote:

Actually, not so amazing, given that you’re stone deaf, but irritating nonetheless.

It even looks like me!

You’re right, Charlie - it kinda does.

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Charlie wrote

That’s a very good question, but it doesn’t apply only to birds. It applies to all of the major classes in the animal kingdom. All of the major classes of organisms known to biologists are already highly characteristic of their class when they make their initial appearance in the fossil record. Where are the ancestors of trilobites? Where are the ancestors of the fish? Or the angiosperms? The story is the same for all classes, not birds. All of the “common ancestors” are hypothetical. Not a single one has ever been found. There are simply no transitional fossils between classes. (Emphasis added)

Hm. What are they talking about here and here, then?



RBH wrote:

Hm. What are they talking about here and here, then?

I know I brought up the subject and I’m sorry that I did. The issue of transitional fossils is a red herring and a definite black hole, from which there is no escape. I’ve been over this too many times to do it again. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but I have no problem with transitional fossils. Clearly life forms have changed over time. It’s almost impossible to separate “related”, that is, forms that share certain characteristics and “transitional”, which means forms that are evolutionarily connected so that the form in question is a little like what went before it and a little like what came after it. In addition, we have only bones and dentition (and feathers too) to rely on and the main characteristics of classes are found in the soft tissue parts, like the reproductive and respiratory systems, which are almost never preserved. In addition, it makes no difference to the argument that I’m making. I admit that evolutionary change has occurred, but I insist that random processes and accidental errors, combined with natural selection was NOT the mechanism. I also argue that only as a result of intelligent input could highly organized structures, processes and adaptations have arise. So have your transitional fossils , if you must. They are irrelevant to my claims and irrelevant to any discussion of evolutionary mechanisms.

So Charlie, are you saying that you accept common descent but that you believe outside intelligent agency must have been responsible at times for the transition from one kind of organism (at whatever taxonomic level you think this happens) to another? Is that your position?

Jack Krebs wrote:

So Charlie, are you saying that you accept common descent but that you believe outside intelligent agency must have been responsible at times for the transition from one kind of organism (at whatever taxonomic level you think this happens) to another? Is that your position?

Essentially, yes, except that I prefer to use the phrase “common origin” since it carries with it no phylogenetic implications. I also support you in your quest to keep religious creationism out of public schools. Ideology of any kind has no place in public education, certainly not in the guise of science.

***FYI-Joe Carter is discussing and challenging Ed and Steve by “As you might expect, not everyone agrees. Ed Brayton calls it “a delightfully ridiculous little article” and Steve Reuland says it “proves that there really is no rock-bottom when it comes to anti-evolutionist diatribes.” Don’t you think you are being a bit misleading?

My goal was to let this Blog know that your Blog was talking about this Blog…I assume both Blogs are interested in traffic.

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I also argue that only as a result of intelligent input could highly organized structures, processes and adaptations have arise.

Charlie, you may argue this but only in a purely ad hoc manner. Especially given the fact that reality seems to be in contrdiction with your claims. Of course Charlie could always redefine the meaning of the term ‘intelligent input’ as he seems to have done but then we run the risk of equivocation

Pim wrote:


I would be a little concerned about all that sighing. Sometimes it’s a symptom of depression, which is an often overlooked but easily treated condition.

BTW, the last place on this good God’s earth I would ever look for factual, unbiased information is the archive. The second to last place would be Wikipedia…

Charlie writes

the last place on this good God’s earth I would ever look for factual, unbiased information is the archive. The second to last place would be Wikipedia …

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t flexible enough to peer into the place where Charlie finds his information.

Sigh… No wonder you seem to me to be still confused about evolutionary theory. Both sites form exellent (but not exhaustive) sources of information. And no I am not depressed other than exasperated by the extent of your knowledge of evolutionary theory. Compouned by what I see as a reluctance on your part to learn from relevant sites leading you to repeat your errors.

Your statement about Archie being a bird and thus not a transitional is well… silly. Especially in a classification which forces any animal into a particular class/family/genus…

Of course when going beyond the simplistic terms of bird/reptile and actually one looks at the arguments one may come to understand why knowledgable people consider Archie to be a good example of a transitional. But I forgot, you deny any evidence for transitionals… But then again you also referred to DNA as intelligent?

For some further reading on transitional fossils see

Claim CC214:

There are no transitional fossils between reptiles and birds.

Source: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985. Life–How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, 75.


  • Many new bird fossils have been discovered in the last couple decades, revealing several intermediates between theropod dinosaurs (such as Allosaurus) and modern birds:
  • Sinosauropteryx prima. A dinosaur covered with primitive feathers, but structurally similar to unfeathered dinosaurs Ornitholestes and Compsognathus [Chen et al. 1998; Currie and Chen 2001].
  • Ornithomimosaurs, therizinosaurs and oviraptorosaurs. The oviraptorosaur Caudipteryx had a body covering of tufted feathers and, on wings and tail, feathers with a central rachis [Ji et al. 1998]. Feathers are also known from the therizinosaur Beipiaosaurus [Xu et al. 1999a]. Several other bird-like characters appear in these dinosaurs, including unserrated teeth, highly pneumatized skulls and vertebrae, and elongate wings. Oviraptorids also had birdlike eggs and brooding habits [Clark et al. 1999].
  • Deinonychosaurs (troodontids and dromaeosaurs). These are the closest known dinosaurs to birds. Sinovenator, the most primitive troodontid, is especially similar to Archaeopteryx [Xu et al. 2002]. Byronosaurus, another troodontid, has teeth nearly identical to primitive birds [Makovicky et al. 2003]. Microraptor, the most primitive dromaeosaur, is also the most birdlike; specimens have been found with undisputed feathers on their wings, legs and tail [Hwang et al. 2002; Xu et al. 2003]. Sinornithosaurus also was covered with a variety of feathers and had a skull more birdlike than later dromaeosaurs [Xu et al. 1999b, 2001; Xu and Wu 2001].
  • Protarchaeopteryx, alvarezsaurids, Yixianosaurus and Avimimus. These are birdlike dinosaurs of uncertain placement, each potentially closer to birds than deinonychosaurs. Protarchaeopteryx has tail feathers, uncompressed teeth and an elongate manus (hand/wing) [Ji et al. 1998]. Yixianosaurus has an indistinctly preserved feathery covering and hand/wing proportions close to birds [Xu and Wang 2003]. Alvarezsaurids [Chiappe et al. 2002] and Avimimus [Vickers-Rich et al. 2002] have other bird-like features.
  • Archaeopteryx. This famous fossil is defined to be a bird, but it is actually less birdlike in some ways than some genera mentioned above [Paul 2002; Maryanska et al. 2002].
  • Shenzhouraptor [Zhou and Zhang 2002], Rahonavis [Forster et al. 1998], Yandangornis and Jixiangornis. All these birds are slightly more advanced than Archaeopteryx, especially in characters of the vertebrae, sternum, and wing bones.
  • Sapeornis [Zhou and Zhang 2003], Omnivoropteryx, and confuciusornithids (e.g. Confuciusornis and Changchengornis) [Chiappe et al. 1999]. The first birds to possess large pygostyles (bone formed from fused tail vertebrae). Other new bird-like characters include seven sacral vertebrae, a sternum with a keel (some species), and a reversed hallux (hind toe).
  • Enantiornithines, including at least 19 species of primitive birds such as Sinornis [Sereno and Rao 1992; Sereno et al. 2002], Gobipteryx [Chiappe et al. 2001] and Protopteryx [Zhang and Zhou 2000]. Several birdlike features appeared in enantiornithines, including twelve or fewer dorsal vertebrae, a narrow V-shaped furcula (wishbone), and reduction in wing digit bones.
  • Patagopteryx, Apsaravis and yanornithids [Chiappe 2002; Clarke and Norell 2002]. More birdlike features appeared in this group, such as changes to vertebrae and development of the sternal keel.
  • Hesperornis, Ichthyornis, Gansus and Limenavis. These birds are almost as advanced as modern species. New features include loss of most teeth and changes to leg bones.
  • Modern birds.


1. Chen, P., Z. Dong and S. Zhen, 1998. An exceptionally well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature 391: 147-152. 2. Chiappe, L. M., 2002. Osteology of the flightless Patagopteryx deferrariisi from the Late Cretaceous of Patagonia (Argentina). In Chiappe and Witmer, pp. 281-316. 3. Chiappe, L. M. and L. M. Witmer (eds.), Mesozoic Birds: Above the Heads of Dinosaurs. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. 4. Chiappe, L. M., M. A. Norell and J. M. Clark, 2001. A new skull of Gobipteryx minuta (Aves: Enantiornithes) from the Cretaceous of the Gobi Desert. American Museum Novitates 3346: 1-15.[…]-01-0001.pdf 5. Chiappe, L. M., M. A. Norell and J. M. Clark, 2002. The Cretaceous, short-armed Alvarezsauridae. In: Chiappe and Witmer, pp. 87-120. 6. Chiappe, L. M., S. Ji, Q. Ji and M. A. Norell, 1999. Anatomy and systematics of the Confuciusornithidae (Theropoda: Aves) from the Late Mesozoic of northeastern China. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 242: 1-89.[…]-01-0001.pdf 7. Clark, J. M., M. A. Norell and L. M. Chiappe, 1999. An oviraptorid skeleton from the Late Cretaceous of Ukhaa Tolgod, Mongolia, preserved in an avianlike brooding position over an oviraptorid nest. American Museum Novitates 3265: 1-36. 8. Clarke, J. A. and M. A. Norell, 2002. The morphology and phylogenetic position of Apsaravis ukhaana from the late Cretaceous of Mongolia. American Museum Novitates 3387: 1-46.[…]-01-0001.pdf 9. Currie, P. J. and P. Chen, 2001. Anatomy of Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, northeastern China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38: 1705-1727. 10. Forster, C. A., S. D. Sampson, L. M. Chiappe and D. W. Krause, 1998. The theropod ancestry of birds: New evidence from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Science 279: 1915-1919. 11. Hwang, S. H., M. A. Norell, Ji Q. and Gao K., 2002. New specimens of Microraptor zhaoianus (Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae) from northeastern China. American Museum Novitates 3381: 1-44.[…].al.2002.pdf 12. Ji, Q., P. Currie, M. A. Norell and S-A. Ji, 1998. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393: 753-761. 13. Makovicky, P. J., M. A. Norell, J. M. Clark and T. Rowe, 2003. Osteology and relationships of Byronosaurus jaffei (Theropoda: Troodontidae). American Museum Novitates 3402, 1-32.[…]-01-0001.pdf 14. Maryanska, T., H. Osmólska and M. Wolsan, 2002. Avialan status for oviraptorosauria. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 47(1): 97-116. 15. Paul, Gregory S., 2002. Dinosaurs of the Air. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 16. Sereno, P. C. and C. Rao, 1992. Early evolution of avian flight and perching: New evidence from the Lower Creates of China. Science 255: 845-848. 17. Sereno, P. C., C. Rao and J. Li, 2002. Sinornis santensis (Aves: Enantiornithes) from the Early Cretaceous of Northeastern China. In: Chiappe and Witmer, pp. 184-208. 18. Vickers-Rich, P., L. M. Chiappe and S. Kurzanov, 2002. The enigmatic birdlike dinosaur Avimimus portentosus. In: Chiappe and Witmer, pp. 65-86. 19. Xu, X. and X. Wang, 2003. A new maniraptorian dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Western Liaoning. Vertebrate Palasiatica 41(3): 195-202. 20. Xu, X. and X-C. Wu, 2001. Cranial morphology of Sinornithosaurus millenii Xu et al. 1999 (Dinosauria: Theropoda: Dromaeosauridae) from the Yixian Formation of Liaoning, China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 38: 1739-1752. 21. Xu, X., Z. Tang and X. Wang, 1999a. A therizinosaurid dinosaur with integumentary structures from China. Nature 399: 350-354. 22. Xu, X., X-L. Wang and X-C. Wu, 1999b. A dromaeosaur dinosaur with a filamentous integument from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature 401: 262-266. 23. Xu, X., Z. Zhou and R. O. Prum, 2001. Branched integumental structures in Sinornithosaurus and the origin of feathers. Nature 410: 200-204. 24. Xu, X., M. A. Norell, X. Wang, P. J. Makovicky and X. Wu, 2002. A basal troodontid from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 415: 780-784. 25. Xu, X., Z. Zhou, X. Wang, X. Kuang, F. Zhang and X. Du, 2003. Four-winged dinosaurs from China. Nature 421: 335-340.[…]ngedDino.pdf 26. Zhang, F. and Z. Zhou, 2000. A primitive enantiornithine bird and the origin of feathers. Science 290: 1955-1959. 27. Zhou, Z. and F. Zhang, 2002. A long-tailed, seed-eating bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. Nature 418: 405-409. 28. Zhou, Z. and F. Zhang, 2003. Anatomy of the primitive bird Sapeornis chaoyangensis from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning, China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 40: 731-747.

Further Reading: Paul, Gregory S., 2002. Dinosaurs of the Air. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Chiappe, L. M. and G. J. Dyke, 2002. The Mesozoic radiation of birds. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33: 91-124. (technical)

Dingus, L. and T. Rowe, 1997. The mistaken extinction: dinosaur evolution and the origin of birds. New York: Freeman and Company.

Padian, K. and L. M. Chiappe, 1998. The origin of birds and their flight. Scientific American 278(2) (Feb.): 38-47.

Pojeta, John Jr. and Springer, Dale A., 2001. Evolution and the Fossil Record, American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA.[…]lutionbk.htm , .

Wang, Justin, 1998. Scientists flock to explore China’s ‘site of the century’. Science 279: 1626-1627.

And from NCSE Web reviewing Wells

Returning to Archaeopteryx, Wells then resorts to a classic creationist taxonomy game. In this game, the creationist says that scientists have to choose whether a fossil belongs to one taxonomic group or another. So, in the case of Archaeopteryx, it has to be a bird or a reptile. Then the creationist says that because it has feathers it is a bird, and therefore because it is a “bird” it cannot be a transitional form. In effect the transitional features of the fossil are defined out of existence. This is a classic creationist ploy, and nothing new; it is what we have seen for decades from Duane Gish and Henry Morris. Wells uses a slightly different approach, claiming that if Archaeopteryx and birds are just dinosaurs, then humans are just fish, which – he implies – is absurd. But this is another case of Wells trying to use semantics to negate the evidence of evolution, just as he did with the Cambrian Explosion.

Here Wells exploits the systematic practice by which all groups of organisms must be “monophyletic,” that is, consist of an ancestor and all of its descendants. In Wells’s rather naïve example, “fish” must be taken to include hagfishes, lampreys, sharks, goldfish and other rayfins, coelocanths, and lungfishes. If “fish” were defined that way, then tetrapods (all animals that have four limbs) would indeed be “fish” and “fish” would become another name for “vertebrate.” But “fish” is not a taxonomic name; it is a colloquial term, and as a Ph.D. biologist, Wells should know that. Real systematists don’t use the term “fish” except in a restricted sense referring either to a subgroup that is monophyletic such as Actinopterygia or to “rayfins” (things like goldfish, trout, swordfish, etc.) – the vast majority of living “fishes.” Humans are vertebrates; so are fishes. Birds, by phylogenetic relationship, are dinosaurs. Just as dogs are canids, and also mammals, and also tetrapods and vertebrates. Consider a mailing address: just because you live on 1010 Main Street does not mean that you don’t live in Peoria or in Illinois, or that someone living on 411 South Street doesn’t live in the same town or state.

GWW wrote: Unfortunately, most of us aren’t flexible enough to peer into the place where Charlie finds his information. When I do my thinking, I find it most productive if I walk around, faster and faster, in ever-decreasing concentric circles until I actually am able to disappear up my own ass.

NCSE website wrote:

Birds, by phylogenetic relationship, are dinosaurs.


NCSE website wrote:

Birds, by phylogenetic relationship, are dinosaurs.


Well that describes the full extent of Charlie’s rebuttal quite eloquently.

Has Charlie ever spent the time researching these issues I wonder?

Pim wrote:

Has Charlie ever spent the time researching these issues I wonder?

J Biosci. 2003 Mar;28(2):135-8. Related Articles, Links Avian origins revisited.

Homberger DG.

Department of Biological Sciences, 202 Life Sciences Building, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-1715, USA. [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

From the article:

“Hence, in order to clarify the evolutionary history of birds from unfeathered reptilian ancestors, it will be necessary not only to continue to gather new data and observations that can test earlier studies, but also to revisit some of the premisses (sic) that provide the theoretical framework guiding the interpretation of these data and observations. Currently, too little attention has been devoted to theoretical aspects of macroevolutionary questions. As long as this remains the case, the current controversy surrounding the evolutionary history of feathers, avian flight, and birds is likely to continue and remain unsolved.”

Like I said, horsepookey…

Simple unbelievable… I am not sure why Charlie posted the paper. Surely nothing really to help understand his confusion in these matters

Perhaps Charlie can browse to the Tree of Life webpages

Charlie was making the argument that Archie was a bird and thus could not be a transitional. Now that confusion has been laid to rest we may explore the two competing hypotheses as to the evolution of birds.

Perhaps Charlie can help us understand his ‘horsepookey’ claim. So far other than make an assertion there seems little support for his statement.

Are Birds Really Dinosaurs?

Some researchers today do not agree that dinosaurs gave rise to birds, and are working to falsify this theory, but so far the evidence for the theory has swamped their efforts. If they were to conclusively establish that birds are more likely descended from another group (Crocodylomorpha, the group containing crocodiles, has been suggested), that would be a major upheaval in our knowledge of phylogeny. One single well-preserved fossil bird unequivocably of Triassic age might shed some doubt on the theory of the maniraptoran affinities of birds. That would be a major find. Some bird-like fossils have been presented as Triassic birds, but so far have not held up under peer review. Such is the dynamic nature of science.

Are birds dinosaurs: Yes and No


Dinosaurs and birds

So can we say that birds are dinosaurs?

When the first dinosaurs were discovered, it never crossed anyone’s mind for a moment that they might be ancestral to birds, so the original definition of “dinosaur” certainly didn’t include them. Even with the discovery of Archaeopteryx in 1861, the dinosaur origin of birds was far from being accepted as fact. It’s only really since Ostrom demonstrated the similarities between Archaeopteryx and Deinonychus in the late 60s that the theory has gained any respectability - and so, the idea that the dinosaurs even might include birds dates back only a few decades.

Since then, a fundamental shift in nomenclature practices has meant that this bird-inclusive definition of the Dinosauria is now accepted as orthodox. This shift has been towards a viewpoint often called the “cladistic” view (related to, but separate from, the issue of cladistic analysis), which is that the only groupings which may validly by given names are monophyletic ones - that is, those consisting of a single animal together with all of its ancestors.

This spells trouble for the old definition of the Dinosauria, which is essentially the common ancestor of the Saurischia and Ornithischia with all of its descendants except the birds. Such a grouping is described as paraphyletic and is considered by cladists to be an unnatural group. So as cladistic nomenclature has taken hold, so the newer, monophyletic and more inclusive definition of the Dinosauria has become accepted.

Is this change a good thing? Yes, because it means that Dinosauria are now defined in a way that’s in keeping with widespread taxonomic practice. And no, because the change itself is disruptive, leaving what was once a clear meaning unclear. A similar situation has arisen with regard to the class Reptilia, which is considered to include the dinosaurs and hence also the birds. (So, yes, birds are reptiles!)

What do terms like monophyletic, paraphyletic and polyphyletic mean? Cheers

Pim wrote:

Perhaps Charlie can help us understand his ‘horsepookey’ claim. So far other than make an assertion there seems little support for his statement.

It’s horsepookey because these people are wasting their time. They’re looking for connections that are simply not there. Birds are not “dinosaurs” anymore than amphibians are fish or reptiles are amphibians. Birds have no identifiable ancestors. The oldest birds in the fossil record have all of the characteristics (insofar as we can determine) of the class Aves. There is no “pro-aves” as Heilman suggested, which is a figment of his imagination. Birds are unique, in fact their class is probably more unique than any other class, possessing flow-through lungs, a syrinx, enlarged cerebral hemispheres and feathers, which are found in no other class. The same is true for all of the other classes. Each possesses a constellation of characteristics that is unique to its class. And more importantly, no member of the class is any less characteristic of the class than any other! All mammals possess the mammalian characters, all birds, the avian characters etc, etc. There are no “transitional forms” between birds and any other group, much as you might wish it. There are no transitional forms leading up to vertebrates from any other group. Intermediate forms are non-existent, undiscovered, or not recognized. The gaps between classes are huge and they have been known for decades. There is no evidence for a gradual evolution from one class to another. Each stands distinct and separate. The pattern of nature is profoundly discontinuous, and gives no support to darwinian gradualism or even punctuated equilibrium. The origin of birds (and all the other classes, for that matter) is completely unknown and anyone who says otherwise is simply misguided or misinformed.

Seems Charlie is willing to ignore all the evidence contrary to his claims (and there are many).

Sigh, this truely saddens me, someone making so many assertions in spite of the vate amount of contradicting data. What a waste of time and effort.

This has become way too long and has drifted far afield of the original topic, so I’m closing it. Sorry Charlie, I guess Pim gets the last word. Maybe it would be a good idea to talk about the new Archie study on the Bathroom Wall, or maybe Pim can start a thread about it.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on August 2, 2004 6:54 PM.

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