Behe and bugs: Genesis of a Creationist canard?

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Well, the Discovery Institute-sponsored translation of Sermonti’s un-informed and dis-informing book, which I reviewed a few weeks ago here on PT, is out. There isn’t much more to say about the translation that I haven’t said already, but an endorsement by Mike Behe on the back cover does stick out, and I think it’s worth discussing here. Behe says:

With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions. He shows that there are more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy.

I am sure several readers will wonder what the heck this insect stuff is about. So did I, and looked into it. In short, it means that neither Sermonti nor Behe know much about insect and plant evolution, and more significantly, they are not keen to put any effort learning about them. More below.

Behe’s comment stems from a chapter in Sermonti’s book entitled “The leaf insect before the leaf”, which is such a true masterpiece of bait-and-switch argumentation, that Behe (not a novice of the art himself) fell for the trick. Sermonti starts with discussing the features of biological mimicry, from his usual mystical-structuralist viewpoint. He then goes into the specifics of leaf and stick insects. It is very hard to describe Sermonti’s twisted argument, so I am actually going to quote him verbatim. It’s long, but bear with me:

A strange order of Insects, close to the coleopterans, has been given the name of phasmids (‘phantoms”), indicating their ability to remain invisible to neighbors by imitating the forms and colors of the trees on which they alight. Stick insects and leaf insects belong to this order. These astute animals are taken as examples of mimetic adaptation, but they proved embarrassing when paleontologists started following their fossil traces and found them where they were not supposed to be. How these ghost insects—these incredible mimickers of leaves and sticks—ever came into the world remains a mystery, an unsolved scientific detective story. The reigning utilitarian interpretation would have it that these insects, before they were like leaf surfaces or dry sticks, got mixed up with leaves and twigs and, through mutation after mutation, came to resemble their background, until they arrived at the point of becoming the perfect models we now see (to the point that we don’t see them!) on plants. Unfortunately for them and for the theory, these artful imitators derive no benefit from their mimetic capacity and are prey for their enemies, which have no difficulty in detecting them. But the most unforeseeable surprises have come from paleontology. The oldest phasmid fossils (they go back in Baltic amber to the Tertiary—i.e., about 50 million years ago) look identical to present-day species, showing that no gradations have occurred. It is thought that those phasmids originated from Chresmodids of the Upper Jurassic in Germany, fossils of which are encountered in deposits dating back some 150 million years. But the oldest fossils of stick or leaf insects (protophasmids) go back to even remoter periods, in the Permian (250 million years ago, in the Paleozoic). One might argue that these insects completed the process of imitating leaves at an extremely gradual rate beginning at a still earlier time. Yet things do not work out this way. Plants with flowers and leaves (phanerogams and Latifoliae) appeared no earlier than the Cretaceous—in other words about 100 million years ago, long after the first protophasmids. This chronological anomaly places the imitators earlier in time than the objects of the imitation, leaving entomologists and paleontologists disconcerted. In his Great Book of Nature (Hoepli, 1954), Fritz Kahn asserts that there must have been a mistake somewhere. How could the leaf insect be older than the Latifoliae on which it has modeled itself? I once saw a picture of a leaf insect in a reputable journal, in which the commentator attributed to the artful imitator an ability to “prophesy” something that originated millions of years later!

Leave out mimicry. We have to recognize that phasmids have a tendency to laminate themselves like leaves or elongate themselves like sticks, and they had this tendency prior to and independent of the plants. Who knows? Perhaps phasmids mistake the plants’ leaves and sticks and [sic] for themselves?

The entomologists I have consulted prefer to gloss over the phasmids. The Chresmodids (150 million years ago) have been disqualified as their dubious forebears, and the protophasmids have been excluded from their phylogeny altogether. The exclusion does not change the general picture, however. There were leaf insects and stick insects—“phantasm” insects—over 100 million years before there were leaves or sticks.

G. Sermonti, “Why is a fly not a horse?”, pp.145-147

I think it would be fun to show this passage to an entomologist, and play “spot the errors”, so many there are [1]. But for the issue in question, let’s just consider the basics. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the phasmids’ ancestors in the Permian already resembled sticks and leaves. Were there leaves and sticks then? Of course! There were luscious, thick forests, made up of tree ferns and leafy gymnosperms (think of stuff like the gingko bilobas on some street near you). There were twigs and leaves all over the place. In fact, by the Permian vascular and seed plants, even tree-like, had been around for – oh, 100 million years or so - seriously. Sermonti has the timeline exactly backwards. (If you need to refresh your memory about geological periods and evolution, check out this figure).

But that’s not all: notice how Sermonti first introduces the Protophasmida as “oldest fossils of stick or leaf insects” – despite their name, that’s simply not true. Protophasmids miss critical synapomorphies (traits that identify a taxon) of Phasmida, and are currently considered probably close to Orthoptera (crickets and grasshoppers). This cladistics-dictated taxonomic assignment, Sermonti suggests, is just a trick of embarrassed entomologists at the end of their ropes. But that makes no sense – as Sermonti himself states, if Paleozoic insects really resembled Angiosperm leaves and twigs, they would be puzzling regardless of their taxonomic position or name. Alas, protophasmids were not twig- or leaf-like: they looked like many other winged bugs (you can see an example of a classic protophasmid in this paper). As for Chresmodidae, their position is also debated, but one sure thing is that they had little resemblance to vegetation. In fact, because of their morphology and some specific leg adaptations, they are considered to have been water-skating insects (for a couple Chresmodida fossil species, see here and here).

So, neither protophasmids nor possibly Chresmodidae were closely related to modern stick- and leaf-insects. Most importantly, they also did not resemble leaves or sticks, and in fact, neither do many modern phasmids. Although many are amazing in their mimicry, others simply have elongated, cryptic shapes and colors, but they do not closely resemble leaves and twigs, and are rather similar to many other non-phasmid insects (see for instance some of the phasmid species in the picture below). Far from being a “mystery”, it is really not hard to imagine that a thin, brownish insect may gradually evolve into a stick-like mimic (center left picture), or that a green insect living among foliage may evolve to resemble leaves (right). This conclusion is further strengthened by the existence of many gradations of stick- and leaf-like crypsis in living insects. Stickbugs JPG.JPG Several studies have shown that crypsis and mimicry confer a selective advantage against visual predators [2]. I am not aware of any specific work on bona fide leaf- or stick-like insects, but a 1993 paper on two differently colored forms of the phasmid Timema cristinae, which are more or less cryptic depending on the vegetation they reside on, clearly showed differential predation against the less cryptic morph [3]. I don’t know what study (if any) Sermonti’s comment that phasmids “derive no benefit from their mimetic capacity and are prey for their enemies, which have no difficulty in detecting them” refers to, but taken at face value, it is just silly – gazelles are caught by predators too, but I doubt that Sermonti would claim that for this reason their speed must not be a defense mechanism against predation.

So, Sermonti is engaging in a smoke and mirror trick. He equivocates between flowering plants (Angiosperms, which appeared in the Mesozoic) and leafy vascular plants in general (which are much older), and between Phasmids proper, Protophasmids and Chresmodidae (making the reader believe that the three groups are closely related and morphologically similar). To wrap it up, he ludicrously accuses sneaky paleoentomologists of changing the taxonomic classification of “embarassing” ancestors to purposefully hide the fact these insects shouldn’t have existed. Note also his references for the whole story: a 1954 lay book and an unnamed “reputable magazine” [4]. How about actual scientific sources? None. Real, live entomologists? Sermonti says he asked, but they preferred “to gloss over the phasmids”. More likely, he just didn’t like their answers.

The second of Behe’s claims is actually even more simple to explain. First of all, Behe misinterprets (or perhaps over-simplifies) the issue when he says “insects before plants”. Plants (including green algae) of course appeared very early, and even if Behe retricts the term to land plants, he should probably know, or imagine, that they long preceded animals on land (indeed, land colonization by plants dates at least to the Silurian). What Sermonti refers to is actually the mouth apparatus of insects, which extant species generally use to feed on Angiosperm plant material. So far so good. The supposed “mystery” here is that a 1993 paper by Labandeira and Sepkoski showed that “by the middle Jurassic [the earliest commonly accepted date for the origin of Angiosperms] 65% (low estimate) to 88% (high estimate) of all modern insect mouthpart classes were present”. Note here: what was present before Angiosperms was the basic conformation of the mouthpart classes, not the actual highly adapted, specialized apparatuses that are often currently found in existing species. In a sense, this was surprising at the time because the prevailing theory assumed that the current insect feeding apparatuses had coevolved with the plants on which they are used now. However, it is hardly an unsolvable mystery: remember that there were plants with sap, leaves, seeds, spores and pollen in the Paleozoic, long before flowering plants appeared. Indeed, Paleozoic fossil plants already bear the hallmarks of insect feeding activity, and these feeding patterns look so remarkably similar to those observed in current plants, that paleobotanists and paleoentomologists can reasonably infer what type of feeding behavior caused the damage. Conrad Labandeira himself talks about this in a 1998 review paper, in which he describes: “spore feeding and piercing-and sucking” [in the early Devonian], “External feeding on pinnule margins and the intimate and intricate association of galling” [in the Carboniferous], “hole feeding and skeletonization” [in the early Permian], “surface fluid feeding”, and possible but inconclusive evidence of “mutualistic relationships between insect pollinivores and seed plants” by the end of the Paleozoic. In other words, insects pierced, sucked, gnawed, crushed, lapped, imbibed, scraped and otherwise fed on non-Angiosperm plants then, much as they do on Angiosperms today (the only exception being the current highly specialized flower-feeding apparatuses, which not surprisingly appear in the fossil record at about the time of flowering plants).

Sermonti asks:

How did it happen, then, that these complex and delicate apparatuses existed millions and millions of years before they had a job to do? Ibid., p. 148

Because bugs were just as hungry then as today, that’s how. Sermonti knows this, but seems to suggest that those apparatuses were not really necessary:

But those insects still had to feed themselves, for hundreds of millions of years, among mosses, ferns, cicadas and conifers, in the empire of great reptiles. And eat they did: They had knives and forks and spoons, richer and more sumptuous than their lean and wooden fare required. Ibid., p. 149

“Lean and wooden fare”? Why is that? With the exception of flower nectar and “classic” fruits (some gymnosperms however make fruit-like arils), the Paleozoic plant world offered pretty much the same menu opportunities as modern plants, and Paleozoic insects partook of the feast in pretty much the same way as modern insects do.

There are many Creationist myths and canards, from very crude to more sophisticated: Paluxy River tracks, the bombardier beetle, unevolvable irreducibly complex molecular systems, etc (most of them are listed and answered here). They are all made up pretty much the same way as these: abundant use of outdated and third-hand sources, misinterpretation of scientific evidence, mistrust of expert opinions, a good amount of personal ignorance of the subject (and no effort to correct it), and a lot of artfully crafted misleading statements – et voilà: leaf insects before leaves, insects before plants. All these myths exist because of the Creationists’ never-waning hope to find that elusive silver bullet that stops the “evolution werewolf” cold. So Behe, without checking the facts, eagerly announces that Sermonti shows that there are “more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy” - but the dream is only his own.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Oliver Zompro and Erich Tilgner, two entomologists with expertise on Phasmids and allied groups and their taxonomy and evolution, for their patient explanations and copious references; to the Phasmid Study Group for allowing me to use some of their phasmid photographs; to Reed for setting up the Geologic Time Scale page and PT crew members for comments, suggestions, and for refreshing my Latin.

Notes and References [1] For real info on phasmids, their taxonomy and their evolution, check out the following sources: Tilgner E, Systematics of Phasmida, 2002, PhD Thesis in Entomology, University of Georgia (available online at this UGA site, searching for “Tilgner”); Grimaldi D, Engel MS, Evolution of the Insects, Cambridge University Press, 2005; and references therein

[2] Ruxton GD, Sherrat TM, Speed MP. Avoiding Attack: The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals and Mimicry. Oxford University Press, 2004.

[3] Sandoval, CP 1994. Differential visual predation on morphs of Timema cristinae (Phasmatodeae: Timemidae) and its consequences for host range. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 52 : 341-356.

[4] Kahn’s 1952 “Das Buch der Natur”, which as far as I can tell was never translated into English, apparently was a two-volume encyclopedic overview of the whole of natural sciences, with volume 1 on Physics/Astronomy/Chemistry/Geology and volume 2 on Biology. As for the “reputable magazine”, from another online article by Sermonti I suspect he’s actually referring to a 1983 issue of the Italian travel/geography magazine “Atlante” (sort of like the Italian “National Geographic”). While both are indeed reputable sources, they certainly are neither up-to-date nor necessarily reliable on the scientific details.

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Holy crap. I can't believe Behe said something this stupid: With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological ... Read More

*Chirp* Update from stranger fruit on August 12, 2005 7:34 PM

Apologies for the lull over the past few days - I've been busy trying to miss hit some deadlines. Hopefully by middle next week I will return to my righteous indignation and venting. Teaching begins again in little over a week, so it's crunch time here... Read More

53 Comments

Michael Behe Wrote:

With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions. He shows that there are more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy.

So what is Behe’s thesis? That aliens faked the fossil record? Or that aliens invented insects with nothing for them to eat and then, millions of years later, decided to invent something for them to eat and thought, hey, wouldn’t it be fun if parts of some of this stuff we’re making for the insects to eat sort of resembles some of the insects, just for laughs and to confuse some of those silly humans we’re planning on making several million years from now, after we slam that meteorite into the planet to kill off the dinosaurs to make room for them. Only they didn’t actually do this in real time, they planned it all out ahead of time and encoded it into the very first cell, in such a way that it would all work out in due time, somehow.

It appears to me that the heads of IDists are full of mush. They grasp upon anything that they think might undermine their bogeyman, evolution, but never go beyond that to think through the implications.

As for that bit about “With charming prose, Sermonti describes … biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions”, didn’t D’Arcy Thompson get there far ahead of Sermonti (and with far more charming prose)? And haven’t folks like Benoit Mandelbrot provided us with the tools to understand our observance of patterns in nature? Does Behe think it’s magic? In 1952 the mathematician Alan Turing offered a reaction-diffusion model in an effort to explain mammalian coat patterns. Perhaps, just maybe, it is Behe’s dreams that are deficient.

P.S. I notice that both of the Amazon reviews of Sermonti’s book are from members of DI (Jonathan Witt and Rob Crowther); it’s probably just a matter of time before the entire staff chirps in.

I think that Behe has totally lost it, assuming, of course, that he ever had it.

He must be such an EMBARRASSMENT to Lehigh University I can’t imagine how his department chair tolerates him.

Obviously Behe isn’t worried about credibility. He lost all shreds of that years ago. It must be somehow liberating to be so free of credibility that one could mouth the most outrageous nonsense without any compunction whatsoever.

If he had more hair I could imagine Behe walking down the street carrying a sign that read “The End Is Neigh!”

Of course, he would be referring to “intelligent design”…

Andrea wrote

I don’t know what study (if any) Sermonti’s comment that phasmids “derive no benefit from their mimetic capacity and are prey for their enemies, which have no difficulty in detecting them” refers to, but taken at face value, it is just silly — gazelles are caught by predators too, but I doubt that Sermonti would claim that for this reason their speed must not be a defense mechanism against predation.

I’m not as confident as Andrea. If Sermonti (or Behe, for that matter) thought there was a propaganda point to be gained by claiming that, they would. The only reason they don’t is that it is even more transparently stupid than claiming that mimetic insects gain no advantage from their camouflage.

RBH

Behe’s bugged out. That’s it .… Buggy Behe!!

Really, how long are we supposed to take these turkeys seriously?

Andrea, any chance of posting your brilliant review of Dimenticare Darwin at Amazon? Perhaps after a few more DIers embarass themselves with nonsense like

Jonathan Witt Wrote:

I assume he was a poet in an earlier life. … a renewed appreciation for the organism as a living whole creates enormous and perhaps insurmountable problems for every form of Darwinian theory.

and, get this, on the same page as Witt’s review:

Rob Crowther Wrote:

For Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Witt, a former English professor, one of the most remarkable things about the book was its style: “Anyone who believed in reincarnation would say Sermonti was a poet in a former life. His descriptions are phenomenal.”

[inappropriate remark zapped]

What if you were a very smart person but committed some minor infraction in life and got reincarnated as Behe. Woulsn’t that be the pits?

Comment #42073

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 10, 2005 10:48 PM (e) (s)

Really, how long are we supposed to take these turkeys seriously?

I don’t take them seriously. I don’t think they represent any kind of threat. I enjoy the humor they provide, and the warning they represent to others about what happens when you let your religion influence your scientific beliefs.

I mean, Behe says IC things can’t evolve. Eventually he admits they can. Dembski says NFL prohibits evolution. Eventually has to say it doesn’t. Dembski says CSI can’t be produced by algorithms. Eventually has to say that it can, but that’s just “apparent CSI”.

What will they think of next? I don’t know, but I do know it will 1) sell books to the rubes 2) be wrong.

“With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions. He shows that there are more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy.”

If true, then Behe has just publically repudiated the order of creation as stated by Genesis 1:11 (where vegetation is brought forth) and then Genesis 1:24 (where the creeping things come in). Not only does he not think through the scientific implications.. he doesn’t think through the religious ones either.

Nice job, Behe!

Wow, that’s pretty sweet S. Mgr. Good job.

he doesn’t think through the religious ones either

Haven’t you heard? Intelligent design isn’t about religion.

Not to be pedantic but when this guy starts out speaking of stick insects as “a strange order of Insects, close to the coleopterans” I have to point out that stick insects are a heck of a lot closer to grasshoppers than beetles. Stick insects undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Beetles, of course, have complete metamorphosis. They belong to distantly related groups.

I am reminded of the demented scientist in a Monty Python sketch who announces “the brain is like a fish. It breaths through its gills.”

Haha. Evidently my fundamentalist upbringing wasn’t a total waste ;)

BTW, when some uncomfortable questions were put to Sal Cordova about Dembski, he didn’t answer them, saying that Dembski has written new papers recently, and so criticisms of his older work just don’t apply. Anyone read this new crap?

The entomologists I have consulted prefer to gloss over the phasmids.

I’m guessing “why don’t you go away and read something instead of asking me idiot questions” counts as glossing over.

You know what I’ve just realized? I can’t recall a single biologist showing up here to defend ID. I’ve seen the occasional nutty mathematician, engineer, statistician, philosopher, physicist (sigh), engineer, lawyers, and mostly laymen, but I can’t recall seeing an actual biologist here defend ID. The many biologists who come here are all evolutionists.

The other point that should be made here:

Behe’s 46-word blurb took about 2474 words to thoroughly refute (I get about 1778 if you exclude quotes). First you have to figure out what Behe was thinking when Behe was reading Sermonti, and then explain Behe’s mistakes there; then you have to look at Sermonti and look at his mistakes and misinterpretations; and then you have to explain the real science, looking up technical papers and translating them into popular language.

This is all fine if you are a crusading blogger with spare time and access to a university library, but imagine trying to do this on the fly in a “debate,” when creationists/IDists wildly pull out canards like this every other sentence.

No wonder scientists sometimes are skeptical of debating creationists, particularly in non-neutral forums.

Great post Andrea!

Regarding the Paluxy trackways, new data on tracksites show that prints stratify, and the beneath the actual print as it would have appeared in life is a layer of slightly less regular tracks, and below that increasing less regular tracks. It is these “underprints” that are typically preserved, in fact, rather than the initial tracks themselves. 5 or so layers further and you’ll get an irregular, oval “underprint” that, oddly enough, looks like a human foot. This is preserved in cross-sections of deep prints from regular track above to the “human” track below. The Paluxy River trackways showing “humans” and “dinosaurs” are actually regular tracks on surfaces with underprints preserved from overlying layers, which are now lost. Thus the “human” prints occured later in time than the dinosaur tracks, but probably represent the same species (in this case, probably Acrocanthosaurus).

Here is a series of images of tracks worked on by track and avian-locomotion expert Steve Gatesy. In addition, Gatesy (2003) references the shapes of underprints in

Gatesy, S.M. 2003. Direct and indirect track features: What sediment did a dinosaur touch? Ichnos 10:91-98.

I’ve read many comments in PT and elsewhere that IDers are not to be taken seriously. In ‘the best of all possibe worlds’ that should be true. However, it doesn’t take much forethought to figure out what will be taught in public schools in the emerging Christian Republic of South Carolina which has been planned and has emigration underway.

IDers are a generation or so ahead of the last generation of the Enlightenment in political organization, financial resources, and media savvy. As control of the judiciary is eroded and the media has been cowed into silence (with a few notable exceptions, but that will all too soon be taken care of), who will the ACLU and other fading voices of reason appeal to for relief from the darkness?

Taken them (IDers et al) seriously. They do.

And Behe writes, “…biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions.”

And what is the point of this statement? - of course they do, and for well-understood reasons.

OK, a few comments: I think at this point Behe has developed a habit not to check the primary literature, on principle. How hard must it be for him to open up journals knowing all they do is bring news of new evidence for the evolution of IC systems?

It actually was quite a bit of effort to track down all this stuff. Most of the details are way over any non-specialist’s head anyway (just take a look at Tilgner’s thesis). I have developed a deep ammiration for people who do this job, it must take an amazing amount of patience and attention to detail. Also, much of the paleoentomological literature is in journals like Mitteilungen des Geologisch-Paläontologischen Institutes der Universität Hamburg, and a lot is in the original languages (German, Russian, Chinese). I wouldn’t have been able to do much without the pointers from real entomologists (of course, any errors and omissions are entirely mine).

Besides, Creationists and ID advocates in general have such an ingrained suspicion of scientists, everything is filtered through it anyway: if a taxonomic group is reassessed, it’s to hide something. If an experiment is made to show crypsis has a selective advantage, it must be faulty or faked (peppered moth anyone?), etc. It makes no sense for them to actually check the sources.

That said, I wouldn’t give too much weight to the “insects before plants” thing. I don’t think it was meant to be taken literally, but it was just an oversimplification for the blurb (that won’t of course prevent Creationists from taking it literally and repeat it, I am afraid). The problem is that Behe reflexively believed the original claims, and he shouldn’t have. Ironically, he should have asked Wells (!) for references on Sermonti’s scholarship: as an editor for the translation, Wells and the translator had to correct several of the most obvious errors in the Italian edition.

S. Mgr: I am sure Behe doesn’t give a damn about the literal reading of Genesis: he’s Catholic (so’s Sermonti). If he can show that both “darwinists” and protestant fundamentalists are wrong, he’s probably even happier.

bill: Your trolling posts are just annoying, and no one’s buying. Please just go away, or start posting something sensible.

The oldest phasmid fossils (they go back in Baltic amber to the Tertiary—i.e., about 50 million years ago) look identical to present-day species, showing that no gradations have occurred.”

You would think that the fact that fossils were found in amber would clue him into the fact that there were twigs to imitate. Or maybe he has no idea what amber is…

Mrs. Coulter: Baltic and Dominican Amber is actually relatively recent, the oldest probably from the late Cretaceous, and most of it more recent. When Sermonti was talking about twigs and leaves coming after phasmids, he was referring to Paleozoic fossils (like protophasmids), not amber ones.

I know it’s hard to actually even understand what he’s trying to say at times, but isn’t his prose just charming? ;-)

What could negative knowledge possibly mean? “If I tell it to you, you will know less,”

For all you information theory folks out there, it looks like the ID people are really bleeding edge. The buzz in the quantum physic area is that it appears that “negative knowledge” is a real concept. See: Quantum Information.

If ID is not negative knowledge? Then what is it?

I know it’s hard to actually even understand what he’s trying to say at times, but isn’t his prose just charming? ;-)

Maybe it was charming in the original Italian, but a software installation and debugging guide sounds charming in Italian. I think the problem is that he’s thinking in German, or perhaps worse, thinking in Chinese and writing it down in Romanian, before saying it in German, which is then translated to Italian to smooth over the rough edges.

In English it’s just crap.

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 10, 2005 10:48 PM (e) (s)

“Really, how long are we supposed to take these turkeys seriously?”

Right freakin now!

http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/news/art[…]043409990001

Well the strategy of not giving this the attention to avoid giving ID credibility has failed miserably!

These idiots need to confronted point by point…the facts published and then marketed.

This little victory in Kansas has much larger implications outside of the world of education.

…close to the coleopterans…

Does this mean these two groups shared a common ancestor more recently than did phasmids and some other group? Or is this merely variation within the “bug” kind?

Since when is a little humor “inappropriate”? Or is “fornication” an obscenity in Italian? This is the first time that I can recall seeing a comment censored at PT; I hope it’s not a trend.

ts: I did not edit your post. I am looking into it.

Andrea:

Yes, I realized *my* error after I had already hit post, but I thought I hit cancel in time. Clearly not.

Yes, I realized *my* error after I had already hit post, but I thought I hit cancel in time. Clearly not.

FYI, once you hit a submit button on a web page, you can’t retract it. On some blogs there’s a cancel button, but that just means to remove the edit box; it can’t cancel an action, which has already been transmitted to the server. But there’s no cancel button on PT pages.

Steverino:

There was an article on MSNBC yesterday discussing the declining PhD’s in America compared with Europe and Asia. Evidently, Europe and Asia have surpassed America in the amount of PhD’s produced per year, dramatically different than 1975 when we were ahead.

Declining science in America … ID on the rise. *Shudders*

Unfortunately for them and for the theory, these artful imitators derive no benefit from their mimetic capacity and are prey for their enemies, which have no difficulty in detecting them.

I suspect Sermonti was the victim of a translation error here: it should say “derived no benefit” and “were prey”, refering to the (alleged) protophasmids who lived 100 million years before they had any leaves to hide among. Anyone have the Italian edition handy to check this?

Andrea said:

> “I am sure Behe doesn’t give a damn about the literal reading of Genesis: he’s Catholic (so’s Sermonti). If he can show that both “darwinists” and protestant fundamentalists are wrong, he’s probably even happier.”

Ah! But it really doesn’t matter whether he believes in a literal reading of genesis. Or more to the point, it matters a lot that he doesn’t. Some supporters of the DI and ID in the U.S. do–and they care deeply about it.

This is not a scientific fight where we will gain support by proving them wrong. They don’t care about the evidence. It is political fight where to prevail, we need to divide and weaken our opponents. They arn’t going to disappear anytime in the near future–perhaps never. Statements like this one by Behe are the cracks in the ID “big tent” that can be taken advantage of.

We should be more actively exposing what Behe and others really believe. Even refusals to answer certain direct questions like “do you believe in the literal genesis creation story?” could be damaging. If he wiggles around it or effectively says “no” in any way, he looks bad to fundamentalists. His statements in “black box” about accepting the age of the earth that physicists claim could be used to similar effect among the YEC crowd.

The recent NewsHour show with Behe could have been a lot more effective in this regard. A missed opportunity, I thought.

ts,

I zapped the sentence. You may not have seen previous instances of censorship, but I’ve deleted comments and banned IP addresses of people who crossed the line into accusing IDers of sex crimes. Yours was closer to the line so I just deleted the sentence. Critical remarks, sarcasm, witticisms, expressions of outrage, etc. are fine in the comments, but things that will get the blog banned in public library filtering software and the like are not.

I guess this thread is dead, but .…

This has to be the all-time goofiest creationist argument I have ever heard.

It’s just a variation on the astoundingly obtuse but common logical fallacy “If anything presents a challenge to understanding the evolution of any detail, ID wins by default”. But it’s an especially goofy variation.

They start out trying to address something that really, really, looks to almost anyone like adaptation of an organism to its environment - “insects that look like twigs” in this case.

They make the incredible argument that the adaptation predates the environment.

In principle, in some cases, that could happen (although in this case it almost certainly didn’t). In principle, an adaptation to a previous environment could, by fortunate happenstance, turn out to be useful in a new environment. In fact, this is true of the human brain, among other things. But it isn’t likely to be true for the example they raise.

Then they go and say that this is somehow evidence against evolution.

So essentially, as far as I can tell, their argument here is that the “designer” magically “designed” stick-like insects for no good reason at all, and then many years later, designed sticks.

It just makes no sense at all.

We should be more actively exposing what Behe and others really believe. Even refusals to answer certain direct questions like “do you believe in the literal genesis creation story?” could be damaging. If he wiggles around it or effectively says “no” in any way, he looks bad to fundamentalists. His statements in “black box” about accepting the age of the earth that physicists claim could be used to similar effect among the YEC crowd.

Behe is very much on the record as rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis. The differences among ID supporters in matters of theological interpretations are well known both within and outside the movement. There isn’t much to add there.

Honestly, I don’t think that either YEC or OEC ID supporters are under any illusion that their belief systems and goals are ultimately compatible, but they stick together for the sake of the Big Tent (though some rips have been appearing in recent times - I think the old-fashioned Creationists who thought had their market share cornered are starting to fear for their long-term prospects, and incomes).

harold wrote: So essentially, as far as I can tell, their argument here is that the “designer” magically “designed” stick-like insects for no good reason at all, and then many years later, designed sticks.

No, that’s not Sermonti’s argument. Remember, Sermonti’s ideas are a form of Creationism sprinkled with structuralist philosophy. What he is trying to say here is that there are forms - in this case, the leaf and the twig - that are inherent morphological expressions of nature and its laws. These forms, according to Sermonti, can manifest themselves over and over, independently, in both the biological and physical worlds. (Note that there are known cases in which something like this does happen, usually for reasonably well understood causes: think of diatoms and certain crystals, or instances of convergent evolution.) If that’s the case, nothing would preclude twig-like insects to appear before twigs, and leaf insects before leaves.

I can’t tell for sure what Sermonti really thinks (he’s an utterly confused thinker if I ever encountered one), but I guess he would argue that, if a form as complex as the leaf (and not just any leaf, but leaves of very specific shapes) can be the result of a sort of “embedded information”, instead of adaptation, then any complex morphology can be explained the same way (by what he coily calls “metaphorical morphic fields”).

Problem is, his facts are wrong. Shoddily and lazily so.

Sermonti’s reflects some of the late work of Rene Thom. Like Thom, he has a pretty shaky knowledge of ordinary biology. Thom wasn’t beyond making elementary errors like claiming that stick insects are closely related to beetles–years ago I was hired to do a last minute copy edit on a translation of one of Thom’s books and ended up having a comically noisy argument with him over the phone about which invertebrates belong in which phyla. To be fair, the whole thrust of Thom’s approach discounts the importance of phylogeny and therefore taxonomy. He and Sermonti follow D’Arcy Thompson in focusing on explanations based on formal rather than effective causes. They don’t give a damn about history.

Peter wrote: I suspect Sermonti was the victim of a translation error here: it should say “derived no benefit” and “were prey”, refering to the (alleged) protophasmids who lived 100 million years before they had any leaves to hide among. Anyone have the Italian edition handy to check this?

OK, I checked the Italian version, and Sermonti is referring to existing phasmids. In the original, he actually attributes the claim to “(G. Montalenti)”, i.e. - I suspect - Giuseppe Montalenti, a very well-respected geneticist and evolutionary biologist, who died over a decade ago. Characteristically, Sermonti fails to cite any work by Montalenti in the book’s skimpy bibliography, and the only paper about phasmids Montalenti ever wrote, that I can find, is: MONTALENTI, G. & FRATINI, L. (1959): Observations on the spermatogenesis of Bacillus rossius (Phasmoidea). XV International congress of Zoology Proceedings, London. pp. 749-750. which doesn’t seem to deal with crypsis. I don’t think I can verify Sermonti’s claim any further, but I’ll look into it some more when I have some time.

This has to be the all-time goofiest creationist argument I have ever heard.

Pffft. ICR was making the very same sort of arguments thirty years ago.

As I’ve noted before, DI offers nothing — nothing at all whatsoever – that isn’t simply plagiarized from pre-Aguillard creation “science”.

people who crossed the line into accusing IDers of sex crimes

Ok, perhaps I should have referred to the unseemliness of heavy petting in public, instead of the illegality of taking it further. In either case, it was a joke, not an accusation.

things that will get the blog banned in public library filtering software and the like

If that’s your concern, then you should edit the same word out of my query to Andrea.

Comment #42181

Posted by uh…ttyl or something on August 11, 2005 01:30 PM (e) (s)

Declining science in America … ID on the rise. *Shudders*

Absolute decline, or just relative?

Andrea Bottaro Wrote:

Note also his references for the whole story: a 1954 lay book and an unnamed “reputable magazine” [4]. How about actual scientific sources? None. Real, live entomologists? Sermonti says he asked, but they preferred “to gloss over the phasmids”. More likely, he just didn’t like their answers.

In all fairness, I found this on a website: http://perso.wanadoo.fr/philippe.le[…]phasmids.htm

“The taxonomy of phasmids is complex. It is a little studied subject due to the fact that there are no professionals working full-time on the subject. For some time now, a group of amateurs have undertaken to revise some Genera and Subfamilies, by inventory studies though fieldtrips and museum visits.

Reference works are rare and often very old. Some species have several names or are simply described by only two or three lines in books written in latin and are often not illustrated. The systematic studies have evolved and reclassification of species is sometimes necessary. One of the main problems lies in the poor preservation of collections in Museums, which results in some types being partially or totally destroyed. It is therefore sometimes necessary to define lectotypes or neotypes. The access to collections is sometimes difficult, especially when they are geographically very spaced out. Thus to complicate this work, some geographical regions (such as the Caribbean Islands) have been little studied and the bibliography is almost non-existent.”

The quote about the uncertainty with phasmid taxonomy is misleading because most of the controversy about this group has to do with its subdivisions and not its affinities with other orders. Anybody who has experience with living walking sticks recognizes their obvious kinship with saltatoria (i.e. grasshoppers and similar insects). They certainly aren’t very closely related to holometabolous insects, the insects that undergo complete metamorphosis–beetles, wasps, ants, house flies, butterflies, moths, etc. If you’re interested in the state of the real debate about these issues, check out chapters 20 and 21 of Assembling the Tree of Life, ed Cracraft and Donoghue, Oxford Press 2004.

I still don’t understand what this has to do with ducks?

Are ducks creationists? Is this due to poorer education opportunities amongst Anatidae than other aquatic members of Aves?

Enquiring minds want to know.

No, it’s due to poorer education amongst the people who are Confused, regardless of their opportunities.

Hey Jaime,

Thanks for posting the link to the tracks worked on by track and avian-locomotion expert Steve Gatesy. The same link also has a very nice and large collection of photographs as well. By the way, did you see the link to the “The Triassic - Jurassic Sandpit” http://digsfossils.com/fossils/foot[…]sandpit.html ?

This guy took pictures of bird prints formed on wet sand, in it’s various stages of drying, and is trying to (I guess) demonstrate how deformed prints are made. One bird trackway is deformed and looks like a manprint. Being that these are not underprints, he is showing that a three toed bird can form a print that looks like a sauropod, and even a human. Cool stuff.

Mark

There was a group of gymnosperms common duing the Permian called the gigantopterids that had exceedingly angiosperm-like leaves. So, angiopserm-like insects during the Permian would not be an anomaly anyway.

There was a group of gymnosperms common duing the Permian called the gigantopterids that had exceedingly angiosperm-like leaves. So, angiosperm-like insects during the Permian would not be any problem at all for evolutionary theory. These fools should read an introductory paleobotany textbook sometime.

Re “I still don’t understand what this has to do with ducks?”

Well, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

(I’ll be ducking for cover now.)

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This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on August 10, 2005 9:47 PM.

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