Sternberg and the “smear” of Creationism

| 169 Comments

One of the items in the list of offenses Richard Sternberg claims to have suffered at the hands of his Smithsonian colleagues and the “Darwinian orthodoxy” after the publication of the Meyer paper is the accusation of being a “Young Earth Creationist”. However, the record shows that, at the time, the accusation was hardly a purposeful smear aimed at unfairly tarnishing Sternberg’s reputation, but a reasonable conclusion based on the available information. More below.

The claim that Sternberg was a Young Earth Creationist stemmed in large part from the discovery that Sternberg has been, for several years, on the Editorial Board of a Young-Earth Creationist newsletter, the “Occasional Papers of the Baraminology Study Group” (OPBSG). Baraminology is a Creationist pseudoscientific version of taxonomy, which focuses on the supposedly unabridgeable differences between organisms to identify the Biblical “created kinds”. The Baraminology Study Group (BSG) has seat at the Young-Earth Creationist William Jennings Bryan College in Dayton, TN, and as far as I can tell it includes, besides Sternberg, only Young-Earth Creationists. A requirement for BSG Society membership is that one must be “a Christian accepting the auhority of the Bible … in all areas” (Sternberg is not a Society member).

Since the Meyer-Sternberg affaire broke out, Sternberg has defended himself from the accusation by claiming that his role on the OPBSG Editorial Board was that of a “friendly but critical outsider”. The BSG’s Todd Wood has issued a letter supporting Dr. Sternberg’s assertion to the extent that he (Sternberg) is “not a young-earth creationist” and “does not accept the young earth position” (no comment was made on other forms of Creationism).

While Sternberg could have acted as an outside critical reviewer for the BSG under various roles, he was officially on the Editorial Board of OPBSG, and also actively contributed to the BSG proceedings. For instance, in 2001, Sternberg participated in the “Discontinuity: Understanding Biology in the Light of Creation” conference at Cedarville University. In his presentation there, he argued that process structuralism (a theory, which Sternberg adheres to, about the origin of biological types that aims at understanding “laws of form” underlying morphology, independent of the historical process of evolution) “provides a ready-made, although as yet incomplete, theoretical foundation for baraminological thinking”, and that “Some structuralists are striving to establish a “rational systematics”… that would reflect the ‘Plan of Creation’.” His talk drew an unreservedly enthusiastic review by an attending Young-Earth Creationist, writing for the “Creation Science Dialogue”. [Incidentally, Sternberg’s take on structuralism sounds a little peculiar to me, as I have always known most major structuralists to definitely accept evolution by common descent, although they disagree with mainstream evolutionary theory that evolution’s historical process, via contingent mutation and adaptation, can reveal how morphology originates. I would have a hard time fitting baraminological theory, which argues for independent supernatural de novo creation of organisms, within the framework of structuralism as it is generally intended. But I am not an expert on structuralism, anyway. Perhaps someone can add to this in the comments.]

Also, right before the Meyer paper was published, Sternberg was the sole author of another paper in OPBSG, presented at the Third BSG Conference “Discovering the Creator”, held at Bryan College. In the abstract, Sternberg argues for a fundamental discontinuity in the fossil transitional forms of cetaceans:

Second, whereas the basal cetaceans are arranged in a complex map-like way to each other, they are only weakly connected to the basilosaurids-dorudontids [extinct primitive cetaceans - AB], and strictly discontinuous with Mysticetes and Odontocetes [moderns cetaceans - AB]. Serious logical problems with the interpretation of “Pseudocetes” as transitional forms are briefly presented.

The lingo and conclusions of the paper are indistibuishable from those of bona fide baraminologist material.

It is therefore hardly a surprise that, when Sternberg was involved in overseeing the publication of the anti-evolution paper by Meyer, people simply assumed that his connection with baraminology was more than that of a “friendly but critical outsider”. (Meyer is himself a Creationist who rejects the evidence for common descent and, as a faculty of Palm Beach Atlantic University, affirms “that man was directly created by God”.)

One may legitimately argue whether the best form of “friendly outside criticism” a scientist can provide to baraminologists is to help them hone their pseudo-scientific methods and arguments about the impossibility of evolution, and thus reinforce their cranky beliefs, as opposed to unequivocally taking the scientific position of arguing for the evidence that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, that a world-wide flood never occurred and that the fossil and molecular records are definitive evidence that biological species changed across time. Perhaps Sternberg did that as well, and the record of such criticisms was expunged from publication of the various BSG conference reports (in which case, Sternberg should have realized his “friendly criticism” was not as welcome as his apparent endorsement).

The issue remains that as the Meyer paper scandal broke, Sternberg’s participation in the BSG proceedings in the relevant public record appeared, for all intents and purposes, genuinely and unconditionally supportive.

Based on the information emerged later, one can accept Sternberg’s and Wood’s word, and agree Sternberg is in fact not a Young-Earth Creationist - I for one am willing to do that. However, in asking for fairness from his colleagues in this respect, Sternberg should reciprocate in kind, and cease making false accusations that the claim he was a closet Young-Earth Creationist was an “outrageous rumor” and a willful attempt to smear him, as opposed to a straightforward and reasonable inference from the overwhelming available evidence in the summer of 2004.

In his dealings with the baraminologists, just like in his mishandling of the Meyer paper review, Sternberg can trade the accusation of being an outright pseudoscientist with that of simply being a scientist with exceptionally bad professional judgement. He can’t however just blame his colleagues for taking his own words and actions at face value.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Gary Hurd for pointing out material and sources, and Nick and Wes for suggestions.

169 Comments

I could use a refresher on the different brands of creationism. Here are the types I am familiar with:

Young Earth Creationism (YEC): The Earth, indeed the entire universe, is less than 10,000 years old; humans were specially created and are not descended from another species. Usually but not always associated with Biblical literalism.

Old Earth Creationism: Accepts the evidence for age of the universe and Earth, but denies common ancestry, particularly between humans and other species

Progressive Creationism: Accepts age of Earth & Universe, and accepts common descent, but believes that a Creator stepped in from time to time to do things that couldn’t be done by evolution alone (I think Behe would probably fall into this group, and Denton as of the time he wrote ‘Evolution: a Theory in Crisis’)

Omphalos, or ‘Last Thursday-ism’: Claims that the Universe is recent, (less than 10,000 years up to last Thursday) but was created with a ‘history’, evidence of past events that didn’t in fact occur, possibly even including memories. Although this is consistent with known evidence and unfalsifiable, it is quite unpopular amongst the zealots because it makes the Creator out to be a trickster.

Bayesian Boufant, FCD: This is a good write-up by Eugenie Scott.

Very useful. Thanks.

Andrea, have you ever hear of the “Velikovsky Affair”? I see an interesting parallel here.

A small bit of information: the term “baramin” is a combination of two Hebrew words. “Bara” means “created”, and “min” means “kind.” If the “kinds” were created, as baraminologists seem to believe, why is Sternberg offended when referred to as a creationist?

If it walketh like unto the duck kind, and it quacketh like unto the kind of the duck, yea and verily I say unto you …

Omphalos, or ‘Last Thursday-ism’: Claims that the Universe is recent, (less than 10,000 years up to last Thursday) but was created with a ‘history’, evidence of past events that didn’t in fact occur, possibly even including memories. Although this is consistent with known evidence and unfalsifiable, it is quite unpopular amongst the zealots because it makes the Creator out to be a trickster.

As an aside, my great-uncle firmly believes that dinosaur bones were created by Satan to confuse humans and lead them astray. He refuses to budge from that viewpoint. He also believes that, if one runs out into the road & throws themselves under a truck, that it was not self-determined; God willed you to do that.

So, yes. I can believe that there are zealots out there who follow the quoted concepts. Which frightens me to no end.

Blast: I know a little about the Velikovsky saga. What aspect exactly parallels Sternberg’s dealing with the Baraminologists?

Mark: Sternberg does not argue baraminologists are not creationists. He’s just saying that he’s not one of them. That is probably true, but sure as heck he did a great imitation of one, up until his dealings with BSG became widely known.

Hey Blast, I believe you were about to show me a front-loaded sequence in the genome of the house mouse that “unfolded” to become the genes in the recently-discovered Super Mice.

Or were you just about to dodge the question. Again.

As an aside, my great-uncle firmly believes that dinosaur bones were created by Satan to confuse humans and lead them astray. He refuses to budge from that viewpoint.

I can top that one — I have had three separate creationists, on three different occasions, inform me, in all seriousness, that flying saucers are actually time machines being used by atheistic scientists to travel back into the past and plant fake fossils in order to manufacture phoney evidence for evolution.

Seriously.

No joke.

If it walketh like unto the duck kind, and it quacketh like unto the kind of the duck, yea and verily I say unto you …

Ah, but the bat is also officially of the bird kind in scripture. So the baraminologists have a rather noticeably macro amount of micro-evolution to explain away at some level or other.

“I have had three separate creationists, on three different occasions, inform me, in all seriousness, that flying saucers are actually time machines being used by atheistic scientists to travel back into the past and plant fake fossils in order to manufacture phoney evidence for evolution.”

Ack! How on earth did you manage to maintain your sanity in the face of such a virulent case of stupidity?

or did you…

Ack! How on earth did you manage to maintain your sanity in the face of such a virulent case of stupidity?

or did you…

(sits in corner and rubs finger rapidly over lips, producing a “b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b” sound)

Does that answer your question? :>

(off topic)

Australian talkback radio tackles ID:

Monday to Friday at 6pm (4pm in WA), repeated at 3am

Should Intelligent Design Be Taught In Our Schools Tuesday 23 August 2005

The theory of intelligent design has reignited debate about evolution by challenging Darwin’s theory. US President George Bush wants it taught in schools. And here it’s won the qualified backing of education minister Dr Brendan Nelson. Should intelligent design be taught in our schools?

http://tinyurl.com/bpgnv

If you are interested in contributing, the contact details are: Fax: 07-3377-5171 Toll-free phone: 1300 22 55 76 - 1300 CALL RN

(These are Australian numbers: you may need to add an area code or something)

I’m just curious: does Andrea have any objective reason to take Wood and Sternberg at their word? Given what Sternberg said in Cedarville, his denials seem implausible. And let’s just say that in my interactions with creationists, a scrupulous devotion to the truth never struck me as one of their more obvious characteristics.

Maybe Sternberg is just angry with the “Young Earth” part of being called a “Young Earth Creationist”. Still, most ID Creationists try to avoid the “creationist” term altogether, unless they are with a sympathetic audience.

What Pierce said. ;c)

ya know, this is just so appropriate to discussions about what motivates ID supporters, i just can’t believe it hasn’t been discussed here before. Has it?

http://www.mercatus.org/pdf/materials/465.pdf

the man himself, trivers, attempts to tackle self deceit from an evolutionary standpoint.

if this hasn’t been discussed before, i would really think we should start a thread to do so.

Maybe Sternberg is just angry with the “Young Earth” part of being called a “Young Earth Creationist”.

I think mostly it’s an attempt to establish, in some sort of legal sense, that ID is not equal to creationism. After all, if ID *is* equal to creationism, then it is already a nonstarter thanks to Maclean and Aguillard.

Of course, if ID is *not* creationism,. I’d sure like an IDer to explain to me why all of the ID arguments offered — every single one of them – are nothing but plagiarized versions of standard ICR boilerplate first put out three decades ago.

As an aside, my great-uncle firmly believes that dinosaur bones were created by Satan to confuse humans and lead them astray. He refuses to budge from that viewpoint.

I’ve also heard that dinosaur bones were invented by GOD in order to test humans’ faith. Is there a theological means of choosing between these two explanations? Or are they both true?:-)

As an aside, my great-uncle firmly believes that dinosaur bones were created by Satan to confuse humans and lead them astray. He refuses to budge from that viewpoint.

Or, alternately, Kent Hovind thinks dinosaurs were real (breathed fire, even), but all drowned in Noah’s flood.

Obviously, these two theories can’t be reconciled. Would passionate believers in either one of these theories be admantly opposed to the other? Would this be the basis of a horribly acrimonious theological debate?

“I can top that one —- I have had three separate creationists, on three different occasions, inform me, in all seriousness, that flying saucers are actually time machines being used by atheistic scientists to travel back into the past and plant fake fossils in order to manufacture phoney evidence for evolution.”

How can that be, since the rapture starts in mid-October.

Andrea: The way in which the scientific community vilified someone who wanted to publish something that did not fit the prevailing orthodoxy, and, which had religious overtones.

I must say, I found the entire affair almost unbelievable. But my view of scientific “objectivity” has grown beyond the naive stage.

GWW Wrote:

Hey Blast, I believe you were about to show me a front-loaded sequence in the genome of the house mouse that “unfolded” to become the genes in the recently-discovered Super Mice.

Lenny, I just ran across the Table of Contents for “No Free Lunch,” by Dembski. He has a chapter on “Front-Loading.” Maybe you can read it. Front-loading, as much as you want to disparage it, flows from information theory. It also has its parallels in nature, specifically, in bird feather evolution.

You’re one of the few persons I know that is addicted to sarcasm. Hope you got your fix.

I think Sternberg’s association with YECs is an example of a phenomenon I’ve noticed before: cranks attract cranks. Cranks often feel comfortable in the company of other cranks, even if they don’t share their particular brand of crankery, because they share a high tolerance for nonsense and a feeling of persecution by the establishment.

“I can top that one —- I have had three separate creationists, on three different occasions, inform me, in all seriousness, that flying saucers are actually time machines being used by atheistic scientists to travel back into the past and plant fake fossils in order to manufacture phoney evidence for evolution.”

How can that be, since the rapture starts in mid-October.

Oh, but those dastardly atheistic scientists have had flying saucer-shaped time machines for a while now, and they have been using them to plant the same fossils they then dig up. Didn’t you get the memo? No wonder I have surplus of time machines in my back room (it’s bigger in the inside than in the outside, so I confortably fit several hundreds). Don’t worry, you’ll soon receive yours in the mail, so you can colaborate on our massive evolution hoax before rapture.

Joking aside, you know, there is nothing we can really do to help those people. Anyone able to believe such ridiculous statements will never budge their position. I doubt they would believe God if He came down and patiently explained reality to them. They’d probably say it was the devil in diguise.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf, who objects to being left outside flying time machines for not being an atheistic scientist and demands freedom for theistic scientists to collaborate

The most likely explanation is that Sternberg is an OEC. An OEC could be largely or even entirely in agreement with “Baraminology”. An OEC could not honestly join the BSC because that requires an explicit commitment to YEC - but an OEC could support it without making reference to the age of the Earth. And this is what Sternberg has done.

OEC is still creationist though (NB the hint is in the name!).

Lenny, I just ran across the Table of Contents for “No Free Lunch,” by Dembski. He has a chapter on “Front-Loading.” Maybe you can read it.

Read it. It’s crap, just like all the rest of Dembski’s drivel.

Now quit changing the subject and answer my question. Where in the mouse genome can we see the front-loaded sections that became the genes found in the Super Mice.

Indeed, where can we see an example of ANY frontloaded information in any genome. Any at all.

Andrea: The way in which the scientific community vilified someone who wanted to publish something that did not fit the prevailing orthodoxy, and, which had religious overtones.

Well, with regard to the first, it’s definitely plain b.s.. Sternberg himself has authored papers that are critical of neo-darwinian theory. For instance, this one passed peer-review in a significantly better journal than PBSW, and was published 2 years before Meyer. And nothing happened. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of papers that do not fit the “prevailing orthodoxy” published in science journals every single year. Not only their authors are not vilified (unless their science sucks), they sometimes carve themselves a niche and make a living out of it (search Pubmed for “Jablonka E”). More power to them, if they have something interesting to contribute.

As for the second, of course scientists get upset at transparent attempts to sneak in religion under the guise of science, especially where the “science” part is as bad as that in Meyer’s screed. Or are you of the idea that scientists should accept any sort of religious non-sense into their journals, just because it conforms to majority opinion?

If any religionist suggests that human time travel is possible (atheist or otherwise), they have just eliminated any need whatever for a god, because the “creation of life” could then be a closed loop, with humans going back in planting the seeds of life, which evolve into humans, which go back to…and so on, in a Nietzsche-style eternal recurrence. Poof…god disappears in a cloud of logic, just like in Doug Adams.

By the way, Kesh, your great-uncle is absolutely right about human determinism, if he believes in an omnipotent and omniscient creator who set the boundary conditions in full knowledge of how everything would play out. The weird thing is that his god apparently leaves Satan to frolic, installing fake fossils. And to what purpose? If got determines everything humans do, this would presumably include their faith or lack of it…so what would the point possibly be in leaving Satan free to play trickster, when the outcome of the prank is entirely controlled by God?

Kesh, I’m not suggesting for an instant that you think any of that stuff makes sense. I just marvel at what passes for reason, or even faith, in some people’s life. It’s possible to believe things without evidence, I think, without tossing every last vestige of thought overboard at the same time.

Augray Wrote:

And even if one accepts the Jones et al. paper at face value, that’s just one feature. Did you have any others in mind?

Well, I did quote two articles, didn’t I? And the second article did mention the discrepancies in the digits and teeth. It seems as though I did have others in mind, right?

Augray Wrote:

The question of whether birds originated from theropods is a separate issue from the identification of Caudipteryx. But on the former topic, his complaint about digit homologies is puzzling, considering that variation in digit homologies are known to occur within the Kiwi (Wagner, G. P., & J. A. Gauthier. 1999. 1,2,3 = 2,3,4: A solution to the problem of the homology of the digits in the avian hand. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 96:5111-5116).

Now you seem to have an expertise in this area which I welcome. I’ll leave it to the experts to fight it out over these features. But, again, the origin of the discussion about Caudipteryx had to do with it being a “missing link”. So, presuming on your expertise, do you, or, do you not, think that Caudipteryx is a “missing link”? And, if so, between what and what.

Augray Wrote:

On what basis do you claim that all the information for the modern bird feather was “present at the beginning”? Prum and Brush state that:

Prum and Brush: feathers were “exapted” for their aerodynamic function only after the evolution of substantial developmental and structural complexity. That is, they evolved for some other purpose and were then exploited for a different use.

On the basis of the Prum and Brush having to invent a word, “exapted.” We don’t even know what the word means. Obviously it is related to “adapted”, but what does it really mean. The authors are forced to invent the word because ordinary Darwinian “assumptions” couldn’t explain the “proto” feathers that they had to deal with. The possibility of “front-loading” becomes evident when you consider that if the “proto” feather had not started out as a tubular structure, this would have precluded the emergence of the modern feather. The question then is: how did Nature know that the modern feather was coming? You might try and side-step this vexing question by saying, as do the authors, that “…they evolved for some other purpose and were then exploited for a different use. …”, but, it seems to me, this is not a satisfactory answer. The answer evades the question as to “why” the ‘tubular’ structure arose in the first place. If the purpose was evident, we can be sure the authors would have told us about it. So their answer is basically, “We know the ‘proto’ feather didn’t arise specifically for flight. It was simply later ‘exapted’. Yet, we don’t really know why ‘proto’ feathers arose.” So, it is an argument from ignorance. Therefore, the authors simply “believe” that there indeed was a “selective” pressure present bringing about the “proto” feather, but they, nevetheless, don’t KNOW why. I believe it was “front-loading”, and therefore the fully formed modern feather simply came about in stages–that is, it “unfurled”, serving various purposes along the way. You choose to believe Darwin; I don’t. But “front-loading” fits the facts–and, without the burden of trying to figure out what “evoked” the early stages of the feather. Only if you’re wedded to materialism does the “front-loading” present problems. Thus, it’s not about science; it’s about philosophy. Aren’t both Dembski and Meyers philosophers?

Augray Wrote:

Also, Prum and Brush do not state that Darwinian mechanisms caused them problems. Rather, they claim that neo-Darwinian approaches to the origin of feathers get in the way of determining their true origins.

This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. Remember, they had to invent a new word.

Augray Wrote:

Assumptions about the path that evolution took to produce flight feathers get in the way of investigations to determine the route that was actually taken. This would be similar to your assumption of front-loading, since such a belief would bring research in this area to a halt.

I’m not sure why this would bring research to a halt. Whether you believe Darwinism the better explanation of ‘evolution’, or whether you believe that ID is the better explanation, BOTH accept the “fact” of ‘evolution’; that is, that organic forms have changed over time as is evidenced by the fossil record. IDists don’t question that. (YEC do. So take that argument up with them.) So, “changing forms” is a given, either way. Now, given that we, as humans, are curious animals, it is only natural for us to ask questions about how these changes came about. Now, if I really believed that God brought about every species directly–then there is nothing to investigate. But if, instead, I believe that God in some way “infused” his intelligence into organic forms as they developed over time (a view that I, more or less, take), then I am still naturally curious as to what “mechanisms” He may have employed. And finding out the various “steps” that were taken, trying to sort out the interrelationship between these steps, is still of great interest. We might not, as humans, be able to “know” everything; but why not try and find out as much as we can? So, I don’t see why ID brings things to a halt. Will there be places where “forms” are “irreducibly complex”? Yes, there will be? Will that prove that God exists? Well, so far it hasn’t. So why will it in the future? After all, faith is a gift. If we don’t want it, we can always throw it away ( to our sorrow).

Hey Blast, why is the Super Mouse not an example of frontloading, and how can you tell?

What IS an example of frontloading, and how can you tell?

(sound of crickets chirping)

Yep, that’s what I thought, Blast.

But if, instead, I believe that God in some way “infused” his intelligence into organic forms as they developed over time (a view that I, more or less, take), then I am still naturally curious as to what “mechanisms” He may have employed. And finding out the various “steps” that were taken, trying to sort out the interrelationship between these steps, is still of great interest. We might not, as humans, be able to “know” everything; but why not try and find out as much as we can? So, I don’t see why ID brings things to a halt. Will there be places where “forms” are “irreducibly complex”? Yes, there will be? Will that prove that God exists? Well, so far it hasn’t. So why will it in the future? After all, faith is a gift. If we don’t want it, we can always throw it away ( to our sorrow).

So much for that whole “ID is science and isn’t religious” thingie, huh.

Thanks, Blast, for making it so crushingly clear that IDers are just lying to us when they claim to be SCIENCE and NOT religious apologetics. If we pay your expenses, are you willing to come to Dover and testify to that under oath?

I believe

Why on earth should anyone care about your uneducated uninformed opinion on the matter, Blast?

it was “front-loading”, and therefore the fully formed modern feather simply came about in stages—that is, it “unfurled”

From what?

How?

How can you tell?

Or do you just want everyone to take your Divine Word for it, Blast?

RDLF Wrote:

Thanks, Blast, for making it so crushingly clear that IDers are just lying to us when they claim to be SCIENCE and NOT religious apologetics.

Lenny, what I wrote happens to be my personal belief. Fred Hoyle thought Darwinsim was poppycock–and he was basically an atheist. Dave Scott is an atheist; but his rational mind tells him that ID makes sense. Maybe he thinks some alien intelligence “infused” intelligence into biological forms. Who knows?

But ID is NOT, per se, “apologetics.” ID doesn’t make the claim that God did it. It makes the claim that biological life can be best explained ONLY by invoking some intelligent agency. I just don’t happen to believe in aliens.

RDLF Wrote:

How can you tell?

Because I have a rational mind.

Blast says he has a rational mind, and his response is “But this is eleven.”

Lenny, what I wrote happens to be my personal belief.

Nobody CARES about your “personal belief”, junior. (shrug)

Does ID have something scientific to say, or doesn’t it. Yes or no. If it does, then quit waving your arms and just SHOW IT TO US. If it doesn’t, then what the hell are you griping about?

BlastfromthePast Wrote:

On the basis of the Prum and Brush having to invent a word, “exapted.” We don’t even know what the word means. Obviously it is related to “adapted”, but what does it really mean. The authors are forced to invent the word because ordinary Darwinian “assumptions” couldn’t explain the “proto” feathers that they had to deal with.

Actually, we do have a very good idea of what exapt means. According to that link, the origin of that word is tied to Stephen Gould and an associate and dates to a 1982 paper, Stephen J. Gould and Elizabeth Vrba “Exaptation - a missing term in the science of form,” Paleobiology 8 (1982). I am not certain that the source I cite is accurate as to the origin of the term, but certainly it can be verified, and at the very least could not have been invented later. Since the paper by Prum and Brush was written in 2002, they certainly did not invent a word first introduced to the literature at least 20 years earlier, especially since they are using the same definition as Gould and Vrba did.

If you are still confused as to the definition, exapt means to use an existing structure for a new function. For non-biological examples of exaption, rent a few episodes of MacGuyver - first season is now out on DVD.

Comment #45795

Posted by darwinfinch on August 30, 2005 06:35 PM (e) (s)

Blast says he has a rational mind, and his response is “But this is eleven.”

LOL

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Augray wrote: And even if one accepts the Jones et al. paper at face value, that’s just one feature. Did you have any others in mind?

Well, I did quote two articles, didn’t I? And the second article did mention the discrepancies in the digits and teeth. It seems as though I did have others in mind, right?

The statement of yours that launched this line of inquiry was:

When you have a form [Caudipteryx] that has anatomical features that are very similar to modern birds, and that has very nearly modern feathers (my understanding—I could be wrong), then how does that provide a “missing link.”

What aspects of the digits of Caudipteryx are similar to modern birds? What aspects of the teeth of Caudipteryx are similar to modern birds? You’re aware that no modern birds have teeth, right?

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Augray wrote: The question of whether birds originated from theropods is a separate issue from the identification of Caudipteryx. But on the former topic, his complaint about digit homologies is puzzling, considering that variation in digit homologies are known to occur within the Kiwi (Wagner, G. P., & J. A. Gauthier. 1999. 1,2,3 = 2,3,4: A solution to the problem of the homology of the digits in the avian hand. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 96:5111-5116).

Now you seem to have an expertise in this area which I welcome. I’ll leave it to the experts to fight it out over these features.

But you seem to have no problem citing them. Could it be that you don’t really understand the issues involved?

BlastfromthePast wrote: But, again, the origin of the discussion about Caudipteryx had to do with it being a “missing link”. So, presuming on your expertise, do you, or, do you not, think that Caudipteryx is a “missing link”? And, if so, between what and what.

The term “missing link” is rather outdated, if not downright misleading. For instance, we can never know if the creature whose remains make up any particular fossil, when living, left any descendents. Similarly, we can never know whether any species left any descendents. After all, it might have been a closely related, yet unknown species that gave rise to a lineage. That being said, a relatively generalized outline would point out that Caudipteryx has fewer traits associated with living birds than Archaeopteryx, but more than Sinosauropteryx.

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Augray wrote: On what basis do you claim that all the information for the modern bird feather was “present at the beginning”? Prum and Brush state that:

Prum and Brush: feathers were “exapted” for their aerodynamic function only after the evolution of substantial developmental and structural complexity. That is, they evolved for some other purpose and were then exploited for a different use.

On the basis of the Prum and Brush having to invent a word, “exapted.” We don’t even know what the word means. Obviously it is related to “adapted”, but what does it really mean. The authors are forced to invent the word because ordinary Darwinian “assumptions” couldn’t explain the “proto” feathers that they had to deal with.

When you state that “We don’t even know what the word means” are you using the royal “we”? Because I’m familiar with the term, even if you’re not. Take a look at this explanation. See also Kevin Vicklund’s comment.

BlastfromthePast wrote: The possibility of “front-loading” becomes evident when you consider that if the “proto” feather had not started out as a tubular structure, this would have precluded the emergence of the modern feather. The question then is: how did Nature know that the modern feather was coming?

Why on Earth do you assume that Nature knew that the modern feather was coming?

BlastfromthePast wrote: You might try and side-step this vexing question by saying, as do the authors, that “…they evolved for some other purpose and were then exploited for a different use.…”, but, it seems to me, this is not a satisfactory answer. The answer evades the question as to “why” the ‘tubular’ structure arose in the first place. If the purpose was evident, we can be sure the authors would have told us about it. So their answer is basically, “We know the ‘proto’ feather didn’t arise specifically for flight. It was simply later ‘exapted’. Yet, we don’t really know why ‘proto’ feathers arose.” So, it is an argument from ignorance. Therefore, the authors simply “believe” that there indeed was a “selective” pressure present bringing about the “proto” feather, but they, nevetheless, don’t KNOW why.

I would point out that you don’t KNOW either. So far, all I’ve seen from you is the assertion that feathers were front-loaded. And now the obvious question is: why? At least Prum and Brush outline scenarios that can be tested, and in fact, have been tested. What tests do you propose to test your claim of front-loading?

And speaking of arguments from ignorance, ID is entirely an argument from ignorance. IDists can’t imagine how everyday natural forces could shape life, so there must have been a designer.

BlastfromthePast wrote: I believe it was “front-loading”, and therefore the fully formed modern feather simply came about in stages—that is, it “unfurled”, serving various purposes along the way. You choose to believe Darwin; I don’t. But “front-loading” fits the facts—and, without the burden of trying to figure out what “evoked” the early stages of the feather. Only if you’re wedded to materialism does the “front-loading” present problems. Thus, it’s not about science; it’s about philosophy. Aren’t both Dembski and Meyers philosophers?

How does materialism present problems for front-loading? After all, extraterrestrials might have front-loaded the feather. The problem with your front-loading claim is that it’s unparsimonious. Why invoke an extra agent when none is needed?

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Augray wrote:

Also, Prum and Brush do not state that Darwinian mechanisms caused them problems. Rather, they claim that neo-Darwinian approaches to the origin of feathers get in the way of determining their true origins.

This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. Remember, they had to invent a new word.

It’s a huge distinction. “Darwinian mechanisms” refers to a purported mechanism of evolution. The neo-Darwinian approaches that Prum and Brush complain about are scenarios proposed by other researchers.

BlastfromthePast wrote:

Augray wrote: Assumptions about the path that evolution took to produce flight feathers get in the way of investigations to determine the route that was actually taken. This would be similar to your assumption of front-loading, since such a belief would bring research in this area to a halt.

I’m not sure why this would bring research to a halt. Whether you believe Darwinism the better explanation of ‘evolution’, or whether you believe that ID is the better explanation, BOTH accept the “fact” of ‘evolution’; that is, that organic forms have changed over time as is evidenced by the fossil record. IDists don’t question that. (YEC do. So take that argument up with them.) So, “changing forms” is a given, either way.

Actually, most IDists seem to have a enormous problem with the idea that “organic forms have changed over time”. Jonathan Wells does, and you seem too as well. You stated that “Caudipteryx causes more problems for evolutionary theory than if it weren’t there” but I fail to see why it would cause any less of a problem for the idea that “organic forms have changed over time”.

BlastfromthePast wrote: Now, given that we, as humans, are curious animals, it is only natural for us to ask questions about how these changes came about. Now, if I really believed that God brought about every species directly—then there is nothing to investigate. But if, instead, I believe that God in some way “infused” his intelligence into organic forms as they developed over time (a view that I, more or less, take), then I am still naturally curious as to what “mechanisms” He may have employed. And finding out the various “steps” that were taken, trying to sort out the interrelationship between these steps, is still of great interest. We might not, as humans, be able to “know” everything; but why not try and find out as much as we can? So, I don’t see why ID brings things to a halt. Will there be places where “forms” are “irreducibly complex”? Yes, there will be? Will that prove that God exists? Well, so far it hasn’t.

So, what line of investigation would you recommend?

BlastfromthePast wrote: So why will it in the future? After all, faith is a gift. If we don’t want it, we can always throw it away ( to our sorrow).

What does that have to do with anything?

But you seem to have no problem citing them. Could it be that you don’t really understand the issues involved?

Dude, he never even **heard** of _Caudipteryx_ until *I* told him about it. Right after he finished telling me all about his, uh, “extensive study of evolution”. (snicker) (giggle) (howls of laughter)

To give Blast a hint as to why “protofeathers” (that is, long, thin, tubular structures that cover the body) are selectable (note - this is just one possibility), he might want to look up the reason why polar bears are white (or occasionally green).

Yo, Blast, how does it help either your ID or your “front-loading” “theories” if Caudipteryx, as an assertedly ancient flightless bird, lies between dinosaur-birds and modern birds? (Instead of between on the feathered-dino side of the dino-bird transition?) It’s still a “transitional” fossil that represents evolution in action either way, right?

In any event, the latest thinking seems to be coming back around towards a feathered-dino interpretation: http://app.pan.pl/acta50/app50-101.pdf Dyke, G.J. and Norell, M.A. 2005, Caudipteryx as a non-avialan theropod rather than a flightless bird, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 50 (1): 101-115.

To return to the larger question again: how does a dispute between evolutionary biologists as to where exactly in the scheme of things Caudipteryx fits benefit someone who doesn’t believe that evolution mechanisms, acting alone (i.e., without external assists from “design mechanisms”–like front-loading?), can generate significant change between species and lineages. I mean, either Caudipteryx is an example of how theropod dinosaurs evolved feathers and (some of them, eventually) flight or it’s an example of how the quite-recently-evolved feathered and flying birds–wherever they came from–were then able to quite quickly re-evolve into flightless forms to opportunistically fill ground-living opportunities.

And, once you’ve chewed on that one awhile, why don’t you get around to telling us how we would recognize “front-loading” anywhere you claim it occurs? SuperMice. Caudipteryx. I don’t care, just anywhere you like…

Augray Wrote:

But you seem to have no problem citing them. Could it be that you don’t really understand the issues involved?

If you search this post, you’ll see that it wasn’t I who brought up Caudipteryx. Rather, Lenny Flank, the broken record that he is, raised the issue again—left over from another post. There he wanted to insinuate that Caudipteryx was a “missing link.” My reply, including the citations, simply indicates that that is not so. As Gould and Olsen argued, and as Feduccia argues as well, Caudipteryx falls within the bird lineage. They certainly don’t consider it a “missing link.” When I asked you, point-blank, if you thought it was a “missing link”, you basically ‘punted’. You said that the term is “rather outdated, if not downright misleading.” Well, why don’t you tell Lenny Flank that. I would appreciate it.

Now, from your posts, I would take you for a ‘cladist.’ I’m sure you have plenty of arguing you want to do with Feduccia et. al. about “ghost lineages” and such, and so, as I said earlier, I’ll leave it to the experts to argue their points.

Augray wrote:

On what basis do you claim that all the information for the modern bird feather was “present at the beginning”? Prum and Brush state that:

Prum and Brush:

feathers were “exapted” for their aerodynamic function only after the evolution of substantial developmental and structural complexity. That is, they evolved for some other purpose and were then exploited for a different use.

BlastfromthePast wrote:

On the basis of the Prum and Brush having to invent a word, “exapted.” We don’t even know what the word means. Obviously it is related to “adapted”, but what does it really mean. The authors are forced to invent the word because ordinary Darwinian “assumptions” couldn’t explain the “proto” feathers that they had to deal with.”

Augray then wrote:

When you state that “We don’t even know what the word means” are you using the royal “we”? Because I’m familiar with the term, even if you’re not. Take a look at this explanation. See also Kevin Vicklund’s comment.

Well, the reason I used the royal “we”, is exactly because Prum and Brush used quotation marks. That’s a bit unusual if the word is already in use. I certainly hadn’t heard it before. I see that Gould is attributed with its coining. (More on that later.)

Augray Wrote:
BlastfromthePast Wrote:

The possibility of “front-loading” becomes evident when you consider that if the “proto” feather had not started out as a tubular structure, this would have precluded the emergence of the modern feather. The question then is: how did Nature know that the modern feather was coming?

Why on Earth do you assume that Nature knew that the modern feather was coming?

I addressed that issue in what followed. You simply broke up my response into two pieces.

I wrote:

The answer evades the question as to “why” the ‘tubular’ structure arose in the first place. If the purpose was evident, we can be sure the authors would have told us about it. So their answer is basically, “We know the ‘proto’ feather didn’t arise specifically for flight. It was simply later ‘exapted’. Yet, we don’t really know why ‘proto’ feathers arose.” So, it is an argument from ignorance. Therefore, the authors simply “believe” that there indeed was a “selective” pressure present bringing about the “proto” feather, but they, nevetheless, don’t KNOW why.

Augray, in response, Wrote:

I would point out that you don’t KNOW either. So far, all I’ve seen from you is the assertion that feathers were front-loaded. And now the obvious question is: why? At least Prum and Brush outline scenarios that can be tested, and in fact, have been tested. What tests do you propose to test your claim of front-loading?

When asked about an example of “front-loading”, I went out on a limb (pardon the pun), and answered that I thought the evolution of the feather represented such an example. Do I KNOW that it does? No. But there is a logic to it that simplifies this thorny problem for Darwinian theory.

I’m now going to go back to Gould’s word ‘exaption.’ Here’s what Gould says about it in his 1982 article with Vrba: “Exaptive possibilities define the ‘internal’ contribution that organisms make to their own evolutionary future.” “Internal” contribution: how interesting! In other words, unlike NS, which acts, supposedly, from the outside to in, ‘exaption’ works from the inside to out.

And here’s what Prum and Brush wrote in their article:

Prum and Brush Wrote:

As a consequence of duplication and direction, the same mechanisms that produce the main vane of the feather result in the division of the posterior new barb locus into two laterally displaced new barb loci, the creation of a second rachis ridge (the hyporachis), and ultimately an entire second vane growing simultaneously from a single follicle.

The “same mechanisms” that produce the main vane ALSO bring about: (1) the division of the posterior new barb locus, (2) the creation of a second rachis ridge, and (3) an entire second vane growing simultaneously from a single follicle. This has the hallmark of what “front-loading” might look like.

Now what is really suggestive is that the feather continues to be a “tubular” structure, meaning that the germs, barbs, barbules, etc. are ALL “tubular” in nature. And, of course, this is what is PRECISELY needed for feathered flight. So, what is “needed” for feathered flight is there from the BEGINNING and CONTINUES throughout.

As for testing, this remains to be done–and it awaits the proper technology. One can only confirm this “front-loading” by comparing genomes. And one can only begin to compare genomes when one has a good idea of what to look for. I don’t think we’re close to that for the time being.

Augray Wrote:

And speaking of arguments from ignorance, ID is entirely an argument from ignorance. IDists can’t imagine how everyday natural forces could shape life, so there must have been a designer.

What a wonderful quote! Yes, you’re right. Indeed, IDists CAN’T imagine how everyday natural forces can shape life; but Darwinists CAN. If you want to equate “imaginings” with “knowledge”, then go right ahead. But such ‘imaginings’ don’t impress me; they don’t even make sense to me.

Augray Wrote:

How does materialism present problems for front-loading? After all, extraterrestrials might have front-loaded the feather. The problem with your front-loading claim is that it’s unparsimonious. Why invoke an extra agent when none is needed?

As Prum and Brush point out, to make Darwinian theory work here with the feathers, you have to use their ‘developmental’ model. They say that there are five stages, more or less, to the development of the feather. If “flight” isn’t the ‘adaptive’ reason for the development, we are now forced to look for four more ‘adaptive’ reasons–other than flight–for the development of the feather. Of course, this is not only not easy, it is very, very unparsimonious. (I think Feduccia points out some of the problems with positing other preadaptive selective pressures.)

Augray Wrote:
BlastfromthePast Wrote:
Augray Wrote:

Also, Prum and Brush do not state that Darwinian mechanisms caused them problems. Rather, they claim that neo-Darwinian approaches to the origin of feathers get in the way of determining their true origins.

This strikes me as a distinction without a difference. Remember, they had to invent a new word.

It’s a huge distinction. “Darwinian mechanisms” refers to a purported mechanism of evolution. The neo-Darwinian approaches that Prum and Brush complain about are scenarios proposed by other researchers.

Well, let me allow Prum and Brush to speak directly. This is what they wrote:

Prum and Brush Wrote:

By emphasizing the reconstruction of a series of functionally and microevolutionarily plausible intermediate transitional states, neo-Darwinian approaches to the origin of feathers have failed to appropriately recognize the novel features of feather development and morphology, and have thus failed to adequately explain their origins. This failure reveals an inherent weakness of neo-Darwinian attempts to synthesize micro and macroevolution.”

Notice the word “synthesize.” Let me point out that “front-loading” does not have this problem. It not only is more parsimonious, but it is integrated, thus avoiding the problems of ‘exaption.’

Augray Wrote:

Actually, most IDists seem to have a enormous problem with the idea that “organic forms have changed over time”. Jonathan Wells does, and you seem too as well. You stated that “Caudipteryx causes more problems for evolutionary theory than if it weren’t there” but I fail to see why it would cause any less of a problem for the idea that “organic forms have changed over time”.

The fossil record makes clear that forms have changed over time. I think the vast majority of IDists see it that way. As to me, when I said that Caudipteryx causes more problems than if it weren’t there, I probably misspoke. (But remember I was simply making an argument against Lenny Flank and his assertion of Caudipteryx as a ‘missing link.’)

I only have a passing interest and passing knowledge of that area. But from what I picked up here and there, my distinct impression was that having more forms than Archeopteryx, surprisingly, created more taxonomic problems than it solved. I think that’s still the case from what I’ve read lately. And I’m not necessarily speaking about Caudipteryx here.

Augray Wrote:

So, what line of investigation would you recommend?

There’s an article in the latest issue of The Scientist by Philip S. Skell where he writes about having canvassed the many scientists he knows who work in evolutionary biology and asking them how important Darwin’s theory was in their research. Almost universally they said that it was of no help at all. Whether you “believe” in neo-Darwinism or in ID, the same basic research goes on. So, I would simply say: “Let them carry on with what they’re doing.” But why can’t they begin to approach their experiments differently by simply asking themselves the question: “If I were designing this organism, this organ, this molecular system–whatever–,how would I have built it? In some cases, surely not in all, this might just prove to be fruiful. It would seem that “science” would be the winner.

And speaking of arguments from ignorance, ID is entirely an argument from ignorance. IDists can’t imagine how everyday natural forces could shape life, so there must have been a designer.

What a wonderful quote! Yes, you’re right. Indeed, IDists CAN’T imagine how everyday natural forces can shape life; but Darwinists CAN. If you want to equate “imaginings” with “knowledge”, then go right ahead. But such ‘imaginings’ don’t impress me; they don’t even make sense to me.

The knowledge claim, explicitly, is “natural forces cannot have shaped the life we see”. What you are stating here is that, not only are you too dense to understand how they can, but you are too dense to understand what an argument from ignorance is or why it’s fallacious. Given that, it is guaranteed that no one’s attempt to explain it to you will get through.

Steviepinhead Wrote:

why don’t you get around to telling us how we would recognize “front-loading” anywhere you claim it occurs? SuperMice. Caudipteryx. I don’t care, just anywhere you like…

I neither claimed that Caudipteryx is an example of “front-loading”, nor did I claim that the SuperMice was. The “feather” is a different matter. You can read my posts to Augray for that.

Steviepinhead Wrote:

Yo, Blast, how does it help either your ID or your “front-loading” “theories” if Caudipteryx, as an assertedly ancient flightless bird, lies between dinosaur-birds and modern birds? (Instead of between on the feathered-dino side of the dino-bird transition?) It’s still a “transitional” fossil that represents evolution in action either way, right?

In any event, the latest thinking seems to be coming back around towards a feathered-dino interpretation:

The problem with Darwinism is that there aren’t enough “transitional” fossils. That’s why, it seems to me, that you either buy into punk-eek, (but there are now problems with neo-Darwinism and the whole idea that “random” “mutations” (which are almost always deleterious) can bring about significant change) or, something like ID. As I’ve stated plenty of times, I’m not so much “for” ID, as I am “against” Darwinism. I do, indeed, think and believe that God was involved. But I believe He did it in such a way that it will be hard for us to “clearly” see how He did it. If God made his handiwork ‘overly’ apparent, then there would be no reason for faith since our reason would demand that we believe. (This is a theological argument for sure; but what I’m trying to say is that science has its own provenance, and that provenance needs to be respected.)

As to “Dino-birds”, I think Alan Feduccia has a very strong argument against the theory. He seems to be hated for holding that position, but his argumentation seems awful sound.

ts (not Tim) Wrote:

The knowledge claim, explicitly, is “natural forces cannot have shaped the life we see”. What you are stating here is that, not only are you too dense to understand how they can, but you are too dense to understand what an argument from ignorance is or why it’s fallacious. Given that, it is guaranteed that no one’s attempt to explain it to you will get through.

I aspire to be plenty smart like you some day. But, in the meantime, let’s point out two things:

First: I was likening Augray’s “imaginings” to HIS “knowings”. I was not asserting an argument from ignorance. I was asserting the insufficiency of mixing the one with the other–even if one is not aware that that is what he’s doing.

Second: If you want to talk about arguments from ignorance, then we have these two positions: (a) the IDist says to the Darwinist: “You’re notion that mostly harmful minute changes can randomly combine in some unknown way to bring about advanced biological structures is absurd.” (b) the Darwinist says to the IDist: “You’re notion that some unseen intelligent power has brought about advanced biological structures is absurd.”

In this stand-off, (b) is much more plausible than (a).

Blast, perhaps you should not focus too much on strawmen. Btw why is b more plausible than a? Where are the calculations?

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This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on August 22, 2005 5:42 PM.

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