No Longer Sleeping in Seattle

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Note: Another guest post from Don Prothero. I have added links, and the references section, where I put some graphics so that readers can see what Prothero is describing. – Nick Matzke

Update: Shermer’s review is now online here, and the audio of the debate is here.

I guess my interview with National Geographic News online last week, and last Monday’s debate with Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg must have really wounded them, because this week I’m the new bete noire of the IDists over at the Discovery Institute. For two years, they completely ignored my 2007 book, Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters even though it pulled no punches in criticizing them, has been on the best-seller list for most of that time, and greatly outsells Meyer’s new book. (Incidentally, they bragged at the debate about how his book had won an award from the Times Literary Supplement. This is false. It turns out that there was a favorable review by Thomas Nagel, a maverick philosopher of morality, not an award by the TLS. My book, on the other hand, DID win the Outstanding Book in Earth Science Award for 2007 from the American Association of Publishers).

In any case, they’ve been attacking me with everything they have this week, with Casey Luskin and Jonathan Wells both weighing in. Normally, it is not worth dignifying their garbage with a response, but in case any of the readers of Pandasthumb.org want to get the straight facts (and not their distorted version), here’s what you should know:

1. Multi-winged insects and Hox genes: when evo-devo came up in Monday’s debate, Meyer and Sternberg began arguing with each other about reconstructions of a 12-winged dragonfly that I had published in my book. They tried to get a laugh by claiming that such a bug has never been found. As usual, they completely missed the point of that illustration, and failed to read any of the explanation or discussion in the caption or text. The text clearly points out that the 12-winged dragonfly is a thought experiment, an illustration to show that a simple change in Hox genes allows the arthropods, with their modular body plan of adjustable numbers of segments and interchangeable appendages on each, to make huge evolutionary changes by simple modifications of regulatory genes. This is the aspect of evo/devo that should answer structuralist Sternberg’s objections to Neo-Darwinism, if he only bothered to comprehend it, and solves much of the question over how macroevolutionary changes take place. And it’s not as far-fetched as they tried to make it sound. Homeotic mutant flies with four wings are well documented [known since the early 1900s – NM], and fossil insects with more than two pairs of wings are common as well (Kukalova-Peck, 1978; Raff, 1996).

In a related matter, the post by Wells completely screws up its discussion of four-winged flies. Apparently, he didn’t read the book very carefully either, because it is a well known fact in developmental biology circles that the halteres, the tiny knob-like organs behind the single pair of wings in Diptera, are simply modified wings that now function as balancing organs. The 4-winged homeotic mutants have changed the Hox mutation so that they atavistically recover the ancestral 4-winged insect condition, and never develop halteres. Apparently Wells doesn’t realize that halteres ARE the developmental equivalent of the second pair of wings.

Finally, in the debate, Sternberg and Meyer also mocked the significance of the antennipedia mutation, showing their complete lack of understanding of its significance. This mutation of the Hox genes that control appendage development causes legs to grow on the head of fruit flies where antennae should grow. This is not favorable to the fly, of course (as Meyer and Sternberg mockingly point out), but they missed the point entirely: the antennipaedia mutation demonstrates that arthropod appendages (legs, wings, halteres, pincers, mouthparts, antennae, etc.) are all modular and interchangeable, so a simple Hox mutation can rapidly transform an arthropod with one set of appendages into one with a different set, and make a macroevolutionary change with minimal point mutations required.

2. “Cambrian explosion”: during the debate I pinned down Meyer with one of the blatant lies that creationists often spout: there are supposedly no “transitional fossils” before the “Cambrian explosion.” I put up direct quotes from Meyer et al. (2003) and Meyer (2004) to that effect, then showed the incredibly diversity of pre-trilobite fossils from the Precambrian, from the prokaryotes 3.5 b.y. ago, to the Doushantuo fossils of China (600 m.y. ago) which include embryos of sponges, cnidarians, and several bilaterian groups (Chen et al. 2009), to the multicellular soft-bodied Ediacaran fauna (580-550 m.y. ago), which are clearly large (some over a meter in size) but possess no skeletonized tissues, to the “little shellies” of the first two stages of the Cambrian, which include clear examples of primitive mollusks, sponges, cnidarians, and other groups, but are minimally skeletonized. Only during the third stage of the Cambrian, the Atdabanian (520 m.y. ago) do we see abundantly skeletonized fossils like trilobites. With this preservational advantage of calcified skeletons, the diversity of fossils known begins to increase (mostly in a lot more species of trilobites). The origin of the early members of the major invertebrate phyla is spread between the Precambrian Doushantuo and the Cambrian Atdabanian, spanning 80 million years. Hardly an explosion! I prefer to use the term “Cambrian slow fuse” because that’s how modern paleontologists and biologists understand the data that is now available – but the creationists keep on using the outdated term “Cambrian explosion” because it suits their purposes.

Caught in his lies, Meyer then tried to redefine what he meant by “Cambrian explosion” in 2003 and 2004 to mean ONLY the Atdabanian Stage, and argue about how there are no fossils with complex eyes and other structures before that time. If he actually had any relevant training in paleontology (he has no degree in paleontology or biology, yet insists on writing about the topic without the proper credentials), or if he even bothered to see the outcrops and collect them for himself (I have), he would understand the true situation. Unlike the Middle Cambrian, when we have extraordinarily well preserved fossils like those of the Burgess Shale in Canada, or the Chengxiang fossil in China, we have no similar locality with extraordinary preservation during the first two stages of the Cambrian. If we did, we might see a soft-bodied pre-trilobite arthropod with the precursor of the compound eye, as well as other transitional fossils. The apparent “explosion” that Meyer finds inexplicable is really an issue of preservation (a hit-or-miss proposition we cannot control) plus whatever environmental thresholds that were finally exceeded when the Atdabanian Stage began (most paleontologists and geochemists think it was the amount of oxygen needed to calcify large skeletons). It’s an interesting problem on which hundreds of paleontologists and geologists are actively working and arguing about different hypotheses that might explain it, but certainly no mystery that requires divine intervention.

And the Discovery Institute further shows their inability to keep up with current scientific thinking when they attacked the problem on their site this week. All that Luskin could muster was two or three quotes out of context from almost 20 years ago, long before the Doushantuo and “little shelly” faunas were discovered and fully documented. Since they have no one properly trained in paleontology who actually knows something about fossils, they resort to the quote-mining tactics of the old-fashioned creationists instead.

None of these issues are scientific problems, only problems with creationists who cannot read or comprehend the basic science, or simply don’t want to understand what they read. Judging by how “intelligent design” has faded from media attention since their huge loss in the Dover decision in 2005, and is no longer being pushed on school districts (they try the “teach the controversy” or “balanced treatment” approaches now), the Disco gang is becoming less and less relevant. But if you happen to get in an argument with them, you should know the truth. Meanwhile, we’ll probably see the DI site get bored of attacking me, and back to pushing religious dogmas, attacking global warming, gay rights, stem-cell research, and other extreme right-wing causes that they are so fond of.

References and a few notes [added by NM]

Kukalova-Peck, Jarmila. (1978). Origin and evolution of insect wings and their relation to metamorphosis, as documented by the fossil record. Journal of Morphology, 156: 53-125. doi: 10.1002/jmor.105156010

Raff, Rudolf A. (1998). The Shape of Life: Genes, Development, and the Evolution of Animal Form, University Of Chicago Press, 1-544. Pages 404-417 discuss the evolution of insect wings.

Note: This is the figure from Prothero’s book under discussion:

Prothero_2007_Fig8-18.jpg

90%-plus of the hundreds of other figures in Prothero’s book are of transitional fossils – but nevertheless Wells feels entitled to accuse Prothero of fraud. Says Wells: “Need evidence for Darwinian evolution? Just make it up. That’s the lesson of Donald Prothero’s book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.”

Looking at the references mentioned above tells a different story than Wells. E.g., Figure 12.4, p. 409 of Raff 1998 shows us one of the (incredible!) ancient fossil insects with many pairs of wings (see Kukalova-Peck 1978 for more detailed drawings and references). (By the way, various fossils, and some modern examples, are known of insects showing a third pair of winglike structures, in front of the regular two pairs.)

Raff_1998_Fig12-4_Kukalova.png

Kukalova-Peck’s (1978) original caption (Figure 28, Plate 7, p. 110) for the Paleozoic insect reads:

Typical Paleozoic mayfly, older nymph. Wings were curved backwards, articulated, and probably used for underwater rowing; prothoracic winglets were fused with protergum. Abdomen was equipped with nine pairs of veined wings. Legs were long, cursorial, with five tarsal segments. Protereismatidae; Lower Permian, Oklahoma. After Kukalova (‘68). Original reconstruction from a complete specimen.

A 1985 publication by Kukalova-Peck (Figure 31, p. 946) gives this fossil the description: “Kukalova americana Demoulin, 1970, older nymph”, if people want to look it up.

Figure 12.6 and p. 412 of Raff (1998) gives a more detailed version of the argument made briefly in Prothero (2007):

Raff_1998_Fig12-6_hox_wings.png

See also e.g. Figure 29 of Kirschner et al. 2005.

Cambrian

Chen, J.-Y., Bottjer, D.J., Li, G., Hadfield, M.G., Gao, F., Cameron, A.R., Zhang, C.-Y., Xian, D.-C., Tafforeau, P., Liao, X., and Yin. Z.-J. 2009. Complex embryos displaying bilaterian characters from Precambrian Doushantuo phosphate deposits, Weng’an, Guizhou, China. PNAS v. 105, no. 45, pp. 19056-19060. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904805106

For a good diagram of the various events and time periods in the late Precambrian and early Cambrian, see Figure 1, p. 358 of: Marshall, Charles R. (2006). Explaining the Cambrian “Explosion” of Animals. 34: 355-384. doi: 10.1146/annurev.earth.33.031504.103001

Small version below:

Marshall_2006_Cambrian_diversity.gif

Figure 1 Complex anatomy of the Cambrian “explosion.” Dates from Grotzinger et al. (1995), Landing et al. (1998), Gradstein et al. (2004), and Condon et al. (2005). Neoproterozoic carbonate carbon isotope curve from Condon et al. (2005), Early Cambrian curve largely from Maloof et al. (2005) but also from Kirschvink & Raub (2003), and Middle and Late Cambrian from Montanez et al. (2000). Note the wide range of values in part of the Early Cambrian; this is partly due to geographic variation, but also to variation measured in Morocco. Disparity from Bowring et al. (1993). Diversity based on tabulation by Foote (2003) derived from Sepkoski’s compendium of marine genera (Sepkoski 1997, 2002); all taxa found in the interval, as well as those that range through the interval, are counted. Short-term idiosyncrasies in the rock record can add noise to diversity curves, so to dampen that effect, taxa found in just one interval can be omitted (singletons omitted). Note that standing diversities were much lower than the values shown; many of the taxa found in a stratigraphic interval did not coexist. The boundary crosser curve (M. Foote, personal communication) gives the number of taxa that must have coexisted at the points shown; however, because traditional stratigraphic boundaries are based on times of unusual taxonomic turnover, these estimates may underestimate typical standing diversities.

122 Comments

It seems evident from the nit-picking these DI “Fellows” constantly engage in that they harp on details for a reason. Only a few real experts can be on top of every detail to effectively make IDiots look as uninformed and as wrong as they actually are.

I have occasionally wondered why these IDiots, whether from the ID crowd or from the YEC crowd, don’t often take on physics even though they are as egregiously wrong about that as they are about biology.

Biology is full of excruciating details about all kinds of examples, and one has to have an almost encyclopedic mind or be a specialist in order to keep track of such detail. That is not to say that biology and evolution don’t have overarching principles that tie all this detail together, but it is easier to get into the thickets of minutia (at least that is how it seems to this physicist).

In physics and chemistry (well, maybe not for organic chemistry), there are many fewer concepts to keep track of, and their basic structures are simpler and easier to remember. This makes it all the more remarkable that ID/creationists get these concepts wrong also.

Apparently, in order to not have to confront their misconceptions in physics, they have developed a sort of pseudo-physics in the form of “information theory” where they can invent words and concepts that look like they have their roots in physics, but have the newness of real information theory that they also screw up routinely.

And look at what they do with “philosophy.”

I think this all goes to what comes naturally to them; argue interminably about words and details that nobody can hold them accountable for. The more words and details available for them to play games with, the better they can impress the rubes who hang out on UD and in their churches.

Dunno about the debate, whose audio hasn’t been posted on the Dishonesty Institutes site (and likely won’t be), but the Dishonesty Institute is filing whole bunches of lawsuits in regard to the cancellation of the ID propaganda film they scheduled for airing in California. Boy are they one pissed group of bozos, whiners, ad nauseum.

Nick and Don,

Thanks for posting this addendum, especially both figures. In particular the one on the “Cambrian Explosion” is well worth pondering by anyone who still thinks that there was a “Cambrian Explosion” (Am referring especially of course to delusional creos like Meyer.).

Nick and Don,

I just posted a link to this thread over at my Amazon.com review of “Signature in the Cell”, urging people to take a close look at the Figure 1 pertaining to Cambrian stratigraphy.

For those of you who don’t know my review is the most extensive, most comprehensive negative review of Meyer’s mendacious intellectual pornography. As of this date, it is also the latest review, and is entitled, “Sterling Example of Mendacious Intellectual Pornography from Stephen Meyer”.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Don,

Just to press a point a bit more: As you point out, Meyer has no degree in paleontology or biology, so even in the extremely unlikely (realistically zero-probability) event that he was to visit the sites you mention, he would not be able to understand the scientific significance of what he was looking at. He would simply interpret the evidence using his irrational creationist dogma.

“For two years, they completely ignored my 2007 book, Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters “

Wanna change “completely” with “largely”? They have some warm words of praise here, from 2008: http://www.discovery.org/a/4689

@DavidK: “Dunno about the debate, whose audio hasn’t been posted on the Dishonesty Institutes site (and likely won’t be),”

Well, EvolutionNews claims they’re going to: “The debate video will be made available at some point by American Freedom Alliance, the sponsors of the debate, along with Center for Inquiry, The Skeptics Society and Discovery Institute.” I wait with baited breath.

I can’t imagine why the proposition as set out by the convenor at the start was accepted by the evolutionary side. It totally locks the affirmative into defending on any point the negative wants to choose, without the point being known in advance. This merely commits the affirmative to fighting solely on their opponent’s prepared and chosen ground, without the opportunity to counter or prepare ground of its own, or even to know what grounds it would be fighting on.

The DI zeroed in on this fact from the start, and they were right to do so. After all, their opponents had blithely accommodated them and handed them a huge advantage. Why shouldn’t they use it?

Allowing DI flacks to operate in this fashion simply preordains the result. They had a vast field from which to choose their point of attack. Paleontology, molecular biology, population genetics, you name it. No two people can be full experts on everything in those fields. Nothing surer than that the affirmative is not going to be fully informed on some point or other, if they can’t know in advance what the point will be. The knowledge may simply not exist yet, or even may never exist. If all else fails, you can always deny their qualifications to comment, which is what was happening when Meyer told Prothero that he was a geologist (and hence couldn’t comment on “junk DNA).

Notice, the DI doesn’t have to provide an “adequate” explanation itself. It doesn’t have to provide any explanation at all, and didn’t. All it needs to do is to find some gap, any gap, exploit it, and trumpet “inadequate” for the win.

Which they did.

And I’m sorry to say this, but I think they were right to do that.

The only thing this YEC can add is that the gap thing is a smoking gun. When one thinks of all the great changes from a bug to a bull elephant that must of happened. then it must be tremendous evidence out there to fill in these gaps. Yet instead there is only pinpricks which are interpreted as intermediates. if evolution is not true then there would be no connecting lines. yec and others are confident there are not and address the few brought up. For such great claims of evolution from this to that there must be in the fossil record great evidence for connections. I would add by the way the fossil record itself is based on false concepts in geology of long time accumulation. The error of evolution has not just been biological but relying on geological presumptions. This is unlike physics or dentistry.

Creationists are the only people in the world who could simultaneously think that 6000 years is the entire history of the universe but that the 70 million years of the Cambrian Explosion is “sudden”.

Reinard, though your comment is funny, it ignores the fact that creationists are saying the 70 million years (/assuming/, in their minds, that they occurred/) would be sudden as far as /unguided/ evolution is concerned. There are much better ways to knock creationists.

Robert Byers -

I never got an answer to my question for you. I’ll repeat it. It’s simple.

If every Christian has to accept your literal reading of Genesis or be damned to Hell, then anyone who accepts mainstream science is damned to Hell, but so is anyone who accepts any version of ID/creationism that isn’t explicitly, overtly YEC, and the theory of evolution is no worse than ID. If considering Genesis to be partly symbolic or metaphorical is not a cause of damnation, then accepting mainstream science is not an obstacle to salvation.

In either case, there is no reason for you to favor ID and dispute the theory of evolution, so why do you do it?

Robert: understand first. Criticise second.

Notice, the DI doesn’t have to provide an “adequate” explanation itself. It doesn’t have to provide any explanation at all, and didn’t. All it needs to do is to find some gap, any gap, exploit it, and trumpet “inadequate” for the win.

This is precisely why when Southern Methodist University was setting up a debate in 2006, I insisted on a public policy debate topic with the IDC advocate, Ray Bohlin, taking the affirmative. Bohlin conceded that he could not defend the affirmative statement in his opening remarks. Not only did the Discovery Institute fail to brag about how well Bohlin did, they tried to act like it had never happened just a year later.

As the SMU campus paper put it afterward:

Elsberry’s fifteen minute presentation was nothing but sheer rebuttal and refutation. Claming that ID “isn’t even a science,” the biologist stated that “anti-evolutionists have utilized political action to gain government support for teaching ID in public schools.”

Well, yes, it was a debate, and I was taking the negative, so it is nice to see that they observed me doing my job, even if they didn’t recognize that was what my job was.

Nor will you find the DI saying much if anything about the June 17th, 2001 series of debates in the “Interpreting Evolution” conference at Haverford College, where I was matched with William Dembski, Ken Miller with Michael Behe, and Eugenie Scott with Warren Nord. The video for those went online long, long ago, provided by Adrian Wyard.

Nor has the Dishonesty Institute have much to say about the Spring 2002 Intelligent Design debate at the American Museum of Natural History, moderated by Eugenie Scott, with Ken Miller and Robert Pennock arguing the CON and Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers Mike Behe and Bill Dembski arguing the PRO. To this day Behe forgets how much the audience howled with ample laughter at some of the risible assertions made by both himself and Dembski (As a personal aside, I had strongly objected to holding the debate at AMNH - since I didn’t want such a highly visible platform at ID at one of the world’s preeminent centers for research in evolutionary biology - with several people at AMNH until Ken told me to “shut up”. However, I think both he and Robert Pennock were constrained by the format in which Genie tried to be as fair a moderator to both sides as possible.). My only other memorable moment was when I confronted Dembski after the debate and asked him how he would calculate confidence limits for his Explanatory Filter. Much to my amazement, this statistical “expert” couldn’t answer a basic statistics question.

Wesley R. Elsberry said:

Notice, the DI doesn’t have to provide an “adequate” explanation itself. It doesn’t have to provide any explanation at all, and didn’t. All it needs to do is to find some gap, any gap, exploit it, and trumpet “inadequate” for the win.

This is precisely why when Southern Methodist University was setting up a debate in 2006, I insisted on a public policy debate topic with the IDC advocate, Ray Bohlin, taking the affirmative. Bohlin conceded that he could not defend the affirmative statement in his opening remarks. Not only did the Discovery Institute fail to brag about how well Bohlin did, they tried to act like it had never happened just a year later.

As the SMU campus paper put it afterward:

Elsberry’s fifteen minute presentation was nothing but sheer rebuttal and refutation. Claming that ID “isn’t even a science,” the biologist stated that “anti-evolutionists have utilized political action to gain government support for teaching ID in public schools.”

Well, yes, it was a debate, and I was taking the negative, so it is nice to see that they observed me doing my job, even if they didn’t recognize that was what my job was.

Nor will you find the DI saying much if anything about the June 17th, 2001 series of debates in the “Interpreting Evolution” conference at Haverford College, where I was matched with William Dembski, Ken Miller with Michael Behe, and Eugenie Scott with Warren Nord. The video for those went online long, long ago, provided by Adrian Wyard.

DavidK said:

Dunno about the debate, whose audio hasn’t been posted on the Dishonesty Institutes site (and likely won’t be)

They’re in the process of editing it to make the ID advocates look less stupid - look for it in 2020…and the result will resemble Max Headroom.

In all seriousness I *hope* they won’t edit the video, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

Venus Mousetrap said:

Robert: understand first. Criticise second.

Not an option for him. Understanding things is against his religion. Lucky for him, there is absolutely nothing in his holy book that forbids judging others, or bearing false witness, or advises people to take care of the beam in their own eye before whining about the speck in someone else’s. :P

They’re merely interested in making themselves look good. But what more can you expect from this pathetic - and quite nefarious - gang of mendacious intellectual pornographers:

eric said:

DavidK said:

Dunno about the debate, whose audio hasn’t been posted on the Dishonesty Institutes site (and likely won’t be)

They’re in the process of editing it to make the ID advocates look less stupid - look for it in 2020…and the result will resemble Max Headroom.

In all seriousness I *hope* they won’t edit the video, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

Don, I ordered your book from amazon.com yesterday. I look forward to reading it!

You can find audio of the debate here

Well I was enjoying this post right up to:

he has no degree in paleontology or biology, yet insists on writing about the topic without the proper credentials

While I understand the point (that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about), his lack of credentials would matter not one whit if he was right, anymore than having every credential in the world makes a difference when someone is wrong.

Having a degree in a topic is not a prerequisite to writing about it last time I checked, nor do I believe it should be. Stephen Meyer’s arguments are full enough of holes that the ad hom is unnecessary and ill-considered.

David B. -

Stephen Meyer’s arguments are full enough of holes that the ad hom is unnecessary and ill-considered

While I generally agree with what you said, referring to credentials is not an example of ad hominem.

Credentials are relevant. While it is true that some with seeming credentials are full of crap (Behe), and others lacking formal biology degrees have a good understanding of the principles of evolution, it is still more likely that a poorly credentialed author will get things wrong.

Despite their claimed interest in biomedical science, the DI’s staff of fellows stands out as being unusually deficient, overall, in biomedical science credentials, for an institute with an ostensible focus on that particular field. Many of their fellows have no training whatsoever in any biomedical science - or indeed, in any branch of science - and only a tiny minority have doctoral degrees in biomedical science.

I think that’s relevant. It isn’t ad hominem to admit it.

Note that I agree with

Oops, cut-off - Note that I agree with the fact that some self-educated people lacking formal credentials can make contributions to scholarly fields, but credentials still usually matter.

If you squint your eyes just right at the bug pictures, you can see the fishhooks on their abdomens.

David B. said:

Well I was enjoying this post right up to:

he has no degree in paleontology or biology, yet insists on writing about the topic without the proper credentials

While I understand the point (that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about), his lack of credentials would matter not one whit if he was right, anymore than having every credential in the world makes a difference when someone is wrong.

Having a degree in a topic is not a prerequisite to writing about it last time I checked, nor do I believe it should be. Stephen Meyer’s arguments are full enough of holes that the ad hom is unnecessary and ill-considered.

To me, the relevant part of the sentence you quoted was a segment you omitted above:

“…or if he even bothered to see the outcrops and collect them for himself…”

Is this not always the case with creationists, that they never do actual field work for themselves? That they cannot be bothered to spend their summer afternoons in a blazing desert collecting fossils or do any of the other physically demanding work scientific discovery often requires?

I wouldn’t give two shits in a shoebox for anything any creationist has to say because they don’t actually do any scientific work. All they do is cull through the articles and books written by real scientists for things they can take out of context and sell to their flock of dimwits.

Am sorry David B., but credentials do matter (Unless, for example, you are Jack Horner - who has no college or Ph. D. degrees - but nonetheless has established himself as serious, quite credible, scientific researcher in vertebrate paleobiology.). It especially matters to “scientific” creationists like Stephen Meyer, William Dembski (who has TWO Ph. D. degrees), Jonathan Wells, Dean Kenyon, Scott Minnich, Michael Behe, and others of their ilk, as though having the credential itself was of utmost importance in defining a person’s character and ability.

I am especially mindful of this since I heard Don Prothero talk about creos and his book, “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” back in January here in New York City, where he was a guest speaker for one of the local skeptics/atheist groups. Don told the audience that he wants to be known as Dr. Prothero only when he is working as a professional geologist and vertebrate paleobiologist. Otherwise, in every other “civilian” capacity, he prefers to be known as Mr. Prothero.

@ Edwin Hensley -

You’re in for a real treat. Don’s superb book is the best I have encountered so far which emphasizes the importance of the fossil record in providing ample proof for the reality of evolution. While it is not perfect - it doesn’t really discuss mass extinctions and have brought this to Don’s attention - it is both an exceptional piece of scholarship (including a brief, but excellent, overview of creationism and its relationship to Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity here in the United States) and a very fine piece of scientific writing (Have no doubt that if Stephen Jay Gould was still alive, he’d give this book - written by both a younger friend and colleague - his highest, most eloquent, praise.

There are creationist paleontologists who do actual field work, of whom the most notorious example is invertebrate paleontologist Kurt Wise, who earned his Ph. D. at Harvard University under the supervision of none other than Stephen Jay Gould. However you are correct in the sense that most creationists wouldn’t think of looking at field sections of relevant biostratigraphy, trying to discern some useful information on taxonomic diversity, originations (“speciation”) and extinctions within the fossil record.

Unlike the Middle Cambrian, when we have extraordinarily well preserved fossils like those of the Burgess Shale in Canada, or the Chengxiang fossil in China, we have no similar locality with extraordinary preservation during the first two stages of the Cambrian. If we did, we might see a soft-bodied pre-trilobite arthropod with the precursor of the compound eye, as well as other transitional fossils.

Couple of quibbles. A careless reader might gain the impression that the Chengjiang is Middle Cambrian, rather than Lower Cambrian (though Atdabanian/Botomian rather than Manykaian/Tommotian). Naraoia is a soft-bodied trilobite or trilobite-like fossil, though unfortunately just Middle Cambrian. The Precambrian Spriggina has been suggested as an arthropod precursor, though its preservation is much too coarse-grained to constrain its morphology very well, poorly enough that it’s also been suggested to belong to a separate kingdom, Vendobionta.

David B. said:

Well I was enjoying this post right up to:

he has no degree in paleontology or biology, yet insists on writing about the topic without the proper credentials

While I understand the point (that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about), his lack of credentials would matter not one whit if he was right, anymore than having every credential in the world makes a difference when someone is wrong.

Having a degree in a topic is not a prerequisite to writing about it last time I checked, nor do I believe it should be. Stephen Meyer’s arguments are full enough of holes that the ad hom is unnecessary and ill-considered.

I’ve listened to most of the debate and I think that that might be a response to something Meyer said during the debate (approx. 3/4 of the audio) - Meyer wanted to cut short Prothero’s response to Meyer’s blatherings about junk DNA with the argument that Prothero wasn’t qualified to talk about DNA.

BTW, in my opinion that segment of the debate highlights why scientists shouldn’t debate with creationists.

Meyer proclaimed that ID “theorists” predicted that there is no junk DNA which in his opinion is now shown to be true.

Prothero brought all the relevant counter-arguments which boil down to “BS, of course there’s junk DNA”.

Sternberg obfuscated by citing examples of instances were single “junk DNA elements” gained function, without saying that those are actually single instances that don’t mean that ALL those elements have a function.

A rebuttal wasn’t allowed, so to everyone without knowledge in that area it looked like Prothero didn’t know relevant literature.

Robert Byers:

Look, I know your command of English is a bit shaky, but please learn this syntax:

must have

would have

could have

should have

Not “of”, have.

You will read as slightly less ignorant. Not a lot, but slightly.

Thank you.

Nor has the Dishonesty Institute have much to say about the Spring 2002 Intelligent Design debate at the American Museum of Natural History, moderated by Eugenie Scott, with Ken Miller and Robert Pennock arguing the CON and Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers Mike Behe and Bill Dembski arguing the PRO.

Of course not. I was there and Pennock went after Dembski like a pack of pit bulls on steroids. Dembski was reduced to pathetic stammering. John, others shared your concern that the DI shouldn’t be given a venue to air their nonsense as it would appear to make their claims legitimate. After this fisaco, everyone learned there was nothing to fear. I actually felt very sorry for Dembski, and I was very, very surprised that he dared appear in public after that day. I think Ken Miller, ever gracious to his opponents, felt a bit sorry for him too; it was that pathetic.

At any rate, the DI guys can’t complain that they didn’t get a chance from the scientific community to let ID shine in all its glory!!

Wesley Ellsberry said,

“This is precisely why when Southern Methodist University was setting up a debate in 2006, I insisted on a public policy debate topic with the IDC advocate, Ray Bohlin, taking the affirmative. Bohlin conceded that he could not defend the affirmative statement in his opening remarks. Not only did the Discovery Institute fail to brag about how well Bohlin did, they tried to act like it had never happened just a year later.”

For a little perspective, the SMU debate Wesley speaks of, was put on by the SMU Political Science department as part of their annual undergraduate student run debate series.

Therefore I was not the least bit concerned when informed about the public policy slant to the debate. The actual debate question, as I recall, revolved around whether Intelligent Design should be taught in public school science classrooms. As a good DI fellow I answered early on, of course not, as Wesley has already observed. At that time, no one at DI, including myself was advocating ID be taught in public school science classrooms. As I explained that night ID is a fledgling science and needs significant support from the published literature as a working scientific theory before it should ever make its way into science textbooks. That was and still is DIs official position as best I know. So that should have been a win win proposition for Wesley. He could attack and knew I wouldn’t defend.

But I also remember that in my closing remarks I stated that when ID is able to make those strides forward it should be allowed its place in science textbooks. Then to my surprise, Wesley agreed and basically agreed with my closing as his own closing. What that told me is that Wesley conceded that ID COULD be science. He certainly didn’t say or admit that it was science, but left the door open to its possible admission as science.

As far as DI not bragging on my performance, I don’t think it was because they were somehow embarrased by my performance but as far as I know there was no one else from DI there to issue a report as it was in Dallas and I don’t recall if a recording was even made. I don’t think so. I tend not to do my own reporting.

Respectfully,

Ray Bohlin

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on December 3, 2009 7:12 PM.

Stephen Meyer on Bad Biological Designs was the previous entry in this blog.

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