If and only if Cornelius Hunter made sense, then...

I consider myself pretty well-educated about creationism, and of course I know it’s all silly, but I pride myself on usually being able to understand what argument the creationists are trying to make, even when they are doing it poorly. But I need help with this one.

Via the Discovery Institute Blog/Misinformation Service, I came across this post from Hunter, which is his Monday post. I also read Hunter’s Sunday post and got confused.

Starting on Sunday, we have: Cornelius Hunter, Sunday, July 25, 2010, speaking about shared errors in pseudogenes:

This claim, that such shared errors indicate, or demonstrate, or reveal common ancestry, is the result of an implicit truth claim which does not, and cannot, come from science. It is the claim that evolution and only evolution can explain such evidences. It is the equivalent of what is known as an IF-AND-ONLY-IF claim.

Science makes IF-THEN statements (if evolution is true, then species with recent common ancestors should have similarities between them). IF-AND-ONLY-IF statements (if and only if evolution is true, then species with recent common ancestors should have similarities between them) cannot be known from science. [italics original]

OK, so here he’s saying, I guess, that science can only make if-then statements, and test hypotheses on that basis. Science cannot formally say that X is the ONLY possible explanation of Y, because, I suppose, there always might be some other explanation out there.

He thinks this is important for evolution because sometimes evolutionists say Y (lanugo, shared errors in pseudogenes, etc.) can “only” be explained by common ancestry. Of course, any fair assessment of these sorts of statements would note that people use such language all the time (“the only explanation for the 20 identical paragraphs in these two students’ term papers is copying from each other or from a common source”), and they don’t mean that they can formally exclude, say, miraculous intervention by Thor or something. All people typically mean by these statements is “this is the only decent explanation of Y that has been put forward to date; if someone else comes up with a better explanation, fine, but until then X is what I’m going with.” But if creationists were fair about such things, they wouldn’t be creationists.

(Parenthetical, Hunter throws in some total bunkum:

Any scientific analysis of the evidence [of pseudogenes] would come up empty handed. Pseudogenes reveal various patterns, some which can be employed to argue for common descent, others which violate common descent (they could be explained, for instance, by common mechanism). Furthermore pseudogenes reveal evidence of mutational hotspots.

Side rant: This is, basically, total crap. Hunter apparently has no idea that, in phylogenetics, it is trivial to test hypotheses like “there is no tree structure in the sequence data” or “these two phylogenies from two different genes agree/disagree with each other”, to quantify the amount of agreement/disagreement, etc. The amount of homoplasy (character states which evolved independently, as might occur occasionally with pseudogenes) can be estimated, and we can tell whether or not we are close or far from a situation in which there is so much homoplasy that no phylogenetic structure is statistically supported. And when this kind of thing is done, the result is typically *massive* statistical support for common ancestry. At least, it would be considered such in any other field of science, but Hunter wants to treat evolution differently from all other parts of science. For evolution, he wants to have the special privilege of pulling out a few characters that disagree with some pattern, and ignore the hundreds/thousands of other characters that support the pattern. Hunter complains and complains about the unscientific nature of evolutionists, but when it comes to doing an actual fair data analysis that actually looks at the statistical support for common ancestry, he’s totally at sea. OK, end of rant.)

(Not quite done. I should add that my first encounter with Hunter was in 2001 or so. Somehow or other we were in an argument about whether or not some genetic sequence data produced a tree structure. He had calculated the pairwise distances between the genes and done a histogram of the distances. The distribution of gene-gene distances had a number of separate humps. He claimed that this falsified tree structure. I pointed out that this pattern was exactly what you would expect from distances produced from a tree. After a lot of arguing, he eventually got it, but then said something irate about how he was sorry but just because he was totally wrong about this (I would say the definition of a surprising successful prediction is one where someone claims their data is good and a good falsification of a hypothesis, but then it turns out that their data has exactly the pattern they claimed it didn’t have), he wasn’t going to “genuflect” to evolution. Sadly I can’t find the email now and the only word I can remember is “genuflect”. Ah well.)

Anyway, so, everyone’s got his argument so far? Evolutionists shouldn’t use “IF-AND-ONLY-IF statements”, they should be real scientists and just use “IF-THEN statements” like other scientists, the good kind of scientists.

(By the way, if Hunter is right, he’s just nuked Stephen Meyer’s argument in Signature in the Cell, which relies almost entirely on the argument that intelligence is the ONLY source of genetic “information”. Oops. Of course, Meyer’s assertion is wrong, but that’s a different story.)

With that, I give you, Cornelius Hunter, Monday, July 26, 2010. He is complaining about an introductory biology textbook by Johnson & Lobos. After saying the authors “rehearse the usual lies”, Hunter really gets going on the fossil record:

Such misrepresentations of science, as damaging as they are, pale in comparison to Johnson’s and Lobos’ next move. The apologists make a pathetic attempt to enlist the fossil record as powerful evidence for evolution, and end up with only the usual religious dogma. They write:

If the theory of evolution is not correct, on the other hand, then such orderly change is not expected.

Very interesting. And how do evolutionary clowns know so much? From where did Johnson and Lobos learn such ultimate truths? If evolution is not correct then such orderly change is not expected? Tell us more.

What are all the possibilities aside from evolution and why do none of them predict “such orderly change”? Why is it that evolution, and only evolution, predicts such an outcome? This is truly fascinating. If and only if evolution is true would we see such orderly change. Johnson and Lobos are real geniuses–they have knowledge of all possible causes.

You cannot make this stuff up. In two and half pages the text’s chapter on evolution has gone from misleading to absurd. What will come next?

But this is nothing new in evolutionary circles. Only evolutionists can make fools of themselves with a straight face and then repeat the process ad nauseam.

But, did they use the word “only”? No! And they said nothing about “ultimate truths”, and nothing about whatever mysterious alternatives Hunter endlessly claims are out there, but which he shockingly, cravenly, scandalously never bothers to elucidate, as any real scientist would have to. All the authors did was make an if-then statement, like Hunter JUST FREAKING SAID scientists were supposed to do the day before! Instead of congratulating them on saying the right thing, Hunter convicts them of vast, grand metaphysical sins.

So I’m at a loss. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s just mad and letting emotion run his argumentation, under the cover of unsupported blather about metaphysics. Maybe this textbook is being used in his home town or something?