Slaying Meyer’s Hopeless Monster

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One is reminded of the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The limbs keep being lopped off.

Stephen Meyer’s “Darwin’s Doubt” has taken a beating from scientists who have reviewed it. Nick Matzke (recently Ph.D.’d and on his way to postdochood in Knoxville), in Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part II, eviscerated Meyer’s understanding of phylogenetics, among other things (see also Luskin’s Hopeless Monster). Don Prothero, in Stephen Meyer’s Fumbling Bumbling Amateur Cambrian Follies did the same to Meyer’s presentation of paleontology. John Pieret has a list of critical reviews.

The most ambitious effort is on Smilodon’t Retreat, the blog of an anonymous scientist. The reviewer is slogging through the book section by section. Eight posts are up and we’re just into Chapter 1 (of 20). Go there, read, comment, and cheer the reviewer on.

109 Comments

Here’s a simple review–Darwin’s Doubt completely lacks any kind of match-up between specific, identifiable cause and specific, identifiable effect that points to design.

For that reason alone, it has done nothing to change ID from being mere speculation and apologetics.

Glen Davidson

Here, allow me to step in with some bits I put up on talk.origins recently.

First, a take on the whole book that I don’t recall seeing in other reviews:

I’ve finished reading the book, and to my surprise it turns out not to be about the Cambrian explosion at all. Sure, the first few chapters are, but they and the explosion they discuss are irrelevant to the main point, which is that any significant amount of evolution is impossible. Meyer proves that no new protein can arise, and no developmental program can change, not even once in the entire history of life. So forget the Cambrian explosion, whose duration is by the way irrelevant. Humans and chimps can’t be related; they’re just too different for evolution to manage. Oddly enough, Meyer seems not to take his own message and doesn’t draw the conclusions about the history of life that follow directly from his studies. Not even with a “much light will be thrown” sentence.

And, by the way, don’t go countering with anything like “we have conclusive evidence that it happeed, so it must be possible”. Meyer rejects all historical evidence as mere conjecture.

Second, a bit of summary on the fossil chapters:

Chapter 1: Darwin’s Nemesis. Why Louis Agassiz was a great scientist and was perfectly right not to accept evolution. Agassiz was all for separate creation of each species, which Meyer conveniently elides into the inability of evolution to generate “wholly novel organisms”, without ever confronting the difference. And of course he raises the title problem that the book is ostensibly about: the sudden appearance of disparate animal taxa in the Cambrian explosion.

2: The Burgess bestiary. All about the Burgess Shale and, eventually, the Chengjiang fauna, interpreted as weird wonders with no relatives. Hallucigenia, for example, is considered a bizarre, one-of-a-kind monster, which was certainly Conway Morris’s original notion; but that changed, and now we know it’s connected to a number of other Cambrian fossils and to modern onychophorans. Similarly, he can simultaneously claim there are no transitional forms while touting Anomalocaris as just an unusual arthropod.

Here we begin two major confusions that are repeated and amplified in succeeding chapters: first about when the Cambrian explosion happened, as any phylum with a first appearance in the Cambrian is counted in fig. 2.5 as part of the explosion, including phyla that appear in the 20+ million years of the Cambrian that he fails to mention before his explosion starts; second, confusing appearance in the fossil record with appearance on earth, as if the record were perfect.

And we also begin the habit of cognitive dissonance; Anomalocaris (above) is one such example. He also is capable of noticing (in fig. 2.5) that a dozen phyla have no or almost no fossil records while simultaneously proposing that the record is nearly perfect. I suppose you can reconcile that if you presume that some phyla have been created just recently, but Meyer seems not to notice, as will often be the case below, that his claims have implications.

A major claim in this chapter is the idea of “top-down” appearance: phyla appearing before families, families before species, etc. He dismisses the idea that this is an artifact of classification, but makes no real argument. But phyla were defined based on extant species as the broadest classifications, and so must arise earliest in the history of life, before lower-level groups that they contain. His counter is that these early taxa all have the distinctive features of their modern relatives. Oddly enough, he frequently cites one of my favorite papers, Budd & Jensen 2000, which shows that nearly all Cambrian taxa are at best stem-members of their respective groups. And he relegates potential transitional fossils (Anomalocaris, Opabinia, halkieriids, etc.) either to extant phyla or to new phyla, again unrelated to any others. Each transitional fossil, in other words, just creates another gap.

3: Soft bodies and hard facts. Here we dismiss the idea that the sudden appearance of soft-bodied taxa in the Cambrian explosion can be a preservational artifact. For example, we have preserved fossils of bacteria in stromatolites billions of years old. If tiny little bacteria can be preserved, reasons Meyer, then no large animals should remain unpreserved. Can anyone be this naive about taphonomy? I suppose so. But different taphonomic conditions preserve different things; what preserves bacteria doesn’t necessarily preserve animals, and vice versa.

More cognitive dissonance: he takes pains to point out (in the previous chapter) that fossil deposits like the Burgess shale are extraordinarily rare, but here declares that if there were equivalent species before the Chengjiang, we would have found them. (I will note also that he doesn’t say “before the Chengjiang”; he says “in the Precambrian”, again ignoring a 20-million-year stretch of early Cambrian time).

Meyer also perpetuates the claim that many body plans are impossible without mineralized skeletons; he consistently confuses “hard” with “mineralized”, despite the evidence of the commonly preserved, mineralized trilobites vs. rarely preserved, non-mineralized arthropods of the Burgess and Chengjiang. Clearly, a tough, organic exoskeleton or shell can make a body plan possible without readily preservable mineralization. So, what we have in the Cambrian explosion is the sudden appearance in the fossil record of a host of phyla, but what that means is that they all appear in a single deposit, the Chengjian fauna. There are no earlier deposits with a similar type of preservation. Meyer, looking through a narrow window into a meadow, sees a horse, and therefore concludes that there are no other horses in that meadow to left or right of his view.

4: The *not* missing fossils? This chapter is all about the Ediacaran fauna, with the purpose of dismissing Ediacaran life as transitional. And indeed much of it isn’t. Much of what he says here is true. Spriggina probably isn’t bilaterian at all, since it isn’t bilaterally symmetrical. However, he also dismisses other potential intermediates on the basis that they lack derived characters when in fact we can’t know whether they had them or not; preservation quality just isn’t good enough to tell. At the end, he mentions Kimberella, a fossil he had earlier accepted as a mollusk, but here he does all he can to cast doubt on its nature. Note again: Meyer goes straight from the Chengjiang (about 520ma) to the Precambrian (ending about 543ma) and never talks about the 20+ million years in between. God of the gaps, indeed.

And a very quick summary of three more chapters:

5: The genes tell the story? In which any notion of molecular dating is quashed.

6: The animal tree of life. In which any notion of phylogenetic analysis is likewise quashed.

7: Punk eek! In which the punctuated equilibria theory is eliminated as an explanation for the Cambrian explosion, to the surprise of nobody, including Gould and Eldredge.

Budd, G. E., and S. Jensen. 2000. A critical reappraisal of the fossil record of the bilaterian phyla. Biological Reviews 75:253-295.

Who cares about Meyer?

The real news is that the fundy ID-creationist crowd can’t blame Nick aymore for not having a PhD. Congratulations and all the best for yor future work. Martin aka sparc

Is Skepticblog down? I’m repeatedly told I don’t have permission to access it when I try the link.

John Harshman said:

Is Skepticblog down? I’m repeatedly told I don’t have permission to access it when I try the link.

Weird. Same for me. It was fine when I accessed it this afternoon while writing the post.

Huh. The main skepticblog URL returns the same error. Their problem, it appears.

At least everyone agrees its an important enough book to comment on!! Its been the scientific talk of the summer. The point is BANG suddenly fully complicated creatures arrived and are here at a point everyone, not me/YEC, agrees in time. It overthrows the slow acquiring of complex traits as evolutionism must predict and find in the fossil record.! I think he’s doing a good job because in reality there was no evolution or low to high complexity growth. In fact there is no greater complexity in any thing in biology. Its all got gods spirit animating it and the mechanics is all crazy complicated. Spineless sponges are not primitive because of no bony spine. They do fine. Anyways the whole thing is all based on biological data points entirely connected by geological assertions of deposition timelines. There is no biological research going on here by anybody. Not scientific research.

No, Robert. Sorry. The level of response has nothing to do with science (as Darwin’s Doubt has nothing to do with science). It’s all about ID politics. Meyer prefers to keep you ignorant, and we try to educate you. Doesn’t work on you, but there may be others more susceptible to reality.

Robert, first, Meyer says that organisms need millions of years… except during the Cambrian Explosion (for extra points, state what ‘exploded’)… which, while lasting for over 20 million years (up to 54 million years depending on who you ask) still wasn’t enough time.

Meyer misunderstands the concept of phyla. He also mistakes the idea of fossilization and both what is expected and how it works. Which is pretty pitiful coming from a Earth Science major.

Finally, and the point of my review, is his research is willfully sloppy. For example, in chapter one, he states that science has no idea how turtles evolved. They just appeared in the fossil record fully formed. Of course, if you google “turtle evolution”, you will find a number of papers. One of which came out more than 4 years go and describes a proto-turtle… i.e. an evolutionary ancestor to modern turtles. Meyer ignores this completely.

I don’t really expect you to understand why this is important, but Meyer SHOULD and anyone who writes science also should. The fact that he doesn’t understand the importance of research shows that he doesn’t have a scientific case, but a sociopolitical ax to grind.

By fisking his entire stupid book and pointing out the excessive (and fundamental) errors, we can show this… probably to the satisfaction of a court (if it ever came to that).

Personally speaking, if I read a paper from one of my high school students that had made that same claim and I googled turtle evolution (as I did) and found that paper, I would give that student a poor grade. Meyer never learned that lesson and that’s a damn shame.

ogremk5 said:

For example, in chapter one, he states that science has no idea how turtles evolved. They just appeared in the fossil record fully formed. Of course, if you google “turtle evolution”, you will find a number of papers. One of which came out more than 4 years go and describes a proto-turtle… i.e. an evolutionary ancestor to modern turtles. Meyer ignores this completely.

Ogremk5, I’d be much obliged if you could copy in the quote where Meyer says turtles appear fully formed. Hysterical…

One thing about Meyer’s writing here is that it is EXTREMELY difficult to parse out whether the claims in the text are his or the historical people he’s writing about. I suspect that is by design. He’s trying to poison the well with historical thought and then will likely skip the information that refutes historical thought.

Here’s the quote in question. It’s at location 394 on the kindle edition.

Sedgewick emphasized that these Cambrian animal fossils appeared to pop out of nowhere into the geological column. But he also stressed what he viewed as a broader reason to doubt Darwin’s evolutionary model: the sudden appearance of the Cambrian animals was merely the most outstanding instance of a pattern of discontinuity that extends throughout the geologic column. Where in the Ordovician strata, for instance, are many of the families of the trilobites and brachiopods present in the Cambrian just below it?{15} These creatures along with numerous other types suddenly disappear [emphasis in original]. But just as suddenly one finds newcomers in the Ordivician strata like the euypterans (sea scorpions), starfish, and tetracorals (see fig 1.5).{16} In a later Paleozoic period called the Devonian, the first amphibians (e.g., Ichthyostega) arise. Much later, many staples of the Paleozoic era (which encompasses the Cambrian, Ordovician, and four subsequent periods) suddenly go extinct in a period called the Permian.[17] Then, in the Triassic period that follows, completely novel animals such as turtles and dinosaurs emerge.[18] Such discontinuity, Sedgwick argued, is not the exception, but the rule.

See how this discussion is framed on both ends by “Sedgwick”, yet reference 15 is to Dott and Prothero, Evolution of the Earth. 16 is Mintz, Historical Geology. 17 is Prothero Bringing fossils to life. And 18 is back to Dott and Prothero.

It’s a very disingenuous way of writing.

Anyway, if you think I’ve said something about this that is incorrect, please let me know. BTW: A new post in the series is up.

Still yet another reminder:

Robert Byers,

What about finally giving us a full review of an evo-devo book like Sean B Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful (click here)? Remember, it’s a popular level book for the public which is something you stress. You could use this book to show how evo-devo and other evidence depends on fossils as you routinely parrot.……unless evo-devo really doesn’t depend on fossils.

Also,

Are you ever going to address this Christian link about Christian scientists that accept and routinely use radiometric dating? You repeatedly look away and run from this (Byers, click here to see).

In addition,

When are you going to get around to fully discussing SINE insertions? You could use SINEs to tie in with your wild claim that “genetic researchers today are like alchemists of yesterday” and oh here’s a link to the post about SINEs that you have ignored: http://pandasthumb.org/bw/index.htm[…]mment-300136

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Since you have repeatedly treated these above questions like a hot potato, perhaps we should give you a little wiggle room by providing you the option of addressing another matter you have not answered:

Are you ever going to make a full critique of this particular link?

Standard Disclaimer: As these matters are rather offtopic for this thread, it’s ok if this post - along with any reply by Byers - is posted/moved to the BW.

In Chapter 14 (The Epigenetic Revolution), under a section called “Darwin’s Growing Anomaly”, Stephen C. Meyer cites a lengthy list of names featuring prominent scientists, who, Meyer boldly claims, question “adequacy of the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism, and/or the problem of evolutionary novelty in particular”.

Here’s what he has to say:

Gilbert and his colleagues have tried to solve the problem of the origin of form by invoking mutations in genes called Hox genes, which regulate the expression of other genes involved in animal development—an approach that I will examine in Chapter 16.41 Notwithstanding, many leading biologists and paleontologists—Gerry Webster and Brian Goodwin, Günter Theissen, Marc Kirschner, and John Gerhart, Jeffrey Schwartz, Douglas Erwin, Eric Davidson, Eugene Koonin, Simon Conway Morris, Robert Carroll, Gunter Wagner, Heinz-Albert Becker and Wolf-Eckhart Lönnig, Stuart Newman and Gerd Müller, Stuart Kauffman, Peter Stadler, Heinz Saedler, James Valentine, Giuseppe Sermonti, James Shapiro and Michael Lynch, to name several—have raised questions about the adequacy of the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism, and/or the problem of evolutionary novelty in particular.42 For this reason, the Cambrian explosion now looks less like the minor anomaly that Darwin perceived it to be, and more like a profound enigma, one that exemplifies a fundamental and as yet unsolved problem—the origination of animal form.

The great thing is that most of these people are still alive, and it’s possible to ask them directly what they truly think of “the adequacy of the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism” and “the problem of evolutionary novelty”. What’s even better is that Jerry Coyne has already done just that, after Paul Nelson deceptively misrepresented the views of at least 4 people on Meyer’s list. (Let’s also note that Wolf-Eckhart Lönnig is a well-known German creationist, is on the editorial board at BIO-Complexity, and in no way a “leading biologist”). In particular, I think that Michael Lynch’s reaction to this false and preposterous accusation captures a lot of what is at stake here:

I don’t consider myself to be in the camp of those who question the legitimacy of “modern” evolutionary theory. On the other hand, I do question the motivations of those who argue that the modern edifice has been patently unsuccessful and needs to be dismantled so that a new evolutionary synthesis can be erected to save the day. Not much drives me crazier than folks who make such statements without providing any evidence of ever having attempted to read a single paper in evolutionary theory. I find this attitude about as defensible as ID. The ID crowd tends to misinterpret my embracing of what I call “nonadaptive” mechanisms of evolution (drift, mutation, and recombination) as implying a rejection of Darwinian processes.

I’ll be digging through the references that Meyer cites to see what the other scientists actually said. I have learned not take a creationist’s word for anything. If any of you might be interested in helping out dismantling this, here’s the note with all the references in it:

Webster, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots, 33; Webster and Goodwin, Form and Transformation, x; Gunter Theißen, “The Proper Place of Hopeful Monsters in Evolutionary Biology,” 351; Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life, 13; Schwartz, Sudden Origins, 3, 299–300; Erwin, “Macroevolution Is More Than Repeated Rounds of Microevolution”; Davidson, “Evolutionary Bioscience as Regulatory Systems Biology,” 35; Koonin, “The Origin at 150,” 473–5; Conway Morris, “Walcott, the Burgess Shale, and Rumours of a Post-Darwinian World,” R928–R930; Carroll, “Towards a New Evolutionary Synthesis,” 27; Wagner, “What Is the Promise of Developmental Evolution?”; Wagner and Stadler, “Quasi-independence, Homology and the Unity-of Type”; Becker and Lönnig, “Transposons: Eukaryotic,” 529–39; Lönnig and Saedler, “Chromosomal Rearrangements and Transposable Elements,” 402; Müller and Newman, “Origination of Organismal Form,” 7; Kauffman, At Home in the Universe, 8; Valentine and Erwin, “Interpreting Great Developmental Experiments,” 96; Sermonti, Why Is a Fly Not a Horse?; Lynch, The Origins of Genome Architecture, 369; Shapiro, Evolution, 89, 128.

The perspective of Eugene Koonin, a biologist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health, provides just one good example of this skepticism. He argues: “The edifice of the modern synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair … The summary of the state of affairs on the 150th anniversary of the Origin is somewhat shocking. In the postgenomic era, all major tenets of the modern synthesis have been, if not outright overturned, replaced by a new and incomparably more complex vision of the key aspects of evolution. So, not to mince words, the modern synthesis is gone. What comes next? The answer suggested by the Darwinian discourse of 2009 is a postmodern state, not so far a postmodern synthesis. Above all, such a state is characterized by the pluralism of processes and patterns in evolution that defies any straightforward generalization.” Koonin, “The Origin at 150,” 473–75. David J. Depew and Bruce H.Weber, writing in the journal Biological Theory, are even more frank: “Darwinism in its current scientific incarnation has pretty much reached the end of its rope” (89–102).

If anyone is interested, Eugene Koonin’s short review can be found here: The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?

It’s clear that Meyer, and IDers in general, are manipulatively using the non-adaptationists critiques of pan-selectionism as though it is an expression of skepticism or doubt about the adequacy of evolutionary mechanisms to bring forth the marvelous diversity of animal forms we see today and in the fossil record. That’s why they use neo-Darwinism with modern evolutionary theory interchangeably. Of course, Meyer won’t show his target audience what these valid criticisms necessarily entail, as Koonin correctly points out:

Equally outdated is the (neo)Darwinian notion of the adaptive nature of evolution: clearly, genomes show very little if any signs of optimal design, and random drift constrained by purifying in all likelihood contributes (much) more to genome evolution than Darwinian selection 16, 17. And, with pan-adaptationism, gone forever is the notion of evolutionary progress that undoubtedly is central to the traditional evolutionary thinking, even if this is not always made explicit.

That’s right, one of the main predictions that you list as though it was a confirmation of ID theory has already been refuted in the postgenomic era, Mr. Meyer. Now, let’s turn to what actually matters in Koonin paper.

Does Koonin doubt or express skepticism over universal common descent? Of course not. In fact, in Table 1, he specifically noted that this is one of the main tenets of neo(Darwinism) that survived in the post-genomic era.

Does Koonin doubt or express skepticism over whether naturalistic evolutionary processes are sufficient to explain the diversification of life forms? Of course not. In fact, in Table 1, he clearly states that “[t]he principal factors of evolution, diverse as they are, probably, all were in operation through most of life’s history”. But he believes that “the earliest stages of evolution antedating the emergence of the three domains of cellular life should have involved processes distinct from ‘normal’ evolution. Furthermore, major transition in evolution, such as eukaryogenesis, occurred through unique events (e.g. endosymbiosis).

ogremk5 said:

Robert, first, Meyer says that organisms need millions of years… except during the Cambrian Explosion (for extra points, state what ‘exploded’)… which, while lasting for over 20 million years (up to 54 million years depending on who you ask) still wasn’t enough time.

Meyer misunderstands the concept of phyla. He also mistakes the idea of fossilization and both what is expected and how it works. Which is pretty pitiful coming from a Earth Science major.

Finally, and the point of my review, is his research is willfully sloppy. For example, in chapter one, he states that science has no idea how turtles evolved. They just appeared in the fossil record fully formed. Of course, if you google “turtle evolution”, you will find a number of papers. One of which came out more than 4 years go and describes a proto-turtle… i.e. an evolutionary ancestor to modern turtles. Meyer ignores this completely.

I don’t really expect you to understand why this is important, but Meyer SHOULD and anyone who writes science also should. The fact that he doesn’t understand the importance of research shows that he doesn’t have a scientific case, but a sociopolitical ax to grind.

By fisking his entire stupid book and pointing out the excessive (and fundamental) errors, we can show this… probably to the satisfaction of a court (if it ever came to that).

Personally speaking, if I read a paper from one of my high school students that had made that same claim and I googled turtle evolution (as I did) and found that paper, I would give that student a poor grade. Meyer never learned that lesson and that’s a damn shame.

You missed the latest and greatest transitional turtle fossil - Eunotosaurus:

sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982213005745

My own small contribution is here:

Meyer’s Mistake

Yet another sign of Meyer’s sloppy research. In the note that I posted in my previous comment, Meyer attributes the book “How the Leopard Changed Its Spots” to Webster, rather than Goodwin:

Webster, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots, 33

Thankfully, he has it right in the Bibliography. But, I mean, seriously! It seems safe to argue that the same theme that I outlined in my previous comment is quite persistent in all of Meyer’s citations: nitpick prominent scientists’ critiques of old conceptions of evolution, give the reader the impression that modern evolutionary theory is nothing but the old, rigid neo-Darwinian paradigm, and act as if there’s genuine debate or skepticism about the basic tenets of modern evolutionary theory.

It’s a pity that he promulgates such false impressions, given the fact that his main specialty is the history and philosophy of science.

Thanks orgremk5, but was the misspelling of “eurypteran” in the original?

ogremk5 said:

Sedgewick emphasized that these Cambrian animal fossils appeared to pop out of nowhere into the geological column. But he also stressed what he viewed as a broader reason to doubt Darwin’s evolutionary model: the sudden appearance of the Cambrian animals was merely the most outstanding instance of a pattern of discontinuity that extends throughout the geologic column. Where in the Ordovician strata, for instance, are many of the families of the trilobites and brachiopods present in the Cambrian just below it?{15} These creatures along with numerous other types suddenly disappear [emphasis in original]. But just as suddenly one finds newcomers in the Ordivician strata like the euypterans (sea scorpions)

Note this IDiot Meyer is conflating extinction with appearance, making it seem as if extinction in the fossil record implies that the only other explanation is “A Magic Man dunnit.”

diogeneslamp0 said: Note this IDiot Meyer is conflating extinction with appearance, making it seem as if extinction in the fossil record implies that the only other explanation is “A Magic Man dunnit.”

He’s not conflating them, but he is arguing that the reasons for extinction are mysterious (cough goddidit cough), and not explained by science (cough goddidit cough).

Hey folks, it may be time to get excited! You two may have discovered a new creationist argument! I looked in talk origins archive for any mention of sudden disappearance as being evidence for creationism, but it doesn’t look like there are any entries for that. Nothing in CB (bio) CC300 (paleontology), or CE (misc), at least.

eric said:

diogeneslamp0 said: Note this IDiot Meyer is conflating extinction with appearance, making it seem as if extinction in the fossil record implies that the only other explanation is “A Magic Man dunnit.”

He’s not conflating them, but he is arguing that the reasons for extinction are mysterious (cough goddidit cough), and not explained by science (cough goddidit cough).

Hey folks, it may be time to get excited! You two may have discovered a new creationist argument! I looked in talk origins archive for any mention of sudden disappearance as being evidence for creationism, but it doesn’t look like there are any entries for that. Nothing in CB (bio) CC300 (paleontology), or CE (misc), at least.

Well, actually there is a goddidit “explanation” for extinction, the Super-Miraculous Flood. I know many say (non-avian) dinosaurs were on the ark (since God didn’t see that they’d go extinct, apparently), but there are still many who consider them dying because they weren’t on the ark.

But if you’re pretending to be slightly more scientific than a YEC, you have to adapt. That it’s all pretty much the same answer sort of gives away the creationism of all of them, including the IDiots.

Glen Davidson

Since Meyer loves Louis Agassiz so much, perhaps he’s indulging in some catastrophism: successive catastrophes that destroy all life, with new biotas created after each catastrophe. Of course we will never know, because Meyer knows that presenting an actual hypothesis will leave him vulnerable to criticism, so he’ll remain as vague as he can. He will content himself with discussing problems with evolution. This also helps to maintain the DI’s big tent, in which theistic evolutionist Behe lives in perfect agreement with YEC Nelson.

Elizabeth Liddle said:

My own small contribution is here:

Meyer’s Mistake

Wow, Lizzie, your origami example is fantastic! Consider it stolen!

At least everyone agrees its an important enough book to comment on!! Its been the scientific talk of the summer.

It has not been the scientific talk of the summer.

I think it’s worth putting this in perspective.

Most people in the basic and applied sciences, even in the United States, have literally never heard of any of this. Many have never heard of ID/creationism. Those who are vaguely aware of it just see it as I did before 1999; they know some people believe that Genesis is a documentary, but they also know that some people believe in alien anal probes.

Of those who are aware of organized political ID/creationism, most are directly involved in evolutionary biology. Even so, most academic evolutionary biologists are not particularly aware of ID/creationism.

Then there are people like me who are either in applied scientific fields, or who take an interest in science from an outside perspective, who become aware of political ID/creationism.

I happened to be living near Kansas in 1999; that’s how I heard the “local” news about the science denying school board that was very transiently in power there at that time. That’s how I learned about any of this.

Now, obviously, I think that scientists should be more aware of creationist scheming, but the truth is, most scientists are too busy to care. I happen to be a fast typist and like to punctuate periods of intense concentration with checking up on various issues. Most people in my field are not the least bit aware of ID/creationism. Most of them haven’t heard the words. It wouldn’t surprise if most evolutionary biologist, let alone pathologists, in Seattle, are completely unaware of the existence of the DI.

ID/creationists rely on being sneaky, but although far less than 1% of scientists and pro-science people make a hobby of rebutting ID/creationists, that’s all it takes.

So yes, creationists can financially destroy a few conservative rural school districts and crank out vast amounts of repetitive verbosity, but no, nothing they do is the scientific talk of the summer, the day, or the microsecond.

It’s certainly not the scientific talk of the summer. Actual scientists aren’t touching it. And I’m proud to admit that I have exactly the same number of non-book publications that Meyer has… and mine wasn’t retracted by the publisher.

It’s worth pointing out again that Darwin’s Doubt was published by Harper One, whose mission statement on its web site is this:

“For 30 years we have published the books that have changed people’s lives, influenced culture, built bridges between faiths, and withstood the test of time. View this video for more about HarperOne and our authors and readers. The most important books across the full spectrum of religion, spirituality, and personal growth, adding to the wealth of the world’s wisdom by stirring the waters of reflection on the primary questions of life while respecting all traditions.”

They are, in other words, a publisher of religious and self-help books. Not science. But wait – ID is science. IDers say so all the time. How does that work?

harold said:

At least everyone agrees its an important enough book to comment on!! Its been the scientific talk of the summer.

It has not been the scientific talk of the summer.

I think it’s worth putting this in perspective.

Most people in the basic and applied sciences, even in the United States, have literally never heard of any of this. Many have never heard of ID/creationism. Those who are vaguely aware of it just see it as I did before 1999; they know some people believe that Genesis is a documentary, but they also know that some people believe in alien anal probes.

Of those who are aware of organized political ID/creationism, most are directly involved in evolutionary biology. Even so, most academic evolutionary biologists are not particularly aware of ID/creationism.

Then there are people like me who are either in applied scientific fields, or who take an interest in science from an outside perspective, who become aware of political ID/creationism.

I happened to be living near Kansas in 1999; that’s how I heard the “local” news about the science denying school board that was very transiently in power there at that time. That’s how I learned about any of this.

Now, obviously, I think that scientists should be more aware of creationist scheming, but the truth is, most scientists are too busy to care. I happen to be a fast typist and like to punctuate periods of intense concentration with checking up on various issues. Most people in my field are not the least bit aware of ID/creationism. Most of them haven’t heard the words. It wouldn’t surprise if most evolutionary biologist, let alone pathologists, in Seattle, are completely unaware of the existence of the DI.

ID/creationists rely on being sneaky, but although far less than 1% of scientists and pro-science people make a hobby of rebutting ID/creationists, that’s all it takes.

So yes, creationists can financially destroy a few conservative rural school districts and crank out vast amounts of repetitive verbosity, but no, nothing they do is the scientific talk of the summer, the day, or the microsecond.

Its being talked about. in fact politicians, university presidents, and loads of petitions are constantly whipped up to fight the modern revolution in origin subjects by ID/YEC creationism. As far as any subject in science that creates waves I think this book fits the times. Lets say its the talk of thoughtful thinkers or observers in the public regarding interesting ideas about the origin spectrum. I’m sure polls would show a knowledge of the contention and surely people dealing in these subjects must be aware of these matters. For those unaware well thenn they are the people in the story who don’t see the revolutions that come into science now and then.

ogremk5 said:

Robert, first, Meyer says that organisms need millions of years… except during the Cambrian Explosion (for extra points, state what ‘exploded’)… which, while lasting for over 20 million years (up to 54 million years depending on who you ask) still wasn’t enough time.

Meyer misunderstands the concept of phyla. He also mistakes the idea of fossilization and both what is expected and how it works. Which is pretty pitiful coming from a Earth Science major.

Finally, and the point of my review, is his research is willfully sloppy. For example, in chapter one, he states that science has no idea how turtles evolved. They just appeared in the fossil record fully formed. Of course, if you google “turtle evolution”, you will find a number of papers. One of which came out more than 4 years go and describes a proto-turtle… i.e. an evolutionary ancestor to modern turtles. Meyer ignores this completely.

I don’t really expect you to understand why this is important, but Meyer SHOULD and anyone who writes science also should. The fact that he doesn’t understand the importance of research shows that he doesn’t have a scientific case, but a sociopolitical ax to grind.

By fisking his entire stupid book and pointing out the excessive (and fundamental) errors, we can show this… probably to the satisfaction of a court (if it ever came to that).

Personally speaking, if I read a paper from one of my high school students that had made that same claim and I googled turtle evolution (as I did) and found that paper, I would give that student a poor grade. Meyer never learned that lesson and that’s a damn shame.

I am YEC but assure you these ID researchers 1, IF SLOPPY, are not wilful about it. They mean to accomplish revolution in these subjects and get the credit. They are on the intellectual scientific MAKE.

I’m sure he is aware of turtle evolution from books and not late papers that have not got into the books yet, if they do. Keeping up with so much material, and he has so much material to deal with, is asking a lot especially about minor comments.

Anyways the great point is the old point of sudden arrival of complex creatures without near or even distant relatives. the essence of PE. The explosion idea was coined by evolutionists long ago and just more carefully looked at by ID people. if fossils are determining descent it could only be that life types appear suddenly in working models. It comes down to making the case whether relatives/descent are close in upper.lower depositions of other fossils. Its all about fossilized life in ACCEPTED deposition events. There is no biological evidence for descent even if it happened. No biology going on here. Just connecting the dots of relatives, very relative, entirely by looking at them and believing they are greatly separated in time. Everyone imagines they are studying , scientifically, the inbetween of the fossil examples. They ain’t. So no biology on descent or process is going on here.

Talk about a hopeless monster.

Right Robert, we can’t expect researchers to actually read papers about the research they are doing. If that research was so important, then they would write a book.

Tell me Robert, how would you get fossils in anything other than a deposition event?

Don’t answer that. Your description would be too painful to bear.

I’m thinking that ought to be about enough of Mr. Byers.

No, because what you need to explain is a big slowdown in rate after 500ma compared to before 500ma. Not a constant rate.

John Harshman said:

Very interesting indeed. You really need to download the supplementary information if you want to understand what they did. The collection of anchor points for the time calibration is impressive, and so is the exploration of varying parameters. The morphological result is unsurprising; it’s the molecular result that’s interesting. Who would expect molecular evolution to track morphological evolution so closely? I would have expected most proteins not to notice that anything was going on, except for those few whose changes were actively involved in generating the morphological changes. And this alone makes me wonder if there’s some artifact at work. But the supplemental info does much to test various artifactual possibilities, and none of them seem to change the result. So I guess at this point I need to believe the result. Odd.

Interesting John, you seemed rather negative about it when you first heard of it. Changed your mind then?

At the very least their collection of anchor points will be essential to future studies.

As for that paper on the rates of evolution in the Cambrian Explosion, I’m sure Casey Luskin is preparing a list of ad hominem attacks right now to be published at ENV as a complete refutation. Anyone want to bet as to which ad hominem Luskin will lead with?

Atheists! Materialists!

No doubt, they’ll unleash the Klinghoffer to remind us Darwin = Hitler.

Talking about rates of evolution assumes evolution. Calibrating a tree with fossils assumes there is a tree and that fossils go on it somewhere. Besides, Meyer has shown that evolution is impossible.

Besides, Meyer has shown that evolution is impossible.

He did? I must have missed the memo!

John Harshman said:

Talking about rates of evolution assumes evolution. Calibrating a tree with fossils assumes there is a tree and that fossils go on it somewhere. Besides, Meyer has shown that evolution is impossible.

I think that Meyer has shown his version of evolution is impossible… provided one ignores the vast majority of evolution and paleontological literature.

Henry J said:

Besides, Meyer has shown that evolution is impossible.

He did? I must have missed the memo!

Obviously you didn’t read the book.

I added a new blog post showing how simplistic and misleading Meyer’s favorite combinatorics analogy is. I cannot blame him for falling for it, though, and I don’t believe that result of the more sophisticated calculation will change the substance of his argument. The argument has other weaknesses that have been noted in previous posts, and will be addressed in future posts as well.

So I do find a potential problem with Lee et al. 2013. They’re comparing rates over a short period in the Early Cambrian with rates averaged over most of the Phanerozoic. That is, the times in the basal branches of their tree are much, much shorter than the times of the terminal branches. If there were similar, rapid radiations in, say, the Jurassic, they wouldn’t detect them using the tree they have, because those radiations would be averaged into much longer periods of normal evolution.

Charles R. Marshall just published a short review of Darwin’s Doubt: When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship. He isn’t particularly happy about the quote mine that was discovered by John Farrell.

If you don’t have access to the magazine, you can read the review on the DDCR blog: Charles R. Marshall reviews Darwin’s Doubt: When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship

Rhazes,

For compiling all those reviews in one place, you win the internet.

A blog with white text on a dark brown background, Marshall lost me. A pity, I might want to read it…

harold said:

2- No one knows how turtles evolved- no one knows what makes a turtle a turtle.

JoeG’s comments reflect an important condition of contemporary society.

The comments that precede them, although strongly critical of Meyer’s book, are written in a civil style.

JoeG, meanwhile, is exploding with insulting rage. Forget about reasoned discussion.

Here in this discussion thread it doesn’t matter. We have the artificial ability to shunt him to the bathroom wall.

But, unless one is retired and living in some kind of an idyllic college town or some such thing, we all have to live and work within a population that is 20-40%, possibly more, composed of JoeG types. I’m referring to the entire ideological and stylistic package, of course, not just the ID/creationism.

One aspect of that ideology is extreme assumption of privilege. One of the privileges they assume is that is is perfectly appropriate for them to explode with rage or jeering insults if any aspect of their ideology - an ideology which includes disrespect for science and denial of scientific reality - is questioned. They also have a strong tendency to throw out cues and hints, at least to some other people, and if you don’t respond to the cue with the right line, they begin preparing for battle. Trying to avoid the discussion is taken as not responding with the right line. If they make some comment about “Obamacare” or use some other buzzword, and you just try to keep your mouth shut, you can expect further trouble down the line.

In the real world, sometimes they “lose”. Sometimes they get themselves fired or sued. But even when they lose, they cost other people massive amounts of time and money. Far more damage was done to the Dover school district than to any individual who promoted the teaching of creationism there. And at other times they simply win http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Comer. Actually they always win. Heads, they violate your rights or persecute you and get away with it. Tails, you stop them, but you’re emotionally and financially bankrupted in the process.

No-one ever thought of this before. It’s brilliant. Simply combine a narcissistic assumption of total privilege with a tendency to explode into rage at the drop of a pin, and you can dominate an entire free society.

It’s very tiresome for the rest of us, though. I was hoping that the 21st century might see a tapering off of this, but it looks more as if it may be the dawn of a new age.

This sort of “slash and burn” tactic is a favorite not only here but in leftwing political circles. Attributing such commentary to Saul Alinsky has become rather popular in recent years and while done too often, still occasionally has merit. By getting angry and attacking the poster with name calling and belittling their intelligence, the attacker seeks to stifle further debate.

The attempt to claim Meyer says “no one has any idea how turtles evolved” is utterly disingenuous. No one would say that to Meyer directly as he would shred that premise and the “supporting logic” that followed. The fact that numerous papers have been written on the evolution of turtles in no way disproves Meyer’s point. But this [not so?] subtle attempt to attribute meaning not intended by Meyer is another oft-used tactic. It sets up a strawman that’s easily knocked down.

The simple fact remains that random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the origin of the kind of information contained in DNA. While intelligent design only takes us to a new set of questions (who’s the designer, where did he come from, why doesn’t he show his face, etc.,) it is a much more intellectually satisfying explanation than neo-Darwinism.

I’m an agnostic. I have no theistic “dog” in this fight. I simply find neo-Darwinism and its follow-on theories to lack the explanatory power it/they claim to have. As in politics, the proponents on both sides seem to be as driven by ideology and worldview (if not more) than they are by science. There seems to be a Lewontin-like obsession with defining science in such a way as to exclude ANY non-naturalistic cause to the point of irrationality. I can only conclude these fanatics are as afraid of the theistic implications of ID as they claim theists are of the atheistic implications of Darwinian evolution. No science is EVER settled and it should never, ever limit itself to conclusion drawn within a self-defined set of parameters. That only allows for the best possible conclusion within the circularity of those parameters while possibly omitting the BEST solution which may well lay outside of them.

Cal wrote

The simple fact remains that random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the origin of the kind of information contained in DNA.

Sorry, Cal. A flat assertion won’t do. You’ll have to tell us clearly just what kind of information is contained in DNA that cannot be generated by the variation-selection process of evolution. How does one measure it? It’s easy to show that the variation-selection process can generate both Shannon information and K-C-S algorithmic complexity; start reading here, following the relevant links, to learn how. So what is this mysterious kind of information you’re referring to? I’ve read a goodly amount of Dembski (e.g., No Free Lunch) and Meyer (e.g., Signature in the Cell and parts of Darwin’s Doubt), and nowhere do I see a description of that kind of “information” that I can go into the lab or field and actually measure to show that it can’t be generated by the variation-selection process.

Cal said: This sort of “slash and burn” tactic is a favorite not only here but in leftwing political circles. Attributing such commentary to Saul Alinsky has become rather popular in recent years

Funny, the only people I’ve ever heard bring up Alinksy are right-wing ideologues. As far as I can tell, he is completely absent from modern liberal political discussion.

The attempt to claim Meyer says “no one has any idea how turtles evolved” is utterly disingenuous. No one would say that to Meyer directly as he would shred that premise and the “supporting logic” that followed. The fact that numerous papers have been written on the evolution of turtles in no way disproves Meyer’s point.

So, just to be clear, you’re arguing that the fact that numerous papers have been written on the evolution of turtles in no way disproves the claim “no one has any idea how turtles evolved.” Is that right?

I think you must be using the term “any idea” differently than most people. Or perhaps the word “papers” differently.

The simple fact remains that random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the origin of the kind of information contained in DNA.

How does it not? It provides a mechanism for producing varied genetic codes and differentially selecting which ones propagate based on their informational content (or, rather, how that informational content expresses in development and behavior).

While intelligent design only takes us to a new set of questions (who’s the designer, where did he come from, why doesn’t he show his face, etc.,) it is a much more intellectually satisfying explanation than neo-Darwinism.

Scientists don’t care about whether a theory is satisfying or not. We care whether it works to help us predict and manipulate the world around us. It is supremely unsatisfying to some people to fire one atom at two parallel slits and watch it go through both at the same time. The mind boggles. Einstein himself was supposedly very dissatisfied by quantum indeterminancy. Yet, we’re going to accept QM until something better comes along.

I’m an agnostic. I have no theistic “dog” in this fight. I simply find neo-Darwinism and its follow-on theories to lack the explanatory power it/they claim to have.

You’re so far right you can’t even recognize the rightist language that characterizes your speech. Let me give you a hint: nobody agnostic or in the middle would invoke Alinsky, or refer to the TOE as Darwinism.

There seems to be a Lewontin-like obsession with defining science in such a way as to exclude ANY non-naturalistic cause to the point of irrationality.

We don’t exclude them. As I’ve challenged FL, feel free to develop a non-natural hypothesis. Develop testable predictions from it. Go test them. Publish. Repeat. Once you’ve got some confirmable predictions taht support your hypothesis better than the TOE, people will begin paying attention.

What will NOT happen, however, is science paying attention to such ideas before a proponent goes through the above steps. This is not out of ideology, it’s out of pragmatism; we simply can’t test everyone else’s unevidenced ideas, there are too many. We’d run out of money and peoplepower before we even got through the crackpot ideas starting with “A.” Proponents of novel hypotheses must first distinguish their hypothesis from all the other non-evidenced ones by collecting some initial evidence. Then other scientists might get interested. That’s the only way a resource-limited system can work: the proposer takes the first step, shows some results, then others look at it.

And no, lack of an idea about how turtles evolved does not count. A gap in evolution’s explanatory power is not evidence for design. If you want to test whether turtles were designed, you mst come up with a testable hypothesis about how turtles were designed.

If turtles aren’t designed, how did some of them get painted? ;)

Cal said:

The simple fact remains that random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the origin of the kind of information contained in DNA. While intelligent design only takes us to a new set of questions (who’s the designer, where did he come from, why doesn’t he show his face, etc.,) it is a much more intellectually satisfying explanation than neo-Darwinism.

Show all maths.

You might also wish to read the comments of this engineer who was a religious fundamentalist and creationist until he realized the power of natural selection in his own research.

http://www.salon.com/2013/09/09/i_w[…]ind_partner/

This is what scares the crap out of Floyd.

Cal said:

The attempt to claim Meyer says “no one has any idea how turtles evolved” is utterly disingenuous. No one would say that to Meyer directly as he would shred that premise and the “supporting logic” that followed.

He sure as shootin would not disagree. Stephen Meyer never saw an anti-evolution argument he didn’t like– especially he’s fond of the inaccurate ones– old wives’ tales, urban myths, and outright lies. Creationists just a few years ago asserted that no transitional between a shell-less, tooted reptile and a shelled, beaked turtle was possible, even in principle– any transitional would DROP DEAD, creationists said. IMPOSSIBLE, that’s all! The fact that they could imagine a transitional dying inside their heads was presented as scientific proof against evolution. What they couldn’t show in the field they proved in their imagination and rich fantasy life.

But then of course Odontochelys was published in 2008 and all you IDiots had to change your story overnight. Your new story is that a reptile with half a shell and teeth, no beak is “just a turtle.” Fuck you. Five years ago you said it would drop dead ‘cause it was impossible. Besides Odontochelys there’s Proganochelys and Eunotosaurus. You lied about the fossil record, you lost, fuck off.

Cal said:

The simple fact remains

Get ready for a lie. Whenever liars don’t have facts to back up their assertions, they say “The fact is” and variants thereof.

that random mutation and natural selection can’t account for the origin of the kind of information contained in DNA.

Bingo. I knew that lie was coming. Sorry “Cal”, we all know about real information theory here. No creationist has ever been able to back up their countless assertions that natural processes can’t produce information. They all say it– but none of them ever cite it to the peer-reviewed scientific literature– because it’s not in the peer-reviewed scientific literature! Do you ever wonder why that is, Cal?

Given that all creationists say it, and that it’s crucial to their hypothesis, why do you think they never cite it to the peer-reviewed scientific literature? Moreover, if you ask them where they got the idea from, they won’t ever tell you. That’s because they just copied it from other creationists, who copied it from other creationists… but they can’t admit where they got their scientific knowledge from.

That’s why creationists are so insufferable. Scientists have to cite their claims to some experiment or observation or mathematical analysis. Creationists just make shit up.

If you want to see Dembski’s moronic assertions about Specified Complexity rebutted, in particular his claims about the “Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information”, you can start with Richard Wein’s debunking of Specified Complexity in general. Dembski responds to Wein, and loses the debate badly. A more mathematical treatment is found in Elsberrry and Shallit’s debunking of Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information. There are several others. The anti-Dembski literature is quite large; Dembski’s only response to his expert critics is name-calling.

If you want something specific to the way that Stephen Meyer lies about information theory, see Stephen Meyer’s Bogus Information Theory. This was written by Jeff Shallit, who teaches information theory for a living, and is paid to do it. Real information theory. Stephen Meyer has not responded to these criticisms and has not updated his idiotic claims about information theory.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on September 4, 2013 11:49 AM.

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