Understanding creationism, IV:
An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist

| 149 Comments

By David MacMillan.

4. Transitional fossils.

One of the most common and most frustrating creationist objections to evolution is the claim that there are no “missing links” or “transitional fossils” required by evolution. This claim is made without qualification, particularly in presentations to lay or church audiences. As unthinkable as it might seem, creationists really do believe that transitional fossils simply do not exist. On this basis, they conclude that evolution must be false.

They maintain this completely erroneous view by consistently misrepresenting what a transitional fossil actually is. Creationists don’t deny that Archaeopteryx, Pakicetus, Tiktaalik, Australopithecus, and similar prominent examples of transitional fossils exist; they rather argue that these are not “true” transitional fossils.

The last section dealt with misconceptions about evolution on the population level: the “where” of evolutionary change. This installment will focus on misconceptions about how evolutionary change happens over time. Evolution is properly understood as “descent with modification”, where the critical word is “descent”. The life on earth today is not the same as the life which was once on earth, the life we descended from. As this series has already illustrated, creationists do not dispute the concept of change; rather, they dispute the concept of descent in the way it is described by the theory of evolution.

Young-earth creationists believe that all life, living and fossil, can be grouped into a series of families – they call them baramins, a made-up Hebrew word for “created kinds” – which all existed together at the same time from the very beginning. They use this completely artificial understanding of our planet’s biosphere in generating their concept of a “missing link”: in order for something to be a “true” transitional form under their model, it would have to be something halfway between two separate created “kinds”. Because they automatically assign every species to a particular created kind and only to that created kind, their “transitional form” is something that could never exist.

The usual parodies of evolutionary transitional fossils, like Ray Comfort’s infamous crocoduck, are openly tongue-in-cheek. But because creationists see all animals as belonging to individual, immutable kinds, they represent evolution as “change from one ‘kind’ to another” claiming that evolution predicts we should see transitions between their “created kinds”: for example, a fossil that is midway between a dog and a cat. Just as with living species, all fossil species are placed within strict “created kinds”, allowing creationists to maintain the illusion that nothing is ever “in-between”.

This characterization is a complete misunderstanding of what evolution actually predicts. No one expects one existing species to evolve into another. The “kinds” alleged by creationism simply do not exist in the evolutionary model; there is no line between one family and another that a transitional form needs to straddle.

What creationists don’t recognize is that the theory of evolution does not predict “transitional” fossils at all – at least, not in the way creationists expect. Evolutionary theory does not predict that there will be “normal” fossils most of the time, while chimaera-like “transitional” fossils will appear tucked in-between. Evolution has no general prediction about a unique class of transitional fossils. Instead, evolution makes predictions about the specific morphology, age, and location of the individual fossils it expects to discover. It bases these individual predictions on other specific fossils that have already been discovered.When morphology and a variety of other factors indicate that one particular species is the distant ancestor of another particular species, evolutionary principles can be used to predict the attributes of one or more intermediate species.

These predictions can be directly employed to make new discoveries; Tiktaalik, the transitional form between lobe-finned fish and all tetrapods, was found in the exact region in the exact range of strata that evolution had predicted it would be found. Adding to the confusion, creationists also erroneously assume that in order for a species to be truly intermediate, it must contain parts that are only partly functional – half-working lungs in fish, half-formed wings in theropod dinosaurs, and so forth. This assumption is another misunderstanding about evolutionary descent. In order for a new trait to become fixed in a population in the first place, the trait must be maximally adapted to the environment. Evolution thus does not predict functionless or half-functioning intermediate organs and morphologies, but rather organs which are fully optimized to their environment but are repurposed by a later organism as part of a different design. For example, the human appendix is evidence for evolution not because it is functionless (it does, in fact, have a function), but because it was adapted from the cecum, which provided a different function to our ancestors. All life is full of little bits and pieces showing how evolution has adapted different structures for different purposes in its universal descent. Yet to creationists, none of this is “true” evidence for evolution, because they imagine that “true” evolution would produce functionless structures. Functionless structures, of course, are the one thing evolution cannot manufacture.

In applying this belief, creationists invariably move the goalposts. Any hypothetical function, no matter how minor or speculative, is taken to mean that the morphology in question couldn’t have been transitional. Even if they can’t think of a function, they’ll still hold out that there could be a function, and so it’s not proven to be transitional – all while completely misunderstanding what a transitional form really is.

These two objections – that a given fossil isn’t “really” transitional because it’s “not in-between two kinds” or because all its organs are fully functioning – are recycled over and over every time a new intermediate fossil is discovered. Even when a new species is discovered exactly matching a specific evolutionary prediction, it is still discounted using these two objections. Alternatively, creationists announce that the new species is a new “kind” and then point out the two spaces on either side of it as further “missing links”. In their eyes, every new link means there are twice as many holes to fill.

Sometimes this misconception can be dismantled by inquiring exactly what sort of transitional fossils the creationist thinks evolution expects. “Describe the specific attributes of a fossil which you would consider evidence for evolutionary common descent.” The creationist will either fail to come up with anything (demonstrating that his model is set up to explain away all evidence, no matter how obvious), or will describe something that evolution would not predict in the first place.

149 Comments

Another great post in the series. Creationism really is about what we philosophers call “essentialism” in biology. And if there’s anything the actual biological evidence mitigates against, it’s the idea of “essences.”

One quibble: you write that “Functionless structures, of course, are the one thing evolution cannot manufacture.” But is that true? I was thinking of cave-dwelling species specifically. Many cave-dwelling fish, for example, are blind – but they still retain useless eyes, often with sockets fully covered by skin and scales. It seems to me that evolution can explain precisely how they got these otherwise unusual features. Now, natural selection, as a key component of evolution, can’t produce functionless structures: functional structures are precisely what get selected for. But as long as a trait is selectively neutral, it could lose functionality over time, with mutations accumulating and bearing the stamp of a past functional history. So the functionless eyes of cavefish are explained by evolution, it’s just that qua functionless, they weren’t produced by natural selection.

It seems to me that creationism will of course have no biologically coherent explanation for the scaled-over useless eye sockets of blind cavefish. Still, I thought they might provide a good example of evolution being capable of explaining lack of function in addition to being capable of explaining function.

And when a new intermediate is discovered, the number of gaps has increases by one!!!111!!!eleven!!!

Just for the sake of curiosity, I wonder what we would expect a fossil of a creature that’s in the process of changing from one unrelated “kind” to another–say, a human to a wolf–to even look like. If something matching that description were ever found, by their own criteria and upside-down fantasy-world logic, would creationists have to relent that fossilized evidence of werewolves “proves” evolution?

In addition to the “moving the goalpost” strategy that you mentioned above, David, I’ve also heard the argument (probably more ID than biblical literalist) that Archaeopteryx represents an evolutionary dead-end (presumably from the fact that the individual died, and we don’t see any more of them today) and that therefore it could not be considered a “link” in the transition from therapod dinosaurs to birds.

Even without ancient DNA, of course there’s no way for scientists to prove the dead-end claim erroneous in any way that creationists can’t insist in perpetuity is merely their “interpretation”. (And how do they know that individual didn’t reproduce before it died anyway? Were they there?) It simply becomes a convenient way of casting doubt, without even addressing the relationship between therapods and birds at all, that unfortunately appears to be incredibly effective.

What they never quite get around to doing is coming up with an explanation for “transitional fossils.” Archaeopteryx is the perfect example of the limits of evolution, that if a terrestrial-bound dinosaur evolves flight, it is going to be far from an ideal flyer at first. Today’s birds fly great, but Archaeopteryx had a long way to go to become even very good at flying, let alone more or less optimized for flight as today’s birds are.

Is Archaeopteryx some weird experiment by a rather limited designer? Even if so, why not include some pterosaur innovations, or bat innovations (presumably bats could be on the drawing board)? And why not put feathers on bats, given how wonderfully sculpted for aerodynamics feathers can evolve to be? No, Archaeopteryx is just what you’d expect of something that hasn’t evolved to anything like optimal functionality, and nothing like you’d expect of either an omniscient designer or even a kludge (even kludgy designers aren’t limited by heredity, as evolution, as Archaeopteryx, is).

But actually explaining organisms has never been an interest of creationists, including IDists. Dumping on the one meaningful explanation is all that interests them.

Glen Davidson

One quibble: you write that “Functionless structures, of course, are the one thing evolution cannot manufacture.” But is that true? I was thinking of cave-dwelling species specifically. Many cave-dwelling fish, for example, are blind – but they still retain useless eyes, often with sockets fully covered by skin and scales. It seems to me that evolution can explain precisely how they got these otherwise unusual features. Now, natural selection, as a key component of evolution, can’t produce functionless structures: functional structures are precisely what get selected for. But as long as a trait is selectively neutral, it could lose functionality over time, with mutations accumulating and bearing the stamp of a past functional history. So the functionless eyes of cavefish are explained by evolution, it’s just that qua functionless, they weren’t produced by natural selection.

I thought about that, too, but noted that David stated it correctly, functionless structures cannot be “manufactured” by evolution. Functional structures can be rendered functionless by evolution, yet they aren’t “manufactured” (not sure that’s the most fortuitous word for it, but ok) by evolution.

Glen Davidson

mattdance18 said:

One quibble: you write that “Functionless structures, of course, are the one thing evolution cannot manufacture.”

I was thinking the same thing. As you point out, it would apply to any kind of vestigial organ. Some structure will be preserved for generations even after the environment is no longer selecting for it. This is confounded by the fact that there might be new selective pressures that preserve the modified structure (legs to wings to flippers, etc.) so it may be very hard to find a truly vestigial organ.

I think another related issue is “spandrels” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology) though I admit I’m getting far afield of what I know. But the point is that a structure may be the consequence of other structures that are selected for even if the structure itself does not have a “function.”

Functional structures can be rendered functionless by evolution, yet they aren’t “manufactured”

I treat “rendered functionless” as equivalent to “manufactured” for present purposes. If I “manufacture” a chair from a tree, I render a lot of other things functionless. To distinguish between “positive” and “negative” transformations seems almost unsupportable in the context of scientific definitions.

Functional structures can be rendered functionless by evolution, yet they aren’t “manufactured” (not sure that’s the most fortuitous word for it, but ok) by evolution.

Just to be clear, they’re “manufactured” by evolution as functional structures, and aren’t “manufactured” by evolution as functionless structures.

Glen Davidson

callahanpb said:

Functional structures can be rendered functionless by evolution, yet they aren’t “manufactured”

I treat “rendered functionless” as equivalent to “manufactured” for present purposes. If I “manufacture” a chair from a tree, I render a lot of other things functionless. To distinguish between “positive” and “negative” transformations seems almost unsupportable in the context of scientific definitions.

Not really. Selection for, selection against, and nearly-neutral nearly “non-selection,” of genes, is routinely assessed. Positive selection is crucial to contemporary evolutionary theory.

Glen Davidson

callahanpb said:

Functional structures can be rendered functionless by evolution, yet they aren’t “manufactured”

I treat “rendered functionless” as equivalent to “manufactured” for present purposes. If I “manufacture” a chair from a tree, I render a lot of other things functionless. To distinguish between “positive” and “negative” transformations seems almost unsupportable in the context of scientific definitions.

Good catch. This was a late edit; I obviously wasn’t quite clear enough.

The statement was intended to reference the creationist definition of “functionless” structures – what they are “expecting” to find. Blind cave fish with flaps of skin over their defunct eyes? Well, the eyes COULD be used to see if not for the flaps of skin, so…not functionless. The flaps of skin protect the eyes because they aren’t needed, so…not functionless.

We recognize that evolution is not at all an upward process; it is an adaptive process, and points in no particular direction at any time. So if a particular structure is not useful in an environment, natural selection and mutation can render it less of a liability. But creationists move the goalposts on “functionless” just the same as they move the goalposts on “information” and “transitional” and every other term in evolutionary biology, so no structure will ever satisfy the creationist definition.

Of course, they will also sometimes say “well, sure, blind cave fish are evolving, but that’s a downward process; evolution requires an upward process.” Which, again, is a misconception. They demand functionless structures that at the same time are “upward” in their view of the complexity of life. It’s an impossible definition.

Henry J said:

And when a new intermediate is discovered, the number of gaps has increases by one!!!111!!!eleven!!!

Exactly! One on either side!

Katharine said:

Just for the sake of curiosity, I wonder what we would expect a fossil of a creature that’s in the process of changing from one unrelated “kind” to another–say, a human to a wolf–to even look like. If something matching that description were ever found, by their own criteria and upside-down fantasy-world logic, would creationists have to relent that fossilized evidence of werewolves “proves” evolution?

Exactly. See the crocoduck. The crocoduck was tongue-in-cheek, as I said, but they really don’t have a clear picture of what they’re actually looking for. Ask them what they’d accept as a “true” transitional form, then stand back and enjoy the show.

My favorite transitional fossil is Morganodon because: 1) It is one of our relatives 2) Its double-articulated jaw was sometimes considered, before its appearance in a fossil, a problem for evolution 3) It is an example of the evolution of “irreducible complexity” 4) From jaw bone to middle ear bone is a major change in function - adaptation 5) There are abundant fossils of different species throughout the world 6) The connection between jaw and middle ear was first observed on the basis of embryology, before “On the Origin of Species” 7) There are popular descriptions of it - “Earful of jaw” and “Your Inner Fish” - which make it easy to understand

I wrote a bit about this issue lately, if anyone is interested:

http://link.springer.com/article/10[…]1-014-9696-8

April 2014 A Tale of Two Crocoducks: Creationist Misuses of Molecular Evolution

The demand for transitional forms is really even worse than you make it out to be. It fails to take into account the move to cladistic analysis that has been in place for decades.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Not really. Selection for, selection against, and nearly-neutral nearly “non-selection,” of genes, is routinely assessed. Positive selection is crucial to contemporary evolutionary theory.

Glen Davidson

As a non-biologist, I’ll take your word for it that there is some distinction to be made, but I think a lot of things may look like “structure” to a human observer but are neutral to selection.

I’ve often wondered this about the patterns on some mollusk shells that look like the Sierpinski gasket (or Pascal’s triangle mod 2 if you prefer). http://www.gastropods.com/9/Shell_4459.shtml has a picture.

Maybe these patterns confer some advantage, but even if they don’t, they can be created by very simple mathematical processes (e.g. 1-D xor cellular automata) and I would guess (again IANAB) that something similar could happen during development in local cell interactions. So if the only explanation is that it is a neutral phenotype, I would find that believable, rather than insisting it has a function.

I think this is true of many patterns–e.g. the diversity of color and variegation in flowers (I realize some colors are selected for, not to mention very elaborate mimicry in some cases). You could counter that highly variable surface patterns are not “structure” but that seems to be headed in the direction of “no true Scotsman”.

I can certainly accept a qualified view of David’s statement, namely that the presence of a structure that isn’t an incidental consequence of development (like shell patterns) suggests that these structures have a function or at least had some function in ancestors.

Much of this form of “argumentation” against evolution was hammered out by Morris and Gish at the Institute for Creation “Research” beginning back in the early 1970s.

When Duane Gish was harassing teachers in Kalamazoo, Michigan, his favorite tactic was to hit teachers with bogus claims about science in the areas in which a teacher would not likely have expertise. So, for example, Morris’s second law of thermodynamics argument against evolution would constantly be brought up against biology teachers.

I have known some of the teachers who have experienced Gish’s unannounced appearances in their classrooms. They report that he was an aggressive bully. This trait shows up in the videos of Gish debating scientists on college campus venues.

It seemed clear to a number of us back then that these tactics were deliberate taunting in order to provoke debates and interactions that got them publicity and a free ride on the back of a teacher or a scientist.

Gish, for example, never responded to a devastating refutation of any of his “arguments,” instead, simply launching into his famous Gish Gallop as though he had won the point. I suspect this was – and still is – a tactic designed to infuriate their opponents and get them to show anger in a debate.

I still suspect that the leaders of this ID/creationist movement know they are misleading their followers. They have had enough interactions with scientists’ attempts to correct their misrepresentations and misconceptions; and they most certainly have had time to correct their misrepresentations and misconceptions. But this they never do.

Instead, they double down and “up the ante” by jumping into advanced ideas and pretending to be able to argue with any expert. It is a tactic that makes them look like “universal geniuses” to their followers; and their followers think they can do the same thing by Googling the Internet for papers that they think “refute” their opponents. It becomes a game of phony posturing without any conceptual understanding of the science.

The “debating” that goes on, whether on campus or on the Internet, is a game of trying to inflict psychological pain on “enemies;” and the ID/creationist taunting is designed to sucker others into paying attention to the ID/creationist.

This is what Gish did; he liked to inflict pain on teachers in front of their students, and there was an element of hatred and distain behind it. He even admitted that he was a “bulldog” in this debating style. This tells us a lot about his “religion.”

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

Selection for, selection against, and nearly-neutral nearly “non-selection,” of genes, is routinely assessed. Positive selection is crucial to contemporary evolutionary theory.

Glen Davidson

Just to be clear, I wasn’t disputing the distinction between selecting for and selecting against. It was probably a mistake to say “positive” and “negative” even with the scare quotes, since I was not referring to any particular usage.

What I meant is that the informal human distinction by which we normally say “demolish a building” rather than “construct a vacant lot” seems to get into pretty shaky philosophical territory. The building might have been a rat-infested public nuisance, and the vacant lot (if not bulldozed flat) might work out well as a BMX bike park, so did I destroy something or make something (both?). I grant that “rendered functionless” is meaningful relative to the original function, but I’m not sure how common this is compared to being repurposed into an entirely new function.

In short, the distinction between “manufactured” and “rendered functionless” is getting too teleological for me, though I’ll leave open that there might be some rigorous form of this known to biologists.

The discussion here in terms of intermediates between creationist “kinds” is illuminating. However one should be careful to say what “transitional form” does and does not mean in evolutionary biology. 50 years ago evolutionary biologists were accustomed to concluding that any “transitional form” really was the ancestral species. I see some of that thinking here, particularly in the comments. But since the 1980s it has become clearer that most of these forms are not the ancestral species, but are cousins of the ancestors. They are “transitional” in that they contain transitional combinations of character states, but they are not the exact lineage that is ancestral to the group.

Sure, Homo erectus (or Homo ergaster) is probably our ancestor, but in most other cases the “transitional” fossils we find are not on the ancestral line – but they do give us great insights into what the ancestors looked like. In the case of hominids there has been enough searching that we can be reasonably confident that we have the ancestor.

In that sense, the word “transitional” is unfortunate, because it does imply to the listener or reader that we have caught the lineage in the act of making the transition. But that’s not what “transitional” now means.

Where can I get tickets to that show, David? Because I so want to see it live.

Joe Felsenstein said:

In that sense, the word “transitional” is unfortunate, because it does imply to the listener or reader that we have caught the lineage in the act of making the transition. But that’s not what “transitional” now means.

Absolutely. That’s exactly what I hear when I listen to the creationist argument.

Though I can’t believe that creationists honestly expect to ever find evidence of organisms matching their definition of transitional (in which “transitional” and “kind” or “species” are mutually exclusive, and you can basically argue that anything that gets fossilized represents a fixed species of an established “kind” anyway). That would “prove” evolution according to their logic, and they already know evolution is a conspiracy and bunk. It reeks of the sort of Lamarckism that biologists gave up long ago, yet I suppose is exactly what you would argue if you believed (or wanted the ignorant masses to believe) your opponent was still going by the science of the 1850s.

I believe that an argument could be made that many of the appendages and colorations that appear to be sexually selected are in fact “functionless”. The peacock’s tail comes to mind, or a rooster’s comb. The only “function” is to attract a mate, even though it may actually be detrimental to the individual in question.

Admittedly, one does have to attract a mate in order for evolution to have offspring to operate on, but simply catching the eye of a fickle mate seems a rather weak “function”.

Scott F: I think you’re making a false distinction. Function, in any evolutionary sense, must refer to the conferring of some kind of reproductive advantage. A peacock’s heart keeps its cells nourished, and without it the peacock would have very poor reproductive success. A peacock’s tail attracts the ladies, and without it the peacock would have very poor reproductive success. OK, without the former you’re dead and without the latter you’re still alive but without progeny, but they both look exactly the same to selection; the only score that matters is reproductive success. And if the tail were detrimental to the individual, it would be selected against. Any hypothetical cost in reduced survival is more than compensated by the benefit of increased mating success; has to be, or the tail wouldn’t be there.

Katharine said:

Though I can’t believe that creationists honestly expect to ever find evidence of organisms matching their definition of transitional (in which “transitional” and “kind” or “species” are mutually exclusive, and you can basically argue that anything that gets fossilized represents a fixed species of an established “kind” anyway).

And I think that for many people, even among people who accept evolution, the only conceivable evidence is in fossils.

John Harshman said:

Scott F: I think you’re making a false distinction.

IANAB but I agree with this. Other signaling structures that are only functional in an ecological context are mimicry, and markings that warn that an animal is venomous (whether it is or isn’t). I think the key distinction is whether they are subject to selective pressure.

Actually, there is probably some circularity here in that any deviation from normal affects the perception of health in mate selection. So I wonder if completely “useless” features get preserved just because their absence would suggest the presents of other problems. Of course, the personal problems of super-powered mutants are sufficiently covered comic books and SF to obviate any further discussion here. :) (And don’t talk to me about my trouble finding the right hat to cover up that telepathy lobe.)

John Harshman said:

Scott F: I think you’re making a false distinction. Function, in any evolutionary sense, must refer to the conferring of some kind of reproductive advantage. A peacock’s heart keeps its cells nourished, and without it the peacock would have very poor reproductive success. A peacock’s tail attracts the ladies, and without it the peacock would have very poor reproductive success. OK, without the former you’re dead and without the latter you’re still alive but without progeny, but they both look exactly the same to selection; the only score that matters is reproductive success. And if the tail were detrimental to the individual, it would be selected against. Any hypothetical cost in reduced survival is more than compensated by the benefit of increased mating success; has to be, or the tail wouldn’t be there.

I know, I know. If something is selectable, it is (almost by definition) “functional” in some reproductive sense. It’s just that “looking good” seems like such a “trivial” criteria. “Looking good” doesn’t feel very functional.

In contrast, there are creatures such as bowerbirds, where the need to be more clever or dexterous in order to attract a mate (rather than simply being prettier), might (conceivably) have an unintended side effect of increasing intelligence in the species. (“Unintended” as in the female bird doesn’t have an intention of choosing a “smarter” mate.)

But I would disagree with this: “…if the tail were detrimental to the individual, it would be selected against.” As I understand it, that isn’t necessarily true. The larger tail could indeed be detrimental to the individual, but the selection pressure to attract a mate could (and most likely does) outweigh the detrimental effects of the large tail. There are lots of species (particularly insects) where the individual is literally sacrificed for the survival of the species.

David MacMillan said:

This characterization is a complete misunderstanding of what evolution actually predicts. No one expects one existing species to evolve into another. The “kinds” alleged by creationism simply do not exist in the evolutionary model; there is no line between one family and another that a transitional form needs to straddle.

I think your Figure 1 from the previous thread addresses this issue quite nicely. However, your point here is slightly different. It’s hard for us to remember that the Creationist sees hard boundaries between different “kinds”, and that they don’t understand “descent with modification” from ancestors. By definition, your ancestors are the same “kind” as you are, as will your progeny be, ad infinitum.

This also gets to the heart of the related Creationist’s fanciful notion of speciation, that the first male “X” (born to parents of a different kind) has to wait around for (or be lucky enough to find) the first female “X” in order produce the new “X” “kind”. The Creationist sees “speciation” as a form of “special creation”, bridging in one generation any conceivable gap between one “kind” and another. Your previous Figure 1 shows more clearly that this is not the case, shows both how and why it is not the case.

I have to say it isn’t just a Creationist notion either. It is a compelling argument, and one that I struggled to reconcile with Evolution. It is a simplistic childlike notion that is (what I perceive to be) the “default” notion, if you don’t think about it too hard. Just as with deep space, deep time is a hard notion for people to grasp. People see things as (relatively) unchanging, and because of that they “naturally” assume that things don’t change much over time. Even if you take a science class in high school, evolution isn’t something that you can “demonstrate” in a simple lab experiment.

But then that’s why we’re here on this web site, isn’t it. It’s in the Creationist’s (blind, short term) interest to ensure that the population remains as uneducated as possible, in order that they cannot question authority.

YEC denial of feathered dinosaurs is exactly the kind of thing here. Either they were really birds (if the feathers found on fossils are undeniable) or else they were dinosaurs but lacked true feathers … http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewto[…]t=yutyrannus

If the Christian god exists and if the Bible is his true word to humanity, why is every argument made by young earth (Biblical) creationists against any unbiblical science invariably nonsense?

ashleyhr said:

YEC denial of feathered dinosaurs is exactly the kind of thing here. Either they were really birds (if the feathers found on fossils are undeniable) or else they were dinosaurs but lacked true feathers … http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewto[…]t=yutyrannus

Or, more recently, some YECs have taken to seriously suggesting that God created a “feathered-bipedal-reptile kind” as a separate baramin from the various dinosaur baramins and the various avian baramins. Not even kidding. That’s how they approach these things. Ten years ago, they insisted that no feathered dinosaurs could ever exist…now, feathered dinosaurs are their own special created kind. Their goalposts are on wheels.

ashleyhr said:

If the Christian god exists and if the Bible is his true word to humanity, why is every argument made by young earth (Biblical) creationists against any unbiblical science invariably nonsense?

Because there is no “unbiblical” science, only “contrary-to-the-privileged-underinformed-arbitrarily-invented-interpretation-of-the-Bible-and-uncomfortable-for-various-reasons science”.

Scott F said:

I believe that an argument could be made that many of the appendages and colorations that appear to be sexually selected are in fact “functionless”. The peacock’s tail comes to mind, or a rooster’s comb. The only “function” is to attract a mate, even though it may actually be detrimental to the individual in question.

Admittedly, one does have to attract a mate in order for evolution to have offspring to operate on, but simply catching the eye of a fickle mate seems a rather weak “function”.

Just another example of how evolution is not about ‘creating’ optimal solutions, it is about incorporating whatever variations available that may confer a reproductive advantage?

Couldn’t that result in any species ending up in an evolutionary cul-de-sac? Like our own seems likely to be?

Scott F said:

There are lots of species (particularly insects) where the individual is literally sacrificed for the survival of the species.

If you are thinking in therms of colonies like ants, is not each individual ant except the queen analoguos to the cells of a body; they constitute limbs (and organs?) in the process of keeping her alive to propagate her and her “mate’s” genes?

With the eusocial insects, the queen’s genes survive and the queen lives to reproduce because the other “castes” are selected to optimise not their own survival, because they do not reproduce, but the queen’s survival, because she is the only one who does reproduce. Therefore, those other “castes” are selected for feeding and nurturing the queen and caring for her offspring, and for self-sacrifice where necessary in the defence of same.

Of course, before Steve leaps in, the word “caste” is a metaphor, an extension and specialisation of what it means in human society.

david.starling.macmillan said:

ashleyhr said:

YEC denial of feathered dinosaurs is exactly the kind of thing here. Either they were really birds (if the feathers found on fossils are undeniable) or else they were dinosaurs but lacked true feathers … http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewto[…]t=yutyrannus

Or, more recently, some YECs have taken to seriously suggesting that God created a “feathered-bipedal-reptile kind” as a separate baramin from the various dinosaur baramins and the various avian baramins. Not even kidding. That’s how they approach these things. Ten years ago, they insisted that no feathered dinosaurs could ever exist…now, feathered dinosaurs are their own special created kind. Their goalposts are on wheels.

When I was first introduced to YEC, I would have thought that all fossils would be rejected as something either constructed by paleontologists from funny-shaped rocks or a something planted by Satan. So I was pleased to see that the YECs have made that accommodation to science. And that they can move to accept feathered bipedal reptile as being real makes me think that maybe there will be a time when there will be an acceptance of “reptile”-bird evolution. Maybe there is some other Biblical explanation that someone will interpret the Bible as literally saying. (Like how the Bible really says that the Earth is a planet.)

ashleyhr said:

If the Christian god exists and if the Bible is his true word to humanity, why is every argument made by young earth (Biblical) creationists against any unbiblical science invariably nonsense?

Because there is no “unbiblical” science, only “contrary-to-the-privileged-underinformed-arbitrarily-invented-interpretation-of-the-Bible-and-uncomfortable-for-various-reasons science”.

And, after all, how uncomfortable is it to say that birds are descended from dinosaurs?

Question for Floyd: Watched Cosmos yet? How about Your Inner Fish?

Thought not.

Let’s be clear here that when I’m speaking in terms of “I have a problem with this!” I’m not saying “there oughta be a law against talking about it!” or “force that guy to be fired before the term’s up, procedure be damned!”

I’m saying is a monumentally ugly, stupid, and blatantly anti-rights stance that should, in any reasonable society, disqualify someone simply because nobody supports the platform. But even where there is popular support, it’s a problem because it’s an ugly, stupid, and blatantly anti-rights stance. And sometimes even advocacy causes harm by creating a hostile environment, or sowing confusion instead of understanding. The normal method of uninstalling such demagogues, a recall election, probably won’t work where the popular support is high enough. So they are allowed to continue harming the community (even though many in the community approve of it). I “have a problem” with all of this, the same way I would “have a problem” with a racist firebrand talking up a storm about how schools should be allowed to segregate the students.

Just Bob said:

KlausH said:

We desperately need the scientific method in government. Every proposed law should have a clear statement of the legislation, the problem it is supposed to address, an analysis of its own legality under existing laws and the constitution, an analysis of impact on population, a logical explanation of how it is intended to work, and criteria by which its effectiveness can be judged. All laws should be reviewed after they have been implemented for a reasonable amount of time. Laws that are ineffective, by the stated criteria, or have serious unintended consequences, or were passed based on faulty or fraudulant data, should be discarded.

Sounds perfect! But try that in a real-world democracy, where legislators have to get elected and stay elected, often by appealing to the prejudices, popular ‘issues’, fears, and even ignorance of the electorate. What legislator is going to vote to ‘discard’ a law that, regardless of its ineffectuality, is strongly favored by his constituents?

This is only part of the problem. The other part is the persistent myth that anyone can serve on a science education committee. This leads to people like Paul Broun, of Georgia, representing the House Committee for Science and Technology. From an article in the local paper:

“God’s word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church’s website. “I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Some kind of test should be a requirement of sorts for people running for these committees or local school boards. Creationism thrives where people like Broun have political power.

ksplawn said:

Let’s be clear here that when I’m speaking in terms of “I have a problem with this!” I’m not saying “there oughta be a law against talking about it!” or “force that guy to be fired before the term’s up, procedure be damned!”

In the interest of further clarity, when I said “I don’t have a huge problem with someone …” I meant something like “I don’t have a huge problem with a political process that allows someone to try.” In all honesty, I do have a problem with people doing something damaging to the public good (as I see it) whether they are elected or even if they’re acting constitutionally. But the system that allows them to make the attempt is more valuable than whatever improvements I think I could make by circumventing it (modulo really extreme cases, but that’s where the process itself breaks down, and we’ve got bigger problems that we can hash out here).

My main point–and I’m sticking to it :)–is that politics is a contest, and science is not supposed to be. (There are prizes and other acclaim, so it’s a contest for priority of results, but shouldn’t be a contest for which results hold.)

It took me a long time in my own life to come around to the view that total consensus is unattainable and interest-driven processes are fundamental to human existence. When I see comments that really do sort of echo Leibniz’s “Let us calculate” I sort of feel like “Here we go again. What does it take to get a nice young scientist to appreciate how democracy is actually supposed to work?”

callahanpb said: One thing I notice about creationists is that they confuse advocacy with science and fail to wrap their heads around the fact that scientists are actually trying to understand stuff, not push their ideology.

Because creationists view creation “science” as Christian apologetics, and are emotionally attached to it, they assume that the reverse is true: that “evolutionists” are just trying to disprove God, because they are attached to their atheism (Christian evolutionists have been deceived, if they are still truly Christians.) I was talking to a creationist who thought evolution and billions of years were specifically thought up to be anti-Christian. So much so that he thought evolution was only taught in primarily Christian countries (because why teach an anti-Christian philosophy if there are no Christians?)

harold said:

FL said:

Question for Just Bob:

Is the Louisiana Science Education Act breaking the law?

(Sincere question.)

FL

Yes, it’s unconstitutional, and millions of dollars will be wasted discovering that if anyone ever tries to use it to teach creationism.

Louisiana seems to have learned its lesson from Edwards, though. No-one seems to be “taking advantage” of that law to teach creationism.

A law can’t break a law. How would one punish it? A person acting under a law can certainly be breaking a different law, and be punished. Such a case calls the respective laws into judicial question, usually with a resolution rendering one of them unconstitutional or otherwise invalid. IANAL, but my surmise is that the mere existence of the LSEA is not illegal, but a person doing what it purports to allow him to do would find himself charged with breaking laws that DO stand up to judicial scrutiny.

ksplawn said:

Politicians are not elected to try and pass unconstitutional policies that infringe on the voters’ rights, even if some voters want that. Quite the opposite.

Unfortunately, that statement is clearly false. Politicians are often elected on the promise to pass unconstitutional laws that infringe on people’s rights. It happens all the time.

Just read the Republican Party Platforms in any state of the union. They clearly promise to restrict and infringe the rights of “them”, in order to appease the sensibilities of “us”.

Just Bob said: A law can’t break a law. How would one punish it? … IANAL, but my surmise is that the mere existence of the LSEA is not illegal, but a person doing what it purports to allow him to do would find himself charged with breaking laws that DO stand up to judicial scrutiny.

IANAL either and this may be parsing the issue a bit too much but IMO a law most certainly can be illegal. The writers of a given law most certainly can overstep legal bounds with passage. These are the kinds of laws that our State and Federal Supreme Courts over turn every year. It’s not an automatic review based at the point of passage but when an aggrieved party petitions the court to review and make judgement.

Bobsie said:

Just Bob said: A law can’t break a law. How would one punish it? … IANAL, but my surmise is that the mere existence of the LSEA is not illegal, but a person doing what it purports to allow him to do would find himself charged with breaking laws that DO stand up to judicial scrutiny.

IANAL either and this may be parsing the issue a bit too much but IMO a law most certainly can be illegal. The writers of a given law most certainly can overstep legal bounds with passage. These are the kinds of laws that our State and Federal Supreme Courts over turn every year. It’s not an automatic review based at the point of passage but when an aggrieved party petitions the court to review and make judgement.

I think we need a lawyer’s technical opinion. Can a law itself be technically illegal? Unconstitutional, certainly, and therefore unenforceable, but is that the same thing as illegal? If a law could be illegal, wouldn’t its passage be an illegal act by the legislators who voted for it and the governor who signed it? Have they therefore opened themselves to punishment merely for putting such a law on the books? AFAIK, there are no criminal penalties for passing an unconstitutional law. But if one were to try to enforce it, he could incur criminal prosecution.

Case in point: In a small town near where I grew up (NOT in the South) there was a city ordinance that no Negro person could remain within the city limits overnight. AFAIK, that law could still be on the books. Now, if a town constable, say, tried to enforce it by forcing a black person to leave his hotel room and ‘git outta town’ before dark, that officer would likely face criminal and/or civil penalties for violating the civil rights of the person. I don’t believe that he could mount a successful defense claiming that he was only enforcing the law. For that matter, I believe there are articles and books published regularly full of ridiculous or archaic or unenforceable laws that are still on the books of communities around the country.

Jimpithecus said:

Just Bob said:

KlausH said:

We desperately need the scientific method in government. Every proposed law should have a clear statement of the legislation, the problem it is supposed to address, an analysis of its own legality under existing laws and the constitution, an analysis of impact on population, a logical explanation of how it is intended to work, and criteria by which its effectiveness can be judged. All laws should be reviewed after they have been implemented for a reasonable amount of time. Laws that are ineffective, by the stated criteria, or have serious unintended consequences, or were passed based on faulty or fraudulant data, should be discarded.

Sounds perfect! But try that in a real-world democracy, where legislators have to get elected and stay elected, often by appealing to the prejudices, popular ‘issues’, fears, and even ignorance of the electorate. What legislator is going to vote to ‘discard’ a law that, regardless of its ineffectuality, is strongly favored by his constituents?

This is only part of the problem. The other part is the persistent myth that anyone can serve on a science education committee. This leads to people like Paul Broun, of Georgia, representing the House Committee for Science and Technology. From an article in the local paper:

“God’s word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church’s website. “I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Some kind of test should be a requirement of sorts for people running for these committees or local school boards. Creationism thrives where people like Broun have political power.

Oh how I loved it when I got that quotation in print in a high school text book!

Helena Constantine said:

Oh how I loved it when I got that quotation in print in a high school text book!

I bet it’s not exactly the kind of book Broun would like to see it in.

Jimpithecus said:

Just Bob said:

KlausH said:

We desperately need the scientific method in government. Every proposed law should have a clear statement of the legislation, the problem it is supposed to address, an analysis of its own legality under existing laws and the constitution, an analysis of impact on population, a logical explanation of how it is intended to work, and criteria by which its effectiveness can be judged. All laws should be reviewed after they have been implemented for a reasonable amount of time. Laws that are ineffective, by the stated criteria, or have serious unintended consequences, or were passed based on faulty or fraudulant data, should be discarded.

Sounds perfect! But try that in a real-world democracy, where legislators have to get elected and stay elected, often by appealing to the prejudices, popular ‘issues’, fears, and even ignorance of the electorate. What legislator is going to vote to ‘discard’ a law that, regardless of its ineffectuality, is strongly favored by his constituents?

This is only part of the problem. The other part is the persistent myth that anyone can serve on a science education committee. This leads to people like Paul Broun, of Georgia, representing the House Committee for Science and Technology. From an article in the local paper:

“God’s word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church’s website. “I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Some kind of test should be a requirement of sorts for people running for these committees or local school boards. Creationism thrives where people like Broun have political power.

In case you haven’t seen the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rikEWuBrkHc

Jimpithecus said:

Snip

This is only part of the problem. The other part is the persistent myth that anyone can serve on a science education committee. This leads to people like Paul Broun, of Georgia, representing the House Committee for Science and Technology. From an article in the local paper:

“God’s word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church’s website. “I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Some kind of test should be a requirement of sorts for people running for these committees or local school boards. Creationism thrives where people like Broun have political power.

Or to put it another way. People like Broun obtain political power where creationism thrives.

bigdakine said:

In case you haven’t seen the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rikEWuBrkHc

I didn’t realize they had video back when walls of decapitated animal heads were deemed appropriate backdrop.

eric said:

mattdance18 said: What I meant by “honest signal” was a little different. I meant that the signal sent to the prospective mate must be an honest signal of one’s general fitness if such a signaling strategy is to survive over the long term.

There is no requirement in evolution that a fitness-signaling strategy survive over the long term…

Indeed, there is not. That’s why I said “if.”

My point was, and is, that IF a signaling strategy survives over the long term, then it will be an “honest” signal. Whatever be the nature of the signal (e.g. visual, auditory, chemical, behavioral), and whatever be the traits for which the signal serves as a proxy (e.g. immune system, reproductive health, intelligence, even deceptiveness), the signals will tend to be reliable (“honest”) indicators of the traits. More clarification below.

…thus we should not be particularly surprised when we see deceptive ones (i.e. signals that represent a fitness greater or at least different from what the organism actually has).

I would not be surprised to see such signals intermittently and/or in the short term. But over the long term, I would be quite surprised to see unreliable (“deceptive”) signals persist. If individuals repeatedly and consistently spread less fit genes into the gene pool, this will be detrimental to said gene pool over the long term.

Dawkins and colleagues worked out some of this material back in the 70s and 80s. He does talk about in The Selfish Gene. The difficulty has to do with the more general problem of “cheaters.” Say some weaker individual is able to signal that he is much fitter than he really is. His offspring will tend to do worse than those of fitter individuals. Any female who mated with him instead of a stronger rival has been suckered: they’re her offspring, too, after all. There will thus be a strong selective pressure for females to spot the cheaters and avoid compromising the fitness of their offspring.

The math gets complicated, involving a lot of statistical methods from population genetics and game theory from behavioral studies. Nonetheless, it seems to check out. A low level of deceptive signaling, as a phenomenon that crops up from time to time or in isolated individuals, is not surprising and would not present a threat to the stability of the whole system. A high level of deceptive signaling, however, as a phenomenon that comes to characterize the normal courtship behavior of an entire species, would be most unusual. I can’t think of any instances. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Several things can happen: the species could just die out; …

Indeed. And it seems that a comparatively quick way for this to happen would be for deceptive signaling to prospective mates to become the norm. Because then net fitness across the population would decline with every “successful” cycle of reproduction.

…or the environment could change altering the value of the original fitness trait; or the species could evolve such that the originally “advertised” fitness trait is not as important.

Of course. But these changes don’t have to do with one potential mate working to deceive the other as to fitness. They have to do with fitness itself, and the traits that provide it, changing as the species or its circumstances change. So I get your point, and agree with it entirely. But it doesn’t seem germane to the point now being discussed.

there is a lot of room for somwhat deceptive signaling because of the “slop” inherent in evolution. Not every weakly toad is going to encounter the parasite that could kill him. Today the fox may decide to go after the slow-because-young peacock rather than the slow-because-tail peacock.

Exactly. “NOT EVERY” less fit individual fails to reproduce. But evolution occurs as a population-wide phenomenon, as a matter of statistical averages over time.

Consider a purely hypothetical scenario. Take a given species whose net fitness is enhanced by trait A, which could have a value of 1 to 10. Most individuals cluster around 5 or 6. The majority of those in the 4 to 7 range succeed in surviving and reproducing. An even larger majority of those in the 8 to 10 range reproduce. But the great majority of those in the 1 to 3 range fail (for whatever reason) to reproduce successfully. Obviously, it is still not the case that every individual in the usual range for A succeeds, or even every individual on the high end of A. And there will be a few lucky individuals on the low side of the A scale who get to reproduce despite their comparative weakness.

But evolution isn’t about individuals. It’s about populations. Over time, the low-A individuals tend reproduce less successfully. The selection could be stabilizing, such that low-A individuals persist, albeit as a small component of the overall population and a smaller still component of the reproducing population. Or the selection could be directional, such that low-A individuals gradually disappear, and the population is pushed in the direction of a higher typical A value. Regardless, there are going to be outliers along the way.

But what you wouldn’t expect is for low-A individuals to proliferate – unless something has clearly changed, e.g., the environment is such that A no longer enhances net fitness. If such a change has not occurred, but low-A individuals continue to proliferate at the expense of others, average net fitness across the population declines, and that doesn’t bode well for the species. It’s either going to decline so far that it goes extinct or at least has a much reduced footprint in its environment.

Could this happen? Absolutely. And conceivably, it could even happen because of the evolution of dishonest courtship signaling among less fit individuals. But it isn’t the sort of thing that you would expect to happen in a long-term stable situation.

I would argue then that deceptive signaling is not always unstable. It can be in some cases, but it isn’t automatically so.

And for the above reasons, I disagree.

In fact the whole notion of sexual selection kinda supports the notion of stable “useless” traits.

Not true! John Harshman has explained some of the mistakes here very well. But for my own two cents: Sexual selection is precisely about traits that ARE USEFUL, namely for attracting mates.

If sexual selection was all about health and fitness to evade predators/resist disease/etc… then there would be no such things as peacock’s tails. The fact that such things exist is prima facie evidence that organisms can “waste” some amount of calories on signals that aren’t directly related to surviving predators, disease, hunger, etc… So, misrepresenting ones’ fitness is not really much different than growing a big tail or what have you; in both casese, the organism is spending some calories that could’ve been spent on natural-selection-fitness on making itself attractive to a mate instead.

Sexual selection is a subtype of natural selection. The terminology is a little misleading, frankly. If we want to distinguish “sexual selection” from “survival selection” (to coin a phrase), well, okay. But both being able to survive to maturity and being able to attract a mate (in sexually reproducing species, anyway) are absolutely necessary for reproductive success. In evolutionary terms, the currency for BOTH is “fitness,” an average contribution to the gene pool of future generation. An individual that’s really good at finding food and avoiding becoming food, but can’t find a mate, will not so contribute. Similarly, an individual that would be great at courtship but winds up either with nothing in its own belly or in the belly of another, will not so contribute.

So there shouldn’t be such distinction as you seem to be making. Selection is selection, whether it’s survival to reproductive maturity (or to the next breeding cycle, for species that breed more than once) or reproductive traits themselves (including seemingly frivolous peacocks’ tails or a bowerbird’s nest of “useless” baubles) that is selected for. Whatever traits enhance that contribution will tend to be selected over the long run.

your point was more about the capacity for deception itself being a potentially attractive quality in the eyes of one’s prospective mates,

Not quite. My point was that the capacity for deception of mates might sometimes be co-opted into a more general deceptive capacity, and that this could be a “more classic natural selection” type of advantage rather than just being a sexual selection advantage.

This is interesting! So is the idea sort of “he deceived me, ergo he must be good enough at deception to use it for other purposes, which will be useful for our offspring,” or something like that? Because then I could definitely see how deceptive signaling to a mate could spread even in a stable situation.

– Although, paradoxically, this deception would also qualify as an honest signal! For it reliably indicates the quality of the fitness-enhancing trait of deception. It still isn’t a case where the individual is displaying out of sync with his actual fitness.

John Harshman said: Now, I know of cases in which features are deceptive. There are scorpionflies that give their prospective mates gifts of insects wrapped in silk – nice protein for the eggs. But there are other scorpionflies that give their mates gifts of nothing wrapped in silk, and they seem to work as well in attracting said mates. This may be unstable – there would certainly be an advantage to females capable of spotting the deception – but not so unstable that it doesn’t last long enough for us to observe it.

This is very interesting. I imagine, though, that in these species, the males are still not displaying a greater fitness than they actually have, and thus the signals still are not deceptive. Note how Eric defined a “deceptive” signal: “signals that represent a fitness greater or at least different from what the organism actually has.” That, and only that, is what I’ve been arguing can’t be stable over the long term.

If every male scorpionfly in a given species does it, then there’s nothing for the female to discern; if everybody’s cheating, then nobody’s got an advantage from cheating anymore. But at that point, sexual selection can kick in, too. Are there traits of the empty silk that are nonetheless still attractive to females? Do they prefer males who produce large silk gifts over those who produce small, for example?

And if there are species in which some males offer empty silk but others offer insects, are there significant fitness differentials between the two groups? Are there really two groups at all, or is deception just a last ditch effort among males who would otherwise give insects? Or is it the case that some males always deceive mates? Is it akin to forced mating among other animals, like frogs or ducks? Or is it more like the divergent brute-strength-vs-transvestite-disguise strategies adopted by male cuttlefish?

It would be very interesting to know the answers to such questions, I think! And particularly in a species where some male scorpionflies give real gifts and others give fakes, it would be interesting to know what degree of stability there is in that scenario. I rather think it would turn out to be the exception that proves the rule.

Because to reiterate, I would still bet just about anything that the signal given to the prospective mate does not indicate fitness above what the signaler actually possesses, at least not on any consistent basis.

mattdance18 said:

And if there are species in which some males offer empty silk but others offer insects, are there significant fitness differentials between the two groups? Are there really two groups at all, or is deception just a last ditch effort among males who would otherwise give insects? Or is it the case that some males always deceive mates? Is it akin to forced mating among other animals, like frogs or ducks? Or is it more like the divergent brute-strength-vs-transvestite-disguise strategies adopted by male cuttlefish?

It would be very interesting to know the answers to such questions, I think! And particularly in a species where some male scorpionflies give real gifts and others give fakes, it would be interesting to know what degree of stability there is in that scenario. I rather think it would turn out to be the exception that proves the rule.

Here’s an example of a stable situation where fake gifts are given by the male and accepted by the female: How do genes play a role in conflict between males and females? According to the press release:

In the study published by Gershman and co-authors, a complex breeding design was used to demonstrate that one reason that males and females may be locked in conflict with one another, is that the genes that allow males to have more irresistible gifts are linked to the genes that influence whether or not females can refuse gifts. Because of the genetic link between males and females, females are not able to evolve defenses to avoid being attracted to empty gifts. These results suggest a possible explanation for how conflicts between males and females can persist over long periods of evolutionary time.

bmcennis said: Here’s an example of a stable situation where fake gifts are given by the male and accepted by the female: How do genes play a role in conflict between males and females?

Thanks for the link! It reminds of my of Olivia Judson’s great book Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation – easily the funniest book about evolutionary biology I’ve ever read, and also one of the most informative.

It is interesting, though, because it does seem that once again, what we have is an honest signal. A male who can seduce virtually any female, even with a fake gift, stands a very good chance of passing on his genes. And if genes for males to give fake gifts and for females to fall for it are both passed on in the process, then once again, the display is not dishonest about the signaler’s own fitness.

Moreover, whatever the fitness cost is to the females of the species, it cannot be the case that the trickery/gullibility linkage is, on average across the species, large enough to result in a net loss of fitness – assuming the species isn’t tricking itself (males) or letting itself be tricked (females) into decline and extinction. If it were maladaptive on net, then there would be selection pressure against it. The tendency over the long term would thus be toward the elimination either of the trickery/gullibility dynamic or of the species itself.

I do find the “evolutionary battle of the sexes” stuff – which varies enormously between species, it’s important to note – endless fascinating. Judson’s book is really great about this.

mattdance18 said:

If it were maladaptive on net, then there would be selection pressure against it. The tendency over the long term would thus be toward the elimination either of the trickery/gullibility dynamic or of the species itself.

I should add, if it’s adaptive on net, even for one sex rather than the other, it’s easy to see why selection pressure for it would also cause it to persist.

(And it’s still not a dishonest signal of the signaler’s own fitness! Sorry to harp. But I think it’s important to keep in mind what’s at issue. Eric described a dishonest signal as a signal that one’s fitness is greater than it actually is. And that’s what I’m saying can’t persist over the long term. Deceiving a mate with a fake gift is different than deceiving one’s mate into thinking one is fitter than one is.)

(Sorry this is getting soooooooo off topic, also.)

Note on terminology: people are using “fitness” to mean what, for want of a better term, is usually called in the literature “quality”. “Fitness” is not what is being advertised by sexually selected characters, since the character itself (notably its attractiveness) is a component of fitness. “Quality” is used roughly to refer to those components of fitness exclusive of the sexually selected character, i.e. the sort of thing a character might be signally, whether honestly or not. If one dishonestly advertises one’s quality to be better than it is, and that advertisement is convincing, then one’s fitness will be greater therefore.

Nuptial gifts (that’s the technical term), whether empty or filled, are not necessarily signals of anything. Real gifts are direct contributions to the reproductive success of both the male and female concerned. An empty gift is not a contribution, but it saves the male some effort. It would be an odd definition of “deceptive” that failed to include fake nuptial gifts.

Just Bob said:

harold said:

FL said:

Question for Just Bob:

Is the Louisiana Science Education Act breaking the law?

(Sincere question.)

FL

Yes, it’s unconstitutional, and millions of dollars will be wasted discovering that if anyone ever tries to use it to teach creationism.

Louisiana seems to have learned its lesson from Edwards, though. No-one seems to be “taking advantage” of that law to teach creationism.

A law can’t break a law. How would one punish it? A person acting under a law can certainly be breaking a different law, and be punished. Such a case calls the respective laws into judicial question, usually with a resolution rendering one of them unconstitutional or otherwise invalid. IANAL, but my surmise is that the mere existence of the LSEA is not illegal, but a person doing what it purports to allow him to do would find himself charged with breaking laws that DO stand up to judicial scrutiny.

Technically true, and I took FL’s question to mean “would someone teaching creationism in a public school, claiming their activity is justified by LSEA, be breaking the law?”.

Still, it’s an interesting situation. There is no law against passing bad laws. So a legislative body can do what was done here. They can pass a law that claims to allow certain illegal behavior, that they do not actually have the authority to allow. More egregious examples can easily be imagined. For example suppose some municipal council, dominated by anti-Methodist bigots, passed a law stating that it would be legal to break into the houses of Methodists and rob them. As far as I know the council members are legally allowed to pass nonsensical laws. And “the law itself” is an abstract concept, not an individual person.

However, anyone foolish enough to be swayed by such a piece of legislation would be in violation of laws that the municipal council did not really have the power to over-rule.

Therefore such “laws” can only do harm.

Therefore we may wonder whether there is or should be some mechanism by which such laws could be forcible repealed even before a harmful incident takes place. There does not seem to be, and such laws merely seem to fester until they cause a problem.

bigdakine Wrote:

Or to put it another way. People like Broun obtain political power where creationism thrives.

Creationism thrives all over the US, including in the bluest of states. And not until we get rid of the idiotic stereotype that everyone is either a “conservative Christian creationist” or a “liberal atheist ‘Darwinist’” will we begin to make any progress. Unfortunately the great majority of Americans has some real or potential problem with evolution, and that includes those who accept it, but for the wrong reason, and/or understand so poorly that they might as well be “creationists.” Seemingly benign comments like “what’s the harm, let them believe” and “I guess something like evolution is true, but it’s fair to teach both sides” that are the big problem, not the minority that will not admit evolution under any circumstances. By most accounts that minority is at most 25%, and much lower if one restricts it to those who insist on a young earth. And even most of that ~25% will readily admit that they believe their origins story not on the basis of evidence, but because of a book. In other words, the great majority of self-described creationists has effectively admitted defeat on the evidence, or will gladly do so if asked. The only ones who will continue to misrepresent the evidence at every turn are the militant activists of the anti-evolution movement, and they are probably well under 1% of the public. Yet they have fooled the majority. Worse, we keep letting them.

As Ken Miller noted in “Only A Theory,” the anti-evolution movement has succeeded at dividing the pro-evolution side, mostly along religious lines, while uniting nearly everyone else under their anti-science “big tent.” I may have been unclear about this in the past, but I don’t expect committed YECs and OECs to give up their emotional war against “Darwinism” and start beating each up over the age of the earth, or over which “kinds” share common ancestors (as real scientists would do). But we can and must drive our own “wedge” between them and those whose problems with evolution are not as hopeless, and who are fully capable of recognizing, and disapproving of that blatant double standard, as well as the relentless misrepresentation of science by the activists. In fact there’s no reason we can’t drive a “wedge” between the activists and even some committed evolution deniers, at least the ones who take the Ten Commandments at least as seriously as they take Genesis.

As for politicians, radical fundamentalists will always get elected somewhere, and nearly all of them will object to evolution, even if they personally have no problem with it. But what often turns that minority into a majority are the less radical Republicans, and yes, many Democrats, who also think that coming out against science, or merely being indifferent to it, is politically advantageous. Even if we take the cynical view that politicians only care about their personal gain, I think a good case can be made to the less radical ones that being anti-science will hurt them in the long run. The quote from Paul Gross, noted conservative biologist comes to mind: “Everybody who has undertaken in the last 300 years to stand against the growth of scientific knowledge has lost.”

Savvy anti-evolution activists will of course react to quotes like that with the pretense that they are the ones promoting the growth of scientific knowledge, while “Darwinists” are “conspiring” against them. That’s the worst lie of all, because not only do “Darwinists” do all the work and take all the risks in science, they are also the ones who encourage students to learn the real “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, and never stop them from learning creationism/ID, and their weaknesses of course, outside of science class. The real censors are the anti-evolution activists, who steadfastly avoid developing their own theories, cover-up the fatal flaws and embarrassing contradictions within creationism/ID, and have the unmitigated chutzpah to demand taxpayer handouts for them to teach what, at best has not earned the right to be taught in science class. I say “at best” because in practice it’s usually far worse, because that unearned material misleads students about science, which ultimately US in terms of scientific competitiveness. That alone ought to disgust anyone who calls himself a conservative.

TomS said:

david.starling.macmillan said:

ashleyhr said:

YEC denial of feathered dinosaurs is exactly the kind of thing here. Either they were really birds (if the feathers found on fossils are undeniable) or else they were dinosaurs but lacked true feathers … http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewto[…]t=yutyrannus

Or, more recently, some YECs have taken to seriously suggesting that God created a “feathered-bipedal-reptile kind” as a separate baramin from the various dinosaur baramins and the various avian baramins. Not even kidding. That’s how they approach these things. Ten years ago, they insisted that no feathered dinosaurs could ever exist…now, feathered dinosaurs are their own special created kind. Their goalposts are on wheels.

When I was first introduced to YEC, I would have thought that all fossils would be rejected as something either constructed by paleontologists from funny-shaped rocks or a something planted by Satan. So I was pleased to see that the YECs have made that accommodation to science. And that they can move to accept feathered bipedal reptile as being real makes me think that maybe there will be a time when there will be an acceptance of “reptile”-bird evolution. Maybe there is some other Biblical explanation that someone will interpret the Bible as literally saying. (Like how the Bible really says that the Earth is a planet.)

ashleyhr said:

If the Christian god exists and if the Bible is his true word to humanity, why is every argument made by young earth (Biblical) creationists against any unbiblical science invariably nonsense?

Because there is no “unbiblical” science, only “contrary-to-the-privileged-underinformed-arbitrarily-invented-interpretation-of-the-Bible-and-uncomfortable-for-various-reasons science”.

And, after all, how uncomfortable is it to say that birds are descended from dinosaurs?

I’d imagine the discomfort level to depend on the level of cognitive dissonance. As it probably occurs mostly with the “creation scientists” who actually attempt to deal with the scientific data looking for a way to deny it, they’ve been forced to move the goalposts in admitting that dinos had feathers. The evidence is too overwhelming now.

I believe some of them realize but refuse to publicly admit that birds are descended from dinos for the simple fact that once you admit this even to yourself it’s completely absurd to deny the relatively smaller changes in a shorter amount of time that have occurred in our descent from our hairy, smaller brained, tree/savannah dwelling ancestors.

Yeah, birds from dinos, ok. But from hairy apes to largely hairless and walking upright apes? Impossible! That requires supernatural magic!

Even they realize, I think, what an absurd position this would be and to admit any of it publicly would give away the game. Most kids would see through that BS fairly easily and you can’t have that when indoctrination and apologetics are your only tools and your churches are dying.

Dinos with feathers?

Inconceivable!

(After all, if dinos had feathers, wouldn’t we have seen that on the Flintstones TV rockumentaries? )

John Harshman said:

Note on terminology: people are using “fitness” to mean what, for want of a better term, is usually called in the literature “quality”. “Fitness” is not what is being advertised by sexually selected characters, since the character itself (notably its attractiveness) is a component of fitness. “Quality” is used roughly to refer to those components of fitness exclusive of the sexually selected character, i.e. the sort of thing a character might be signally, whether honestly or not. If one dishonestly advertises one’s quality to be better than it is, and that advertisement is convincing, then one’s fitness will be greater therefore.

Thanks for the clarification, John! It would seem that I’ve been running together a couple terms that need to be kept separate. Could definitely explain some of the confusions I’ve had in understanding or expression.

John Harshman said: If one dishonestly advertises one’s quality to be better than it is, and that advertisement is convincing, then one’s fitness will be greater therefore.

I think creation “scientists” understand this point well enough already.

DS said:

Question for Floyd: Watched Cosmos yet? How about Your Inner Fish?

Thought not.

An even better question for FL: Has he explained how the diversification from one species of fruit fly to 500 species of fruit flies over the course of 8 million years does not demonstrate “evolution” because they’re still just fruit flies in an intelligent, logical and truthful manner?

That is, without invoking the “Moving the Goalpost” fallacy?

FL said:

Question for Just Bob:

Is the Louisiana Science Education Act breaking the law?

(Sincere question.)

FL

Yes, given as how the act’s intended purpose is to permit the teaching of anti-science religious propaganda in the form of Creationism to be taught in science classrooms of public schools, which otherwise violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which forbids the government from officially favoring one religion over another.

If you went to a school staffed by competent teachers, FL, you would have already known this long ago.

FL said:

Question for Just Bob:

Is the Louisiana Science Education Act breaking the law?

(Sincere question.)

FL

IANAL, but I do not believe that that is a “sincere question”. It is a non-sequitor, a “category error”. A law that is passed by a legislature cannot be “breaking the law” or abiding by the law. A law may be found by a Court to be consistent with the Constitution, or inconsistent with the Constitution (i.e. unconstitutional). Only the acts of entities that are subject to a law can “break” that law.

In this case, a “literal reading” of the law would not find anything particularly unconstitutional about it. However, the law gives the impression (and it was clearly the intent of the Legislature) that a teacher is encouraged to and may “safely” violate the Constitution in order to use his or her position as a government employee to promote his or her own personal religious beliefs as though they had the endorsement of the government. Such an act is clearly in violation of the US Constitution, and would therefore be “breaking the law”.

But until there is such an unconstitutional act, then there is no violation of the Constitution.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 18, 2014 12:00 PM.

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