Commentary on the so-called Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate and Right-Wing nuttery in general - and please ignore the typos (I make lots!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

No wonder so many rubes find quacks believable....

They don't know any better, and are easily swayed by legitimate-sounding arguments.

Well, duh... This is old news when it comes ot health-related issues. But for those of us interested in the so-called 'creation-evolution debate', it is not only old news, this folksy 'common sense' approach to technical issues it is one of the biggest pains in the neck we see.

I was perusing some old posts at the ISCID Brainstorms forum, a place where pro-ID creationists get together to pat each other on the back for no real reason. It was supposedly established, as the name implies, as a place where 'ID theorists' could come together to, well, brainstorm about 'Intelligent Design' and such. It quickly turned into the usual place where non-scientist creationists gathered to badmouth evolution. It died on the vine, more or less, as did the entire site (see this list of forums there, and look at the dates of last activity).

Anyway, I was perusing some old threads there, and the arguments of a creationist asthma researcher, Peter Borger, impressed at least one of the non-science types there:

“Can some aspect of Darwinism be falsified?”

Zachriel [a biologist] wrote:

Nothing has been persuasive that evolution doesn't occur, or that it does
not continue to act as the unifying theory of biology.

From a perspective outside the field of biology PB's argument is persuasive...

Emphasis mine.

Funny how that works... A biologist says that none of the biolgy-related arguments he's seen are convincing, a non-biologist says that from outside of biology, they do.

PB's [Peter Borger's] argument is essentially that redundant genes falsify evolution, among other silly things.
No wonder so many people find the yammerings of creationists with biology-related degrees persuasive - they don't know any better because they are not biologists!

Well, duh...

Monday, May 12, 2008

HEY "Andrew"! Where's your website?

A few days ago, some chump calling himself "Andrew" left the following comment in response to a post pointing out IDcreationist Sal Cordova's dishonesty:

slp, why do you have to be such an asshole?

I won't say YOU are lying, I just "lack belief" in your claims.

I guess 'Andrew' has a soft spot (or maybe it is a hard spot?) for his little sycophantic buddy Sal Cordova...
Clicking on 'Andrew's' blogger profile, you get a link to this website, The Brites, formerly run by IDcreationist and Baylor engineer Robert Marks, apparently as an attempt at parody or humor or something, which is now defunct. As of just a few days ago, when a particularly obnoxious pro-IDcreationist commenter at the Uncommon Descent blog calling itself 'Galapagos Finch' was 'outed' as being Marks.

And he thinks I am an asshole?

Sorry Bobby - you and your pals Sternberg, Dembski, et al. have got that market cornered.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Not a biologist? Not even a scientist? No biggie - all it takes to 'refute' evolution is a 'few years' of looking into it on your own...

Or so banker and YEC cultist RK Bentley will have you believe:

OK, so you know that I’ve long since given up on evolution. After looking into
it for a few years, I realize the whole idea is untenable.

Oh, sure. Thats all it takes. A few years of looking into it... So, if I look into the bible for a few years and conclude that it is nonsense, my conclusions are valid, too?

His 'biography' on the right hand side of his blog says it all, really:

I don't believe evolution; it's that simple. I do believe in the account of
creation as described in Genesis. On this blog, I will discuss arguments 1) for
creation, 2) against evolution, and 3) the social/political topics surrounding
the issue.
Any aspect of the evolution/creation debate is fair game.
I'm not a scientist so please don't expect lengthy, technical
These are intended for consumption by the ordinary person. But
though my posts may not be technical, I take great care to insure they are
Rest assured I will gore many of the sacred bulls of staunch
. I've donned my extra-thick-skin to prepare for the
insults soon to be directed at me. My objective though, is not to simply cast
aspersion but to change minds.
Your feedback is welcome. Honest, sincere questions may be the subject of
future blogs. Red Herrings will be dealt with appropriately. Insults will be
ignored for the most part - except perhaps to be used as examples of the lack of
substance in many evolutionists' arguments.

Humble, these people are not.
Of course, we shouldn't expect there to be much 'debate' on his blog - he moderates comemnts and seems to ignore the substantive comments he does let through.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

If it is enough to 'convict' Haeckel, it should be enough to 'convict' Dembski et al.

Ernst Haeckel, of "Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny" fame, gets pretty rough treatment from creationists and Intelligent Design advocates. Essentially, Haeckel embellished his drawings of embryoes to make his particular hypothesis seem more 'right' - 130+ years ago. Textbooks often use his drawings (or renditions of them) to illustrate certain points. Time was, they were used to support his hypothesis. Now, they are generally used to demonstrate an historical example of rushing to judgement. Actual pictures of embryoes are more often used now, when they are available, and demonstrate that while Haeckel's original claims were not entirely correct, vertebrate embryoes do, in fact, bear striking resemblances to one another, especially early in development.

But this is only part of the story.

The rest is that creationists and their kind use this as an example of, among other things, how evolutionists supposedly lie to support their theory; how shoddy evolutionist scholarship is, since many textbooks still use the photos (they usually don't talk about HOW they are used); etc. They like to villify Haeckel and in the process, find evolution as a theory 'guilty' by association.

Now, let us consider another, shall we say, inaccurate representation of a biological entity, used to promote a paricular hypothesis.

This particular entity is represented as a perfectly symmetrical machine-like structure. Its parts are invariably shown intertwining with intricate precision. When animations of it working are produced it is always shown operating smoothly and precisely. In the presentations of IDcreationists, it looks like this:

Note the manafactured appearance of its parts - smooth, perfect angles, beautiful engineering, right? Well, that is the intended effect. What does one of these things REALLY look like?

Well, not quite like that.

Here are a few examples:

from Shahid Khan, Imran Humayun Khan, and Thomas S. Reese, 1991; "New Structural Features of the Flagellar Base in Salmonella typhimurium Revealed by Rapid-Freeze Electron Microscopy." Journal of Bacteriology 173:2888-09

Here is a 3-D model of the hook region as determined from molecular content:

Not quite the structures the IDcreationists like to present as their 'designed' argument, is it? No smooth interlocking subunits, no washer-like flat plates, etc.

The closest one can come to the stylized IDcreationist version is this:

But that is actually a composite picture, not an actual micrograph.

Of course, even if it did look just like that, we have to remember the scale we are looking at. The above structure is very, very small (less than 100 nanometers across - that is, less than 100 billionths of a meter), and when you get to this scale, molecules can only go together so many ways.
I remember the first time I saw a micrograph of a T7 bacteriophage I thought to myslef, 'That looks man-made.' Why? All those angles, those 'legs', etc. After some reading, however, I discovered that its shape is just the result of the interactions of the proteins that make it up. The shape is a byproduct of this interaction not a plan.


Why should the unrealistic portrayals of the flagellum by ID creationists NOT be considered just as 'dishonest' and those that use it to sway opinion not just as worthy of vilification as Haeckel was when he embellished his drawings?

Are people like Behe, Dembski, Nelson, Wells, etc. not doing the same thing Haeckel did? I would argue what they are doing is WORSE than what Haeckel did - it is likely that the optical quality of the microscopes of Haeckel's time lent to his 'embellishments' (think 'canals on Mars'), while the IDcreationists of today know full well that fancy, colorful computer-generated idealized/sytlized models are inaccurate representations, but they just keep on using them.

Why the double standard?

Why do these self-proclaimed Christians so readily - eagerly - engage in such deceptive practices?

*Hat tip to Monado at Science Notes...., and for other information to Mark Perakh at TalkReason.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What does a ceationist blogger do when one questions his claims regarding something he clearly knows little about?

Why, he labels your posts "trolling", of course. And throws in an accusation that you are nto doing your homework, to boot.

Next step? Censorship... I can't wait!

See it all going down here. Some of you might find the blogger's name familiar - Collin Brendemuehl.

Here is how it is going so far, blog commments only (I've omitted comments by anyone but myself and Brendemuehl for brevity). What Brendemuehl wrote is in italics:

Are there 10 million random genetic changes needed to take place from, say, an ancient little rodent to today's human? Just a round figure for the sake of argument.

Why not use a rational number instead of one that you pulled form thin air, most likely as a means of 'proving' what you already "believe"? You say you present the 10 million figure just for the sake of argument, but do you really think that there are 10 million substantive trait differences between a mouse-like rodent and a human? What are they? Can you make a list of, say, 1,000?My bet is that you cannot do even half that before you start repeating yourself.

So do you really think that you can find a major genetic trait shift (on average) every 6 generations? Hardly. There is not enough time!

When you establish unrealistic ground rules, of course your results will
look silly. That was your intent, was it not?

Let's try another route: Lucy is 3.9 million years old and (again, for the sake of argument) pretty close to human structure. That means very few changes from Lucy to today and a greater number of generational changes from Yucatan to Lucy. Again, not enough time!

A baseless assertion devoid of logic or rationale, and premsied on a totally fabricated foundation. Wonderful argumentation!
9:40 AM

Doppelganger said...
Collin writes:It is a hypothetical.But I don't see any reasonable way to get the number of trait changes in a mere 1000.

I had asked you to name 1000 of the millions of changes you believe exist. You did not even try. You see no 'reasonable' way to get a human rom a rodent in 1000 trait changes, but you ave not even explained what you mean by trait. You are just tossing big numbers around as if they mean something. And what ARE the trait changes you speak of, and how many mutations would it take to produce them? You seem to know. You think that there are 'millions' of trait changes between humans and rodents, yet you cannot even list a few of them. I was not saying that there ARE 1000, I was asking if you could actually list 1000 of the millions you say exist.

10M is not an unreasonable hypothetical figure when you talk about the complexity of genetics.

10 M what? Trait changes? Please explain what you mean by a trait. But sure, let us talk about the complexity of genetics. I just taught the genetics unit in my anatomy class this past week. Again I ask - How many mutations are requred to produce specific trait changes, as you call them? Do all trait changes require the same number of mutational changes? I fail to see why 10 M mutations is a 'reasonable amount' devoid of any rationale or explanation. Oh - and are we talking about fixed beneficial mutations, or phenotype-altering mutations in general?

But it's also not simple changes -- there is not a simple path from rodent to human. There are gene combinations and all sorts of other hypotheses related to these processes. Throw in natural selection and you add more possibility for loss.

Of course it is not simple. There is nearly no limit to what direction an evolutionary process could take. But human from rodent was not a goal. In fact, there is NO goal at all. What we see is simply what happened.

That's a field in which you are apparently strong. But for the sake of *your* position let's say it's a mere 1M. That's still a real change every 60 generations, which is also outside the scope of common Darwinian and neo-Darwinian calculations.

Please show some of these 'neo-Darwinian' calculations you speak of. Where did you get your generation numbers from? You will need to establish, in order for your positon to have any merit, at the very least:

1. How many trait differences in 'kind' and not degree there actually are e.g., changes in the density of hair on the skin is a difference in degree, hair from no hair is a difference in 'kind'; differences in degree can be caused by neutral variation and other non-beneficial changes).

2. How many mutations would have been required for each such change.

It would also be helpful to know the population sizes involved and the generation times of the ancestral groups, but 1 and 2 above are the bare minumum that your position must have in order to be taken seriously at all. Simply 'not believing' it is insufficient.

Again, the numbers, even your more modest numbers, don't seem to add up.

I'm sorry - I provided no numbers. YOU did.

Now, if you enlighten me (the post was clear about my wish to hear a real alternative (see paragraph 2), I'm all ears. But make it realistic, please.

An alternative to what?I am unsure why a greater requisite for realism is placed on me when your numbers appear to have been pulled from thin air and to be premised not on any knowledge of genetics, but on an awe of large numbers. Rodents diverged from the rest of the placental mammals some 80 million years ago (depending on the source and the specific branching pattern employed, between 55-125 MYA). In terms of real anatomy and physiology, there is relatively little in terms of 'new' traits that primates possess that rodents do not.If there really are 10 M 'trait changes', what are they? And why is 80 odd million years not enough time?You cannot just toss out numbers and call it an argument.
6:57 PM

Doppelganger said...
Collin writes:
I'm wanting to see "the work" where the number of necessary changes are clarified and the changes are identified.

That does not appear to be what you wrote in your blog post. YOU presented numbers of changes, YOU should identify them and then explain how many mutations would be required to produce them. It is YOUR argument.

That is why I raised a hypotheticall and asked for a clarification as to the reliability of such an estimation.

I'd say that the 'estimation' is orders of magnitude off. It is folly to claim that there are some certain number of traits to account for when no real definition of 'trait' is provided or suggested.

My assertion is for the purpose of gaining clarification. I'm *wanting* someone to show any real or apparent error and not just say that it's wrong.

Why is pointing out the wrongness wrong? I do not pretend to know exactly how many trait differences there are between humans and a rodent ancestor in part because I do not know what traits the rodent ancestor possessed. Do you?

But I do not feel that unless someone proves me wrong, I can make any assertion I want to on the subject. Human and mouse genomes differ by some 60%, 10x the difference between humans and chimps. This number is right about what would be expected had humans and mice diverged for a common ancestral population about 75 MYA ( see So what exactly are you looking to get corrected on specifically?
7:14 PM

Doppelganger said...
Collin writes:
You asked me to name 10M changes?

Do you read the things you reply to? I ask in all sincerity, for I specifically asked - and later reiterated - if you could name 1,000 of the 10 M you proposed. I don't think that is too much to ask.

How many gene changes for walking upright?

Good question. Do you know? If not, it seems to me that tossing out numbers like 10 M are just BS.

For arms, hands, size, shape, intellect.

Do mice not have arms? Hands (as such)? This is why I asked about
differences in kind and not degree. Mouse forepaws have the same basic skeletal structure as a human hand does, just in different proportions and a slightly different configuration. How many mutations did it require to get a mouse-like forepaw to a human-like hand? Couldn't tell you, but personally, I would not feel comfortable tossing out numbers if I did not have a good reason to do so.

The minimalist approach of classic Darwinism is inadequate.

So you say, but do you really think just making things up is adequate?
Allow me to provide an example of why I do not believe some enormous number of beneficial mutational changes are required to alter the basic vertebrate body plan. I do not present this as an example of evolution, nor as an example of a beneficial mutation. I merely present it as an example of how small genetic changes can produce large phenotypic differences. There is a gene in humans that encodes one of the receptors for fibroblast growth factor. This particular gene is called FGFR-3. A single point mutation in this gene that alters an amino acid produces a form of achondroplasia (dwarfism). This is not a developmental 'programming' gene like the HOX genes, it is just a gene for a receptor that would be found on certain types of cells.
Yet this mutation produces disproportionate limb growth, reduction in the number of interphalangeal joints, and characteristic facial features. All from one little single nucleotide change. Now imagine what sorts of changes could occur as the result of minor changes in genes associated with, say, pelvis formation or neocortex growth. There is a big difference between gross genome structure changes and the acquisition of beneficial mutations.
8:21 AM

Doppelganger said...
Collin writes:
We know that "arm" is not a simple 1-gene change. You have bone
structure, muscle structure, vessel structure, valves, everything including the
attributes of strength, size, shape, color, etc., with the various nuances of
each such as thickness, cell structure, etc.

I guess you missed the very informative point in my last reply - a single
point mutation in one gene altered ALL of those things in the limbs and head of the individual. You do NOT, in fact, need specific mutations to alter every part of a limb. That is just naive folk science.

Set up a chart and you'll see that 1000 is a very small

A chart of what?

These things, it is proposed, came very gradually over millions of years. I'm merely suggesting that the proposed amount of time is inadequate.

I know, and you have offered exactly ZERO rationale, evidence, of
explanation for your position. You just toss out a huge number and say that there is not enough time. Sure you obliquely refer to some 'Darwinism calculations' or whatever it was, but you don't say what those are even after I asked for clarification. Your implied position on the apparent need for mutations for each and every part of an arm, for example, is not premised on any real understanding of genetics or development, rather a 'folk science' belief about how genes and organisms operate. You will continue to 'disbelieve' in the issue until you actually make an attempt to understand what it is really about.

Classic Darwinism is based on observation and, as I said, is
simplistic. The use of molecular biology is neo-Darwinian.

I see no relevance to anything for that statement.

It seems counter-productive to evolutionary biology to propose radical
changes from single genes instead of long, slow changes as the theory

Did you even try to understand the points I made? You might be better
off getting your information on genetics, development, and evolution from actual geneticists and evolutionary biologists than from religious philosophers (Plantinga)and the like. Your replies are disjointed and you do not even attempt to address the details. It is almost as if you don't really want the answers you claim to.
But maybe I am wrong, and you will soon provide a list of trait changes
between the LCA of rodents and humans, how many mutations would have been required to get those changes, etc.
12:31 PM

Collin Brendemuehl said...
Dopple,You refuse to study the material or do the
work. Your trolling is tiresome. Enjoy your week.
5:22 PM

Boonton said...
Pot, Kettle, Black
9:07 AM

Doppelganger said...
Collin comically writes:
Dopple,You refuse to study the material or do the work. Your trolling
is tiresome. Enjoy your week.

How quaint, how creationist. Collin, my doctorate is in Anatomy and Cell Biology and my graduate research was on the molecular evolution of primates. My papers are cited by the Tree of Life web project and one of my papers has been cited more than all of Dembski's and Wells' actual peer reviewed publications combined. That I do not accept your bland, unsupported assertions at face value is not a rational excuse for accusing me of 'trolling' and not understanding the issues. It is not my fault that your ignorance of development and genetics and evolution has led you to propose absurd scenarios and even more absurd 'challenges'. If you feel that labelling my comments as trolling is a good way to avoid admitting that you are in over your head, well, so be it. Pride and hubris seem to be requisite qualities for internet creationists. I took the time to check out your comments on Brayton's and Rosenhouse's blogs, and it would appear that only one of us qualifies as a troll, and it is not me.
If you ever feel able to actually produce valid, meaningful numbers for
your scenarios as opposed to things pulled out of thin air and premised on a poor understanding of biology, or worse, on your understanding of the issues via creationist books and essays, let me know and I will gladly discuss it with you.
Until then, I plan to document this exchange on my blog.
9:32 AM

Lots of irony and hypocrisy in there so far....

Note - Brendemuehl has also accused the other active commenter there of trolling. Apparently, the creationist uses this tactic of labelling and accusing people of trolling when he realizes that he can no longer keep up with the level of technical sophistication sought by his opponants.

Ben Stein is a degenerate moron

In my opinion, of course.

Stein, whose claim to fame is being the boring guy who said, "Bueller... Bueller" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and, of course, beinga speechwriter for Richard Nixon, had the following to say about scientists on some silly religious program, in an interview with televangelist Paul Crouch:

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers
[i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was
thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them
what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that
was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this
is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads
you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing

Crouch: Good word, good word.

Ben Stein, you are an idiot.