Creationism Nit: Archaeocete legs

This will be a departure from my typical novel length dissection of a creationist article and will instead be a short look at a single creationist gaffe. Perhaps I will make this into a series, we’ll see. Anyway, today’s nit will be picked with young Earth creationist Dr Carl Werner (a medical doctor).

I recently acquired a copy, of what I believe is the 1st edition, of his book Evolution: The grand experiment (2007, 2nd printing 2009, coauthored with his wife Debbie Werner) and while skimming through it I noticed a little error on page 57, which is chapter 5 of the book and is apparently meant as a refutation of the evidence for evolution from comparative anatomy. In this particular case he is discussing the homology of various tetrapod forelimbs (yellow highlighting mine):Werner_whale

The “nit” in this case is his illustration of the forelimbs of a whale in the dark blue circle above. When I saw it I immediately  recognized that it was not in fact the forelimbs of a whale but rather the hind limbs of one. In this case those of an extinct archaeocete, most likely those of Dorudon (image source).

The skeleton of Dorudon.

And these are the hind legs of Dorudon (image source):

Dorudon hind legs at the Smithsonian Museum

For comparison here are a couple modern whale forelimbs:

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens).

Clearly what Dr. Werner has pictured are not the forelimbs of a modern whale, rather my money is on them being the hind limbs of Dorudon. Is it a huge deal? No. It is just another example of sloppy creationist research (I mean if a printing press operator recognizes archaeocete legs when he sees them, come on).

Nit. Picked.

Relevant Links

Memories of Peking Man at the American Museum of Natural History

Jon and I outside The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia of Drexel University, PA (photo by Don Frack).

While looking through some old photographs, for something else I am working on, I came across some snap shots I took back in 1998 when my friend Don Frack and myself flew back to the East coast to attend the DinoFest 98 symposium (a combination dinosaur fossil exhibition and gathering of dinosaur paleontologists) in Philadelphia, PA.

We figured that to make going really worth our while (and our money), we would make a couple of side trips. We planned to arrive a couple days early, rent a car and drive up to New York for a day and go to the American Museum of Natural History (we were joined on this leg of our journey by our friend Jonathan Woolf who we knew from back in the CompuServe forum CvE debates). We would then

A Triceratops skull and myself at The Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia, PA (photo by Jon Wolff).

A Triceratops skull and myself at The Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia, PA (photo by Jon Woolf).

return to Philadelphia and attend the three day symposium, after which Don and I would drive down to Washington D.C., go to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and fly home from there.

It was at once a fun, fascinating and frustrating trip, which I won’t get too much into now. Let’s just say the both of us a life-long Californians experienced a combination of a bit of culture and geography shock.

Anyway, since we were going to go to the American Museum, Don thought he might contact a couple of the scientists who worked there to see if we could go behind the scenes and get a closer look at some of the material in their collection. In this case material that is of particular interest to those of us involved in the creation/evolution debate, namely their casts of the original “Peking Man” (a.k.a. Sinanthropus pekinensis but now recognized as Homo erectus) material. The fossils represented a number of individual H. erectus‘, unearthed in China at a site known as Zhoukoudian (or Choukoutien) near Beijing in the late 1920’s and early 30’s.

Read on»

Pigeons don’t play by your “rulez” man!

 

pigeons_drinking_saltwaterThey’re not bound by the dogmas of so-called “scientists” who say that drinking salt water is bad for them. That’s like, just a theory man!

Answering Creationist Questions

Someone named Stephen has asked some questions on my “creationist questions” page and I am moving my response up to the main page.

Hello Stephen!

Just to get a couple points of order out of the way I want to note that you asked three questions at once and only one (#3) touches on evolutionary biology, violating my question guidelines in multiple ways right off the bat. However, I said might grant some leeway and I will in this case.

Stephen: First, to clarify, I am a college student, almost through with my history degree (as a major), I have a minor in geology, and I have taken enough courses to almost have minors in philosophy and anthropology (just establishing that I am not an uneducated internet troll…. at least not completely). This does not make me an authority on the debate between evolution and creationism, but I have studied enough to be fairly well versed in the arguments that each side uses.

OK, good to know; as it would mean that there is no reason you should be making any glaring errors in those areas, yes?

Stephen: I was home-schooled by choice and was taught evolution and creation equally…

You were taught about a mature and productive scientific field and the relatively brief creation story from the Hebrew scriptures (backed up, no doubt, with the pseudoscience, misrepresentations and misinformation of “creation science”), “equally”?

You should understand that from my perspective that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Stephen: I studied the sides and decided to pick the side that, I believe, has the least number of holes in its arguments. I decided to become a creationist, but I still see both sides and am willing to keep my mind open to all possibilities.

Well then, my question would be what are some of the supposed “holes” in evolutionary theory? Please do not tell me they are of the sort usually put forward by “creation scientists”, I have a library full of those bogus arguments.

Again, from my perspective creationism is collection of long refuted empirical claims (young Earth, Flood geology) backed by a premise (“God did it”) that is fundamentally untestable and therefore scientifically useless.  

Stephen: Question 1: How do you define science (yes, I am talking about the AIG argument between “testable/repeatable science” and “historical/perceived science”)? I do mean you specifically, as different words mean different things to different people, and “standard definitions” do not always fully encapsulate this idea.

In the context you seem to be asking (that of Answers in Genesis’ idiosyncratic redefinition of science), I would say that science is a process wherein people derive coherent explanations about the state of the natural world which are testable by further, intersubjective, observations of the natural world. This holds regardless of whether the particular phenomenon under examination is something that occurred in the past or is currently ongoing.

In science, one does not have to be able to repeat the occurrence of something in order to explain it. What is necessary is that the observations that are made to test the explanation be repeatable by anyone who makes the effort, i.e. not subjective revelations knowable only to an individual or an elect few.

As with forensic science used against criminals, one need not repeat the crime in order to make observations (of finger prints, DNA, etc.) to build a case as to who the most likely perpetrator is.

The same is true when one is trying to explain the current state of nature be it biological, geological or astronomical. We do not need to repeat, in full, the processes that lead to the current state of affairs in order to piece together a case against the most likely “perpetrator”.

Of course, in practice, there is more to it than that but I am not writing a book on the philosophy of science.

Professional creationists want to muddy the waters on this because their explanations either have failed to hold up against observations of the natural world, or are simply not testable by such observations. In other words, their ideas are either failed science or non-science and so they try to tear down good science in an attempt to mislead people into believing that their ideas have merit.    

Stephen: Question 2: Why do scientific laws exist: gravity, thermodynamics, etc. if no one created them (yes it does seem like a silly question, but believe it or not, I have found this question to be helpful)?

This is a question about cosmology and is essentially asking why the universe is the way it is. My answer is, I do not know. Cosmologist are working on such questions and they may or may not be able to answer some or all of them someday, however I see no reason to assume that if they do find answers to them that they will include the idea that the universe was “created” by a conscious being of some sort.

Any explanations that cosmologists do come up with will have to be testable by observations of the natural world in order to be scientific. “God did it” does not meet that criterion.

Stephen: Question 3: How do you believe that things such as a conscience, idea of self-awareness, and the ability to fully reason came to be? Yes, this is a philosophical question, because philosophy is the first “science” and was the root of all the other disciplines.

I don’t know if the ability to “fully reason” actually exists and I would quibble with you that these are necessarily philosophical questions. I would say that the evidence suggests that these things are evolved characteristics as we see them in a continuum in the animal world with humans merely being at one end of the spectrum.

Stephen: In addition, evolution influences much more than biology, geology, and physics (to name a few of the traditional sciences) in its scope, and all aspects of the theory need to be considered.

I disagree. Biology, geology and (to a lesser degree) physics influence evolutionary theory but not the other way round. Evolutionary theory had to be consistent with the facts of biology (obviously) but also geology and physics in order to be considered successful. Theories of geology (plate tectonics etc.) or physics (relativity etc.) do not need to factor in evolutionary theory but rather stand or fall based on observations from those fields.

If inconsistencies between evolutionary theory and say, plate tectonics, were discovered, then those would have to be worked out, but physical geologists who are trying to solve geological problems do not sit around worrying about how their findings might affect those of biologists. They find what they find and it is up to the biologists to figure out whether their own theories can be made to fit with the new data or must to be scrapped in favor of new ones.

What you are talking about reflects the conspiracy theory thinking of creationists, wherein all of modern science is some sort of evolutionist plot to discredit the Biblical account of creation, it isn’t.

The actual problem is that the facts of nature, biological, geological and physical, simply are not consistent with creationism and creationists have adopted this conspiracy idea as a way to avoid facing that fact.

Stephen: Especially since the idea of “origins” is one of the three fundamental questions of philosophy (IE: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?).

“Where did I come from?” is an empirical question answered by science; proximally by reproductive biology and evolutionary theory more distally by astronomical and cosmological theories. You would have to be more specific to get answers that are more specific.

“Why am I here?”—assuming it is not merely a rephrasing of the previous question—is a question that assumes something not in evidence, that there is some externally imposed purpose to our existence. It could be that there is no “why” and therefore the question is incoherent.

“Where am I going?”, again this assumes that you are going anywhere. Barring evidence that anyone is going anywhere this question is also incoherent.

Stephen: By the way, I have heard your comparison of “playing chess with pigeons” before (in relation to evolutionists). Is that saying original (to you) or did you get it from elsewhere? If so, where?

The answer to that may be found in the tab at the top of my blog titled “Playing Chess with Pigeons?“. It is taken from something first written by Scott Weitzenhoffer in reference to creationists; so if you have seen it being used in any other way it was pilfered directly or indirectly from him.

 

New page for creationist questions!

I have just added a whole new page to the blog just for creationists to ask questions. Just click on the tab above to take a look. Please DO NOT post your questions in the comments thread of THIS post, rather enter them into the comments of the creationist questions page. Thank you.sm_question-mark

22 Answers to 22 messages from creationists

File this under: better late than never.

In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham creation/evolution debate BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera had some of the people who attending the debate, and who were creationists, write down questions or comments to those of us who accept evolution.

 The following are the questions they wrote down and my quick and dirty responses.

 1) Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Obviously I cannot answer for Bill Nye but I would say yes he is, by helping to popularize science.

2) Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

No. If one exists and is worthy of admiration, let alone worship, it would not want its creations to fear it.

3) Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult.

Illogical based on everything we think we know about existence via science. However, if an all powerful being existed it is certainly possible it could have done this. Likewise under that scenario the entire universe, including all our memories of the past could have been created last Thursday and there would be no way to know. The evidence all points towards the Earth being 4.5 billion years old (and the rest of the universe more than double that) remains the same, so if it is not actually that old then that would seem to make the creator a cosmic liar.

4) Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

No, in fact life as we know it, which includes the ability to evolve, could not exist without the 2nd Law. You see the 2nd Law is essentially about energy flow from more coherent, usable states, to less coherent, unusable states. The obvious and most relevant example being the flow of energy from the Sun into space, where a tiny fraction of its energy is intercepted by the Earth. Life on Earth is only possible because of this energy flow (with the exception of life that lives off the energy flowing from the interior of the Earth itself at hydrothermal vents).

The effects of the 2nd Law can be seen reflected in the so called ecological pyramid, with each level able to extract less and less usable energy from the environment (and this is simplified of course). At the base we find plants are the most abundant and they absorb energy from the sun (“producers”). Next up there are herbivores that live off the plants (“primary consumers”). Then there are the omnivorous and/or small carnivorous animals (“secondary consumers”). Finally the apex predators (“tertiary consumers”), which are found in the fewest numbers of any ecosystem. Underlying all of these are the decomposers that make a living on the energy left over in dead plants, animals, and animal waste. energy pyramidSee: Ecology/Energy in ecosystems

I cannot even imagine what living things or ecosystems would look like without the 2nd Law in operation.

5) How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

Seriously? This is a “the tides go in, the tides go out, with never a miscommunication” sort of question. The Earth rotates on its axis every 24 hrs. creating the illusion (from the POV of an Earthbound observer) of the Sun moving across the sky from sunrise to sunset.

6) If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, who do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

No, see answer #4.

7) What about Noetics?

What about it?

8) Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

I don’t know that there is such a thing or that it is even possible. We do have subjective and inter-subjective meaning however and that is good enough for me.

9) If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By Chance?

It likely did not occur by chance, in the sense of purely random actions of matter, rather it would have happened in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry.

10) I believe in the Big Bang Theory… God said it and BANG in happened!

Cute, however “god did it” is not a scientific explanation.

11) Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terestrial [sic] sources?

First “evolutionist”, i.e. one who accepts evolution, does not equate to being an atheist (“non-God believer”). There are plenty of Christians and other types of theists who accept evolution.

As for evolutionists in general I would say they do not “embrace” any such thing. I can only guess this comes from the disingenuous questions put to Richard Dawkins in the intelligent design creationism propaganda film “Expelled”.  Here is a video where Dawkins discusses this and says exactly what his views are on the likelihood of intelligent design by ETs.

12) There is no in between… The only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds neccssary [sic] for an “official proof”.

hominids2_bigYou were saying?

13) Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

I am not entirely sure what is meant by this question or even what sort of metamorphosis is being asked about. Insect metamorphosis? Amphibian metamorphosis? There is a creationist meme out there that insect metamorphosis (usually in reference to monarch butterflies) is somehow a problem for evolution, however as with most creationist memes, it is based on misinformation.

14) If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.

It is, or should be, taught as an extremely well substantiated theory, i.e. a rigorously tested, fact-based explanation. Neither creationism nor the Biblical creation account it is based on, even begins to qualify as such.

15) Because science by definition is a “theory” – not testable, observable, nor repeatable why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

Science is not a theory; the development of testable—by observation and experiment—theories are part of doing science. In fact, one could say it is the very aim of science to develop such theories. Creationism—of which intelligent design is a subset—is made up of components which are either untestable or which have already been tested and falsified.

16) What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

Part of the answer was in the question; mutation and especially gene duplication.

17) What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

Our purpose is whatever purpose we choose for ourselves and frankly, I do not see the how the idea of some supposed purpose imposed from on high is somehow more attractive or fulfilling.

18) Why have we found only 1 “Lucy”, when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

Actually, there are fossil remains representing over 300 individuals of Australopithecus afarensis. “Lucy” is just the most famous specimen of this species. As for more than one of anything else, there is for example Homo erectus, the remains of which have been found in Africa all across Eurasia and into islands in the Pacific (Indonesia). The fun thing about H. erectus is that creationists used to (some may still) argue about whether they were “just apes” or “fully human”.

19) Can you believe in “the big bang” without “faith”?

Yes, as the theory is based on repeatable observations and is testable against further observations.

20) How can you look at the world and not believe someone Created/thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!

You are absolutely right, it is amazing, however there is no compelling evidence that “someone” created it.

21) Relating to the big bang theory… Where did the exploding star come from?

The Big Bang has nothing to do with a star exploding. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to do with anything “exploding” in the normal sense of the word. Rather it is about space expanding.

22) If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

For the same reason that both you and your cousin can exist when you both descend from your grandparents. Humans and the other living apes descend from a common ancestor with the living monkeys. That ancestor was probably more monkey-like than ape-like, but was not one of the current species of monkeys living today.

These questions, at least the ones regarding science—and which were coherent—were not particularly difficult and these people could easily have found the answers with a few Google searches. However, that would require actual curiosity and a willingness to learn. Sadly, these traits are often absent in creationists.

The rest of the questions (philosophical or theological) were simply irrelevant to the accuracy of evolutionary theory (or Big Bang theory) and a unwillingness to grasp this fact is yet another character flaw common amongst creationist.

Round 2 of: What “hope” do you have being an evolutionist?

herrad2Well, Ms. Korzeniewski has made a couple of responses and I will give her one more spot in the PCwP limelight, however after this the discussion, if there is one, will probably stay in the comments.

Her first response was basically a second-hand threat of exquisite mind flailing torture of infinite duration at the hands of her all loving deity, apparently for the unpardonable crime of daring to use the brain that her deity supposedly gave me.

Needless to say I do not find this a terribly compelling argument in favor of creationism.

Ms. Korzeniewski, once again, please try to understand such threats cause just as much concern for the non-believer as say, the threat of hell from the Islamic version of God, probably causes you. That is none at all.

If you want to make any impression on someone who does not already share your beliefs, you are going to have to use evidence, logic and reason, not threats from what they consider an imaginary being.

We shall now proceed to the non-threat potions of her comments.

Read on»