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

The Carnival of Evolution #66 is up!

Or rather it has been up since the 1st of December… [sigh] Yes, I am that pathetic. However, I couldn’t let another month go by with my failing to fulfill my CoE obligation especially given that this edition of the Carnival is being hosted by my friend and colleague the inestimable John Wilkins over at Evolving Thoughts (which you should be reading regularly anyway).

Another selling point for this CoE is, as the presence of the TARDIS (over there on the left of this post) indicates, the Carnival of Evolution is yet again going under a Doctor Who theme. This time it is The Day of the Doctor..of Evolution! Lots of evolutionary goodness, so go and check it out!

Besides, if you don’t the Cybermen will win!

Though I have been neglectful of my participation in the Carnival of Evolution you can still find all the previous installments at this link.  Go and read!

All in the family

Credit: M.F. Bonnan via "I f***ing love science (on Facebook).

Credit: M.F. Bonnan via “I f***ing love science (on Facebook).

Yes, exactly! A significant percentage of the population (cough, creationists, cough) doesn’t understand that the evolutionary relationships between species is a lot like that between extended family members; just over a much longer time scale. Phylogeny is primarily a branching (family) tree-like pattern, not a single file, ladder-like, progression (cladogenesis vs. anagenesis).


Addendum: It has been pointed out to me that the cartoons depiction of a family “tree” superimposed on a cladogram is somewhat inapt and I absolutely agree that the cartoon is by no means a perfect analogy (comparing speciation, species giving rise to new species, with two parents coming together and bearing children). However, I think it gets the idea across much better than the linear iconography that has become so entrenched in peoples minds. Especially, I think, concerning the relationships between fairly closely related species like between chimps and humans. People incorrectly tend to think of humans as somehow being directly descended from chimps rather than our being “cousins” descended from a common “grandparent” (that was probably somewhat chimp-like in appearance).


Once you grok this fact you will understand what is fundamentally wrongheaded about questions like: “If humans evolved from [share a common ancestor with] apes why are there still apes?”

This sort of question is, except for the timescale involved, just like asking: “If you and your cousin share a common ancestor (grandmother), how can you both exist at the same time?”

Understanding this also answers the common creationist objection against many transitional fossil series based on species overlapping in time. For example:

“Early” horses have been preserved in strata from the same evolutionary age as several ‘”later” horses

Hyracotherium/Eohippus and Orohippus do for instance appear in the fossil record at the same time as Epihippus. Mesohippus and Miohippus appear together with Merychippus and Parahippus. Almost all other horses (with a possible exception of one or two)—Parahippus, Merychippus, Pliohippus, Equus and possibly also Miohippus—are represented at the same time during much of the period when they have been found as fossils.16 (But especially in the newer evolutionary schemes, different names have been given to very similar animals, giving the appearence of evolution as well as providing fame to their discoverers; see examples in Froehlich 20029 and MacFadden 20054). Fossils of Hyracotherium (sic) have also been found very high up in the strata (Pliocene), but these findings have been rejected as reworked (i.e. eroded and deposited at a later strata) in spite of the fact that the geological observations do not show any signs of disturbance.17 Thus, the fact that most of the horses lived almost at the same time undermines their proposed evolution. (Molén, 2009, emphasis mine)

Buzzzt, sorry but that is incorrect, thank you for playing, here is a home version of our game as a consolation prize.*

The coexistence of two genera of horses does nothing to undermine their evolutionary relationship any more than your grandparent or cousin coexisting with you undermines your familial relationship.

Evolution does not require that a parent species become extinct after a speciation event (after it gives “birth” to a new daughter species) nor does it require that once two lineages split apart that both will change at the same rate or in the same direction.

Fossil species A could be directly ancestral to species B, persisting relatively unchanged after the two lineages have split. Or species A could be a cousin to species B that only strongly resembles an as yet undiscovered common grandparent species. Such distinction are very difficult to make in fossil organisms.

[* Note: This is not even close to a comprehensive dissection of the problems with quoted article or even this paragraph.]

Reference

Molén, Mats (2009) “The evolution of the horse“, Journal of Creation 23(2):59–63 (downloaded on 9-14-2013)

The Carnival of Evolution #59 is up!

Yes, the Carnival of Evolution LIX is up and waiting for your visit from wherever in the nigh on infinite reaches of time/space you might happen to be reading this from. This month it is being hosted at DNA Barcoding, and is titled “A letter from the Doctor”.

Now go check it out or the Daleks will win!I have been shamefully neglectful of my participation of the Carnival of Evolution but all the previous installments can be found here. If you missed any of these you’ll definitely want to go check them out as well!

Of Pandas and Pigeons

I have had the honor of being invited to join the crew over at Panda’s Thumb, the premier counter creationism blog on the interwebs and have gladly accepted.

Your truly with a Prof. Steve Steve impersonator.

Fear not my minions (all 5 or 6 of you), Playing Chess with Pigeons is not going anywhere! This is will remain the focus of my blogging. Little things here; big things here but cross posted to Panda’s Thumb as well (more traffic, more better!).

Thanks to the Panda’s people for having me, I hope to live up to the honor.

The Carnival of Evolution #50 is up!

That’s right the Carnival of Evolution has reached the big 5-0 and it’s rarin’ to go with The Teaching Edition!

So go with the flow and go, go, go on over to Marc Srour’s blog Teaching Biology!

The Carnival of Evolution, like a fine wine, gets better with age…

Previous Carnivals of Evolution:

If you missed any of these you’ll definitely want to go check them out!

The Carnival of Evolution #49 is up!

Another month has passed and another Carnival of Evolution(#49) has arrived for your edification. This month it is being hosted by Mousetrap: ecology & evolution footnotes and you NEED to go and absorb ALL the evolutionary knowledge it contains! Fly my minions, fly!!!

[OK, I don't know where that came from... Maybe too much time spent around P.Z.. But it's still a good idea!]

Previous Carnivals of Evolution:

If you missed any of these you’ll definitely want to go check them out!

“The silly things those creationists say” – Pharyngula podcast #2

I lucked out and was able to be one of the participants on biologist P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula video podcast (#2). The subject of this podcast was, as you may have guessed by my post title, creationism. Russell Glasser of The Atheist Experience was also there, as were several other people who, while they were new to me, seemed to be hip to the subject. I really enjoyed it and the time just few by. 

My thanks to the other participants and especially to P.Z. for having me!

In which I yell at everyone on the interwebs

A Facebook friend posted a link to a YouTube video titled “Top Ten Creationist Arguments” by The Thinking Atheist. I had seen it before, it’s slickly produced and OK as far as it goes (though I would have a different list of 10 creationists arguments) but that’s not what got me going. In the video TTA gives a quote from the late Stephen Jay Gould:

This caught my eye because I have been researching stuff to do with philosophy of science, i.e. the testability of evolutionary theory and the difference between the so called experimental sciences and historical sciences. In particular I thought I had remembered reading a essay by Gould on the subject and I thought this quote might give me a lead on it. The problem is TTA doesn’t give a source for the quote. “No problem”, I thought, “I’ll just Google it and it should be a snap to find the source.” Bzzzt! Wrong. Oh if you Google the quote you’ll get a gillion links but none* of them give the source of the quote!

After a half and hour or so of Google mining I finally found a site that gave the source as Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack (1995), but it provided no page number! So I pulled my copy off the shelf, blew the dust off the top  (damn dust) and checked the index for references to creationism.

There were a couple and while Gould did say something like this in one part of the book referenced, it wasn’t an exact quote. Finally I went to Amazon.com and found that they allowed one to search the contents of the book, and at last I got the information I was looking for.

The quote appears on page 397 (of the 1st hardback edition) and is not one of the places listed in the index for the term creationism. Here it is with some context:

One tangential point before I leave this elegant study [a genetic study of certain crabs, see below - T.B.]. Creationists critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all (see the next essay for a fuller discussion of this important issue). This claim is rhetorical nonsense. How could one ask for a better test, based on a very risky prediction, than this? The counterintuitive link between king and hermit crabs was postulated on the basis of classical evidence from morphology (the arguments detailed previously in this essay as points 1-3). This prediction was then tested by the completely independent data set of DNA sequence comparisons — and confirmed in spades, with even closer propinquity than suspected between king crab and hermit crab lines.

I regard this story of king and hermit crabs as one of the most elegant I have learned of late in evolutionary biology–a lovely combination of a fascinating and counterintuitive tale; a multifaceted, rigorous and convincing pile of supporting data; and a lesson of intriguing generality  (the difference between genealogical propinquity and any functional meaning of similarity–and the overriding importance of propinquity). (Gould 1995, p. 397, emphasis mine)

Great, curiosity satisfied!

So please, please, please, people, don’t just throw quote around willy-nilly. Give proper references. [I'll make an exception for T-shirts, but that's it!]

OK, I got that out of my system, end pedantic rant.

[* I didn't look at every single Google result so this is a rhetorical "none".]

Reference

Gould, Stephen Jay (1995) Dinosaur in a Haystack, Harmony Books, NY, 1st hardback edition

The Carnival of Evolution #48 is up and it has been Pharyngulated!

The Squidmiester himself, P-Zed Myers, who inscribes his electronic tome of iniquity (a blog) from atop a throne of humans skulls (a ordinary office chair), ensconced in his deep sea fortress of doom (the University of Minnesota Morris), is hosting the 48th Carnival of Evolution at his retched hive of scum and atheistic villainy, Pharyngula!!! You are not going to want to be late for this one, because the lucky ones will be eaten first!!!

Welcome your new Cephalopod overlord! I think he likes you…

Bwahahahahaha!!!

Praise be to Cthulhu for this invisible line break! Pain in the ass html…

Previous Carnivals of Evolution:

If you missed any of these you’ll definitely want to go check them out!