Consilience and whale evolution

Way, waaay back in December of 2005 (ye gods has been ten years already?!) I wrote a Feedback response on the Talk Origins Archive to a question about the vestigial pelvic bones found in modern whales. In this case the questioner did not believe them to be truly vestigial, no doubt due to holding erroneous beliefs regarding the subject. In my response I of course took the time to correct their faulty views, however I also used the opportunity to talk about the concept of consilience wherein multiple independent lines of evidence converge on a single explanation, giving us greatly increased confidence that those explanations (hypothesis/theories) are likely to be accurate reflections of reality, i.e. “true”. 

I have now and again thought of going back and using that post as a spring-board for a more detailed examination of this subject and who knows, I may still do so someday. In the meantime however, here is a great video from Stated Clearly that I ran across on Facebook recently that uses the same topic—whales—to essentially do the same thing I did all those years ago; make a point about the consilience of evidence pointing to a pretty definite conclusion with regards to not just the ancestry of cetaceans but the evolution of life in general. Better they include more details than I did and it has animations.

Check it out:

I miss answering the feedback question on Talk Origins…


Another Pharyngula podcast with yours truly

The first part was on intelligent design creationists latest attacks on some of the genetic evidence for human evolution. The second was a ostensibly on humanism but strayed into issues surrounding the internecine warfare going on in the skeptic/atheist community over issues of feminism (which I will not touch with a light-year long pole) and progressive politics. Being of a slightly libertarian bent, I bit my tongue and let the anti-libertarian jibs go by (I am used to being casually libeled and slandered by my liberal Democrat friends).

Wait, what?

Intelligent Design creationist Denyse O’Leary, in the midst of rationalizing (over at Uncommon Descent) why ID creationists spend all their time attacking science rather than doing science, has provided yet another example of how antievolutionists are pretty much pathologically unable to portray evolutionary theory (or its supporting evidence) accurately:

O’Leary: To me, Darwinism is like bad money. It becomes an intellectual vice. People are always looking for natural selection to generate random mutation, the way they are always trying to pass on the likely-bogus G-bill (when they are not out looking for the lucky strike). [Emphasis mine]

Yeah, right Denyse, it’s scientists engaging in an “intellectual vice” not creationists like yourself who spend all their time confidently bashing something they clearly don’t understand.

Newsflash: natural selection does not “generate” mutation; mutation is an independently occurring  source of variation from which natural selection “selects” after the fact.

For heaven’s sake, Google it Denyse! Here, I’ll do it for you; the top two hits for “natural selection” are:

Wikipedia – Natural Selection

U.C. Berkley – Natural Selection

That took mere seconds and after mere minutes of reading you won’t find anything on either of those two pages about natural selection “generating” mutations, random or otherwise. Here’s a bonus one on genetic variation from Wikipedia.

Is it really so much to ask for them to have a basic understanding of the science they put so much energy into repudiating?

[Hat tip to Larry Moran over at Sandwalk. Larry took the time to address O’Leary’s aforementioned rationalizations, have a look-see.]

Epic Horse Exhaust

OK, it took me a while to get to it but I am, as promised, responding to creationist Arthur Biele’s lengthy comments left in response to my criticisms of his writings on horse evolution. For those interested I suggest you go back and read Mr. Biele’s article and my original critique first. Those that do I think will find that his response didn’t really answer any of my original criticisms. Instead what he did was dump a new load of barely coherent nonsense on me.

A warning though, this goes on for quite a bit (it sure felt like it while I wrote it), which is of course due to the well known fact that accurately and substantially responding to horseshit takes considerably more time and effort than it does to spewing it.

Biele: With regard to Eohippus, If you knew anything about the actual fossil record, Eohippus finds are many and that category has been a dumping ground for certain archaic partial skulls that defy any specific classification, nor are they known to be ancestors of any known ‘evolved’ descendants, and they are mostly from Europe.

While apparently attempting to impugn my knowledge of the “the actual fossil record” Mr. Biele clearly demonstrates his own ignorance of the subject at hand. Let’s break this down in order:

Read on»

Evolution Rap from the Galápagos

[Via Why Evolution is True

Biologist bitch slaps (figuratively) intelligent design creationist

Prof. Ken Miller

Prof. Ken Miller

Brown University biologist and Dover ID trial witness Ken Miller pwns ID creationist Casey Luskin in a guest posting on Carl Zimmer’s blog The Loom.

Tis a thing of beauty.


Miller is showing no mercy. The above was just part one! Here are parts two and three.

New Library Aquisitions

The wife made the mistake of insisting on going to a used bookstore last weekend. The result is that my library has grown a bit larger (and my wallet a bit thinner). For those not familiar the entire contents of the Britain Research Library can be found on my personal web site at the previous link.

Anstey, Robert L. & Chase, Terry L. (1979) Environments Through Time: A laboratory manual in historical geology (2nd Edition), Burgess Publishing Company, VI +140

Brockman, John (Editor) (2006) Intelligent Thought: Science versus the intelligent design movement, Vintage Books, XIII + 256

Cherfas, Jeremy (1982) Darwin Up To Date (A New Scientists Guide), IPC Magazines Ltd, 72

Desmond, Adrian J. (1975) The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs, The Dial Press/James Wade, 238

Skybreak, Ardea (2006) The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism: Knowing what’s real and why it matters, Insight Press, VIII + 338

Von Koenigswald, G. H. R. (1962) The Evolution of Man, The University of Michigan Press, 148

Watson, James D. et al (1983) Recombinant DNA: A short course, Scientific American Books, XIII + 260

White, Michael & Gribbin, John (1995) Darwin: A life in science, Dutton, IX + 322

And from the dark side:

Latham, Antony (2005) The Naked Emperor: Darwinism exposed, Janus Publishing Company, VI + 257