Creationists are just buggy about bugs

A few months back Frank Sherwin,  “Senior Science Lecturer” at the Institute for Creation Research, launched an amusing attack on evolution that is nigh on word-salad; this time focusing on insects, and how they are supposedly problematic for evolutionary theory.

As usual it is stated with the confidence and the faux authority that is typical of “creation science” practitioners but when you actually look at it and try to make sense of what is being said it quickly becomes apparent that much of it is really unintelligible nonsense.

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Hyracotherium misinformation at scientificamerican.com

I am going to give another wag of the finger, this time to Scientific American. They posted a number of paintings of reconstructions of various extinct “horses” in a picture gallery titled “Ancient Miniature Horses”, which includes an entry for the famous “dawn horse”, Hyracotherium.

However, the problems lies not in the painting, which is probably a reasonable guesstimate of what Hyracotherium might have looked like in life but rather with the blurb of information included with the painting:

Hyracotherium This genus of small early horse roamed the early woodlands of Asia, Europe and North America some 55 million to 45 million years ago. It was already larger than Sifrhippus, weighing about 22.7 kilograms. But when Richard Owen first discovered Hyracotherium in 1876, it was so diminutive that he thought it was some unknown hyrax species, a group of extant mammals that live in Africa and the Middle East. 

Painting by Heinrich Harder used by S.A.

No, no, no, a thousand times no! It is bad enough when creationists claim that Hyracotherium is merely a hyrax (rather than a ancestral horse) and claim that Richard Owen thought so as well but to have a venerable science publication like Scientific American falling into the same pit of misinformation is extremely vexing.

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There’s something fishy about that fish

Institute for Creation Research President Dr. John Morris has taken to recycling; in this case he’s dusted off some nonsense from an article he wrote 3 years ago titled “Evolution’s Biggest Hurdles” (Morris 2008) and repackaged it as “The Biggest Problems for Evolution” (Morris 2011).

As I usually do I started out writing a point by point re-rebuttal to Morris’s new article; even though I already wrote a fairly extensive rebuttal to the earlier version. However, as I was writing, and as it got longer and longer, I realized that I was going to bury the lead way too deep. So, I am dropping most of the rehashing and jump to the new issues I want to address.

First though just a little of the lead in for context:

Morris: Even though the gaps in the fossil record are found between each basic animal type, there are two huge gaps in particular that should be emphasized. The evolutionary distance between single-cell organisms and the vast array of multicellular, highly complex marine invertebrates precludes even rapid evolution.

Oh boy, this is déjà vu all over again.

From earlier context (see below) the “rapid evolution” he is referring to here is supposed to be punctuated equilibrium, however P.E. about apparent, geologically, “rapid” transitions (say a few tens of thousands of years) and concerns species level transitions (like those necessary to evolve horses and zebras from a common ancestor) not multicellular organisms from unicellular ones. Again, I’ll have more on his use of P.E. below.

As for the gap between unicellular and multicellular organisms the (really) short answer is: choanoflagellates (colony forming single celled organisms that are strikingly similar to cells found in sponges called choanocytes). Again, see my earlier post You can tune a piano but you can’t tunicate” for more.

Morris In the supposedly 600-million-year-old layers of rock designated as Cambrian (which contain the first appearance of varied multi-cell life), sponges, clams, trilobites, starfish, etc., are found without the required evolutionary ancestors.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I covered this before as well.

1) There are fossils of multicellular organism in Precambrian strata (the Ediacaran biota for example).

2) Amongst those Precambrian multicellular organisms are sponges and jellyfish.

3) “Clams” (bivalve mollusks) are known from the Cambrian but only from few tiny extinct types.

4) Starfish or sea stars (Class Asteroidea) fossils do not appear in the fossil record until the Ordovician.

Morris: The gap from marine invertebrates to the vertebrate fish is likewise immense.

Again, Dr. Morris doesn’t want you to know about invertebrate chordates or the evidence for a relationship between chordates and echinoderms. I’ll have more on this in a few moments.

OK, now we get to it:

Morris:  To make matters worse for the evolutionists, fish fossils are also found in Cambrian strata.

If we define the colloquial term “fish” in the usual way (in reference to all aquatic, gill bearing, vertebrates) then yes, a few genera of “fish fossils” have indeed been found in Cambrian strata.

However the word “fish”, is not a scientific term, so the question must be; exactly what sort of “fish” has been found in the Cambrian strata? Dr. Morris does not grace his readers with any further comment on this question; there is however a prominent illustration of a fossil fish that accompanies the article. Here is a screen shot of the page the article appears on:

And here is a larger version of the fish fossil picture:

I think it is fair to say that most people who are not particularly familiar with vertebrate phylogeny and paleontology—including most of Dr. Morris’s readers—might assume when they read in his article that “fish fossils are also found in Cambrian strata” that the large centrally displayed picture of a fossil fish might in fact be one of the Cambrian fish Morris is referring to.

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A Tale of Two Dinosaurs

The Institute for Creation Research has graced us once again with a brilliant display of their scientific prowess. This time the focus of their efforts revolves around the recently published description of a newly unearthed dinosaur species Eodromaeus murphi.

Eodromaeus is a small (slightly over a meter in length) South American dinosaur from the mid-Triassic (230 MYA). This date makes it one of the earliest dinosaurs and its describers, Ricardo Martinez et al., argue that it should be classified as a basal theropod ―the carnivorous branch of the “lizard-hipped” or saurischian dinosaurs (Martinez et al., 2011).

What has ICR’s, or more specifically ICR “science writer” Brian Thomas‘ knickers in a twist is that in the same paper in which they describe Eodromaeus the authors also argue for the reclassification of another dinosaur, Eoraptor (described back in the early 1990’s), which is from the same location and roughly the same time period as Eodromaeus.

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Dinny the dinosaur (still) held hostage

A couple of years ago, after hearing that creationists had purchased Dinny the dinosaur and converted perverted him—and his sidekick Rex—into tools for peddling their rank ignorance, I went out to Cabazon to see for myself how badly they had been abused. What I found was not happy-making, nor would it be for anyone who cares about knowledge, science and truth, or who finds the thought of children being mislead distressing.

What I found was that Dinny had not only been taken hostage by creationists but judging by their posted material, creationists who seem to be enamored with the “teachings” of some of creationism’s lowest common denominators; professional hucksters such as (the felonious) “Dr.” Kent Hovind and “Dr.,” Carl Baugh, two people that even other young earth creationists (YEC) tend to distance themselves from.

Even worse they seemed to be doing fairly good business as they were in the process of expanding the attraction by adding a number of decently executed life size dinosaur models.

Dinny the dinosaur (foreground) and Rex (background).

As I said that was two years ago. Last summer my wife Kathy and I happened to find ourselves not far from Cabazon and I figured we should swing by and see what new devilry might have befallen Dinny.

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Night of the Tenebrionids!

My back yard is overrun with tenebrionid beetles (genus Eleodes), aka stink beetles. This is in Southern California, early May 2010. My wife Kathy is behind the camera making comments from the peanut gallery.

Here is a picture of a larger version I took a couple years ago:

This was a good sized female who was a little worse for wear (note the dent in her elytron/back). She was ovipositing in a dirt road.

The not so itsy bitsy spider climbed out of the cactus

I was doing some long neglected yard work today and while pulling out some weeds around a dying bit of prickly pear cactus in the back yard I came upon this “little” beauty:

And here is one for scale:

OK, so it’s not a bird eating spider, the size of a dinner plate, but outside of a full blown tarantula it is the biggest spider I’ve seen in the wild around these parts (Southern California) since I was a kid. My first attempt at an identification would be a California trapdoor spider (Bothriocyrtum californicum), though it looks a little different from the pics I can find on the web and I didn’t find it associated with a trapdoor setup. It was just clinging to a bit of old prickly pear skin (an environment it was sharing with literally hundreds and hundreds of Eleodes).

Any spider guys out there that can confirm or correct my I.D.?

Smithsonian Magazine Editor Responds

Someone named Laura, who identifies herself as being an editor at the Smithsonian Magazine, left a comment on my post about their mix-up of hominid pictures in a paleoanthropology time line published in the March edition of the magazine and I figured I’d move it up to post level where more people would likely see it:

Troy, thanks for your post about Ann Gibbons’ story on Hominid Evolution in Smithsonian. I’m an editor there who worked on the story. We decided whenever possible to use images that would be easy for readers to understand. The timeline, especially, had to show many small images of specimens that some of our readers are reluctant to consider their ancestors. For Java Man, we did go with the more complete skull from the same place and species. We’re trying to figure out what happened with the Neanderthal image–the source we used labeled it as Neanderthal, but your comparison with Turkana Boy makes a good case. We’ll let you know if we figure out where the photo was taken and which specimen it shows.

First let me say thank you Laura for responding on this.

Regarding the Java Man thing, as I admitted in my post, I was perhaps being a bit nit-picky, and I don’t consider the switch from one Indonesian Homo erectus skull to another to be too much of a problem. However swapping out a H. ergaster (from Africa) for a H. neanderthalensis (mostly European) is obviously a different matter.  And while I am not a paleoanthropologist  and while I don’t even play one on the interwebs, I’ll bet you a years subscription to your magazine that you’ll find that the picture that was used to show a Neanderthal is instead a photo of the Turkana Boy.

Funny how I don’t get this sort of response from the antievolutionists who I catch making much larger mistakes than this (and I know some of them read this blog). Ah well…

Hominid Confusion

Just to show that I am an equal opportunity critic (proponents of mainstream science as well as pseudoscientists) I am going to give a wag of the finger to the Smithsonian Magazine.

The March 2010 issue has a feature article on human evolution that celebrates the opening of the Smithsonian Institutes new Hall of Human Origins titled “Our Earliest Ancestors” (Here is an online version) by Ann Gibbons. The problem, however, is not with the article per se but rather with some of the illustrations given in a timeline titled “Unearthing Our Roots” (Gibbons 2010, pp.36-37) which is found within the article.

The timeline gives the readers a brief outline of the history of paleoanthropology from the Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) fossils discovered in German in 1856, to the more recent finds like those of Sahelanthropus tchadensis found at Chad in 2001. The first refers, as I said, to the 1856 Neanderthal find and includes what is supposed to be a picture of a Neanderthal. The second is the 1891 discovery of “Java Man” (Homo erectus) with a picture of a fairly compete skull of a H. erectus.

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We need creationists lecturing us on evolution like we need another fenestra in the head

The Institute for Creation Research has presented the world with another taxonomic turd from the cat box of creationist wisdom. This time it comes from ICR’s “Senior Science Lecturer” Frank Sherwin. However before I get to the main event, I want to take a closer look at the litter in which Mr. Sherwin’s little jewel is nestled.

In the February (2010) issue of ICR’s monthly Acts & Facts Mr. Sherwin (whose background is in parasitology) graced us with an article titled “Darwinism’s Rubber Ruler” in which he argues that descent with modification is untestable and that “any and all scientific evidence” can be “stretched to fit” the theory.

The first thing that comes to my mind when reading this is to ask: if this is so, then how is it that I could have in my personal collection literally hundreds of books and pamphlets, many of them originating from Mr. Sherwin’s organization, that purport to contain absolutely scads of evidence that contradict evolutionary theory?

How about Dr. Duane Gish’s (the emeritus vice president of ICR) books Evolution the Fossils Say NO! (1978) and the update Evolution: the fossils STILL say NO! (1995)? How can the fossils say “no” to evolution if any scientific evidence (in this case fossils) can be “stretched to fit” the theory?

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