So I was on a panel discussion about micro vs. macroevolution…

Several weeks back I get an email from Phil Calderone, a member of one of the local atheist/agnostic/freethought groups (I.E.A.A.), asking if I would like to act as a fill in on a (then) upcoming “believers vs. non-believers” panel discussion on the subject of micro vs. macroevolution. Apparently, one of the persons originally invited was not going to be able to participate and he needed a fill in and was pointed towards me by Dr. Brad Hughes, who many years ago I had helped (along with others) prepare for a debate with “Dr.” Kent Hovind.

After some trepidation—due to having never done any public speaking before—I agreed to participate as long as it was understood that I was unlettered and neither a paleontologist or biologist but rather a mere amateur naturalist who has had a bit of experience in the creation/evolution debate. 

The format of the discussion was meant to be a relatively informal back and forth between four people with two on each side. One the “believers” side there was a gentleman named Kelly Clemensen, of something called the Areopagus Project, and Dr. Paul Giem of Loma Linda University (see also Giem’s web page here). On the non-believers side was myself and Phil Calderone who was to moderate but had to fill in the second non-believers chair for another person who couldn’t make it.

I will not go into any more description of the event as it was recorded on video and you can watch the proceedings for yourself below. However, truth and honesty before all I will be addressing at least two places where I know I screwed up in the discussion below the video.

Please feel free to point out any other mistakes I made, or address the many points made by the creationists that went unaddressed by either Phil or me during the discussion. I know there are whole bunches of things that our opponents said that was missed or deserved more in depth dissection.

Now that you have, hopefully, watched the video there are two places that I realized I messed up pretty much right after the debate. One was minor memory failure, misattribution about punctuated equilibrium. The other was a more significant—at least in my opinion—point were I brought up a group of fossil organisms that was really something of a red-herring—though I committed the fallacy out of partial ignorance—and should have known better from other statements I myself had made at other points in the same discussion!

Read on»

Creationism Nit: Archaeoraptor?

So the other day I found myself near one of the local Bible book stores and since I had the time wandered in to see what creationist fare they might have in their apologetics section. As it turned out not a lot, however in the homeschooling section they did have this little tome titled, Exploring the world of biology: From mushrooms to complex life forms (2009) by a John Hudson Tiner and published by Master Books (which as far as I know is still a subsidiary of the Institute for Creation Research):

the-world-of-biology-tiner

I am not sure why Mr. Tiner—who is apparently a math teacher—chose to start with mushrooms in his “exploration” but even leaving out simpler organisms makes his exploration a tall order when he only has 160 pages to work with.

Regardless, I am not here to critique the entire book, or even the section from which I have drawn my nit (I couldn’t do so in good faith anyway, as I only flipped through the book and took a couple quick photos). I am only here for the nit, nit, nit!

And the nit is this from page 133:

archaeoraptorHere we have a black and white photo of a fossil which is labeled Archaeoraptor liaoningensis.

Huh, yeah, it is just that the problem is the picture is not of that notorious fraudulent fossil. See for yourself; compare the picture above with following illustration of the actual Archaeoraptor: 

(Pickrell 2015)

You don’t have to have a degree in comparative anatomy to tell these two specimens apart.

What Tines has done is publish what is clearly a cropped photograph of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx siemensii perhaps the single more famous and recognizable fossil in the worldand mistakenly labeled it as Archaeoraptor.

Archaeopteryx siemensii

The Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx siemensii

So, yeah, “oops!” Mr. Tines may want to familiarize himself with Archaeopteryx before he opines on the state of the fossil evidence for the evolution of birds from other dinosaurs (let alone starts writing books that might fall into the hands of impressionable children). 

For more info on the Archaeoraptor story see:

Archaeoraptor Fossil Trail” By Lewis M. Simons from the October 2000, National Geographic magazine

Archaeoraptor illustration source:

Pickrell, John (2015) The great dinosaur fossil hoax, Cosmos (website).

Secular Museum Blunder

To demonstrate once again that I am an equal opportunity critic, here is a nit I have to pick with a secular museum, namely the Riverside Metropolitan Museum located in downtown Riverside, CA. It is a small museum and most of its limited public floorspace is taken up by displays dealing with Native American culture and artifacts. However it also has a number of displays on natural history, primarily that of the mountains & deserts in Riverside County. It is near some of these displays I found the following stuck to a wall:

Rhamphorhynchus_at_RMM

And here is the lone label seen in the bottom right-hand corner:

Cuviers_pterodactyl

It reads, “Baron Cuvier’s Pterodactyl“, apparently a reference to the fact that it was the “father of paleontology” Georges Cuvier who dubbed one of the earliest discovered pterosaur fossils “Ptéro-Dactyle”.

Yeah, the problem is though the cast of the fossil accompanying the label is very clearly not of the genus Pterodactylus named by Cuvier. Rather it is a cast of a RhamphorhynchusHere for comparison is the holotype specimen of Pterodactylus:

Pterodactylus_holotype_w-arrow

The red arrow points to Pterodactylus’ rather diminutive tail, which stands in rather stark contrast to Rhamphorhynchus’ long kite-like tail which ends in a diamond shaped vane (see above). 

Amusingly this is not the first time that these two genera have been confused. Apparently Rhamphorhynchus was originally misidentified as a species of Pterodactylus but after a few rounds of reclassification finally ended up as its own genus by the hand of Richard Owen 1861.

So a wag of my finger to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum; you need to fact check your displays.

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…

Some Xmas gifts plus

Just wanted to share a couple fun Christmas presents I got this year and a couple of gifts I got earlier in the year that I have been meaning to post some pictures of but had not yet got round to doing so.

The first is an amusing caricature of yours truly, drawn by Gabriel Corral (who was, until recently, one of my co-workers):

A caricature of me riding a sauropod while waiving a Darwin-fish flag. The caption reads: "Not scientifically accurate".

A caricature of me riding a sauropod while waiving a Darwin-fish pennant. The caption reads: “Not scientifically accurate”.

He drew caricatures of each of us who work, or worked, at AFS Printing as Christmas gifts.

Next is a painting by my sister, Kindra Pizarro, of a skeleton tree:

An original painting by my sister Kindra.

An original painting by my sister Kindra.

Very cool (be sure to check out her Etsy store: Voodoo Kitty Handmade Oddities).

Finally a couple of neat dinosaur statuettes given to me by my friends Don and Gaynell Frack, I think for my last birthday (or maybe even last Christmas, can’t recall):

A Stegosaurus statuette.

A Stegosaurus statuette.

Triceratops

A Triceratops statuette.

Apparently they bought them, for a very reasonable price, at an art sale put on by a Buddhist temple. Both are very cool, though I think I like the Triceratops best. The only problem is my ever finding a place to display them where the cats won’t be able to destroy them (first world problems).

So that’s it for now, thank you so much Gabriel, Kindra, Don and Gaynell for the thought and the gifts!

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»

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.

Answers in Genesis memory holes a glaring error but fails to notice others

While doing some research for a potential post, I was going back and reviewing some of the obvious and indisputably false statements made by creationists that I have documented here on PCwP and in doing so discovered that Answers in Genesis has relegated one of these blunders to the memory hole.  In this case, it seems that AiG would rather we forget that their in house “anatomist”, Dr. David Menton, apparently cannot keep his saurischian (“lizard hipped”) dinosaurs and his ornithischian (“bird hipped”) dinosaurs straight—a basic distinction that any child interested in dinosaurs knows.

This by itself would be reason enough to revisit Dr. Menton’s article however an even better reason might be the fact that the interwebs is currently abuzz with the news that Bill Nye (The Science Guy) has agreed, perhaps unwisely, to debate creationist preacher Ken Ham—Dr. Menton’s boss at AiG—this coming February 4th (2014). I believe what follows should give the reader some insight into both the commitment to principled scholarship and the scientific caliber of the people behind Answers in Genesis.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

As I noted in back in my February 2009 post,Four and twenty sauropods baked in a pie“, Menton erroneously identified sauropod dinosaurs—long necked giants like Apatosaurus, a.k.a brontosaurus—as being “bird-hipped”, or ornithischian, dinosaurs, making a point of how un-birdlike these massive dinosaurs were, in an article titled “Did Dinosaurs Turn Into Birds?“.

Here is how this section of the article read at the time:

Menton: All dinosaurs are divided into two major groups based on the structure of their hips (pelvic bones): the lizard-hipped dinosaurs (saurischians) and the bird-hipped dinosaurs (ornithiscians)[sic]. The main difference between the two hip structures is that the pubic bone of the bird-hipped dinosaurs is directed toward the rear (as it is in birds) rather than entirely to the front (as it is in mammals and reptiles).

But in most other respects, the bird-hipped dinosaurs, including such huge quadrupedal sauropods as Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, are even less bird-like than the lizard-hipped, bipedal dinosaurs such as the theropods. This point is rarely emphasized in popular accounts of dinosaur/bird evolution. [Emphasis mine]

This conspicuous blunder, of both taxonomy and comparative anatomy, remained on the AiG site for about five years, then somewhere between April 19th and May 22nd 2013—going by the snap-shots the Internet Archive Wayback Machine takes of websites—they quietly changed this part of the article to read thusly (changes in bold):

Menton: All dinosaurs are divided into two major groups based on the structure of their hips (pelvic bones): the lizard-hipped dinosaurs (saurischians) and the bird-hipped dinosaurs (ornithiscians)[sic]. The main difference between the two hip structures is that the pubic bone of the bird-hipped dinosaurs is directed toward the rear (as it is in birds) rather than entirely to the front (as it is in mammals and reptiles).

But in most other respects, the bird-hipped dinosaurs, including such bizarre creatures as the armor-plated ankylosaurs and the horned ceratopsian dinosaurs, are even less bird-like than the lizard-hipped, bipedal dinosaurs such as the theropods. This point is rarely emphasized in popular accounts of dinosaur/bird evolution. [Emphasis mine]

As you can see, the inaccurate listing of saurischian sauropods, as ornithischians, has become an accurate listing of some actual ornithischians. Which is all well and good, however there is no asterisk, no editor’s note, no update, nothing to let their readers know about this rather spectacular error or the changes made to correct it. It is just gone as if it never happened.

Way to be intellectually honest Answers in Genesis!

Innuendo Ad Nauseam

I will not rehash all the information about the similarities between the hipbones of theropod dinosaurs and various birds, both fossil and living, you can go back and look at my previous post on Menton’s mistake for that. However I am going to take a run at his attempted insinuation (in the last sentence quoted above) that paleontologists are somehow embarrassed by the fact that ornithischian dinosaurs, with their bird-like hips, were otherwise not particularly bird-like and therefore don’t like to bring them up when talking about bird origins.

This makes sense only if you A) have a low very opinion of scientists and think they are involved in a conspiracy to hide things from the general public (which creationists do). And B) are wed to the idea that the superficial resemblance of one feature must imply a close evolutionary relationship; but who does this (aside from creationists that is)?

These two paragraphs of Menton’s article are essentially an irrelevancy, which exists solely for making this innuendo. There may have been some 19th century paleontologists who were impressed by the superficial resemblance of the pelvic bones of ornithischians to those of birds but with very few exceptions (Galton 1970), this idea has been long abandon. If this is “rarely emphasized” in popular discussions of bird evolution it is because it is only of historical interest and not relevant to the current best science on the subject.

That said, some popular works on the subject do in fact discuss it, even including discussions of the armored dinosaurs that Dr. Menton is so keen for us to consider.  For example, pulling something of my bookshelf, there is a section of Lowell Dingus & Timothy Rowe’s book The Mistaken Extinction (1998, pp.170-177) where they go on for several pages discussing the different types of ornithischians and how they are, or rather are not, similar to birds.

On the web, there is The University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology’s website that talks about this on their page about ornithischians and hidden in the deep recesses of Wikipedia, where no one is likely to find them, there are multiple references to ornithischians in relation to birds. For example, both the Origins” section of Wikipedia’s entry on the evolution of birds and the entry for ornithischia talk about ornithischians and birds.

Finally, returning to the printed page, there is every creationist’s most favorite expert on bird evolution* Alan Feduccia (Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina), who discussed this in his book The Origin and Evolution of Birds (1999):

Very early on …dinosaurs branched into two major groups delineated by the structure of their hips: the reptile-hipped saurischians and the bird-hipped ornithischians. There has long been a strong temptation to try to derive birds from ornithischians because of this amazing but anatomically superficial resemblance of the hips. Gerard Hellmann in 1926 wrote that “the mere fact that [the pubis] was directed backward, like that of the birds, has evidentially hypnotized several scientists that they have overlooked, or tried to set aside, the many conspicuous differences between the birds and the Predentates [Ornithischia]” (148). …Ornithischians were highly specialized herbivores, too far removed from the main line of dinosaurian evolution to have given rise to any major group. Their line dead-ended with such forms as the duckbills, armored ankylosaurs, plated stegosaurs, and horned ceratopsians like Triceratops.  [Feduccia 1999, pp.51-52, Emphasis mine]

As you can see, it is all a big dark secret that evolutionists do not want getting around, so please, please, dear reader, do keep it to yourself.

This Little Piggy Went To Market…

Of course here I have once again been picking the fly poop out of the pepper, taking time to quibble over something nuanced when I should be telling you about how Dr. Menton, has dropped another huge coprolite into our collective cornflakes.

You see while I was revisiting Dr. Menton’s article I decided to take a little more time with it and in doing so I noted a few more amusing anatomical errors. The most glaring having to do with the dromaeosaurid dinosaur called Deinonychus:

Menton: While evolutionists now agree that birds are related in some way to dinosaurs, they are divided over whether birds evolved from some early shared ancestor of the dinosaurs within the archosauria (which includes alligators, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and thecodonts) or directly from advanced theropod dinosaurs (bipedal meat-eating dinosaurs, such as the wellknown [sic] Tyrannosaurus rex). The latter view has gained in popularity since 1970, when John Ostrom discovered a rather “bird-like” early Cretaceous theropod dinosaur called Deinonychus.

An adult Deinonychus measured about 12 feet (3.5 m) long, weighed over 150 pounds (68 kg), and was about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall standing on its two hind legs. Like other theropods (which means “beast foot”), Deinonychus had forelimbs much smaller than its hind limbs, with hands bearing three fingers and feet bearing three toes. The most distinctive feature of Deinonychus (which means “terrible claw”) is a large curved talon on its middle toe. [Emphasis mine]

Without getting distracted with the false equivalency Dr. Menton makes between the minority, “(unknown) archosaur origin” camp and the majority “theropod origin” camp*, his description here of the feet of Deinonychus is wrong on at least two counts.

First, Deinonychus like most theropods (and birds) had four toes, not three as Dr. Menton states. In Deinonychus‘ case, three robust forward facing toes and one somewhat reduced backward facing toe—the fifth digit is reduced to a splint bone (Ostrom 1969, p.124).


dino-bird-feet-compComparative illustration composed by Emily Willoughby (used with permission).


Second, the large curved claw that gives Deinonychus its name is on the anatomically second toe, not the third, which is the “middle” toe in tetrapods. Nor is it on the “middle toe” if we ignore the existence of Deinonychus‘ reduced first toe (hallux) and pretend it only had three forward facing toes. Even in this case the enlarged toe claws of Deinonychus are on the inside toes of its feet, not the middle toes.


Deinonychus feetThe photograph on the left is by Denver W. Fowler and was taken of a specimen on display at Museum or the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana (used with permission, for more on Deinonychus see Fowler et al., 2011). The drawing on the right is from the Yale Peabody Museum website.


So no matter how you count these little piggies, whether from a technical anatomical perspective, or just informally, Dr. Menton, creationist anatomist extraordinaire, is mistaken once again.     

This leads to a couple of questions. If Dr. Menton does not know such basic facts as, what types of dinosaurs are ornithischians or saurischians, how many toes theropod dinosaurs had, or which toes are which, why should anyone take his opinions on the more complex question of the evolutionary relationship between theropods and birds seriously?  

And why would anyone put their trust in Answers in Genesis as a reliable source of information if they apparently willing to cover up this sort of ignorance, which had been on their site, misinforming their readers for years, by quietly changing things without any sort of notice or acknowledgement?

I leave the answers to the reader.

It Is Thus Because It Pleased God To Make It Thus

There is much more in Menton’s article that needs to be addressed and I am going to separate those into a second post. However, there is one last statement by Menton to attend to here. You see just about right in the middle of his article Menton dropped an anti-science bomb that seems to render the rest of his arguments effectively meaningless.   

Menton: What would it prove if features common to one type of animal were found on another? Nothing. Simply put, God uses various designs with various creatures. Take the platypus, for example—a mosaic. It has several design features that are shared with other animals, and yet it is completely distinct. So if a dinosaur (or mammal) is ever found with feathers, it would call into question our human criteria for classification, not biblical veracity. What’s needed to support evolution is not an unusual mosaic of complete traits, but a trait in transition, such as a “scale-feather,” what creationist biologists would call a “sceather.” [Emphasis mine]

I’ll save my barbs about the platypus, feathered mammals and “sceathers”, for part two, because the main point here (which makes those things and pretty much everything else in his article irrelevant) is Menton’s offhanded dismissal of the significance such things as feathered dinosaurs. His statement essentially boils down to an argument that such things as feathered dinosaurs, fish with feet or “ape-men”—you know, transitional or intermediate forms—are merely the creations of a whimsical deity who chose to arbitrarily to mix and match characteristics of different groups of organisms and are therefore irrelevant. After all God can make anything, in anyway he chooses and for any reason he see fit to do so.

This is also known as “using the miracle card” or an appeal to magic. Dr. Menton is of course free to do this; however, in doing so he abandons all pretence of doing science, or even attempting to make rational arguments.   

Why does he bother arguing about different anatomical or physiological features of dinosaurs and birds? Why does he bother to fold, spindle, or mutilate the facts about these things and to misquote scientists regarding them (more on this in part two), if in the end you just going to say, “regardless of the facts, it is the way it is because God did it that way, period”?

It would save everyone a lot of time if he just said this sort of thing up front, so that rational people, who actually accept science and who care about the facts, will know that his claims can be dismissed without further consideration.

So, those are the major things I wanted to address first—and where some of you might want to stop and get off—however, for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, there is, as I said, much more in Dr. Menton’s article that is of false and or misleading nature to be addressed. I will examine those in a separate post.

Fairly warned ye be!

Footnote

*Alan Feduccia is part of a shrinking minority of scientists who deny the evidence that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs in favor of an older hypothesis that birds evolved from an earlier unknown group of archosaurs (a group that includes crocodilians, pterosaurs, dinosaurs and smattering of other extinct types). Their frequent and often strident attacks on the evidence that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs make Feduccia, and others like him (the late Larry Martin for example), the go to scientists for creationists to quote on the subject of bird evolution. Creationists use their attacks on the mainstream view of bird evolution to try to cast doubt on whether birds evolved at all.

See:

References

Dingus, Lowell & Rowe, Timothy (1998) The Mistaken Extinction, W. H. Freeman and Company, New York, NY

Fedducia, Alan (1999) The Origin and Evolution of Birds (2nd Edition), Yale University Press, New Haven, CT  

Fowler DW, Freedman EA, Scannella JB, Kambic RE (2011) “The Predatory Ecology of Deinonychus and the Origin of Flapping in Birds“, PLoS ONE 6(12): e28964

Galton, Peter M. (1970) “Ornithischian Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds”, Evolution, 24(2): 448-462

Ostrom, John H. (1969) “Osteology of Deinonychus antirrhopus, an Unusual Theropod from the Lower Cretaceous of Montana”, Peabody Museum of Natural History Bulletin, 30:1-165

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)