New quote shirt from Evo-T’s

Yes this is a shameless commercial post for my internet T-shirt shop: Evo-T‘s (hey, I’m poor and domain names and science books don’t pay for themselves).

This one bears a nice quote from the influential philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902-1994) on the tentative nature of scientific conclusions:

The game of science is, in principle, without end.  He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game. – Popper, Karl (1965) The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Harper Torchbooks, p. 53

This shirt comes in navy blue with yellow print, in sizes for both men and women.

And as always:


One more time with Biele

Creationist Arthur Biele responded to my response, to his response of my critique of something he wrote on horse evolution [inhales abruptly].

Thankfully he respected my wishes that he not post another book length set of arguments in the comments to my post. He has of course taken this as a blanket refusal on my part to allow him to respond:

Biele: Since you refuse me a full response to your article…

Mr. Biele, I only asked that you not post another extremely lengthy response, in the comments section of my blog and indeed this is a rule of mine, one not restricted to you. If you look at my comments policy you’ll see that this is a  request I make of everyone who comments on my blog. Still, I welcomed you to respond to one or two specific points, which we could then discuss further; something which I think would be a more productive way to continue our debate.  And I also specifically mentioned other options you could take if you wanted to respond at length.

Once again, you are free to start your own blog (they’re free) or web page and post as long a response to me as you like. Alternatively you could post your comments to the Talk Origins Newsgroup (or some other similar open forum), and simply leave a link in my comments as to where your response could be found (and then I might respond further here).

So it is really your choice.

Now, despite your complaints, you did in fact make a comment of a limited nature about punctuated equilibrium which I am happy to respond to.

Biele: …the PE’s views that theory is not at all complementary to Darwinisn evolution, but was meant to replace it.

Yes, I am aware that this is the caricature of punctuated equilibrium that antievolutionists like you believe in; the problem is it is a caricature, not reality. You see, Mr. Biele, for someone who has some understanding of both the neo-Darwinian synthesis and PE (and who has read the relevant literature), your portrayal of the situation is nonsensical.

Biele: In the plaeontologists views, evidence for Darwin’s gradualistic theory of evolution is refuted by the fossil record.

In some paleontologists’ views, the evidence for what Eldredge and Gould referred to as “phyletic gradualism” is refuted by the fossil record. Not Darwinian evolution as a whole, just what they termed its supposed phyletic gradualism. Furthermore, there are many, including myself, that think that Eldredge and Gould fashioned a bit of a straw-man in their characterization of the main-line synthetic theory.

Biele: The PE theory was a means to save The General Theory of Evolution by proposing a new means by which evolution occurs. Of course that theory of evolution also has its’ critical faults too.

[Sigh] I’m sorry Mr. Biele, but this is simply nonsense. Once again, Stephen Jay Gould:

Faced with these facts of evolution and the philosophical bankruptcy of their own position, creationists continually rely upon distortion and innuendo to buttress their rhetorical claim.  If I sound sharp or bitter, indeed I am – for I have become a major target of these practices.

I count myself among the evolutionists who argue for a jerky or episodic, rather than a smoothly gradual, change of pace.  In 1972, my colleague Niles Eldredge and I developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium.  We argued that two outstanding facts of the fossil record —geologically “sudden” origin of new species and failure to change thereafter (stasis) — reflect the predictions of evolutionary theory, not the imperfections of the fossil record. In most theories, small isolated populations are the source of new species, and the process of speciation takes thousands or tens of thousands of years.  This amount of time, so long when measured against our lives, is a geological microsecond.  It represents much less than one percent of the average lifespan for a fossil invertebrate species – more than 10 million years.  Large, widespread, and well-established species, on the other hand, are not expected to change very much.  We believe that the inertia of large populations explains the stasis of most fossil species over millions of years.

We proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium largely to provide a different explanation for pervasive trends in the fossil record.  Trends, we argued, cannot be attributed to gradual transformation within lineages, but must arise from the differential success of certain kinds of species.  A trend, we argued, is more like climbing a flight of stairs (punctuations and stasis) than rolling up an inclined plane

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists – whether through design or stupidity, I do not know – as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.  Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.  Yet a pamphlet entitled: “Harvard Scientists Agree Evolution Is a Hoax” states: “The facts of punctuated equilibrium which Gould and Eldredge . . . are forcing Darwinists to swallow fit the picture that Bryan insisted on, and which God has revealed to us in the Bible.” – Gould (1983) “Evolution As Fact And Theory” in Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes, pp.253-262, (Emphasis mine)

And now, 27 years later, Arthur Biele continues the distortion.

Biele: I was preparing a reply in my mind as I read each of your arguments and noting the many sophistical defenses you used in your long awaited reply. A long reply deserves an equal response, And it would have taken me a few days due to my busy schedule. But as you told me what amounts to be ‘take a hike’, that your site is reserved for your own views and accolades, I will honor your wishes. I indeed do plan to actually ‘take a hike’ as it would be good for my health.

As I said it’s your choice. You have several options open to you to give as long a response as you might like to my previous post, and of course you are welcome to respond on the more limited issue of PE discussed here in the comments below, just keep it concise.

If not, it’s no sand off my beach.

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.

Read on»

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?

Read on»

Happy Darwin/Lincoln day!

Happy Darwin/Lincoln day everyone!


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»

A (slightly embarassing) Darwin day at USC

This past Wednesday (4-15-09) I attended an interesting set of ‘Darwin Year’ lectures at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (Darwin Today: Evolution and Scientific Thought). The lectures were moderated by USC anthropologist Craig Stanford and the speakers included: Donald Johanson (paleoanthropologist and discoverer of the famous Lucy fossil), USC paleobiologist/ecologist David Bottjer, USC microbiologist Steve Finkel and last but certainly not least was my friend Eugenie Scott, director of The National Center for Science Education.

All the talks were interesting but the most entertaining was probably Dr. Finkel’s which focused on bacteria. In addition to all the fascinating stuff on evolution in prokaryotes his talk contained lots of amusing gross-out trivia about such things as how there are 300,000,000 bacteria per gram of fecal material living in the average persons colon (that’s about the same as the number of people living in the U.S.).

The talks wrapped up with an interesting round-table discussion of sorts between the speakers and the audiences (which contained several other USC faculty members), mostly revolving around the subject of Genie’s talk, which was of course on K-12 science education and the effects of antievolutionists on it.

I’ll be kicking myself for months because of Genie though (it’s not her fault though). Within the first minute of her talk she put up a slide of the NCSE’s logo and asked if anyone recognized the image. When no one spoke up she quickly said “tell’em Troy”.

Deer in the headlights.

I wasn’t expecting to be put on the spot, at least not that soon, I mean Genie has asked me questions during her talks before, which is normally fine, but this time my brain locked up. Fortunately she quickly let me off the hook and told everyone that it was based on a drawing from one of Darwin’s notebooks.

NCSE's logo

Of course this sort of thing happens to all of us, especially when we are surprised and under pressure, but in this case I have little excuse. You see just a few months ago I went to a special Darwin exhibit at the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA) and contained in that exhibit was the very notebook of Darwin’s in which appears the drawing which the NCSE’s logo is based upon. I even remember saying to myself, “oh look, there is the drawing the NCSE is using for their logo.”

The original from Darwin's notebook.

Flash forward to last Wednesday, and it’s “ah, uhm, ah, I don’t remember exactly where that’s from…”. Arrrrgh!

Ah well, as a consolation prize I was able to get a photograph of myself with Don Johanson to add to my collection.

Donald Johanson and yours truly.

Donald Johanson and yours truly.

[slapping self in head, “Darwin’s notebook, Darwin’s notebook…”]

Wilkins on Darwin and race

John Wilkins, philosopher from down under, has written a nice blog post on Darwin and race, “Myth 7: Darwin thought that Australian aborigines were closer to apes than to Europeans“:

Actually, this one is better called “Darwin was a racist”, but as the text concerned is from the same source as those claims, I thought it might be easier to evaluate a single claim and generalise from that.

Our gospel for today is chapters V and VI of The Descent of Man, published in 1871.

If you read Darwin sloppily, or to find evidence that he really was a Very Bad Man for rhetorical – usually religious – purposes, you soon come across this statement. In fact, you can find paraphrases of it in literally hundreds of creationist documents and sites. Here is the offending passage, from towards the end of chapter VI of the Descent:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. [p201]

Many folk read this to be making the following claims:

1. It is right that civilised races should exterminate the savage races

2. It is right that the great apes (which Darwin calls “anthropomorphous” or “humanlike”) will be made extinct.

3. When this happens the gap between humans and apes will be wider because the intermediates, apes and negroes or Australian aborigines, will be gone.

Hence: Aborigines and negroes are more apelike than Caucasians.

Let’s look at a bit of context here. I do not propose to defend Darwin from his biases, but let’s be quite clear on what they are first (and note, if Darwin turned out to be a baby eating white supremacist, it no more makes evolution false than the fact that most baby eating white supremacists are Christians discredits Christianity).

Check out the rest over on Evolving Thoughts.

Intelligent design creationism playing the racism card… again

Andrew Sibley, who I recently used as an example of the two faces of intelligent design creationism, has gone on another ‘Darwin was a racist/evolution leads to racism’, tear over on Uncommon Descent, basing his comments this time largely on an article (“What’s wrong with Darwinism?“) by another character by the name of Tony Campolo on a site called Christian Today. I was going to rip into Campolo’s piece given it contains outright falsehoods about Darwin, but my colleague Jason Rosenhouse has done an excellent job of doing so already over on Evolutionblog, so time saved.

However since Mr. Sibley has my attention once again I want to address his contribution to this steaming pile:

Campolo acknowledges that Darwin was a product of his time, and clearly Darwin did not invent racism with some of his relations for instance taking an interest in abolishing the slave trade. Darwin too in his early life questioned slavery, but what happened to lead him to embrace ideas where Africans and Aborigines were considered closer to apes than Caucasians? Instead, a plain reading of the Bible teaches that all mankind are related and are of common ancestry.

Darwin “questioned slavery”, “in his early life”, really? Well, now that we’ve had the ‘good facts‘ version let’s look at the actual facts.

Read on»