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).

The evolution of feathers in about 3 and a half minutes

By Carl Zimmer:

[Hat tip to Brian Switek.]

Fuzzy thinking about fuzzy dinosaurs

A visual approximation.

Casey Luskin, the Discoveryless Institute’s resident attack chihuahua, is on a roll. This time he’s gone off on a tangent about a recent find of yet another dinosaur fossil with evidence of protofeathers, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi and dinosaur evolution in general.

Luskin: The media that loyally serve Big Science are at it again, overstating the finds of a scientific paper to promote an evolutionary icon. This time, the icon is feathered dinosaurs, representing the purported ancestral relationship between dinos and birds. (Luskin 2012)

Ah, if only. If only Mr. Luskin’s conspiratorial fantasy were true and the media was that on the ball. The fact of the matter is that defenders of science education like me often cringe at the mischaracterizations and overstatements that come out of the popular media regarding evolution. I am constantly shaking my head and yelling at the TV or radio “no, that’s not what that means at all”, or words to that effect.

I wish I had a nickel (because being underemployed I could really use the money) for every time a silly reporter, while talking about some fossil discovery, described it as “overthrowing everything we thought we knew about the evolution of X”.

That is absolute bollocks, 99% of the time.

Read on»

Creationist horse feathers

If creationists keep spewing nonsense about horses and horse evolution, there may come a day when I run out of literary references and idioms involving horses to play off of in my post titles. But today is not that day.

Before I start I want to promise any regular readers of this blog that despite this being yet another post that is (in part) about creationists and horses, I promise there will be no mention of Hyracotherium this time. No quotes of Richard Owen. No references to hyraxes whatsoever, you have my word.

Once again the source of my ire is the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) who sent forth one of their minions, Christine Dao, to dutifully report what the institute’s “creation scientists” had to say about the recent news that the South Korea is going to be altering their school textbooks to pander to creationists in that country.

Dao: Science gained a victory when South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced last month that textbook publishers will correct editions that contain misinformation regarding evolution.

Yes, absolutely, if there is misinformation in the textbooks we would certainly want to weed that out. The problem is, to a creationist, any of the data that makes up the mountain of empirical evidence supporting evolutionary theory is “misinformation”. Let us examine the two examples of supposed misinformation the South Korean “Ministry of Education, Science and Technology” is planning of removing from textbooks and the “scientific” reasons why the ICR agrees that they should be removed; starting in reverses order with “feathers” (figuratively speaking):

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“Gill slits” by any other name…

Charles Darwin once said that he thought the evidence from the comparative anatomy of embryos was “by far the strongest single class of facts” in favor of common descent (Darwin, 1860) and while it has since been eclipsed by genetics, it remains one of most compelling subsets of evidence for evolution. And perhaps the single most striking detail in the comparative embryology of vertebrates, are the structures colloquially known as “gill slits”.  

Embryonic “gill slits” or “branchial clefts” (branchia is Greek for gill) or more properly pharyngeal clefts (grooves, folds, etc.) are part of what is called the “pharyngeal apparatus” found in front (ventral) and sides (lateral) of the head/neck region of all vertebrates in the “pharyngula stage” of development. In “fish”, and the larva of amphibians, these develop into respiratory organs used to extract oxygen from water while in amniotes (“reptiles”, birds and mammals) they are modified into other structures.

Before I go on, a brief digression about “fish”. Throughout this article I will often use “fish” in the generic sense; but it should be noted that the term as it is commonly used—to refer to any vertebrate that swims in the water, has fins and gills—is not a valid scientific classification. This is because the three main types of animals commonly called “fish” —the Chondrichthyes (sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras), the Actinopterygii (ray fined fish, which constitutes the majority of living fishes), and the Sarcopterygii (lobe fined fish, the group from which four legged land animals, i.e. tetrapods, evolved)—are not a monophyletic group. That is they are not very closely related to each other despite some of their outward similarities (like gills). For example the living Sarcopterygii, lung fish and coelacanths share a more recent common ancestor with us (and all tetrapods) than with the other “fishes”.

OK, so the “pharyngeal apparatus” consists of a series of paired pharyngeal arches and fissures which develop on the exterior with a corresponding set of pharyngeal pouches on the inside of the throat, separated from the external fissures by a thin membrane (more on the details in a moment). And in fact the possession of these structures at some point in development, along with a hollow dorsal nerve cord, a notochord and a post anal tail, are the defining characteristics of the phylum chordata to which we and all other vertebrates belong.

Copyright © 1999 McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Please note that the above illustration is diagrammatic and not intended to be photographically accurate (I have to say that lest I be accused by creationists of conveying a fraud). Below are actual photographs of both a skate embryo and a human embryo for comparison. Also note: the gill structures in the embryos of Elasmobranch fishes—the subdivision of Chondrichthyes which contains sharks, rays and skates—are much less derived than in other “fishes” and therefore generally more similar to those of amniote embryos than the corresponding structures in the bony “fishes” (which are significantly modified).

(Gillis et al 2009, p.5721)

The first of the arches, the mandibular arch, forms the jaw in all jawed vertebrates (Gnathostomes). Most vertebrates develop a total of six arches but the full complement is usually only retained into adulthood by hexanchiform sharks. Hexanchiformes are very plesiomorphic which means that they are more like earlier types of sharks.  Some species of hexanchiformes even develop a seventh arch. Likewise the extant jaw-less vertebrate, the lamprey, also have seven gill openings.

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?

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Four and twenty sauropods baked in a pie…

We find still more creationist ignorance about basic zoological facts, this time from Dr. David Menton of Answers in Genesis.

AiG recently republished on their website a Menton piece from last year attacking the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds.

Often my first instinct when I run across these things is to launch onto a point by point refutation but I am going to restrain myself this time and simply highlight one rather obvious error in Dr. Menton’s article that in my opinion should cast doubt on anything else he has to say on the subject (especially since he claims to be an anatomist).

Read on»