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»

Intermediate fossils and the pre-Darwin (creationist) geologists

RBH left a comment to a previous posting that inspired me to put some material together to address his (or anyone’s) reservations on the subject of intermediate fossil forms and the pre-Darwin (creationist) geologists.

Another really helpful post, Troy. Thanks!

Thanks RB!


Addendum

I realized during my discussions with RBH in the comments to this post that my main point behind writing about this subject might not be transparent to the average reader who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breath the creation/evolution debate. So I add this preface to give the reader a context for why I am going on at length about early 19th century geologists.

My point in all this is less about understanding the often vague and sometimes even contradictory views of the pre-Darwin scientists (as worthy as that subject of study is) and more about countering the arguments from modern antievolutionists that intermediate fossils do not exist and that those paleontologists who claim that they do, do so only because they are reading their “evolutionary beliefs” into the evidence.

If the pre-Darwin creationist geologists saw intermediates this tends, strongly I think, to falsify that argument. The same applies to the overall pattern of the fossil record and the geologic column that illustrates it (which is also frequently claimed by antievolutionists to be a evolutionary invention).


RBH: I do have one reservation. You wrote

The changing pattern of the fossil record and the existence of intermediate fossil forms was recognized by scientists (who were creationists) long before Darwin brought evolutionary theory into the scientific mainstream.

The changing pattern in the fossil record was surely observed; Cuvier in France and Owen in England — both eminent comparative anatomists in the first half of the 19th century — were very clear on that.

Indeed, Cuvier, Owen and just about every other geologist/paleontologist in the world at the time.

RBH: But Owen opposed Darwin’s hypothesis of species transmutation and common ancestry specifically because he did not see transitional/intermediate forms in the fossil record to which he had access.

I can’t speak much about Cuvier, but Owen is a little difficult to pigeon-hole into modern categories (perhaps a theistic evolutionist of sorts). He did oppose Darwin, particularly Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection but seemed to have been open to the idea of some sort of secondary causation for living things (as opposed to their direct creation by God).

Read on»

‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!

Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, just can’t seem to stop himself from saying ignorant things. And saying them about things for which there is no reason to be ignorant about even for a young earth creationist.

In the October issue of Acts & Facts, in yet another of a seemingly endless  parade of snarks about the Cambrian radiation (Morris 2008a) he throws out this little nugget about the famous mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale fossil locality:

Morris: In 1940, fossils of amazing clarity and diversity were found in Canada’s Burgess Shale. The extremely fine-grained shale preserved intricate details of previously unknown invertebrates.

The problem is the Burgess Shale was discovered by Charles Walcott in 1909 and quarried for fossils for decades before 1940. And as far as I know nothing significant regarding the Burgess Shale happened in 1940 either. But why get this wrong? Never mind bothering to crack a book on the subject, if Morris had bothered to Google the Burgess Shale the very first thing to pop up would have been the Wikipedia entry on the fossil locality which in a matter of seconds would have given him the correct date for its discovery.

It’s like he’s not even pretending to care about getting even the most basic and noncontroversial facts straight.

Read on»

A horse is a horse, unless of course…

…the horse is of course the famous Eohippus.

One of my favorite corners of the alternate universe that is creationism is where creationists get to talking about (denying) horse evolution. The fossil record for horses and their relatives (rhinos, tapirs and some extinct groups) is so well documented it is amusing seeing how creationists rationalize their way around the evidence and when I find something about horses on a creationist site I often take a look to see what sort of silliness they’ve gotten up to.

Case in point: Answers in Genesis put up a short piece on their site recently titled “Not Just Horsin’ Around” which directs their readers to a site called “eQuest 4 Truth.com”. They report that the owner of the website (Rebekah Holt) started it to “… steer young people away from the incorrect information that they receive in many public school textbooks and encyclopedias” and that the site “…helps refute the claim that the modern horse evolved from a much smaller, non-horse ancestor.”

On the site is a page titled “Horse Evolution – Fact or Horse Manure?” written by creationist Arthur Biele, who, judging by a Google search on his name, has been pestering people with nonsense in various internet discussion forums for years. His article here attacking the evidence for horse evolution is a barely readable hodgepodge of unsupported assertions, factual errors and standard quotes from “The Creationist Joke Book™”.

Given that there is so much creationist nonsense out there on the web I normally wouldn’t have taken as much time as I did to dissect it but since Answers in Genesis put their seal of approval on it I figured it would be worth the time.

OK, we’re off to the Eohippus races…

Read on»

“Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds”

Just ran across this on the science section of the NY Times web site:

Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds

The article, by science writer John Noble Wilford, reports on results from a Harvard study to be reported in the next edition of the journal Science.

In the first analysis of proteins extracted from dinosaur bones, scientists say they have established more firmly than ever that the closest living relatives of the mighty predator Tyrannosaurus rex are modern birds.

The research, being published Friday in the journal Science, yielded the first molecular data confirming the widely held hypothesis of a close dinosaur-bird ancestry, the American scientific team reported. The link was previously suggested by anatomical similarities.

This, if it bears out, it is further evidence supporting the evolutionary relationship between theropodcomparative anatomy. dinosaurs and birds that has been strongly suggested by the evidence from

The anti-dino/bird faction amongst scientists (Martin, Feduccia etc.) will no doubt claim that this is merely yet another example of the many (supposed) convergences between dinosaurs and birds. Creationists will probably deny, deny, deny.

Remember to stay tuned on this though. This is only the popular level report, the peer reviewed material is yet to be seen; and it is only the first such study. More studies, if possible, will be needed to confirm this finding.

They apparently did some similar tests on mastodon bones:

Similar molecular tests on tissues from the extinct mastodon confirmed its close genetic link to the elephant, as had been suspected from skeletal affinities.

Perhaps not terribly surprising, but still interesting nonetheless.

Expelled’s intelligent design theory – this IS your daddy’s creationism (Part II)

Part 2 of 2 (click here for part 1)

L.G.Modern high-speed supercomputers have now used large-scale number crunching to calculate the eons of time and probabilities that are required to develop a cell through chance and mutation. The result? The odds are essentially zero, no matter how many millions or billions of years pass. (p.6)

I flat out call bullshit on this one. I want to see references. First I doubt the claim that anyone has wasted the time on a supercomputer. Second I am unaware of anyone arguing that the first cell developed simply through “chance and mutation”. No one knows the process by which the first cell formed, therefore no probabilities can be attached its likelihood.

Read on»

Comb jellies and sponges and creationists, oh my!

Denyse O’Leary of Post-Darwinist is giddy over some evidence reported in the latest issue of Nature that the lineage leading to living comb jellies may have diverged from common ancestors of later animal life before that of the lineage leading to living sponges. She believes that this is somehow problematic for evolutionary theory since it was previously thought based on their morphology that sponges would have diverged earlier.

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Are all fossils “transitional”? A test rant.

All over the net I see people trying to defend evolution from the attacks of antievolutionists which is good. However when they do so using false or inaccurate arguments that is not so good. For example one of my pet peeves is a particular argument that I’ve seen commonly used to rebut antievolutionist claims that there is a lack of “transitional” forms in the fossil record which often goes something like this:

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, all fossils are transitional.”

Unfortunately this is simply not true. Not all individuals reproduce; nor do all species give rise to new species. In fact many (if not most) lineages in the history of life have led to dead ends. Think about it, if a fossil represents a species which did not give rise to new species, what is it transitioning to?

Of course part of the problem is the use of term “transitional fossil” since the word transitional implies that there is some certainty about specific lineages which is actually rarely the case in paleontology.

It is better to talk about “intermediate fossils” since this refers to morphological characters (facts) rather than hypothetical lineages.

For example Archaeopteryx is undeniably intermediate in form between dinosaurs and birds being a mixture of both dinosaurian and avian (and some in between) characters, this is a fact. The question as to whether or not the genus Archaeopteryx is itself ancestral to later birds would be a hypothesis which is 1) very difficult to test and 2) not one that all paleontologists who work on dinosaurs/birds necessarily agree upon.

So please, for the sake of my sanity (and for scientific accuracy), spread the word to stop claiming that all fossils are “transitional” and maybe encourage the use of the term “intermediate” instead.

End rant.