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»

ICR blocked me on Facebook


So, the Institute for Creation Research put up a link on their Facebook page to one of their latest Acts & Facts articles on the whole Ernst Haeckel/vertebrate embryos thing and since the sort of stuff creationists write about this subject is a pet peeve of mine (as readers of this blog will no doubt have gathered) I decided to post a quick comment on the following quote from the article:

Guliuzza: Shouldn’t students be skeptical when they’re told that evolutionists can simply look at folds in embryos and see gill slits? The truth is that these are only folds of tissue in the pharynx region of vertebrates during the pharyngula stage of development. For mammals, birds, and reptiles, they never develop into a structure that is in any way like fish gills.

I wrote that this statement was not true as would be known to anyone who had cracked an embryology textbook and asked if Dr. Guliuzza (the author of the article) was therefore incompetent in this area or if he was being deliberately misleading. Further I provided a link to my blog post on the subject of “gill slits” so that anyone interested could look at the evidence for themselves.

I also corrected one of their other commenters on what Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell’s professions and religious perspectives were. I also noted to the commenter that all science, not just evolutionary biology, leaves God and other supernatural agents out of its explanations.

I used no harsh language, I did not call anyone any names and I engaged in no mockery (unless you count my pointed question about Guliuzza competency/honesty) and yet the end result was that my link and all my comments have been deleted and I am apparently now blocked from commenting on ICR’s FB page.

I’ll leave the reader to decide what this says about ICR and the robustness of their scholarship.


Round 2 of: What “hope” do you have being an evolutionist?

herrad2Well, Ms. Korzeniewski has made a couple of responses and I will give her one more spot in the PCwP limelight, however after this the discussion, if there is one, will probably stay in the comments.

Her first response was basically a second-hand threat of exquisite mind flailing torture of infinite duration at the hands of her all loving deity, apparently for the unpardonable crime of daring to use the brain that her deity supposedly gave me.

Needless to say I do not find this a terribly compelling argument in favor of creationism.

Ms. Korzeniewski, once again, please try to understand such threats cause just as much concern for the non-believer as say, the threat of hell from the Islamic version of God, probably causes you. That is none at all.

If you want to make any impression on someone who does not already share your beliefs, you are going to have to use evidence, logic and reason, not threats from what they consider an imaginary being.

We shall now proceed to the non-threat potions of her comments.

Read on»

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!


*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.



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

What “hope” do you have being an evolutionist?

PCwP has recently received comments from a couple of antievolutionists and this has roused me to action (having some time off work for the holidays doesn’t hurt either). The first was a collection of insult ridden rants left at miscellaneous posts by someone going by the handle “Rylore” —those I will deal with, at length in a separate article.

The second was a single, more civil comment, left at my first article about Dinny the Dinosaur (and how it has been taken over by creationists) by a Allyssa Korzeniewski. I will address her comments here.

Ms. Korzeniewski appears to be involved in a couple of blogs, Faith With Love and Creation Artist. According information given on those blogs she seems to have been influenced by the likes of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research and both “Dr.” Kent Hovind (currently serving time for tax evasion) and his son Eric Hovind, all proponents of young Earth creationism.

So without further ado, Ms. Korzeniewski:

Alyssa Korzeniewski: Sad, that this is your take on life. What hope do you have? I was an evolutionist like you once, I had no hope, no comfort.

I don’t see that I gave a “take on life” in the article you commented on but regardless, Ms. Korzeniewski, please try to understand that from my point of view you might as well asked what hope I have given that I accept the atomic theory of matter, the germ theory of disease, or the theory of relativity. The question is nonsensical; it is like asking if mathematics tastes good or what color philosophy is.

This is because scientific theories, the theory of evolution included, are not intended to give one either hope or comfort (whatever that might mean) rather they are intended to be testable explanatory frameworks for what we observe (facts) in the natural world around us. Moreover, the explanations they offer are tested in an ongoing basis by making further observations of the natural world, not by how well they conform to our philosophical, political or religious predilections. Nor are they to be judged by subjective emotional responses they might evoke in us as individuals, be it the warm fuzzies or nihilistic despair.

So if you are judging the findings of science on how it makes you feel, I would say you are making a categorical mistake.

On the other hand, doing the opposite and letting the findings of science inform your politics or religion etc. is perfectly reasonable. If that means abandoning some cherished beliefs, well, them’s the breaks.

Oh, and no offense (well maybe just a little), but I sincerely doubt that you were ever an evolutionist like me. Those of us that defend evolution against its detractors hear such comments on a regular basis; however, the people making them invariably show themselves to be largely ignorant of evolutionary theory and often science in general. For example, the fact that you seem to think that personal emotional responses are somehow relevant to the veracity  of evolutionary theory is a big red flag indicating that you were never like me.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: I looked at the creation info and was willing to humble myself and be saved, it’s very sad that you have not been willing to look at the truth.

Red flag (with fireworks) number two is the fact that you apparently put credence in “the creation info” of not only the ICR and AiG but in Kent Hovind, who even other creationists have taken to task over his willingness to use “fallacious arguments and incorrect information” (talk about the pot calling the kettle black).  

I am sorry but these people are an absolute fount of misinformation, half-truths and lies. If you take some time to read some of the article on my blog you can see where I have documented this many, many times. Please understand, I am not simply talking about their not accepting evolution or any scientific theory, I am talking about the fact that they regularly and systematically get straightforward verifiable facts completely wrong.

That you apparently do not see this is a huge sign that you were never anything like me.

As for my being willing to “look at the truth” as you see it, I can only laugh. I have dedicated much of my free time (and money) over the last twenty years to studying creationism, collecting creationist literature, reading their web sites and going to their lectures & debates.

I have nearly four hundred books and pamphlets espousing creationist “truth”, how many books on evolutionary biology do you have Ms. Korzeniewski? How many lectures on evolution have you attended? How much of the Talk Origins Archive have you read?

However, please condescend to me some more about how unwilling I have been to look at your supposed truth, I really cannot get enough.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: How are you even able to tell right from wrong without God?

The philosophical question about where we derive our morals and ethics from is not one I am particularly interested in debating. Not that it is not an interesting and important topic, it just not my thing. However, suffice to say I do not find divine command “theory” particularly compelling.

To start you might want to read up on the Euthyphro dilemma.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: “2Ti_4:4 they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

Ms. Korzeniewski, if you assume, as you seem to have done, that I am an unbeliever in the Christian religion what possible effect did you think quoting Christian scripture would have on me? If someone does not believe the Bible is the word of God, you might just as well quote something from The Lord of the Rings or The Wizard of Oz at them.

Worse, the quote you used practically begs the unbeliever to turn it back on to you. For example:

“Turned unto fables”? You mean fables like the one about the garden with magic fruit trees and a talking snake? Or the fable about the old guy who built a giant boat and took two of every sort of animal on it to escape a global flood?

I mean it practically screams projection.

Now Ms. Korzeniewski, if you would like to discuss the scientific merits of creationism I am certainly willing. Perhaps you would like to present what you think the single best scientific evidence supportive of creationism might be? Remember though, arguments against evolution do not count.

Thank you for your comments.

Creationist ‘champion’ Dr. Duane Gish has died

Young Earth creationist Dr. Duane T. Gish died yesterday (March 5th) at the age of 91 or 92 [depending on which birth date on Wikipedia is correct. I e-mailed ICR for a clarification]. Dr. Gish, a biochemist,  was a founding member of the Institute for Creation Research (which he was the long time vice president of) and noted for his frequent debates with defenders of evolution and several books attacking evolutionary theory, primarily on the basis of the fossil record.

My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

I first ‘met’ Dr. Gish in 1994 at UCLA where he was to debate Dr. Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society. My friend Don Frack and I knew roughly where on campus the debate was to be held but didn’t have an exact route on how to get there in mind. So at one point we took a short cut through a building and when we got to far end, which we figured should be near our destination, we opened the door and literally came face to face with Dr. Gish himself (who as I recall was looking for the restroom). Don laughingly told me that I looked like I had seen a ghost.

Yours truly with Dr. Gish at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies 1998 Summer Conference (August) (Photo by Don Frack)

Yours truly with Dr. Gish at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies 1998 Summer Conference (August) (Photo by Don Frack)

I have a few other minor stories I could tell about Dr. Gish and a mountain of criticisms I could relate about his work, but this is not the time.

Again, my condolences to his family.

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):

Read on»