Sunday, January 16, 2011

Evolution Just the facts Pt. 2

Hello again,

I'm going to continue my critique of the Conservapedia article on evolution. This time I'm only going to do a few segments of the article and do the same for the next few days until I'm done.

Now where we left off...

The Fossil record and Evolutionary Theory:
Creationists can cite quotations which assert that no solid fossil evidence for the theory of evolution position exists:

- I'm sure they can, and I'm willing to bet that they are all quote mined.... but let's see shall we?

..I still think that to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favour of special creation. - E.J.H. Corner (Professor of Botany, Cambridge University, England), “Evolution” in Anna M. MacLeod and L. S. Cobley (eds.), Contemporary Botanical Thought (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961), p. 97

- As I suspected... here is the full quote:
The theory of evolution is not merely the theory of the origin of species, but the only explanation of the fact that organisms can be classified into this hierarchy of natural affinity. Much evidence can be adduced in favour of the theory of evolution - from biology, bio-geography and palaeontology, but I still think that, to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favour of special creation. If, however, another explanation could be found for this hierarchy of classification, it would be the knell of the theory of evolution. Can you imagine how an orchid, a duckweed, and a palm have come from the same ancestry, and have we any evidence for this assumption? The evolutionist must be prepared with an answer, but I think that most would break down before an inquisition. Textbooks hoodwink. A series of more and more complicated plants is introduced - the alga, the fungus, the bryophyte, and so on, and examples are added eclectically in support of one or another theory - and that is held to be a presentation of evolution. If the world of plants consisted only of these few textbook types of standard botany, the idea of evolution might never have dawned, and the backgrounds of these textbooks are the temperate countries which, at best, are poor places to study world vegetation. The point, of course, is that there are thousands and thousands of living plants, predominantly tropical, which have never entered general botany, yet they are the bricks with which the taxonomist has built his temple of evolution, and where else have we to worship?

"We then move right off the register of objective truth into those fields of presumed biological science, like extrasensory perception or the interpretation of man's fossil history, where to the faithful anything is possible - and where the ardent believer is sometimes able to believe several contradictory things at the same time." - Lord Solly Zuckerman (professor of anatomy at Birmingham University in England and chief scientific adviser to the British government from the time period of 1964 to 1971), Beyond The Ivory Tower, Toplinger Publications, New York, 1970, p. 19

- unfortunately I could not locate this book, so let's examine the statement shall we? What is being quoted is a persons ability to believe contradictory things... which is true... but doesn't seem to say anything about evolutionary theory directly.

"Fossil evidence of human evolutionary history is fragmentary and open to various interpretations. Fossil evidence of chimpanzee evolution is absent altogether". Henry Gee, “Return to the Planet of the Apes,” Nature, Vol. 412, 12 July 2001, p. 131.

- Ha ha, one I can look up as a student, and wow is it quote mined! The quote is from a subtitle of an editorial discussing the paper, and the papers position can be summed up by it's last two paragraphs:
"Sadly, I doubt that the status of these creatures [early hominids and hominin] can be resolved to general satisfaction. Some researchers have suggested that the dental and skeletal traits conventionally used as the basis for hominid systematics are unreliable guides for reconstructing evolutionary history, in that the phylogenies created using these traits differ from those based on molecular information from living primates. Given that bones and teeth are, for practical purposes, all there is to go on, uncertainty is likely to reign for some time, leaving the nature of the latest common ancestor — and the general course of early hominid evolution — as mysterious as ever.
Is the outlook completely gloomy? Perhaps not. The accumulating data on palaeoenvironments should at least improve our understanding of the lives and times of early hominids (and perhaps of early chimps), even though the evolutionary relationships remain murky."


Paleoanthropology is an interdisciplinary branch of anthropology that concerns itself with the origins of early humans and it examines and evaluates items such as fossils and artifacts. Dr. David Pilbeam is a paleoanthropologist who received his Ph.D. at Yale University and Dr. Pilbeam is presently Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard University and Curator of Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. In addition, Dr. Pilbeam served as an advisor for the Kenya government regarding the creation of an international institute for the study of human origins.

- So far no problems, but I can't wait for what they have to say about part of my area of study.

Dr. Pilbeam wrote a review of Richard Leakey's book Origins in the journal American Scientist:
...perhaps generations of students of human evolution, including myself, have been flailing about in the dark; that our data base is too sparse, too slippery, for it to be able to mold our theories. Rather the theories are more statements about us and ideology than about the past. Paleoanthropology reveals more about how humans view themselves than it does about how humans came about. But that is heresy.

- Well since you don't offer the issue or title of the article, and the only reference for this is a creation apologetics website, it leads me to believe that this has been quote mined. However, let's look at this statement a little more closely. It appears Dr. Pilbeam is critical of the methods, not particularly the results. It's true that the sample size for our ancestors is small, and that seems what he is critical of, he wants more data to produce better results, not that there is no data or that there is a problem with the existent data.

Dr. Pilbeam wrote the following regarding the theory of evolution and paleoanthropology:
I am also aware of the fact that, at least in my own subject of paleoanthropology, "theory" - heavily influenced by implicit ideas almost always dominates "data". ....Ideas that are totally unrelated to actual fossils have dominated theory building, which in turn strongly influence the way fossils are interpreted

- The citation for this quote is the same as the last one, which leads me to believe, again that it has been quote mined, but again let's look at the statement. Again it seems that he has the same problem as in the first statement, that paleoanthropology does not offer enough testable data, and theories had to be created outside of just the fossils, things such as primateology and ethnographies have to be used in place of actual physical evidence. Which is a recognized problem in paleoanthropology, no-one is arguing this.

Evolutionist and Harvard professor Richard Lewontin wrote in 1995 that "Despite the excited and optimistic claims that have been made by some paleontologists, no fossil hominid species can be established as our direct ancestor...." In the September 2005 issue of National Geographic, Joel Achenbach asserted that human evolution is a "fact" but he also candidly admitted that the field of paleoanthropology "has again become a rather glorious mess." In the same National Geographic article Harvard paleoanthropologist Dan Lieberman states, "We're not doing a very good job of being honest about what we don't know...".

- 1. The first quote comes from an apologetics website... not a relible source, and no other source is cited which leads me to suggest quote mining. However, let's look at it closely... there are several candidates for our fossil ancestor, but it is difficult to find intact DNA in these specimens to point at one and say "that is our ancestor". 2. Another citation from an apologetics website... tisk tisk... please when citing a quote tell us where to find the actual quote and it's context! Is he talking about the many species which may be the same one? Is he talking about the out of Africa vs. the Multiregional hypothesis? What is he talking about? 3. The third quote they did provide the article for which you can read here, and as you can see this quote is pretty irrelevant.

Concerning pictures of the supposed ancestors of man featured in science journals and the news media Boyce Rensberger wrote in the journal Science the following regarding their highly speculative nature:
Unfortunately, the vast majority of artist's conceptions are based more on imagination than on evidence. But a handful of expert natural-history artists begin with the fossil bones of a hominid and work from there…. Much of the reconstruction, however, is guesswork. Bones say nothing about the fleshy parts of the nose, lips, or ears. Artists must create something between an ape and a human being; the older the specimen is said to be, the more apelike they make it.... Hairiness is a matter of pure conjecture.

- yeah, and the problem with this? Forensic artists have the same problem... and forensic art is not as accurate as it appears on television. Where there is an artist there will be interpretation and the interpretations will not always be accurate... which says nothing about the actual fossils. You are trying to confuse people again.

In addition, the science magazine New Scientist reported the following:
"A five million-year-old piece of bone that was thought to be a collarbone of a humanlike creature is actually part of a dolphin rib according to an anthropologist at the University of California-Berkeley." - Ian Anderson

- Unfortunately I couldn't validate this one either, the article is from a 1983 issue, and I can only see issues as far back as 1990, so I can't tell you how long it was believed to be a collarbone, if it was published to peer reviewed literature, and who made the claim... sorry. But mistakes to happen, they always will, and that is what peer review is for to minimize the mistakes made.

Dr. Tim White, anthropologist at the University of California-Berkeley, likened the incident on par with the "Nebraska man" and "Piltdown Man" incidents. Dr. White stated regarding the fossil find, "Seldom has a bone been hyped as much as this one." Anthropologist Dr. Noel Boaz from New York University who made the original classification of the fossil has countered, "I have not gone any further than the evidence allowed."

- Every anthropology student knows about Piltdown Man and it is used as a cautionary tale, Nebraska Man, on the other hand, never made it to peer review, and not knowing the specifics of the dolphin bone I cannot comment. However I do have a video to recommend regarding these incidents here.

Dr. Boaz described the fossil find and defended his stance regarding the fossil find in the journals Nature, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and Natural History. However, at a meeting of physical anthropologist his fellow anthropologist were skeptical of the find some stating that at first glance the bone looks nothing like a collar bone. Dr. White stated that "to be a clavicle, the specimen should have an S...curve, but it does not. Dr. White also stated the blunder may force a rethinking of theories among evolutionary theorists on when the line of man's ancestors separated from that of apes.

- They don't offer the citations for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and Natural History articles, and again I did not have access to the Science News article because my access only goes back to 1986, and this all happened in 1983. It is possible that Dr. Boaz was rightfully mistaken, or very seriously mistaken, I can't tell you for sure, but if anything this incident forced more scrutiny of the evidence, and all of the accepted evidence has passed the test over and over.

Dr. White added "The problem with a lot of anthropologists is that they want so much to find a hominid that any scrap of bone becomes a hominid bone." Dr. White has dubbed the "humanoid species" arising from the fossil find "Flipperpithecus".

- It's true that we are a zealous bunch, and want to find the next link in human evolution and there isn't anything wrong with that. With that zeal mistakes do sometimes happen, and that is why peer review exists.

Creation scientists concur with Dr. Pilbeam regarding the speculative nature of the field of paleoanthropology and assert there is no compelling evidence in the field of paleoanthropology for the various theories of human evolution.

- I doubt that "creation scientists" have actually looked at the evidence in front of them with an open mind, and by open I mean willing to challenge their preconceived notions. As an anthropology student I am often in a classroom with casts of the ancient hominid species and can look at them on the shelf and see the clear transition, which is clear as day.

Punctuated Equilibrium:

Because the fossil record is characterized by the abrupt appearance of species and stasis in the fossil record the theory of punctuated equilibrium was developed and its chief proponents were Stephen Gould, Niles Eldridge, and Steven Stanley. According to the American Museum of Natural History the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium "asserts that evolution occurs in dramatic spurts interspersed with long periods of stasis". Because Stephen Gould was the leading proponent of the theory of punctuated equilibrium much of the criticism of the theory has been directed towards Gould.

- Though this is a simplistic definition I don't have any qualms with it, and it is natural that the criticism is directed to ones of the leaders of the theory.

The development of a new evolutionary school of thought occurring due to the fossil record not supporting the evolutionary position was not unprecedented. In 1930, Austin H. Clark, an American evolutionary zoologist who wrote 630 articles and books in six languages, came up with an evolutionary hypothesis called zoogenesis which postulated that each of the major types of life forms evolved separately and independently from all the others. Prior to publishing his work entitled The New Evolution: Zoogenesis, Clark wrote in a journal article published in the Quarterly Review of Biology that "so far as concerns the major groups of animals, the creationists seem to have the better of the argument. There is not the slightest evidence that any one of the major groups arose from any other."

- 1. Punctuated equilibrium does support the evolutionary position. What it means is that when something works it stays the same, and changes when there is a need for change. 2. Clark is right, there is exactly the same amount of evidence for zoogenesis as creation... none. There is plenty of evidence to support that birds came from reptiles, as did mammals, and that reptiles came from tetrapods... want something that is a transitional form and still alive today? Look at the platypus. The platypus is a living transition from reptile to mammal, it has fur, lays eggs, and produces milk... it is in the middle of reptile and mammal.

In 1995, there was an essay in the New York Review of Books by the late John Maynard Smith, a noted evolutionary biologist who was considered the dean of British neo-Darwinists, and Smith wrote the following regarding Gould's work in respect to the theory of evolution:
The evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his [Gould’s] work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory."

-This quote is actually legit, but the problem wasn't Gould's theory, it was people misinterpreting the theory. Gould's theory incorporates much of what was already there, but suggested periods of stasis in which change did not need to occur... that's it. Let's use an example I have heard over and over, the Crocodile. The crocodile hasn't changed much in thousands of years. Why? Because it's form has been very successful, and there was no need for a change. It's that simple.

Noted journalist and author Robert Wright , wrote in 1996 that, “among top-flight evolutionary biologists, Gould is considered a pest—not just a lightweight, but an actively muddled man who has warped the public's understanding of Darwinism.”

- Again it wasn't the theory, it was the misinterpretations.

Creation scientist Dr. Jonathan Sarfati wrote regarding the implausibility of the theory of punctuated equilibrium and the implausibility of the idea of gradual evolution the following:
...supporters of ‘jerky’ evolution saltationism and its relative, punctuated equilibria) point out that the fossil record does not show gradualism, and that the hypothetical transitional forms would be disadvantageous. But supporters of gradual evolution point out that large, information-increasing changes are so improbable that one would need to invoke a secular miracle. Creationists agree with both: punctuational evolution can’t happen, and gradual evolution can’t happen—in fact, particles-to-people evolution can’t happen at all!

- Crocodile! There it happens! Emu! It doesn't. Different species have different needs and live in different environments which may change often, or not. It's all that simple.

The evolutionary thinking of Richard Goldschmidt influenced Gould. In a 1977 in a paper entitled, ‘The Return of the Hopeful Monsters Gould wrote that when he studied evolutionary biology in graduate school that "official rebuke and derision focused upon Richard Goldschmidt". Nevertheless, Gould also wrote:
I do, however, predict that during this decade Goldschmidt will be largely vindicated in the world of evolutionary biology.....As a Darwinian, I wish to defend Goldschmidt's postulate that macroevolution is not simply microevolution extrapolated, and that major structural transitions can occur rapidly without a smooth series of intermediate stages....In my own, strongly biased opinion, the problem of reconciling evident discontinuity in macroevolution with Darwinism is largely solved by the observation that small changes early in embryology accumulate through growth to yield profound differences among adults

- So Gould agrees that it happens and that it doesn't. Gould seemed like a pretty honest scientist to me.

Harvard biologist and evolutionist Ernst Mayr wrote concerning the history of the theory of punctuated equilibrium: "Even though some of the statements of Eldredge, Gould, and Stanley, made in the 1970s, sounded as if they had favored the Goldschmidtian version, they clearly distanced themselves from it in their more recent discussions. Creation scientist Don Batten wrote concerning the history of punctuated equilibrium (PE): "By the time of their 21st anniversary review of PE, Gould and Eldridge had retracted to proposing PE as ‘a complement to phyletic gradualism’. This is a rather major backdown on the brashness of their claims in 1972, and especially Gould’s claims up to 1980..." Batten also wrote that Niles Eldredge had been "less dogmatic than Gould had been in the 1970s about the lack of gradual change in the fossil record"

- What were you expecting in a scientific debate? Blood? This sounds like Gould being an honest scientist to me.

According to Stephen Gould, Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins, who hold to a traditional Darwinian gradualism view of the theory of evolution, trivialized the importance of the theory of punctuated equilibrium. Dawkins called the theory of punctuated equilibrium "an interesting but minor wrinkle on the surface of Neo-Darwinism theory". Dennet went farther and stated that the theory of punctuated equilibrium was a "a false-alarm revolution that was largely if not entirely in the eyes of the beholders."

- These quotes are legit, and I really can't say much more other than it was a misunderstanding of the theory and not the theory itself which is problematic.

The Issue of Whether the Evolutionary Position Qualifies as a Scientific Theory:

Karl Popper, a leading philosopher of science and originator of the falsifiability as a criterion of demarcation of science from nonscience, stated that Darwinism is "not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme." Leading Darwinist and philosopher of science, Michael Ruse declared the concerning Popper's statement and the actions he took after making that statement: "Since making this claim, Popper himself has modified his position somewhat; but, disclaimers aside, I suspect that even now he does not really believe that Darwinism in its modern form is genuinely falsifiable."

- Alright, potential quote mining issues aside... Evolutionary Theory is falsifiable. Finding Ray Comfort's crocaduck would render it invalid, as would finding rabbits in the Cambrian and finding a gene which cannot be traced back to a common ancestor. All of these would render it invalid.

The issue of the falsifiability of the evolutionary position is very important issue and although offering a poor cure to the problem that Karl Popper described, committed evolutionists Louis Charles Birch & Paul R. Ehrlich stated in the journal Nature:
Our theory of evolution has become, as Popper described, one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus outside of empirical science but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training. The cure seems to us not to be a discarding of the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, but more skepticism about many of its tenets. 

- Again as I have pointed out it is falsifiable, and unfortunately I... again don't have access to this paper as it is out of date (1967), but I was able to find the abstract "While accepting evolutionary theory, should ecologists be more sceptical about hypotheses derived solely from untestable assumptions about the past ? The authors put forward the view that many ecologists underestimate the efficacy of natural selection and fail to distinguish between phylogenetic and ecological questions." Which seems that these authors are more concerned with how evolutionary science is preformed then about it's falsifiability.

The Swedish cytogeneticist, Antonio Lima-De-Faria, who has been knighted by the king of Sweden for his scientific achievements, noted that "there has never been a theory of evolution"

- I cannot verify this quote one way or another, but evolution is a scientific theory, and meets all of the criteria of a scientific theory. Another video for your viewing pleasure.

Alright that is all for tonight, I'll try to write more tomorrow.

Until next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment