Sunday, March 03, 2013

Creationists Live in Bizarro World

Sometimes I think creationists live in Bizarro World, where everything is backwards.

Take a look at this creationist letter to the editor by Terry Scambray, a retired college English instructor. It's in response to this perfectly reasonable opinion piece by Chemistry prof emeritus George B. Kauffman.

Even as you begin to read, the creationist clues are there. An English professor commenting on science? Surely he is a bit out of his depth. And indeed, the start of his letter is not so auspicious: "it's disappointing to read George Kauffman assert last week in The Bee that everyone should accept Darwin's "creation" story because a Quaker, physicist congressman had a House Resolution passed saying that we should!" But Kauffman never said any such thing. It's surprising to see an English professor with such poor reading comprehension, but maybe he taught English at Bizarro College.

Scambray goes on to huff, "Animals and plants appear in the fossil record fully formed and remain unchanged through millions of years. No knowledgeable individual denies this." The first assertion is pure creationist babble. What would it mean to be not "fully formed"? And, of course, species have not remained unchanged through millions of years. We know that each individual is likely to carry mutations and differ from its ancestors. Similar phenotypes do not imply lack of genotypic change. Furthermore, we have excellent examples in the fossil record of significant phenotypic changes. Is Scambray ignorant or a liar? That's too harsh; perhaps he just lives in Bizarro World.

Scambray claims, "Over millions of generations of laboratory testing, fruit flies, as one example, when subjected to genetic changes have not changed into anything but mutated, crippled fruit flies." Really? At my university, we have access to articles that say something different. Maybe at Bizarro College, they don't.

Mr. Scambray, if he has ever visited the Galapagos, must have visited a parallel Galapagos, because he claims, "Thus the [Galapagos] finches changed a little, adapted, while remaining fundamentally unchanged." He doesn't seem to understand that there are 15 different species of finches, all descended from a common ancestor that colonized the Galapagos millions of years ago. Things must be different in Bizarro World.

Mr. Scambray is not alone, however, One of his good buddies is - surprise! - creationist Cornelius Hunter. Hunter has biological training, but was he able to spot the flaws in Scambray's article? Apparently not, because he thinks Scambray "destroy[ed]" Kauffman's arguments. They have a good time together there in Bizarro World, as Scambray himself favorably reviewed Hunter's books back in 2009.

That's the end of today's tour of Bizarro World. Have a safe return to planet Earth.


Anonymous said...

What's the deal with creationists' obsession with Darwin? Why spend so much time and energy tilting against that windmill when they could contribute so much more to the conversation through the simulation arguments? Oh, right, because simulation isn't in the Book of Genesis...

SLC said...

In reading Scambray's response and some of the comments, both on the Kauffman and Scambray posts, one thing become clear. The creationist's incessantly make the statement that life can't come from non-life. This is totally irrelevant. The appearance of life is called abiogensis which is totally different from evolution. The two are entirely separate and distinct theories. The evolution of life does not depend on the mechanism for the appearance of life. Another way of putting it is abiogensis is a problem in chemistry, evolution is a problem in biology.

Anonymous said...

Shallit, you're a sucker for punishment. First Scambray thrashes you:


You then attempt to "save face" with this post ^^,only to be humiliated yet again:

Post at by Barry Arrington.

Glen Davidson said...

I wonder what "fundamentally unchanged" even means, other than scholastic assumptions about "substance" or "form". You can't do science with that junk, of course, but that's really fine with the IDiots.

As it happens, Darwin didn't even recognize that they were all finches, rather John Gould told him that when he got back to England. But they were "fundamentally unchanged," of course, in the mindless dreck of the creationist.

Still, how does even Scambray suppose that they all evolved from one species? I mean, you'd sort of have to recognize that variations on a single inherited "scheme" indicates evolution. So, um, what about honeycreepers on Hawaii, do they have some fundamental form or substance that means that they're "fundamentally unchanged," just highly different, rather more so than Darwin's finches? How about the crows of New Guinea, are they "fundamentally unchanged" even as they have the characteristics of what we call Birds of Paradise? Kiwis and, say, the Hoatzin? Fundamentally unchanged, just birds, you know, or at least I know of no reason to logically suppose otherwise.

Oh, but then it's really pretty clear that archaeopteryx is just a dinosaur, along with the rest of the birds, "fundamentally unchanged," just rather highly adapted to flight (well, archaeopteryx isn't especially well-adapted to flight, which seems odd for such a supremely intelligent designer, but coincidentally what you'd expect early in evolution).

Sure, but tuataras and dinosaurs are "fundamentally unchanged" reptiles, in essence the same as the ichthyostega.

No, wait, that can't be, that's evolution. Never mind that it's the same kinds of patterns in Darwin's finches that indicate speciation that indicate the evolution of the "bird class," such evidence only indicates "microevolution," otherwise it indicates design. Well, maybe it doesn't really indicate design, but the evidence of evolution becomes superfluous, and we don't need to find evidence of rationality to find design, we'll just claim that functional complexity is design, and we win by definition.

Among the dull and inconsistent, that is. There's lots of those, however, so it's all good, then.

Glen Davidson

Jeffrey Shallit said...

First Scambray thrashes you:

How could Scambray "thrash" me when he is not responding to anything I said?

You then attempt to "save face" with this post

How could I possibly be "saving face" when this post is my first comment on the topic?

You seem extremely confused.

Thornwell said...

"And, of course, species have not remained unchanged through millions of years." --> TS's words can just as easily be interpreted as *some* species as it can *all*. (I wouldn't expect you to give him the benefit of the doubt.) I'm sure he was thinking about those animals whose ancient
fossils are more or less indistinguishable from today's.

" 'Over millions of generations of laboratory testing, fruit flies, as one example, when subjected to genetic changes have not changed into anything but mutated, crippled fruit flies.' Really? At my university, we have access to articles that say something different." --> Scambray
definitely overstated things. He should've just said that the fruit flies are still fruit flies, and the ones that start looking really different, subjectively speaking, are the ones that are "crippled".

The article you link to refers to incipient species. Now, Darwin wrote, "according to my view,
varieties are species in the process of formation, or are, as I have called them, incipient
species." Designating two reproductively isolated populations "incipient species" is nothing more
than a prediction that speciation will eventually occur. Maybe you were hoping it did, but
the article you linked to does not provide evidence for speciation. Rather, it said:
"We emphasize that Drosophila in Evolution Canyon prefer mates native to their own slope."

And finally: "He doesn't seem to understand that there are 15 different species of finches, all descended from a common ancestor that colonized the Galapagos millions of years ago. " --> It seems like this
English professor has kept more up to date on the news than this mathematics professor. It seems
you're out of the loop. Were you aware that a male Geospiza scandens mated with a female Geospiza fortis, producing four children, 46 grandchildren, and "a lot of great-grandchildren. And a male Geospiza fortis mated with a female Geospiza fuliginosa, and "bred very well...the female
outproduced all others of her kind."("The Beak of the Finch", by Jonathan Weiner.) And in 1992,
Nature quoted the Grants saying: "The discovery of superior hybrid fitness over several years
suggests that the three study populations of Darwin's finches are fusing into a single panmictic
population, and calls into question their designation as species." The Grants even say that "many episodes of incipient speciation probably fail for every one that succeeds." They also say, "it is too early to tell whether reproductive isolation is transitory or is likely to be enduring. The odds would seem to be against long-term persistence of the immigrant lineage as a
reproductively isolated population."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

TS's words can just as easily be interpreted as *some* species as it can *all*. (I wouldn't expect you to give him the benefit of the doubt.)

It doesn't matter whether it is "some" or "all", since if there any species at all that show a progression, then Scambray's argument (such as it is) is invalidated.

He should've just said that the fruit flies are still fruit flies

This is a silly argument, and demonstrates "typological" thinking. Anyway, it doesn't matter, since many cases of speciation are known, and some can even be induced in the lab through polyploidy.
As soon as a case of speciation is known to occur, Scambray's argument (such as it is) vanishes.

Finally, yes, I've read The Beak of the Finch. Why do you think the fact that the speciation that has occurred in the Galapagos is transitory is relevant to the argument?

Geez, creationists. They never learn anything.

Robert Byers said...

if a English Professor can't comment on science then why a Chemistry Professor on biological processes?
Evolutionists always invoke the scientific community to back up thier claims and are never particular about what one gets paid for 9-5 or did before retirement!
In all these things there is a issue about intelligence and so a english professor is seen as intelligent and lives with people who are engaged in scientific work.
Its possible he brings a greater logical or reasoning ability.
Anyways if its about the merits of the case this should be a great chance for the guy who's right to make his case in public against someone else making the opposite case.
Like the Lincoln -Douglass debates perghaps.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anyone can comment on anything, silly Byers. No one prevents them. We just don't take the comments of lawyers or English professors or crackpots seriously when it comes to evolution.

Helena Constantine said...

I see Byres is up to his usual form: not quite able to form comprehensible English sentences ("In all these things there is a issue about intelligence and so a english professor is seen as intelligent and lives with people who are engaged in scientific work."?)

On other fronts, Dr. Shallit, it is nice to see you confirm what you said in the original post, that, since I'm trained as a Classicist, I can't possibly be taken seriously If I were to say something about the psychical sciences. At least now I know its not because I'm a woman. By the same toke, I guess I'll have to start deferring to the crank chemists who so often claim that the Roman Empire fell because of lead piping--they're at least chemists.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I wouldn't take anyone seriously who thinks there is such a thing as "psychical sciences".

Jeffrey Shallit said...

So, "Helena", do you go to a plumber when you get a flu shot? Do you, as a classicist, turn to a physicist when you have a question about Ovid? Would you fly in a plane piloted by someone with no flight training, but who is an excellent violinist?

Let's be sensible. Of course it's possible for people trained in area A to have a valid opinion about area B. But when the vast majority of people writing opinion pieces against evolution are English professors and lawyers and engineers and almost anyone except biologists, you know something is driving it other than a dispassionate search for truth. And in Scambray's case we know very clearly what is driving it by reading his review of Cornelius Hunter's books: he's worried by what he thinks are the moral consequences.

Thornwell said...

"Why do you think the fact that the speciation that has occurred in the Galapagos is transitory is relevant to the argument?" -- Which of the 20 definitions (see Coyne's book) of speciation are you referring to?

One other thing. Why did Kaufmann get on Rohrabacher's case about dinosaur flatulence (and slightly misrepresent it by leaving out a key word)? He was just quoting the science:

Far Aday said...

There were a few things I found problematic with George Kaufmann's piece:

"Darwin is a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth's peoples."

I think a much better unifier would be someone who is both religious (at least nominally) and a great scientist. Isaac Newton would do. Newton, unlike Darwin, doesn't have the problem as being seen as an ideological adversary to half the population. (I'd settle for James Clerk Maxwell, too.)

"infamous for anti-science statements"

Someone has to come up with a better term than "anti-science." Since it can mean at least two different things, it could be misleading. It could mean the person is making a statement about a certain topic and is ignorant of the facts (or, alternatively, is simply in the minority that challenges the consensus). It could also have the nastier meaning that the person is against the entire scientific enterprise -- literally anti-science. These are not the same. In a similar vein, a church-member who criticizes some teachings he hears from famous ministers could theoretically be labeled "anti-religious", but he would vehemently deny it.

"And incoming Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas chastised the "lap dog" media for not questioning scientific consensus on climate change enough."

I imagine that back in the 70s, he would have been chastising the "lap dog" media for not questioning the reports on global cooling enough.

Tom very Petty said...

"I wouldn't take anyone seriously who thinks there is such a thing as "psychical sciences".

In that case, I wouldn't take anyone seriously who wouldn't take someone seriously on the basis of a typo.

Glen Davidson said...

Scambray has three strikes against him in acting as an expert against evolution.

1. He's an English professor. Not fatal to the possibility that he could understand the matter well, but those credentials don't exactly improve the odds.

2. Corny claims that he destroyed the biologists. Is Corny ever right about these matters?

3. Scambray's attacks upon evolution are extremely tired and worn-out creationist talking points ("lying points" might get the value across better, if not necessarily the intent). Uninterested in even learning the real issues, Scambray merely paraphrases incompetents.

Glen Davidson

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I wouldn't take anyone seriously who wouldn't take someone seriously on the basis of a typo.

Why do you think it is a typo?

KeithB said...

Far Aday:
You do know that Newton was not orthodox, right?

What would be better, an agnostic (Darwin was pretty quiet about his religeous beliefs to protect his wife's feelings) or someone who did not believe in the Trinity?

SLC said...

Re KeithB

Indeed, Newton was an Arian, which was considered heresy during his lifetime; fortunately for him, his religious views only became known some 175 years after his death.

Re booby Byers

Ah gee, booby has found this blog to pollute with his nonsense along with Panda's Thumb and Larry Moran's blog. By the way booby, Prof. Shallit is a Math professor, not a Chemistry professor.

Re Far Aday

Mr. Aday repeats the canard that scientists in the 1970s thought that global cooling was occurring. Not true. Only a very small number of scientists thought that global cooling was occurring. This is an example of the Big Lie.

Diogenes said...

Since Barry Arrington can quote Stephen Jay Gould, let's see what ID proponents and creationist experts REALLY say about the fossil record!

I'll return with a fuller explanation on this topic in my next comment.

ID promoter Jonathan Wells wrote:

"Fossil evidence suggests that life on earth originated about three and a half billion years ago, starting with prokaryotes (single-celled organisms without nuclei, such as bacteria). Much later came eukaryotes (cells with nuclei), which included algae and single-celled animals (protozoa). Multicellular marine animals appeared long after that. Then came land plants, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally humans. Not only did living things appear in a certain order, but in some cases they also had features intermediate between organisms that preceded them and those that followed them. Kenneth R. Miller challenges critics of Darwinism to explain why we find 'one organism after another in places and in sequences... that clearly give the appearance of evolution.'1" [Jonathan Wells. “Why Does the History of Life Give the Appearance of Evolution?”, Evolution News & Views, 21 Feb 2013.]

Diogenes said...

Creationist Kurt Wise wrote:

"In various macroevolutionary models, stratomorphic intermediates might be expected to be any one or more of several different forms… As an example (and to provide informal definitions), if predictions from Darwin’s theory were re-stated in these [creationist] terms, one would expect to find: –
(a) numerous stratomorphic intermediates between any ancestor-descendent species pair (numerous interspecific stratomorphic intermediates);
(b) species which were stratomorphic intermediates between larger groups (stratomorphic intermediate species);
(c} taxonomic groups above the level of species which were stratomorphic intermediates between other pairs of groups (higher-taxon stratomorphic intermediates); and
(d) a sequence of species or higher taxa in a sequence where each taxon is a stratomorphic intermediate between the taxa stratigraphically below and above it (stratomorphic series).

It is a Very Good Evolutionary Argument
Of Darwinism’s four stratomorphic intermediate expectations, that of the commonness of inter-specific stratomorphic intermediates has been the most disappointing for classical Darwinists. The current lack of any certain inter-specific stratomorphic intermediates has, of course, led to the development and increased acceptance of punctuated equilibrium theory. Evidences for Darwin’s second expectation - of stratomorphic intermediate species - include such species as Baragwanathia27 (between rhyniophytes and lycopods), Pikaia28 (between echinoderms and chordates), Purgatorius29 (between the tree shrews and the primates), and Proconsul30 (between the non-hominoid primates and the hominoids). Darwin’s third expectation - of higher-taxon stratomorphic intermediates - has been confirmed by such examples as the mammal-like reptile groups31 between the reptiles and the mammals, and the phenacdontids32 between the horses and their presumed ancestors. Darwin’s fourth expectation - of stratomorphic series - has been confirmed by such examples as the early bird series,33 the tetrapod series,34,35 the whale series,36 the various mammal series of the Cenozoic37 (for example, the horse series, the camel series, the elephant series, the pig series, the titanothere series, etc.), the Cantius and Plesiadapus primate series,38 and the hominid series.39 Evidence for not just one but for all three of the species level and above types of stratomorphic intermediates expected by macroevolutionary theory is surely strong evidence for macroevolutionary theory. Creationists therefore need to accept this fact. It certainly CANNOT said that traditional creation theory expected (predicted) any of these fossil finds." [Kurt P. Wise (1995). “Towards a Creationist Understanding of ‘Transitional Forms.’” p.218-9. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, 9(2), 216-222. (caps original). Full article]

Diogenes said...

Creationist Todd C. Wood wrote:

“The truth about evolution
Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution…
Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn't make it ultimately true… It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information… I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. …Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it.” [Todd C. Wood, “The Truth About Evolution”, 2009]

Diogenes said...

The creationist Scambray pulls the 50-year-old creationist bait-and-switch: the "fully formed" bait and switch.

The Bait: apparently citing Gould, who said that "species", the lowest taxonomic unit, most of the time appear "fully formed" with gaps between CLOSELY RELATED species;

The Switch: therefore larger taxonomic units, which ARE NOT THE SAME "BIBLICAL KIND", appear "fully formed" with no precursors.

The Bait is true; the Switch is a creationist lie floating around since the 1960's at least.

This lie is 50 years old. 50 years of copying and pasting it does not make it true.

Stephen Jay Gould knew the difference between major taxa and minor taxa, and he repeated many times, that

1. There are examples of gradual transitions between closely related species, that is, MINOR TAXA, in the fossil record.

Here are some pictures of gradual transitions giving the lie to this 50-year-old creationist quote mine. The more complete the fossil record is, as with ocean-dwelling foraminifera, the more gradual the transitions appear. Here are some more pictures for foramen/plankton. Below, I give examples for larger animals.

2. There are examples of intermediates between structurally very different forms, that is, between MAJOR taxa, e.g. reptile to mammal, whales, seals, sirenians, bats, etc. and their precursors.

Gould was clear about the distinction which creationists have obfuscated for 50 years:

Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

“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. The evolution from reptiles to well documented.” [Gould, 1981]. [See also: New Mexicans for Science & Reason]

Are reptiles and mammals the same "Biblical kind", "basically the same thing" as creationists say?

Gould said the above back in 1981, before we had the 1980's-90's suite of land animal-to-whale intermediates, and half-bats like Onychonycteris, and pezosiren, and Puijilia, and Little Foot, the Homo erectus of Dmanisi, Ardipithecus, etc. etc.

Stephen Jay Gould wrote:

“Faced with these facts of evolution and the philosophical bankruptcy of their own position, creationists 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.”

[See Panda's Thumb]

Arrington wrote:

"Now there are 15 kinds of finches, but they are all basically the same kind of thing"

Real scientific there-- "basically the same kind of thing"-- OK, let me fix your quote:

Arrington should have written:

"Now there are 7 species of great ape, but they are all basically the same kind of thing. I am one of them."


Diogenes said...

Some more gradual transitions, this time in larger animals:

"From the early Ursus minimus of 5 million years ago to the late Pleistocene cave bear, there is a perfectly complete evolutionary sequence without any real gaps. The transition is slow and gradual throughout, and it is quite difficult to say where one species ends and the next begins. Where should we draw the boundary between U. minimus and U. etruscus, or between U. savini and U. spelaeus? The history of the cave bear becomes a demonstration of evolution, not as a hypothesis or theory but as a simple fact of record." [Kurten, B. 1976. The Cave Bear Story.]

Evidence like this existed in Darwin's time as well, so even then, the fossil record put the lie to creationism.

"Franz Hilgendorf (1839-1904), curator at the Zoological Museum of Berlin, was the first paleontologists to publish a well-studied phylogenetic sequence at the species - and subspecies - level.13 He studied the virtually complete sections of Miocene snail-bearing lime-mud in the Steinheim Basin on the Schwäbische Alb north of Ulm. (Darwin, in the later editions of his Origins, referred to "Steinheim in Switzerland.") ...Hilgendorf found nineteen "varieties"(= subspecies) of the snail Planorbis (= Gyraulus) multiformis, which he arranged in a phylogenetic diagram. Later he admitted that the varieties might as well be regarded as individual species (Hilgendorf 1879). The gastropods in this isolated, fresh-water, crater lake evolved by transformation and by splitting of lineages. Hilgendorf was probably the first to describe what is now called the "punctuated equilibrium" (Eldredge and Gould 1972) phenomenon: "The process of transformation seems to be of short duration compared to the time span of stability of form" (Hilgendorf 1879). Hilgendorf never observed any fusion of lineages and regarded his observations as major support of Darwin's theory of descent.

...During the same excursion [Steinheim basin, 1862] Hilgendorf discovered that the various morphs of Planorbis multiformis could be combined in a phyletic tree, and he even discovered some new morphs. He submitted his results as doctoral dissertation at the University of Tübingen in April 1863 and was awarded the degree on April 28.14 Hilgendorf's thesis was never published and is not listed in any catalogue.

…[Its] phylogenetic diagram; however... is much more preliminary and primitive that the published 1866 version.
Comparison of this collection and a photocopy of the dissertation6 shows that Hilgendorf specifically addressed the importance to Darwin's theory of complete fossil-bearing sections. His phylogenetic tree of 1862-1863 is the oldest such tree known to date.” [The Search for a Macroevolutionary Theory in German Paleontology. Wolf-Ernst Reif. Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 79-130.]

Tom very Petty said...

"Why do you think it is a typo?"

You were the first to make the assumption. So I think you should be the first to explain why you don't think it was a typo.

Far Aday said...

SLC writes: "Mr. Aday repeats the canard that scientists in the 1970s thought that global cooling was occurring. Not true. Only a very small number of scientists thought that global cooling was occurring. This is an example of the Big Lie."

You are incorrect in how you interpreted my words. If you read my words carefully, you'll see that I switched "questioning scientific consensus" to "questioning the reports on." I know very well that what the scientists were saying was not exactly represented properly by the media. My comment was only about the media.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You were the first to make the assumption.

Go away, silly troll.

Helena Constantine said...

Yes, Prof. Shallit, mocking my type-o (psychical for physical), is a very effective argument.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Good stuff, "Helena"!

Diogenes said...

Jeff. do you have to be a dick to everbody? Your dickishness is beyond Klinghoffer level now. You're now an Egnor level dick.

Yes we all know some commenters are trolls. But why not WAIT for them to act like assholes first-- THEN you go full dick on them? A real troll reveals himself in one or two comments. Why not wait for them to launch the first dick move?

Instead you launch a preemptive dick against nearly every commenter.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


There's just one troll here, Dio, who uses a different pseudonym nearly every comment. I have a pretty good idea who it is, but that's got to wait for a different day.