It’s been a relatively slow day thus far on the blogosphere, as for once it seems that somebody hasn’t pissed somebody else off to such a degree that it dominates scienceblogs/Uncommon Descent for the next day (then again, it is only noon…). The lack of activity led me to take a gander at Dembski’s attempt to make a pro-ID facebook/myspace/progressiveu website called Overwhelming Evidence, the very same one that hosted the vapid and insulting flash cartoon of Judge Jones a few weeks ago. The site is intriguing though, as it provides a forum for young people who believe in intelligent design to voice their opinion, and when I started to read some of the entries I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
One entry in particular caught my eye, relating to the common claim by DaveScot on UD that genotype and phenotype are so different that evolution fails to connect the two and is thereby falsified. I could write an entire entry on how he apparently didn’t understand Zimmer’s paper on the reconciliation of phylogenetic and paleontological studies, but I feel Zimmer’s take on the subject is clear and can speak for itself. In any event, the offending OE post was made by someone named Helena with the user name hblavatsky, and can be found here.
Helena opens with this paragraph, which seems to be quite telling of the inanity to come (can you spot the spelling/grammar error? I knew you could):
“While I was reading to my daughter from Percival Davis’ excellent “Of Pandas and People” I learnt something about the differences between the way Neo-Darwinists an proponents of ID think. I think the Darwinists are only interested in looking at disconnected details: They fail to see the big-picture and that is why they fail to spot the signature of the Intelligent Designer even though the evidence is staring them in the face.”
Just to bring everyone up to speed, Of Pandas and People is the infamous textbook that sparked the Dover trial, and was formerly a purely creationist text (the primary revision made in the current incarnation being switching out “creation” for “intelligent design”). If you’re curious about the book, I recommend the NCSE Resource page for it, found here.
From such an introduction I knew the rest of the post would hurt, but apparently I had no idea. Helena proceeds to move on to Thylacines, specifically the recently extinct Tasmanian Tiger/Wolf, which was a marsupial mammal. Marsupials used to be more numerous and widespread, having equivalents to lions, bears, wolves, and other creatures, but in most of the world they were eventually out competed by the more prolific placental mammals. It’s important to note that when I say “marsupial bear” or “marsupial lion” I am not suggesting that the animal has any relationship to extant lions or bears or would look entirely like a lion you’d see on the African plains today (outside of being a mammal, of course), but rather that they occupied the same niche and therefore exhibited convergent evolution of body forms despite not being closely allied with their placental contemporaries. In fact, I’ve seen this argument before in the book The Case for Creation, somehow suggesting that if it looks like a wolf, and it has a diet of a wolf, then it’s a wolf. I guess Helena and some other creationists would lump animals together based upon similar body plans, making icthyosaurs and sharks in the same family because of their body shape/habits and pterosaurs and bats in the same family because of their stretched-membrane wing structure (she essentially says just this in this comment). I realize this is putting words in my opponents mouths to an extent, but suggesting that we discount convergent evolution and just group things together by what they look like would be devastating to our understanding of life on the planet. I would love to see such a suggestion made directly to cladistic scientists, who most likely would have some sort of fit over the very idea.
Helena continues with a spurious claim that birds aren’t related to reptiles at all. Whenever this question comes up, I love to ask the question “Do birds have scales?” The answer, of course, is yes, and such a feature is only one of many inherited from reptiles and groups birds within the Archosauria. Some people prefer to think of birds as extant dinosaurs, and others like to think of them as descended but separate, but regardless of whichever interpretation is chosen the link to reptiles is there. Denying such a link is one step away from saying that birds aren’t tetrapods or vertebrates. For someone who claims that evolution is so wrong, she doesn’t seem to have done much research or critical thinking on the topic and the ramifications of her ideas.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense if we devised a more functional taxonomy; one where very similar kinds of animal were grouped together? One based on the sensible principles and proven science of Intelligent Design?”
She doesn’t say what “similar” means or gives any suggested groupings, so let’s pick a similar functional feature: flight. If we grouped all animals that could fly together, we’d have innumerable insects grouped with birds, bats, and pterosaurs (and possibly flying fish, which you could then claim were a *gasp* transitional form). Such a grouping would be highly illogical, and I can only wonder if Helena is familiar with cladistic analysis at all. Under such a system of inferred similarity based upon the junk science of intelligent design, would we be able to lump an owl together with a moth that has a defensive mimicry pattern similar to owl eyes (in addition to flight) being that they show a similar feature created by the always elusive designer? I’m using rhetoric here of course, and I doubt that anyone would agree with classification upon such grounds, but what Helena is proposing is just as ludicrous.
At this point Helena returns to her Tasmanian Wolf analogy, suggesting that the only reason we dumb evolutionists unfairly consign placental wolves and Tasmanian “wolves” to different lineages entirely is reproductive strategy. I don’t know enough to give a detailed outlined of marsupial skeletal morphology, but there is more involved than the huge difference between marsupial and placental reproduction, a nearly ubiquitous marsupial feature being two holes in the palate. Through the fossil record we can trace marsupial radiation and evolution as well, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that marsupial wolves are related to placental wolves outside of both being mammals and occupying similar niches.
Helena goes on about how evolutionary scientists should expect some wolves to turn blue and others to grow antlers (an aside: I don’t know who started the “Show me a dog with antlers” argument in the intelligent design camp, but I’ve seen it be used over and over again and those who argue the point demand a canid with horns to show evolution occurs) and how we’re missing the “big picture.” I guess saying “The devil is in the details” to someone ideologically aligned with a Judeo-Christian belief system wouldn’t help my case, but I shudder at the thought of science being reduced to “Well, this kinda looks like a dog, so it’s a dog.” That’s why there is such consternation at zoos and in basic zoology lessons over Koala bears: they are marsupials and not related to true bears at all, but because of their common name and stumpy, fuzzy appearance children often get confused. Would Helena say that Koalas belong to the placental bear groupings as well? I don’t know the answer to that, but it lies in the same vein as her marsupial/placental wolf argument.
Overall, the post smacks of a creationist vibe: an all-knowing, all-powerful designer deeming that one variety of wolf would be marsupial, the other placental, and the ultimate Platonic ideal being the domestic canine (no date or time frame is given for the emergence, or, dare I say it, creation of these animals). The first comment on the blog even makes reference to baraminology, or the pseudoscience of grouping life into “kinds” based upon what is described in the Bible. Other comments are made about basing taxonomy involving the Designer’s intent (which, at least according to top ID advocates in public, can not be known or tested), reverting back to an almost ladder-view of life with bacteria and plants at the bottom and man at the top. What hubris. I thought I was living in 2007, but apparently there are some who want to revert to the arrogant view that all life, no matter how complex or recent, is inferior to man and needs to be put in its place accordingly. And we wonder why people don’t care about conservation… ugh.