Fairly early in the life of this blog, I deconstructed a post (and a feeble reply) from the creationist weblog community Overwhelming Evidence, only to receive an e-mail saying that the post was a hoax, an attempt to accurately stereotype the creationist position. I have not heard from the author (who promised a public announcement of the post being a hoax) in some time, but regardless of whether the post was a joke or made in all seriousness, it’s actual content should not be regarded as serious science by anyone. Being that it’s Friday night and I’m a little bored, I decided to dip back into the OE blogs and see if there was anything worth ripping apart; I was not disappointed.
The post, entitled “micro vs. macro evolution – where to draw the line?” starts off with a clarification of the author’s position; they do not accept intelligent design + common descent a la Behe, but rather take a more standard creationist position of belief in created “kinds” (or baramin). Nothing that remarkable there, but the 2nd half of the paragraph better clarifies the overall attitude of the writer;
…at this point I have to make an unpleasant conceit to godless evolutionists: the designs of many parts of our body appear to be modified versions of those used in the design of apes. Yes, these smelly, dirty, brutish animals served as a launching point for our design and, though we certainly didn’t descend from them, we have a certain designerly connection to them, much as Windows Vista does to Windows Millennium Edition.
Ok, so we have something of a hypothesis of the designer’s intent here; rather than taking the finalist view of Homo sapiens being designed in God’s image, the designer coopted designs used in apes to construct humans in a reversal of Christian tradition. The comments about apes being “smelly, dirty, [and] brutish” reminded me of something Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man;
For my own part, I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs-as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives life slaves, knows no deceny, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
While the author of the OE post clearly despises primates, I do not; although they can be brutal, they can also be quite charming, intelligent, caring, and are not “lower” organisms merely serving as experiments to get human design just right. My visits to the Bronx Zoo in the springtime, when the Congo gorillas are outside and playing with the newborns, have certainly influenced my own opinions on this matter. That aside, the “Windows connection” closer to the paragraph is also rather flimsy and the metaphor is never expounded further, so I won’t comment on it further since it doesn’t hold much relevance to the discussion here.
The next paragraph starts out with the usual “I can accept micro-evolution but not macroevolution” junk, but the second half reveals this little gem;
A dog cannot evolve into a cat. In ten million years, I contend, a dog’s descendants will still be recognizable dogs. Indeed, even after a billion years of microevolution, a dog’s descendants will still be something other than cats. They will be dogs, recognizable to you and me as such, and eager to chase any available cats up the nearest tree. The same is true of a horse or an oak tree or even a fruit fly. While it’s true that breeding can greatly change the form of an animal, poodles look nothing like cats, and neither do Chihuahuas.
Apparently the writer of the post isn’t well versed in their evolutionary history. Dogs and cats (Family Canidae and Felidae, respectively) both belong to the Order Carnivora, extant carnivores derived from what was likely analagous to a modern-day civet (Family Viverridae) over 60 million years ago. Thus, dogs would not evolve into cats nor cats into dogs as they have been evolving along their own separate lineages for millions of years. Given enough time and the right pressures, perhaps evolution could produce a dog that looked superficially like a cat, but it would not exactly resemble extinct or extant cats in the finer points of its anatomy, much in the same way that the extinct Thylacines (or Tasmanian Tigers) may kinda/sorta resemble canids, but any detailed look at their anatomy would belie their marsupial heritage. I also detest the use of the terms micro- and macro-evolution for this reason; small, generational changes accumulate to change species through time, so if you look at an extant dog like the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) and the last common ancestor it shared with cats, you’d see a big difference even though saltations (drastic changes in one generation) were not involved. Unfortunately for modern evolutionists, these terms mean something different to everyone (just as G.G. Simpson noted that everyone had a different idea of orthogenesis during the 1950’s), many people equating macroevolution with saltation rather than larger scale changes over the course of history (which require microevolution, but also other disciplines like biogeography, ecology, etc.).
The author then tries to play the hybrid card;
But where do we draw the line between kinds, between microevolution and macroevolution? Can a donkey be bred from a horse? Can an alpaca be bred from a camel? Can a tiger be bred from a lion? These all may sound in some way ridiculous, but all of these animal pairs can interbreed, which suggests that they may be of the same kind.
Indeed, I recently saw an issue of Creation (formerly AiG’s Technical Journal) trying to define a goat “kind” based upon interbreeding/hybridization. The author of this piece, however, seems confused. A donkey cannot be bred from a horse; donkeys and horses are disctinct, donkeys having 62 chromosomes and horses having 64. While horses and donkeys do interbreed, the typically sterile offspring of a horse and donkey (a mule) has 63 chromosomes, and hence you cannot a donkey from a horse. Does the fact that they can produce fertile offspring belie close common ancestry? Indeed it does, but the observation of this does nothing to prove a created “kind” unless creationist doctrine is accepted as the scientific philosophy. The same goes for the other examples the author lists; while all the examples listed interbreed and can produce hybrids from time to time, you’re not getting a tiger from a lion at all (you get a “liger“). If we continue to follow lion and tiger evolution through history (given we’re around long enough to do so, as well as the cats themselves) it would be expected that the more the species diverge and change, the less likely it will be that they can produce viable offspring (male ligers are sterile, so we can’t use reproduction as our criteria) until it’s no longer possible to do so. Once again, hybridization does nothing to prove creation unless you’ve already accepted creationism as your doctrine.
The end of the post is rather confusing and fizzles out, the author asserting that they could accept all birds having a common ancestor (“from hummingbirds to ostriches”) based upon species plasticity and microevolutionary change. Humans, of course, are not included in any plan of common ancestry (even within a “kind”), the author asserting;
I myself could never believe such a thing [as the descent of humans from apes], since I find it revolting to think my ancestors might have been animals.
I hate to say it, but it sounds like “quintilis” is stuck in an archaic mindset where the very thought of being related to other lifeforms on this planet is utterly repulsive. How could we, in all our glorious arrogance, be related to “lower” forms of life? For my own part I agree with Darwin (see above) and find it heartening to know I share aspects of my own body construction with various organisms (multicellularity, a jaw, tetrapod body plan, etc.) and have an inherent kinship with them because of common ancestry, which would be true if I recognized it or not.