Show me the monkey

11 07 2007

Update: Zapa King has responded to this post with a string of ad hominem attacks (i.e. “First of all, you’re a young fool, Brian, unless you’re an old fool going to Rutgers. There are two sides to every coin, and these debates have been going on for years. I say that creationists tend to have heard both sides of the story much better than you.”) and further evasions of the questions I first posed here, spewing out equations as if they had anything at all to do with the issue at hand. If you like, you can have a look at the response here – > “Soft-science Thinking vs. Math Thinking

While I often speak of creationists and IDers on this blog, I don’t often get into debates with them; it usually is not fruitful. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t love to discuss evolution, I most certainly would, but in nearly every case the person on the other side of the issue merely ducks questions rather than putting any real effort into the argument. Such is the case with a little back and forth I’ve been having on this blog, primarily dealing with human evolution. Normally I just let things set in the comments of that particular blog, but the responses I got this time were interesting enough to dredge up and dump on here.

The blogger, under the name “Zapa King” says the following;

If there was gradual change [from “monkey to man”], you could show pictures of fossils showing the slow, gradual change. You can’t do that, or you would do it.

As I had already explained in a previous comment, there are plenty of hominid fossils that show our evolution from ape ancestors (have a look at the Talk Origins Hominid Evolution FAQ), and more ape-like specimens are difficult to find because jungles do not preserve fossils especially well (there’s a taphonomic bias against them because of heat, scavengers, less likelihood of quick burial, arboreal lifestyle of the primates, etc.). I will go into this topic further in the near future after I visit the AMNH the weekend after next, but if anyone is really itching to read up on the topic I’d suggest the book The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey, From Lucy to Language: Revised, Updated, and Expanded, or The Last Human.

Likewise, I also mentioned the high genetic similarity between humans and extant apes as evidence of our common ancestry, to which Zapa King replies;

No, genetic evidence only shows that apes are similar to humans genetically.

This isn’t much of a response; if we share well over 90% of our DNA with extant apes like chimpanzees, what can we say? ZK’s argument hints that apes are only genetically convergent with humans to a large degree, or they were created using the same “information,” but I can only speculate because this point was not expanded upon. Such a high level of relatedness demands an explanation outside “They’re just similar,” and the evidence is perfectly consistent with humans and extant apes recently (in terms of geologic time) sharing a common ancestor.

Given that ZK rejects human evolution, I had to ask what he makes of the fossil and genetic evidence, or what is his idea as to how humans and apes came to be and be so similar. He replied;

I’m not proposing anything here. I don’t have to argue what’s right to argue what’s wrong. But what I argue as what’s right, I’m more than willing to admit that my claims won’t meet the criteria of science, seeing that I’ll be talking about the past, though my claims will be based on science.

Ah, the old “I do not think about things I do not think about” argument. If current evolutionary theory is wrong, then there obviously has to be a better explanation (otherwise why are we arguing?). I initially asked whether ZK believed in a seperate creation for humans, a moment of “ensoulment” for humans, or any other variant that would at least open itself up to be falsified, but it does not seem like he wants to put forward any hypothesis. Indeed, I wonder why so many ID advocates dismiss paleontology as worthless, although I have to say that I don’t know of any IDers with expertise in that area, so they probably think it will serve them well to undermine another field of scientific research. There is only so much we can tell from fossils (i.e. the color of dinosaurs is likely to be forever a mystery to us), but this doesn’t mean that we should simply ignore the entire field because we were not present to see an early tetrapod clamber onto land or the early whales swim in the sea. Irregardless of this, proving any of these lineages wrong begs the question “What really happened?,” a question that often receives no answer when I ask ID advocates.

Then, in classic ID style, Zk throws in a little ad hominem for good measure;

That’s the difference between me and you guys. I respect science, and you don’t.

I am not going to get into a name-calling going about who respects science and who does not, but I think that it is apparent to anyone who is familiar with me or my writing precisely how much I love and respect science. Accusations may be to the contrary, but I think my interest and commitment to learning about nature is more than adequately apparent.

ZK then closes off with this little tirade;

Then you say, quoting me, ““It’s not like I need to be a biologist to understand that evolution hasn’t been observed,” but such an argument makes no sense. How can you speak with any authority on whether evolution has or has not occurred if you are not familiar with the science behind it?”

I’m familiar with the basic science. There are no big secrets. Gradual evolution is not in the fossil record, you can’t show evolution of from one species into another significantly different species [emphasis mine].

You guys haven’t observed the claims you’re making. You’re filling in all sorts of gaps using logic based on your assumptions, therefore your claims about the past are not science.

And I haven’t even talked about how, from what I’ve read, there’s all sorts of weird artifacts in the fossil record that show it’s not what you make it out to be. That’s what I’ve read. I don’t do original research. I just read some things like most people.

The first section belies the biggest problem I have with creationists in general; they simply do not spend adequate time learning about evolution, and they assume that they don’t have to. Zk claims he’s familiar with “the basic science,” but while evolution as a general concept is easy to grasp (the “fact” of evolution), the various theories take lots of intense study. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve spent at least the past year reading dozens of books about evolution, visiting zoos and museums in my spare time to look at anatomy first hand, and there’s still plenty that I do not know. Understanding evolution takes a big intellectual commitment, and that seems to be something that many people are unwilling to do. For instance, ZK plainly states that evolutionary change is not observed at all in the fossil record, but he doesn’t see fit to give us any examples or refute the proposed lineages of early tetrapods, hominids, whales, or any other group.

I emphasized the one particular sentence fragment above because it belies a basic misunderstanding about evolution. I had mentioned in my original post how Goldschmidt’s notion of “hopeful monsters” or huge evolutionary change in the space of one generation (basically an instant speciation event) are unknown and not believed to exist. Still, ZK sets up his goal post as if such saltational changes were the rule for evolution, despite the fact that myself and others had already stated that evolution doesn’t proceed in such a fashion. Sometimes changes are fast, sometimes they are slower, but speciation (even if the differences aren’t that great at first) is the raw stuff that allows future variation and differentiation to occur, especially if populations are geographically isolated from each other. Indeed, if we had all the organisms from all the populations that ever lived at our disposal, and we were able to determine parent/offspring relationships for all of them through time, it would probably be very difficult to make species divisions. What ZK is asking is the equivalent of a featherless dinosaur giving birth to a chicken, but evolution does not work in such a fashion.

ZK closes off his argument alluding to some kind of odd evidence that shows the fossil record of evolution to somehow be weaker than it has so far shown itself to be, although he never mentions what these “artifacts” are or where he read about them. He then admits that he does not do any original research, only reads things “like most people,” and that’s fine; I can’t carry out large original research projects at the moment myself, but I do read a new book either directly or indirectly related to evolution every 2-3 days (including a good amount of ID/creationist literature). Anyway, I have to say I am curious as to what this alternate evidence against evolution might be; chances are there’s something on it in my library somewhere, so I’d quickly be able to look it up. ZK’s implication, though, is that I am just making a priori assumptions about life on earth based upon personal preference rather than doing any actual study or investigation, and once again this is something that is patently not true. I do not “believe” in evolution; I regard it to be true because of all that I have learned and seen for myself, even after carefully considering arguments to the contrary. The idea of myself and the other commenters on the initial post to be pseudo-religious evolutionary zealots (or “Darwinists” in creationst parlance) is entirely baseless, although it greatly hinders scientific argument when the person you’re debating has little to no interest in versing themselves in the science being discussed. I could certainly not expect to tell a chemist or physicist they’re wrong in a debate; I simply am not well-acquainted enough for the subject. Why should it should be any different when discussing evolution? In fact, it all-too-often seems that the whole reason there is an issue about evolution at all is because it runs counter to some people’s theological/philosophical beliefs, and therefore they think their opinion can be weighted just as heavily as that of an evolutionary scientist because they’re personally offended. The problems with this sort of logic is clear.

In any case, I’m not going to continue on with the thread; there’s obviously little point to it. While I did debate creationists back when I was on ProgressiveU, I got points every time I wrote a post and got a comment, so it was to my advantage to keep at it (I ended up getting a $500 scholarship as a result). In this case, ZK and the other ID-friendly commenters have little interest in putting forward a falsifiable hypothesis for human origins, so I’m not about to waste the time or energy into debating with people who are going to simply reject any argument I make even though they are going to show no effort to actually listen to what I say or investigate the issue for themselves. Drawing blood from stones simply is not my line of work.




14 responses

11 07 2007
Zach Miller

This post made me mad. The “no transitional forms” argument is as old as Evolutionary theory itself, and has made no attempt to modernize. I could rattle off a list of “transitional forms” (although, honestly, no form is actually transitional–it’s a unique creature unto itself and does nothing but tell us about what features a common ancestor had) but that would do nothing but anger the dissenters.

Here’s what they want. I could say “look at Yanoconodon–it’s a lower-tier synapsid that’s en route to becoming a primitive mammal. See the ribcage? It has small ribs going all the way to the pelvis. See the ear? It’s middle ear bones are merely held between the skull and the dentary by cartilage. What more do you want?”

They want a lot more. They want a Yonoconodon-like creature that has like one pair of ribs missing in front of the pelvis and one of the ear bones in the skull, the other still floating outside of it. Then they want a creature slightly more advanced, with TWO missing pairs of ribs and the ear bones attached to the skull, but not yet forming a true middle ear. And THEN…

See how this goes on forever? And it’s easy to dismiss the hominid line, Laelaps. From personal experience, I know that neanderthals, australopiths, paranthropoids, and early Homo are all the result of sinful breeding experiments between humans and apes. So none of them represent actual species, just blasphemes against God. Makes sense to me.

*tears hair out*

11 07 2007

Zach; thank you for touching on one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to understanding evolution: every “form” is both final and transitional. There’s no vital force (as Aristotle suggested) driving creatures to become more perfect, but there’s no stopping point to evolution either. I don’t understand why that is so hard to grasp.

Like I said, I don’t mind debating when the person on the other side of the argument actually listens and has some interest in learning something; otherwise it is just a waste of my time. I am honestly interested in how ID folks reconcile human evolution with their own theological stance, but I can never seem to get a straight answer from them. I’m not going to waste my time on people who are only going to call me a “Darwin Youth” or other damned thing.

12 07 2007
Soft-science thinking vs. Math thinking « Bob Dudesky

[…] Show me the monkey, Brian says: In this case, ZK and the other ID-friendly commenters have little interest in putting […]

12 07 2007

This is precisely why I try not to get into arguments about it. After one formal dinner at my husband’s college, where a friend of his asked me “So, you don’t believe that God created everything in six days then?”, I haven’t really been allowed to get into live debates about it… You can go round and round in circles, getting angrier and angrier, and it either ends with the creationist/IDer saying “Well you smell of poo” or other equally unhelpful ad hominem comments, or the creationist smiles benignly, points to their heart and says “I know the truth”. Either way it is impossible to win the fight because they essentially jump out of the ring and declare themselves the winner.

My husband is a good Catholic boy. His mum remembers talking to her priest about evolution, and he was all for it. Turns out (if you ignore what Pope Palpatine comes out with nowadays) that at Vatican II evolution was wholly accepted. Since evolution is a natural process it cannot explain the human soul, which is a supernatural entity. Therefore Catholics are instructed to look to supernatural explanations, and that is where the “God made man in his own image” comes in, on the supernatural level. Which suits me just fine. Seems so strange that Catholicism can find a place for evolution but most branches of Protestantism cannot, yet it’s the same book!

12 07 2007

Thanks Julia; that is what is so frustrating about thie issue.. they know the answers and try and shove everything about nature into a very narrow religious framework. Even groups like AiG have no qualms of letting people know that the Bible comes first, with science being obliged to be crammed into preconceived notions.

My mom tried to get me to go to church more in my young agnostic days by saying that the priests were ok with evolution, although the blood-drenched history of the Catholic Church was more of an issue for me than evolution. If you have a look at my latest post, even Augustine and Bacon realized that a creationist view of nature was untenable and just didn’t work, so I am still quite baffled as to where the fundamentalist resurgence came from.

12 07 2007
Chris Harrison

Oh. I see you made a new friend Brian!


I couldn’t stop chuckling as I was reading “Zapa King”‘s brilliant deconstruction of modern biology. It was hard not to just invoke Poe’s Law after every sentence.
I usually find myself engaging IDists mostly, but I’m glad to know complete ignorance of biology, combined with overblown arrogance, is still the bedrock of standard creationism.

Just for fun, you should ask ZK where the apes stop and the human starts in this pic:

12 07 2007

Good to have you back Chris! I was wondering where you had gone, lol. Unfortunately, however, ZK doesn’t seem capable of answering any of my questions, so I doubt the hominid link will do much good. I just have to wonder why it is so hard for him to state his hypothesis of how humans came to be so we could at least be talking about the same thing, but I guess that’s simply too much to ask.

12 07 2007
Chris Harrison

Yeah, sorry I’ve not been commenting here much. I need to catch up on my Laelaps reading for sure.

I’ve been playing with the IDists at TelicThoughts lately though, so your discussion with ZK, and his distinct inability to answer your questions is nothing new either. A few of my questions here ( ) remain unanswered.

:’ (

Glad to see you’re still motoring through ~4 books every week, by the way.

12 07 2007

I’ll have to check out Telic Thoughts more often when I’m itching for an argument Chris, although I have to say that my experiences online haven’t been far off from the Monty Python sketch (“That’s not an argument” “Yes it is”).

12 07 2007
Chris Harrison

: ) MP sketches are always applicable aren’t they?

TT is about the only ID blog I can read for more than 30 seconds without laughing out loud/shaking my head in disgust. You’re not going to find a damn thing about paleontology there though, since as you mentioned, that field is completely ignored by IDists. Apparently fossils aren’t good indicators of design, or something.

12 07 2007

Comparing the Monty Python “witch” scene (from Holy Grail) to the IDer’s argument style is also apt, Brian. There’s no point in arguing when there’s no common ground.

On the other hand, it’s good to know that witches are made of wood. Makes one wonder what environmental factors would have resulted in that physiological adaptation…

13 07 2007

Utenzi; I didn’t think of that one! At least there’s no danger of me being turned into a newt.

I just wanted to say “thank you” to everyone who’s commented here. It feels good to know that you all are reading what I have to say and can empathize (plus, I appreciate that you haven’t said “ZK’s right, you’r a fool,” hah).

13 07 2007
Modes of Logic: Logic of the butt kissing kind « Bob Dudesky

[…] 13th, 2007 at 2:04 pm (Soft-Science, Evolution, Science) Related to Show me the monkey, the following is the transcript of a private conversation that was inferred to have actually […]

13 07 2007
The “Argument Sketch” continues, ad absurdum « Laelaps

[…] skills, our friend “Zapa King” has posted yet another smarmy response to my “Show Me the Monkey” post from a few days ago, recounting a hypothetical discussion between him and me. In […]

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