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WND Offers Supremely Dumb Creationist Argument

I’m sure we’ve all seen more than our fair share of egregiously dumb anti-evolution arguments. I mean, it’s hard to top Ray Comfort’s banana for sheer stupidity. But the opening sentence of this column by Jerry Newcombe is at least in the running:

Every time I log into a computer and have to enter my password, I’m reminded of how impossible evolution is.

One little mistake on the keypad and I can’t log in. There’s even a website where I seem to be in permanent “log-in purgatory.” I can’t log in ever. Granted, it’s operator error. But still …

How does this tie to evolution? Because if evolution were true, then we are to believe a whole series of complex sequences managed to get everything right – repeatedly.

To use a clichéd example: It would be like a monkey typing at random and coming out with the complete works of Shakespeare without any errors.

Only if you believe that evolution had the goal of producing the complete works of Shakespeare. And if you don’t understand the difference between pure randomness and contingency. And if you completely ignore natural selection and number of trials when building that golly-gee-whiz probability assumption. In other words, only if you’re completely ignorant of the subject, as Newcombe clearly is.

There’s a new book on evolution that is getting a lot of attention – and deservedly so. It is “Darwin’s Doubt” by Stephen Meyer. If you’re familiar with the topic, the subtitle is very clever – “The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.”

This is not some minor book by an “obscurantist backwoods fundamentalist.” It is published by HarperCollins and was written by a man who earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge. This 500-page illustrated book made its way to seventh place on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Let’s see: Appeal to authority? Check. Appeal to popularity? Check. Reasonable argument for a substantive conclusion that Meyer is correct? Nope, not here. But even the appeal to authority is absurd. Meyer has no background or training at all in paleontology, which is the primary subject of the book. And isn’t it amusing how creationists absolutely love appeals to singular authority — we’ve got this one PhD who agrees with us — while ignoring the far more relevant authority of virtually every scientist working in the relevant fields?

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Meyer of the Discovery Institute on my radio show last week. He said of his book, “The title tells the story. I tell the story of a doubt that Darwin had about his own theory.” The doubt centers around what’s known as the Cambrian Explosion…

Meyer explains, “The Cambrian Explosion refers to the geologically sudden or abrupt appearance of the major group of animals early in the fossil record, in a period of time that geologists call the Cambrian.” The key word is “abrupt.”

No, the key word is “geologically.” We’re talking about tens of millions of years, at bare minimum, and that number keeps getting bigger as we discover more pre-cambrian fossils. Meyer and Newcombe want you to think that this happened “abruptly” in colloquial terms, like in an afternoon or a week. As Donald Prothero, who actually is a paleontologist, points out in a review of Meyer’s new book:

Let’s take the central subject of the book: the “Cambrian explosion”, or the apparently rapid diversification of life during the Cambrian Period, starting about 545 million years ago. When Darwin wrote about it in 1859, it was indeed a puzzle, since so little was known about the fossil record then. But as paleontologists have worked hard on the topic and learned a lot since about 1945 (as I discuss in detail in my 2007 book,Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters). As a result, we now know that the “explosion” now takes place over an 80 m.y. time framework. Paleontologists are gradually abandoning the misleading and outdated term “Cambrian explosion” for a more accurate one, “Cambrian slow fuse” or “Cambrian diversification.” The entire diversification of life is now known to have gone through a number of distinct steps, from the first fossils of simple bacterial life 3.5 billion years old, to the first multicellular animals 700 m.y. ago (the Ediacara fauna), to the first evidence of skeletonized fossils (tiny fragments of small shells, nicknamed the “little shellies”) at the beginning of the Cambrian, 545 m.y. ago (the Nemakit-Daldynian and Tommotian stages of the Cambrian), to the third stage of the Cambrian (Atdabanian, 530 m.y. ago), when you find the first fossils of the larger animals with hard shells, such as trilobites. But does Meyer reflect this modern understanding of the subject? No! His figures (e.g., Figs. 2.5, 2.6, 3.8) portray the “explosion” as if it happened all at once, showing that he has paid no attention to the past 70 years of discoveries. He dismisses the Ediacara fauna as not clearly related to living phyla (a point that is still debated among paleontologists), but its very existence is fatal to the creationist falsehood that multicellular animals appeared all at once in the fossil record with no predecessors. Even more damning, Meyer completely ignores the existence of the first two stages of the Cambrian (nowhere are they even mentioned in the book, or the index) and talks about the Atdabanian stage as if it were the entire Cambrian all by itself. His misleading figures (e.g., Fig. 2.5, 2.6, 3.8) imply that there were no modern phyla in existence until the trilobites diversified in the Atdabanian. Sorry, but that’s a flat out lie. Even a casual glance at any modern diagram of life’s diversification (Figure 1) demonstrates that probable arthropods, cnidarians, and echinoderms are present in the Ediacara fauna, mollusks and sponges are well documented from the Nemakit-Daldynian Stage, and brachiopods and archaeocyathids appear in the Tommotian Stage–all millions of years before Meyer’s incorrectly defined “Cambrian explosion” in the Atdabanian. The phyla that he lists in Fig. 2.6 as “explosively” appearing in the Atdabanian stages all actually appeared much earlier–or they are soft-bodied phyla from the Chinese Chengjiang fauna, whose first appearance artificially inflates the count. Meyer deliberately and dishonestly distorts the story by implying that these soft-bodied animals appeared all at once, when he knows that this is an artifact of preservation. It’s just an accident that there are no extraordinary soft-bodied faunas preserved before Chengjiang, so we simply have no fossils demonstrating their true first appearance, which occurred much earlier based on molecular evidence.

Meyer’s distorted and false view of conflating the entire Early Cambrian (545-520 m.y. ago) as consisting of only the third stage of the Early Cambrian (Atdabanian, 530-525 m.y. ago) creates a fundamental lie that falsifies everything else he says in the ensuing chapters. He even attacks me (p. 73) by claiming that during our 2009 debate, it was I who was improperly redefining the Cambrian! Even a cursory glance at any recent paleontology book on the topic, or even the Wikipedia site for “Cambrian explosion”, shows that it is Meyer who has cherry-picked and distorted the record, completely ignoring the 15 million years of the first two stages of the Cambrian because their existence shoots down his entire false interpretation of the fossil record. Sorry, Steve, but you don’t get to contradict every paleontologist in the world, ignore the evidence from the first two stages of the Cambrian, and redefine the Early Cambrian as the just the Atdabanian Stage just to fit your fairy tale!

Even if we grant the premise that a lot of phyla appear in the Atdabanian (solely because there are no soft-bodied faunas older than Chengjiang in the earliest Cambrian), Meyer claims the 5-6 million years of the Atdabanian are too fast for evolution to produce all the phyla of animals. Wrong again! Lieberman (2003) showed that rates of evolution during the “Cambrian explosion” are typical of any adaptive radiation in life’s history, whether you look at the Paleocene diversification of the mammals after the non-avian dinosaurs vanished, or even the diversification of humans from their common ancestor with apes 6 m.y. ago. As distinguished Harvard paleontologist Andrew Knoll put it in his 2003 book, Life on a Young Planet:

Was there really a Cambrian Explosion? Some have treated the issue as semantic–anything that plays out over tens of millions of years cannot be “explosive,” and if the Cambrian animals didn’t “explode,” perhaps they did nothing at all out of the ordinary. Cambrian evolution was certainly not cartoonishly fast … Do we need to posit some unique but poorly understood evolutionary process to explain the emergence of modern animals? I don’t think so. The Cambrian Period contains plenty of time to accomplish what the Proterozoic didn’t without invoking processes unknown to population geneticists–20 million years is a long time for organisms that produce a new generation every year or two. (Knoll, 2003, p. 193)

In other words, it’s the same old dishonest creationist drivel. How entirely unsurprising.

Comments

  1. Trebuchet says

    There’s a typo in the post title:

    “WND Offers Supremely Dumb Creatinist Argument”

    Possibly it’s a missing “o” but I’d prefer to think it’s an extra “a”.

  2. John Pieret says

    From the end of Newcombe’s article:

    Meyer adds, “It’s just like in computer science. If you want to have a new function on your computer, you’ve got to have lots of code, lots of instruction. If you want to build these complex animal forms, we now know, you need information, you need instructions. And that’s the crucial question that is really creating an impasse in evolutionary theory. Where does that information come from?”

    Oh, I get it – “In the beginning was the Word …”

    But, of course, ID is all about science, not religion!

  3. unbound says

    I misread the author to be Stephanie Meyer, then figured out who it really was later…but it didn’t really alter my opinion of the likely quality put into the book…

  4. Abby Normal says

    At least Newcombe and Meyer admit the existence of Cambrian Period. That puts them well ahead of Comfort’s position: 70 million years is an impossibly abrupt explosion. But, 8,000 years is plenty of time for each kind of animal to diversify and spread from Mt. Ararat to every corner of the world.

  5. Draken says

    This is not some minor book by an “obscurantist backwoods fundamentalist.”

    Well… yes, it is.

  6. robb says

    i was wondering what stephen meyer’s Phd is. his website shows it is philosophy of science. at least “science” is in his PhD–and he is not a dentist. oh! and he works at the discovery institute.

  7. Skip White says

    I like how his argument basically starts out with “I don’t know how to use my computer so evolution is false.”

  8. Chiroptera says

    Every time I log into a computer and have to enter my password, I’m reminded of how impossible evolution is.

    One little mistake on the keypad and I can’t log in. There’s even a website where I seem to be in permanent “log-in purgatory.” I can’t log in ever. Granted, it’s operator error. But still …

    And cell phones! No matter where I’m at, it knows where to ring me! How does it do that?

  9. Doug Little says

    Also why is it so hard to understand that evolution doesn’t necessarily need to proceed at a constant rate, matter of fact if it did it would be a good argument against it, and also that it is fucking hard to make a fossil. It’s like they expect every animal that ever lived to be fossilized.

    Deep time and big numbers mean absolutely nothing to these morons.

  10. Skip White says

    @ Chiroptera #11:

    The phone rings and it’s not even plugged into the wall! You can’t explain that!

  11. otrame says

    it’s hard to top Ray Comfort’s banana for sheer stupidity

    Actually, Ray topped himself……..

    Ack!!!!!!11!!!! No, bad brain, BAD BRAIN. DO. Not. GO. There.

    *pants

    Ray topped himself

    *twitch*

    I mean topped his own stupidity with his “So, a male dog evolved, what are the chances that a female dog will evolve at the same time and be nearby?”

    *wanders off to find the brain bleach

  12. oranje says

    You know, I have a PhD and work as a writer. I can tell a story. Would you all forgive me if I went off and crafted a master Poe, just to fleece these idiots and donate all the money to places like the ACLU and Americans United? Because I’m convinced I could duplicate the output of the Discovery Institute just in my spare time.

  13. Synfandel says

    WND Offers Supremely Dumb Creatinist Argument

    There’s a typo in the title, Ed. That’s spelled “cretinous”.

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    Because I’m convinced I could duplicate the output of the Discovery Institute just in my spare time.

    Why expend all that effort yourself, when a room full of monkeys could do it?

  15. John Pieret says

    otrame @ 14:

    Yeah, it has been over 4 years since PZ tried to educate him. It didn’t stick then.

    http://www.wnd.com/2009/03/90950/

    He does say one true thing* in that article:

    I’m just one incompetent idiot

    ———————————————————————–

    * Since creationists like quote mining so much …

  16. kantalope says

    Harper Collins website says his degree is in Philosophy of Science….well, there you go.

    Science without all that facts and reality gettin in the way.

  17. Augustus Carp says

    @Kantaloupe. Yes… that’s it…Science with the science taken out.. sort of like alcohol-free beer, odourless garlic-capsules and decaffeinated coffee

  18. busterggi says

    To paraphrase another cretin, “passwords go in, porn comes out – you can’t explain that.”

  19. zenlike says

    How does this tie to evolution? Because if evolution were true, then we are to believe a whole series of complex sequences managed to get everything right – repeatedly.

    Sigh. It’s the old ‘look, the puddle fits the hole perfectly, therefore the hole must be designed’-nonsense. don’t they ever come up with something new?

  20. Rip Steakface says

    Stephen Meyer’s book may as well be written by Stephanie Meyer for how useful it is.

  21. b. - Order of Lagomorpha says

    It’s amazing, really. If you have a PhD and are on the pro-science side, you know nothing according to the creationists; you’re even mistaken about your own specialty. If you’re on the pro-creationist side, though, you’re suddenly an expert in everything from information theory to physics, geology to paleontology and, gosh! computer science now. It must be that there Word of Knowledge thingie they’re frequently on about. *sprains eyes rolling them a tad too far*

    “The key word is “abrupt.”” That’s the key word all right–the key to knowing that Meyer hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. “The car turned abruptly in front of me, your honor, and by “abruptly” I mean that it took from 70 to 80 million years. I didn’t have time to get out of the way!”

  22. Taz says

    Password goes in, rejection comes out. Always a miscommunication.

    You can’t explain that.

  23. Stacy says

    @otrame #14

    I mean topped his own stupidity with his “So, a male dog evolved, what are the chances that a female dog will evolve at the same time and be nearby?

    Plus which, for evilution to be really truly true, said female dog would have to mate with the male dog and give birth to kittens. Checkmate, atheists.

    @oranje #15

    You know, I have a PhD and work as a writer. I can tell a story. Would you all forgive me if I went off and crafted a master Poe, just to fleece these idiots and donate all the money to places like the ACLU and Americans United? Because I’m convinced I could duplicate the output of the Discovery Institute just in my spare time.

    I think that would be awesome. Sokal hoax the DI–go for it!

  24. vmanis1 says

    Apparently Meyer isn’t aware of the field of genetic algorithms, which have achieved considerable success over the years. The basic idea is that you make random changes to the code, until it starts performing the task it has been set more effectively. This has achieved considerable success in optimization problems, and now there is a great deal of literature and active research in the area. IEEE hosts an annual conference on evolutionary computing, for example.

    It appears that Meyer knows about as much about computer science as he does about evolutionary biology.

  25. Matt G says

    “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” -Richard Feynman

  26. Aliasalpha says

    So his password is input on a keypad, that means numbers only which probably means his birthday or a 4 digit PIN

    Oh and computers are the product of evolution (albeit unnatural), descent with modification over the generations to the point where the tablet I’m writing this on bears almost no resemblance to Babbage & Lovelace’s difference engine even though its a direct descendant.

  27. dingojack says

    To use a clichéd example: It would be like a monkey typing at random and coming out with the complete works of Shakespeare without any errors“.

    There are believed to be about 228 copies of the ‘First Folio (1623) still in existence (40 are considered ‘complete’). Each can be traced because of the slight differences in each of the printings. So which of the 228 copies is the one ‘without errors’?

    Dingo
    ——-
    PS: So the argument is ‘evolution is false because what used to be called the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ occurred (geologically) ‘abruptly’ (actually, over 70 million years). So clearly the bible must be true ’cause god ‘poofed’ the whole universe, complete and perfect, into existence in just six days!
    How terribly, terribly compelling! @@

  28. jws1 says

    @ Dingo #33: Don’t use the “six days” bit; it’s an open invitation to the Christianist to reply “6 days could mean tens of millions of years to God”. From personal experience, the conversation does not improve from there.

  29. dingojack says

    If god meant ‘millions of years’ why did he write ‘days’? ‘Cause it’s all literally true, right?
    Dingo

  30. kantalope says

    You have to admit that after 21900000000 days god declared that the next 365000000 would be days of rest kinda screws up the flow of the story. Not to mention…the plebes would be takin the day off still.

  31. unemployedphilosopher says

    Philosophy of Science is actually pretty interesting these days. The questions are mostly about how we can have a coherent picture of the universe through the vastly diversified fields of scientific inquiry. (The answer is usually: not well.) Just a few names off the top of my head that would be good reading: Nancy Cartwright, Paul Teller, Ron Giere, Jim Woodward, Tom Nagel, and Bas van Fraassen. They mostly work on physics, which is kinda my thing, but I’m told that Dave Buller has a fairly awesome critique of evolutionary psychology. I’ve read it, but don’t really know enough about the field to say for sure.

  32. gertzedek says

    I’m surprised that one even needs to invoke science for this, since the argument fails on much more basic grounds.

    First, let’s assume (for the sake of argument) that the Cambrian Explosion were inexplicable by the current theory of evolution. Would that prove Creation? No, of course not; it would just mean “huh, something weird happened in the Cambrian…we might want to look into that”.

    Second, let’s assume that we could prove that these Cambrian species (or any species, for that matter) could spontaneously generate. Would that prove goddidit? No; there would be no more proof that G-d made the creature appear than there’s proof of anything else G-d is supposed to do. It would just mean that the current understanding about spontaneous generation is wrong and provide scientists a new phenomenon to study.

    Finally, let’s assume that we could somehow prove that these Cambrian creatures were Divinely created. The Creationists have finally won, right? Not at all — the average Creationist isn’t especially interested in the creation of the trilobite; the implication behind all their arguments is that humans were divinely created and have a special place in the universe. If you somehow proved a Cambrian Creation, you still have some 540 million years of evolution to account for. So you’re not related to a banana, you’re just related to a lobe-finned fish. Much better, theologically.

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