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Aug 01 2011

Vox Day and the status of Xiaotingia

I told you all the batty creationists were crawling out of the woodwork to crow over Xiaotingia‘s redefinition of Archaeopteryx‘s status as a victory for their ideology, when it really isn’t. Now another has joined the fray: Vox Day, creationist and right-wing lunatic. He makes a lot of crazy, ignorant claims in this short passage that I’ll answer one by one.

Precisely when has any evolutionist reconsidered either a) the basic hypothesis that species evolve into different species through natural selection1 or b) the corollary and requisite hypothesis that life evolved from non-life2, as a result of the falsity of one, ten, or even a hundred predictions that relied upon one or both of them? If it weren’t for DNA, which was not discovered or developed with any assistance from evolutionary theory3, evolutionary biology would already be openly recognized by every intelligent, rational, science-literate individual as being about as useful as phrenology and astrology.4

Darwinian biologists are very much like Keynesian economists. It doesn’t matter how many times their predictions fail5. It doesn’t matter how often their models are proven to be wildly wrong6. It doesn’t matter how many times they have been wrong in the past even with the benefit of margins of error consisting of millions of years7. They continue to insist that their position is based on evidence even when the evidence demonstrates precisely the opposite of what they have been claiming8.

First, the details:

1Of course biologists have considered alternate mechanisms! Coyne argues for selection as a mechanism of speciation (by pleiotropic side effects of genes that are selected for other functions), and Futuyma argues for speciation by drift.

2Similarly, mechanisms of abiogenesis have been proposed that suggest selection, but also chance or as a necessary outcome of the physico-chemical properties.

3The structure of DNA was analyzed by its chemistry, not it’s evolutionary history, obviously, but as this paragraph even concedes, the consequences of DNA biochemistry were profoundly important in their effects on evolution.

4Nope. Structure of DNA was determined in 1953; the neo-Darwinian synthesis occurred in the 1930s-1940s with the integration of genetics into evolutionary biology. It was genetics (especially population genetics) that established evolution as the only reasonable explanation for the history of life on earth.

5The precise taxonomic status of Archaeopteryx was not a specific prediction of evolutionary theory. Finding more data in the form of more fossils of feathered dinosaurs strengthens the idea of avian descent from dinosaurs.

6If you examine the family tree of Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia, what you should see is that the taxonomic re-evaluation of Archeopteryx merely moves it from the Paraves branch to the nearby Deinonychosaurian branch…hardly a “wildly wrong” model.

7Vox Day has not described anything yet which shows evolution being wrong. Adjusting the precise timing of evolutionary events by millions of years is a reasonable response to new data which does not falsify the underlying hypotheses of relatedness.

8Again, this discovery does not demonstrate the opposite of what evolutionary biologists have been claiming, and actually makes for a better fit with other data about ancient bird ancestors; moving Archaeopteryx from a first cousin to a second cousin of the ancestor of modern birds isn’t a radical idea that invalidates evolutionary biology.

The big picture is even more damning for Vox Day. Of course we have huge volumes of information supporting the theory of evolution, that suite of mechanisms and principles that describe the broad course of evolutionary history, including common descent and descent with modification. And also there are a multitude of details that aren’t completely known — we have millions of species on this planet, and only a fraction have been studied in depth. The theory of evolution does not hang on the exact lineage of any two species out of those millions…it hangs on the fact that there is a lineage.

Vox Day is quite the poseur — he pretends to know better than real scientists, when he can’t even tell the difference between hypothesis and data.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    Jadehawk

    oh, phew; for a moment, I thought Creationism-stuff was going to end up on sb only.

    also, is the monkey icon for creationism or for evolution? either way, it’s cute.

    Oh, and VD is still a moron.

  2. 2
    PZ Myers

    I intend to use the monkey on creationism posts that don’t have other images in them — the way this is set up we can define a featured image for the post, and if the image doesn’t have one, I created a little bank of icons to use.

    Other than the current flurry of news about FtB on the science blog site, Sb/NatGeo will be a subset of this place. EVERYTHING will go here. Come here, you miss nothing. Go to Sb, you’ll miss the atheism and much of the political stuff.

  3. 3
    slc1

    Yet another schmuck who fails to understand the difference between abiogensis and evolution. Abiogensis is a problem in chemistry (if the appearance of the first replicators is defined as the beginning of life) while evolution is a problem in biology.

    By the way, Prof. Larry Moran also considers genetic drift to be of importance in speciation (there is a rumor that Prof. Moran may join this group).

  4. 4
    Alex

    Sigh… the “look! two more missing links” joke will forever be lost on the cdesignproponentsits.

  5. 5
    Jadehawk

    Other than the current flurry of news about FtB on the science blog site, Sb/NatGeo will be a subset of this place. EVERYTHING will go here. Come here, you miss nothing.

    yay!

    Yet another schmuck who fails to understand the difference between abiogensis and evolution.

    keep in mind, these are people who think the Big Bang is part of “evolutionism”; compared to that, biology and organic chemistry are virtually identical :-p

  6. 6
    chigau (違う)

    VD
    teehee
    (I can be shallow here, too, can’t I?)

  7. 7
    Mattir-ritated

    I spent much of my drive home from work wondering whether I’d have to read NatGeo in addition to freethoughtblogs. Now if only we could figure out how to lure Greta Christina away from alternet as the first publisher of her posts…

    And speaking of creationists, I am THRILLED to report that I do not appear to have a single elementary-school creationist in my summer camp. Several kids were busily discussing evolution and the age of the earth with some degree of accuracy during our morning nature walk and were actually excited to think that we were going to see critters from the Burgess Shale during our field trip tomorrow. (In past years, when I brought up evolution, I had kids texting their parents to complain that I did not appear to be a Christian.)

  8. 8
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    We’re going to let the “No matter how many times Keynesian economists’ predictions fail” go by? Yeah, Keynesian economics only got us out of the Great Depression—and would have done it five years quicker if not for easing up on it after 1936. Meanwhile, Friedmannian economics has given us the Reaganomic death-spiral we’ve been in for the last 30 years. Is it always Backwards Day with these morons?

  9. 9
    mrfright

    Ha! Before you said species evolved, but these new data suggest species evolved. Your theory is so disproven.

  10. 10
    Sean Boyd

    And at some distant day in the unforeseeable future, Vox Day will be the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first fundie dipshit that PZ took to task at freethoughtblogs?

  11. 11
    Justin Moore

    Hi, first time posting here.

    VD actually does know the difference, he just pretends not to because he feels if he can mislead the reader it helps his argument. It’s like Republicans who know the difference between the debt ceiling and statutory debt but pretend they’re the same thing. Sometimes we end up arguing against liars as though they are mistaken or profoundly stupid, when really they just need to be called liars in front of the audience.

  12. 12
    'Tis Himself, Supreme Overlord of Something or Other

    Darwinian biologists are very much like Keynesian economists. It doesn’t matter how many times their predictions fail5. It doesn’t matter how often their models are proven to be wildly wrong

    Keynesian economics has a better track record than the Austrian School economics Pox Day likes so much. Austrian economics doesn’t even do models. In fact the Austrian School advocates a rejection of methods which involve directly using empirical data in the development of falsifiable theories. Which is ludicrous on its fact. Application of empirical data is fundamental to the scientific method. Such rejections of empirical evidence in economics by the Austrian School led to the school being dismissed within the mainstream. The School’s founder, Ludwig von Mises, has been described as the mid-20th century’s archetypal unscientific economist. Mises wrote of his economic methodology that “its statements and propositions are not derived from experience…They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts.”

    So Pox Day is not only ignorant about evolution, he’s ignorant about economics.

  13. 13
    Wes

    Precisely when has any evolutionist reconsidered either [much bullshit follows]

    Ah yes, yet another creationist who doesn’t bother to peruse the scientific literature, and therefore has no idea what scientists have or have not considered. But of course, ignorance is evidence, so since Vox Day doesn’t know what they have reconsidered, obviously that means that they must not have reconsidered it.

  14. 14
    Tabby Lavalamp

    I’ve heard of Vox Day before. Why have I heard of Vox Day before? He doesn’t sound like someone I should ever have heard of.

  15. 15
    Jubal

    (completely off-topic): you’re a Comic Sans criminal; this hurts eyes. Could you please consider changing this atrocity to something pleasant to eyes? (see http://comicsanscriminal.com/ for alternatives…)

  16. 16
    Wes

    I’ve heard of Vox Day before. Why have I heard of Vox Day before? He doesn’t sound like someone I should ever have heard of.

    It might have been from the time he wrote an article for WorldNutDaily using Hitler’s deportation of the Jews as an example of how we could get rid of all the illegal immigrants.

    Or it might have been from the time he argued that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    Or it might have been because his father is in prison for tax evasion.

    Or it might have been from the time when he posted pictures of himself swinging a flaming sword. (Seriously)

    Or it might have been… any of the numerous times that he or someone related to him has said or done something brain-meltingly stupid and/or crazy.

  17. 17
    Crissa

    He’s using comic-sans for criminals and clowns, isn’t it apropos?

    Anyhow, I was wondering when Keneysians’ predictions failed. Or their models didn’t work. Or the competing model that did work. ‘Cause I’m totally ignorant of those time and time agains.

    Of course with evolutionary events which must’ve happened tens of millions of years ago, I’m wondering how the heck are our predictions supposed to be right on the nose with as little info as we have… Every fossil found that’s unique jostles other fossils around on the chart. That seems by intent, not that it has anything to do with evolution being wrong.

    I’m not even sure how this could possibly prove evolution wrong…

  18. 18
    Philip Legge

    [meta]

    Jubal,

    PZ reserves the use of ComicSans for quotations of creationists and other idiots – the customised CSS over at the old Scienceblogs Pharyngula has a class entitled “creationist” which also adds Terry Gilliam’s cartoon of a Gumby (from Monty Python’s Flying Circus) as a background image along with the change of font. (Come on PZ, get the CSS installed here pronto!)

    Usage:

    <blockquote class=”creationist”>My brain hurts!</blockquote>

  19. 19
    'Tis Himself, Supreme Overlord of Something or Other

    Jubal,

    Comic Sans is the typeface of creationists, libertarians, religious fundamentalists, and other comics. Get used to it, because it’s a Pharyngula meme.

  20. 20
    Janey Q Doe

    That entire second paragraph of VD’s sounds like a fairly accurate description of creation scie… no, sorry, I just can’t use that word in that context. It’s an insult to PZ.

    Also, I like mrfright.

  21. 21
    Tuválkin

    Didn’t work for me earlier today, but now seems to be holding up. Huzzah!

    PZ, bring over the custom CSS from Sb, purr-leez! Sans-serifs, what gives?

    I should say that the bigger, nicer font was one of the (many) things that kept me prefering Pharyngular over everything else in Sb!

  22. 22
    'Tis Himself, Supreme Overlord of Something or Other

    divin2008,

    Fuck off and die, asshole. And before you do, learn how to spell “shit”.

  23. 23
    Philip Legge

    Clean up on aisle 397, the M*bus needs dungeoning!

  24. 24
    'Tis Himself, Supreme Overlord of Something or Other

    For those who might be wondering, divin2008 is the infamous David Mabus, wackaloon extraordinaire.

    There’s supposedly a tribe in Papua New Guinea where, when a member rants dull, thoughtless bullshit to the rest of the village, they kill him and drive away evil spirits with a drum made of his skin. Superstitious nonsense, of course, but one can see their point.

  25. 25
    Philip Legge

    Boring troll is boring. This is where we really need the comment numbers going, so that we can see whether the wholesale deletion of idiotic ranting will upset referring to comments later in the thread.

  26. 26
    Travis

    Well, it definitely did not take long for Mabus to grace the new site. At least the posts are short.

  27. 27
    Janey Q Doe

    ‘Tis Himself, Supreme Overlord of Something or Other

    they kill him and drive away evil spirits with a drum made of his skin. Superstitious nonsense, of course, but one can see their point.

    Indeed’n, one can.

  28. 28
    Charlie Foxtrot

    Wait…so VD is not even contesting that it is a new species from some 60+ million years ago that has been fossilised through very slow geologic processes?

    Shouldn’t he be claiming it is just a rare example of the toothed, tailed, cousin of the dove that was on the ark?

  29. 29
    René

    Hi. This is my first comment here. Just trying to figure out how things work here.

    I miss the Science Blogs look and feel, too.

    In preview I see that I can no longer use my mirror-image nym, since the glyph for an italic cyrillic i looks more like a u than a mirror-image N.

  30. 30
    Emrysmyrddin

    I was at a bird sanctuary on Sunday, watching the vultures in particular, and silently squeeing to myself: ‘Therapod, therapod!’
    I loved dinosaurs as a young kid (who doesn’t?) and the moment that I truly digested that a subset were still hanging around as pigeons et al. was when it ‘all’ made sense. Dinosaurs-to-birds is a great way to demonstrate evolution’s veracity to children, as they can see the forms for themselves.

  31. 31
    Alex

    For those who might be wondering, divin2008 is the infamous David Mabus, wackaloon extraordinaire.

    I knew it! He’s infesting RD.net, and even I recognized the crazy style instantly.

  32. 32
    Drawing Business - I draw stuff for money.

    PZ, is it on your “to do” list to make your own comments look suitably imposing, unique and otherwise “overlordly”? I miss being able to skim through and find your pithy eviscerations. Avatars are no substitute for a storm-dark background colour.

  33. 33
    Drawing Business - I draw stuff for money.

    Emrysmyrddin says:

    I was at a bird sanctuary on Sunday, watching the vultures in particular, and silently squeeing to myself: ‘Therapod, therapod!’

    I had a similar epiphany recently while taking my son to a nearby zoo (a miserable experience, seeing so many great apes in such depressing enclosures, but that’s another story). I watched a Little Pied Cormorant drying it’s wings, and was struck so strongly by it’s obvious similarity to the likes of Archaeopteryx.

  34. 34
    Emrysmyrddin

    Drawing Business says:

    (a miserable experience, seeing so many great apes in such depressing enclosures, but that’s another story)

    I’m with you there – there are some animals that are kept in zoos in a way that makes me deeply uncomfortable, even though I know that they are mostly working very hard with little funding in order to upgrade outdated enclosures. The great apes are one sort; elephants are another. The bareness of some bird enclosures also disturbs me.

    The intelligence of the raptors and other birds I saw on Sunday makes me idly speculate about how ‘intelligent’ Archaeopteryx and its sibling dinos could have been; after all, there’s increasing evidence of social groupings in various species, and new finds are turning up new behavioural theories all the time – take Tyrannosaurus Rex’s previous reputation as a fearsome hunter for an example – I’ve read recently that it’s now thought that it was more of a scavenger than an ambush predator, more of a jackal than a tiger.

    meta
    I might be getting the hang of HTML commenting…still can’t quite work out paragraph spacing, I’m sure there’s a guide somewhere…
    /meta

  35. 35
    drbunsen, le savant fous

    the Austrian School advocates a rejection of methods which involve directly using empirical data in the development of falsifiable theories.

    … wut

  36. 36
    'Tis Himself

    drbunsen le savant fou:

    … wut

    Bryan Caplan, in his essay Why I Am Not an Austrian Economist, writes (in section 4.3):

    More than anything else, what prevents Austrian economists from getting more publications in mainstream journals is that their papers rarely use mathematics or econometrics, research tools that Austrians reject on principle. They reject mathematical economics on principle because of the assumptions of continuity and differentiability. These objections were examined in section 2.3 and found wanting. Similarly, Austrians reject econometrics on principle because economic theory is true a priori, so statistics or historical study cannot “test” theory. Fair enough, but as section 4.2 argued, econometrics and other empirical work can play a more modest role: to help determine how big (or trivial) various theoretically relevant factors actually are.

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