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Jul 20 2012

Forever disappointed

I always have unwarrantedly high expectations of creationists. I know that there are some flamingly ignorant nutjobs out there, all your Hams and Hovindses and Luskins, but lurking in my mind is always this suspicion that somewhere there has to be one or two biologically competent ideologues on their side of the fence. And I am always disappointed.

For example, there’s this one fellow, Douglas Axe, who has a legitimate and well-earned doctoral degree in chemical engineering, and several published papers in real science journals (not the fake journals creationists create). The Discovery Institute tapped him to head their Biologic Institute, their attempt to create an organization that would do genuine biological research (it hasn’t, so far). And I thought, hey, maybe this guy at last is a worthy opponent.

But let’s be honest here. I have no illusions that I’m a super-mega-genius, or that I have high standing as a researcher in my field. I’m a grunt in the army of biology, not an officer. So I can imagine someone smarter than me in opposition; I certainly know many on my side who are far more accomplished and intelligent than I am. So you can imagine my disappointment at looking over Axe’s ideas and seeing that he, too, is an incompetent twit.

I was really shocked when he revealed that he didn’t understand coalescence theory at all. It may be a bit esoteric for the lay public, but if you’re a critic of genomics and population genetics, you must at least comprehend the basics. And he doesn’t.

And now he lets me down again. The Biologic Institute is putting out some fresh horror of pseudoscience, a book called Science and Human Origins, in which they presumably bring all their scientific guns to bear in order to question human evolution. And what do they do? They question the evidence of a fusion of chromosome two, something I’ve hammered on Luskin before. And they bumble it up completely.

This stuff isn’t that hard. I’ve explained the basics of synteny, or conserved linkage blocks; fragments of chromosomes are constantly getting shuffled about, inverted, duplicated, and deleted, and we can compare chromosome structure between two species and see exactly how they’ve been juggled. These movements leave traces, and are mechanically well understood; we can see the evidence right therein the sequences.

So Carl Zimmer engaged the Biologic Institute ideologues on their facebook page. They denied that a fusion had occured, and claimed that the evidence was actually against such an event. So Zimmer hit them right where they’re weakest: he asked them to cite that evidence. And what did they do? You know it, it’s familiar. They went dumb and stopped answering. They couldn’t answer the basic question. And this is why I’m vaguely disappointed. Even their self-proclaimed science stars can’t explain something a small-town teaching professor in the Midwest can see laid out plainly in the data.

One benefit, though, is that Carl Zimmer summarized the whole affair in a must-read post. He explains step by step with simple cartoons every event that occurred in the chromosomal fusion, and what the molecular evidence for the phenomenon is. And he shows up the creationists for frauds who won’t address a simple question of sources.

For added hilarity, David Klinghoffer of Evolution News & Views, the DI’s dishonest propaganda organ, has challenged Carl to debate the issue. I don’t know what there is to debate; Gauger, Axe, and Luskin claim there is evidence against a chromosome fusion in human history, Carl asked what it was, and they refused to give it.

So he flatly turned them down, as was sensible to do. Debating creationists is a waste of time. Now that refusal is getting trolled by creationists, accusing him of being ‘afraid’ to debate…and I still don’t know what he’s supposed to argue about. Did the Discovery Institute refuse to cite any evidence supporting their claim? Yes. We’re done.

And my quest for an honest, scientifically competent creationist continues, fruitlessly.

57 comments

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  1. 1
    ShowMetheData

    Poor basic scientific understanding and then moronic turtles all the way down

  2. 2
    shaggymaniac

    “sensible” refusal, indeed.

    CZ no doubt knows that of course a “debate” is desired by creationists precisely because it is a forum in which they can rhetorically shine for their audience without having to make any recourse to data or evidence. It is one thing they do well. Not to mention that they can score an easy/cheap rhetorical win even by having the debate refused: “See, they are afraid to face us!”

  3. 3
    Glen Davidson

    The only debate worth having with them is whether they are primarily deliberately dishonest, or so incompetent that they’re only dimly aware of their dishonesty.

    And it really doesn’t matter much either way, actually.

    Glen Davidson

  4. 4
    eric

    Zimmer flatly turned down their offer for a face-to-face debate.

    But I’d argue that what he’s already doing is a form of debate – the best and most scientific form, in fact. You write down the evidence for your position, with citations, I’ll do the same, and we’ll read each other’s papers and respond in print. We should definitely keep pressing for that sort of debate. If nothing else, it puts more real scientific content on web sites like ENV, where it actually gets read by creationists. Zimmer posting on Zimmer’s site is great, but not likely to accomplish that.

    No surprise that creationists rarely want to engage in this form of debate. The “you write down your evidence” bit seems to be a stumbling block for them. Nor do they seem to like when someone like Zimmer responds in with substantive points on websites that their followers actually read.

  5. 5
    Dick the Damned

    Anyone who believes in the dogmas of any particular religion must have a bug in their logic circuits.

  6. 6
    David Gerard

    BTW, on their fake journals: I have created on RationalWiki Pseudojournal and Category:Pseudojournals. Moar needed. The article also needs to better describe the various types of pseudojournal (“sincere” pseudoscience, marketing shills, etc).

  7. 7
    raven

    I’ll add here that chromosomal fusions are common and found in many species as well as between closely related species.

    This is basic and well known biology that the creos just ignore because it doesn’t fit their mythology and they are liars.

    Examples include such exotic animals as the horse, pig, and mouse as well as the okapi.

    wikipedia wild boars:

    Different subspecies can usually be distinguished by the relative lengths and shapes of their lacrimal bones. S. scrofa cristatus and S. scrofa vittatus have shorter lacrimal bones than European subspecies.[30]

    Spanish and French boar specimens have 36 chromosomes, as opposed to wild boar in the rest of Europe which possess 38, the same number as domestic pigs.

    Boars with 36 chromosomes have successfully mated with animals possessing 38, resulting in fertile offspring with 37 chromosomes.[31]

  8. 8
    shaggymaniac

    @4. eric:

    Very well put.

  9. 9
    eric

    Ah, never mind my post @4, it’s just plain wrong. ENV did want him to write a paper.

  10. 10
    truthspeaker

    I have the same disappointment about religion in general.

    A lot of people, some of them very smart people, believe in some kind of interventionist, personal god. And let’s face it, I’m no rocket scientist. Maybe I’m missing something. But none of those intelligent people have presented any compelling reason for believing in their God.

  11. 11
    Eamon Knight

    Creationist demands debate, then cries “Coward!” when the target just rolls their eyes and walks away == Playground tough who demands a fist-fight, then cries “Coward!” when the target just rolls their eyes and walks away.

    Same goes for William Lane Craig and his empty-chair nonsense re Dawkins.

  12. 12
    thegoodman

    As Eric said, are they not already debating? It seems the creationists are on the clock and providing no further arguments.

    Being skilled in the art of public persuasion does nothing to scientifically support the validity of your claim, it just makes the audience think it does.

  13. 13
    paleotrent

    At this point, the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming (we’re talking genetics, paleontology, cell biology, ontogenetic work, morphology, experimental data with both micro- and larger organisms – heck, I’d even throw in ethology) that to be a denier means one has to be either intellectually dishonest or simply ignorant of the facts of evolution. The stupid bumper sticker says it all: “God said, I believe it, and that settles it.” I may loathe the sentiment, but at least the person who says that is being “intellectually” honest. More than you can say for the folks at the Discovery Institute, it appears.

  14. 14
    scottplumer

    Why did they hire a chemical engineer to head the Biologic Institue? Couldn’t they find a biologist?

  15. 15
    ChasCPeterson

    Noted internet anti-mendacious-intellectual-pornography-of-intelligent-design-creationism personality J*hn Kw*k agrees.

  16. 16
    Anthony K

    From the comments on Carl Zimmer’s blog:

    John Kw*k Says:

    ‘Tis a great post Carl, in which you’ve used most effectively, illustrations to demonstrate the molecular evolution of these chromosomes within the Great Apes (including of course, humans) these past ten million years.

    Esteemed writer Frank McCourt, who once taught JK at the renowned Stuyvesant High School, would be mortified to see one of his star pupils misuse commas so.

  17. 17
    ChasCPeterson

    heh heh

  18. 18
    ChasCPeterson

    I am so bummed there are no comment-archives to link to right now.

  19. 19
    Sili

    Why did they hire a chemical engineer to head the Biologic Institue? Couldn’t they find a biologist?

    Salem Hypothesis.

  20. 20
    Anthony K

    You scooped me Peterson!

    Why did they hire a chemical engineer to head the Biologic Institue? Couldn’t they find a biologist?

    Oh, there are tonnes of biologists. But to support anti-science, best go with non-scientists.

  21. 21
    billgascoyne

    And my quest for an honest, scientifically competent creationist continues, fruitlessly.

    Shall we call you Diogenes?

  22. 22
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    The Graeco-Egyptian cult of Serapis put engineering and science at the service of religion. Incredibly not much has changed, in some quarters, in the last 2300 years.

    (Brownian: My use of the comma is better than Kw*ks, no?)

  23. 23
    Anthony K

    (Brownian: My use of the comma is better than Kw*ks, no?)

    Hell if I, know. I ain’t no, stuffy Stuyve,santer.

  24. 24
    Glen Davidson

    Why did they hire a chemical engineer to head the Biologic Institue? Couldn’t they find a biologist?

    Biologists tend to know the evidence for evolution. Which makes them hopelessly biased.

    Glen Davidson

  25. 25
    Doc Bill

    It’s worse that PZ described! All this drama happened last night on the “Biologic Institute” FaceBook page!

    Yes, the social inverts at the Disco Tute went out into social media and put up a FaceBook page. You can only imagine the kind of commenting that went on over there.

    Carl simply asked for a reference to a claim that Luskin made. “Buy the book” was the reply. Unfortunately for the Disco Tute, Paul McBride (Still Monkeys) bought the book, reviewed it on his blog and provided Carl with the reference Luskin used for his claim.

    Needless to say Luskin quote-mined what was a question in the article cited (yes, a question) and omitted the hypotheses proposed by the authors. Clearly misrepresentation and a lie on Luskin’s part, totally uncovered and laid bare.

    However, the fun didn’t stop there! Oh, no! Soon the Tute instituted a “100 word” limit to comments and Ban Hammered the “uncivil.” Pity I was banned and all my beautiful snark flushed down the memory hole.

    Anyway, McBride was annoyed that his long replies had been snuffed, so he reproduced them in 100-word chunks. I think the FB page is still up if you’re interested. Social isn’t the Tute’s strength and soon the site will be moribund.

  26. 26
    cag

    And my quest for an honest, scientifically competent creationist continues, fruitlessly.

    I don’t see why finding one would be so hard. After all, they are as common as verifiable, real gods.

    Oh.

  27. 27
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Debate what? Just answer the damned question. Provide your evidence, please.

    Debate in this sense is not a method of science.

  28. 28
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    I love seeing Kw*k appearances. Even when he’s not name dropping for himself, he still names drops in a attempt to make a point.

  29. 29
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Wait…. Kw*k is trained as a scientist? in what field?

    You will tend to find those of us who are scientists, trained as scientists (like yours truly)

  30. 30
    robro

    They misuse the word “debate.” They don’t mean debate, they mean preach. Every public speaking opportunity is an opportunity to preach, or to put it in their terms “to witness.” Proselytizing is a fundamental tenet of Christianity.

    I was reminded of this when I read thegoodman’s comment, “Being skilled in the art of public persuasion does nothing to scientifically support the validity of your claim, it just makes the audience think it does.” Of course, public persuasion is exactly what Christians, particularly fundamentalists, are trained to do.

    Also, they don’t need evidence. They have The Word. The Book. The Spirit. This is the heart of the conflict with science. It’s why the notion of “creationist science” is a laughable oxymoron.

  31. 31
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Wronger is the new wrong, I guess.

  32. 32
    ChasCPeterson

    Kw*k is trained as a scientist? in what field?

    I can’t believe you’re seriously asking that question. J*hn was honored to be able to study under the noted and esteemed Professor of Biology Ken Miller (who became a personal friend and confident of J*hn’s later as they fought side by side against the mendacious intellectual pornography of intelligent-design creationism) at the famous and justly fabeled Brown University.

  33. 33
    quentinlong

    I’d been under the impression that Kurt Wise and Todd Wood were both knowledgeable, and honest, enough to acknowledge that evolution is scientifically valid, while at the same time being quite open about how they reject evolution on account of they think it conflicts with their religion?

  34. 34
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    quentinlong: Is that honest or just stupid?

  35. 35
    quentinlong

    Antiochus, the word you’re groping for is probably a lot closer to “deluded” or “insane” than it is to “stupid”.

  36. 36
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    quentinlong: It certainly isn’t. I’m not groping at all.

    1. Insane? First, the intersection between the sets of people who are not sane and those that are stupid is not equal to either set. Second, people with mental illnesses suffer enough stigmatization without being summarily lumped with the merely stupid. This kind of careless imprecision hurts real people. So don’t do it.

    2. Delusion is a flaw in one’s perception of reality. Rejecting an internally consistent epistemology (science) for a non-epistemology (religion) isn’t a flaw in one’s perception. It is a decision, and one that I regard as stupid.

  37. 37
    Eskeptrical Engineer

    Man, another engineer making the profession look bad. I guess I should at least be glad he’s not an EE.

  38. 38
    madscientist

    How about Francis Collins? He believes in a divine creation + god-diddled evolution.

  39. 39
    cag

    Chemical Engineer eh! I suspect he is out of his element, but there may be some reaction to that. Perhaps he is still working on the formula but the exothermic reaction from the rationals ended up precipitating his god suspension into an inert mass.

  40. 40
    Ingdigo Jump

    How about Francis Collins? He believes in a divine creation + god-diddled evolution.

    Because of waterfalls. To paraphrase one of his peers “he is a fine administrator”

  41. 41
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I don’t think Collins’ position is precisely analogous, because he hasn’t chosen to reject a scientifically supported belief. Rather, his goal is to harmonize religious beliefs with scientific ones by erecting a series of untestable ad-hocs.

    Once that’s allowed, anything goes.

    FWIW, although I find Collins’ position to be different than the one we were discussing, I’d go so far as to say that it is also stupid.

  42. 42
    dannorth

    I am tired of seeing Creationists dismissed as contributing nothing to science.

    OK maybe not to biology. But in physics they provide strong corroboration of string theory since their arguments are clearly the product of minds in the shape of eleven dimensional corkscrews.

  43. 43
    truthspeaker

    @ cag #39: That was a noble effort.

  44. 44
    Trebuchet

    Man, another engineer making the profession look bad. I guess I should at least be glad he’s not an EE.

    Or an ME, in my case. My first thought on reading the thread was “Oh shit! Another wingnut engineer. Why is it always engineers?”

  45. 45
    cag

    #43 truthspeaker, I was going to Argon with the creationist but then I wanted to hear the news so I turned the Radon but there was Neon there. Then I looked out the window but i didn’t Zenon. It was as if I had been debilitated by Krypron(ite). It’s a good thing that my chemistry was in the sixties, so I don’t know anything about Ununoctium.

    I don’t know how it happened, but Avogadro has my number (but he never rings).

  46. 46
    cag

    Oh Helium, now I’ve done it.

  47. 47
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Oh Helium, now I’ve done it.

    *hands out glass of CAG’s favorite swill*

  48. 48
    Gracie's Dad

    Not quite the same thing, but this site Just Genesis is run by a self-described “biblical anthropologist”, an ardent creationist who vigorously defends Luskin (on the coalescent issue, no less), yet just as readily posts maps of mtDNA haplogroup distributions, and talks, with apparent authority, on linguistic history of the ancient middle east. The fact that she also thinks Genesis is true, accurate, and completely trustworthy tends to cast doubt on her attempts to appear “sciency”.

  49. 49
    Doc Bill

    Dear Dannorth,

    Bullshit. And you know it. Find someone who cares.

  50. 50
    nonny

    Why are people censoring Kwok’s name?

    Carl Zimmer’s post was an interesting read. I knew animals had different numbers of chromosomes but I never thought about how that might have happened before. It’s sad that so many people can’t appreciate scientific explanations because it interferes with their pre-existing beliefs.

  51. 51
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Kw*k is known to do a lot of vanity searches on his own name. Now you’ve done it! You’ve summoned him!!! Lock up your camera equipment!

    I don’t think he’s actually banned yet, at new Pharyngula. The Dungeon page lists him, but that was just copied over.

  52. 52
    ChasCPeterson

    naw, JK was one of the few whose ban was carried over.

  53. 53
    Sili

    Wait…. Kw*k is trained as a scientist? in what field?

    Optics.

  54. 54
    Sili

    The Graeco-Egyptian cult of Serapis put engineering and science at the service of religion. Incredibly not much has changed, in some quarters, in the last 2300 years.

    Hasn’t all religions? You don’t build a cathedral by praying.

  55. 55
    rorschach

    I knew animals had different numbers of chromosomes but I never thought about how that might have happened before.

    The crown of god’s creation, the potato, has 48 chromosomes. So there.

  56. 56
    'Tis Himself

    I thought the crown of god’s creation was the cockroach (Blatta orientalis males and females have 23 and 24 chromosomes respectively).

  57. 57
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    The male jack jumper ant has just one chromosome.

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