The Christian Theocracy isn’t planning to murder me after all! »« Any spheksophobics in the audience?

More lies from the Discovery Institute

Oh, christ. Another book is coming from those frauds at the DI, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. It’s Stephen Meyer’s unqualified, incompetent take on the Cambrian explosion.

Casey Luskin has already given us three reasons we’re supposed to buy it. 1) It’s going to contain the best arguments for intelligent design creationism EVAR; 2) it’s going to be packed full of reviews of the work of the “ID research community”; and 3) we’re living in a “post-Darwinian world”, where all the evolutionary biologists are already deserting the sinking ship of neo-Darwinism. Those aren’t reasons to buy the book; those are reasons the book is going to be total crap.

And why should you read it anyway? You want to know about the Cambrian, read books by real scientists. They’re out there already. One excellent resource is James Valentine’s On the Origin of Phyla; it is not light reading, but if you want to know about the paleontology and systematics of the invertebrate phyla of the Ediacaran and Cambrian, it really is the book to read.

And then to my surprise, while I was digging up the link to that book, I discovered that Douglas Erwin and James Valentine have a new book out as of January: The Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity, which the reviews say is less technical than the Phyla text, but highly rated as an excellent overview. I can’t say I’ve read it yet, but I instantly ordered it.

I think it might be an interesting summer project to compare Erwin & Valentine side-by-side with Meyer. Well, “interesting” in a Bambi Meets Godzilla sort of amusing sense.

But if you want to know what caused the Cambrian explosion, I can give you the short answer. Not intelligent design; that doesn’t even make sense. What it was was environmental changes, in particular the bioturbation revolution caused by the evolution of worms that released buried nutrients, and the steadily increasing oxygen content of the atmosphere that allowed those nutrients to fuel growth; ecological competition, or a kind of arms race, that gave a distinct selective advantage to novelties that allowed species to occupy new niches; and the evolution of developmental mechanisms that enabled multicellular organisms to generate new morphotypes readily. Read the real books if you want to know more, and ignore the uninformed babble the charlatans of the DI will try to sell you.


By the way, Joe Felsenstein is asking for help: he’d like suggestions for what Stephen Meyer ought to have in his book.

Comments

  1. Becca Stareyes says

    Not going to like, my first thought on the blog title was that ‘More lies from the Discovery Institute? Must be a day ending in -y’.

    I suppose I can wonder at the mix of ‘deliberate lying’ and ‘willful ignorance’, but I’d rather finish my tea and go run errands. That seems far more productive AND better for my mental health.

  2. xerxes the magnificent says

    I watched David Attenborough’s First Life instead! Now I’m an expert on the Cambrian Explosion and I didn’t even have to read a scary thick book! /sarcasm

    But seriously, awesome documentary. I’m now terrified of accidentally travelling back in time and meeting Arthropleura. It doesn’t even have eight legs and it terrifies me.

  3. says

    Calling something that took 100 million years an “explosion” was probably not such a good idea. It’s been tremendous fodder for the stupid. (Although, whenever a creo starts talking about the cambrian explosion I ask them, “do you know how long that period of time lasted?” None of them has ever gotten it right.)

  4. trucreep says

    Love the little circle of camaraderie DI has – every time they peddle a new book or journal, it’s always by someone on their list of Fellows.

  5. paulburnett says

    The Dishonesty Institute’s propaganda machine always carpet-bombs Amazon with glowing five-star reviews of anti-science trash such as this. The Horde should be ready to provide one-star reviews when this latest pack of creationist lies comes out on June 18.

  6. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Joe Felsenstein’s summoning the aid of the educated public in demolishing Meyer’s “argument” is a little like the US military enlisting the aid of the Boy Scouts in destroying a birthday cake.

  7. Snoof says

    Calling something that took 100 million years an “explosion” was probably not such a good idea. It’s been tremendous fodder for the stupid.

    If we didn’t use figurative language because some numbskull could misinterpret it, we’d be Literal Robots from the Planet Without Analogies.

    So to speak.

  8. jaxkayaker says

    I wonder if the DI’s business model consists entirely of publishing ridiculous books to sell to evolutionary biologists to purchase in order to review and debunk them.

  9. grumpyoldfart says

    Don’t worry, the mainstream churches are keen to spread the truth, so next Sunday their preachers will be reminding parishioners that books from the Discovery Institute are not to be relied upon.

    [Or maybe DI will give them a good deal with room for a big mark-up, in which case they will be selling the book in the Narthex after the service.]

  10. says

    The DI doesn’t have a “business model”. They don’t need one.

    They’re funded primarily (shock!) by wealthy conservative Republicans…sorry for the triple redundancy there.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    1) It’s going to contain the best arguments for intelligent design creationism EVAR/i>

    So their previous arguments were not very good?

  12. golkarian says

    I was studying phylogenetics when I read this post, didn’t realize until now that that Panda’s Thumb post was by the Felsenstein in Felsenstein’s independent contrasts.

  13. says

    What was the Designer doing for four billion years before the Cambrian? Took it that long to evolve Design microbes?

    Not the brightest, at least for a god. So we hear, anyhow, although the data on gods is sparse at best.

    Oh Meyer, Meyer, please tell us for once why the phyla in the Cambrian are, so far as we know, related, using similar developmental genes and programs. Designer knows only one thing, or what? So evolution-like that we need the real Design reason.

    That’s not coming? Then it’s just recycled creationist crap, isn’t it?

    Glen Davidson

  14. sundiver says

    Goddamn Amphiox, I thought desert centipedes were creepy. Damn glad it’s exctinct. Funny, if the creobots think the Cambrian explosion only took a few years wouldn’t Earth been pretty, well, crowded. Ah, facts have never been very important to that bunch.

  15. says

    I misread the first paragraph and thought this was a new book by Stephanie Meyer. An easy enough mistake to make, I suppose – similar quality of writing and probably equal levels of understanding of the topic.

  16. says

    I misread the first paragraph and thought this was a new book by Stephanie Meyer. An easy enough mistake to make, I suppose – similar quality of writing and probably equal levels of understanding of the topic.

    Stephanie at least doesn’t misrepresent fiction as fact, though.

    Puts her way ahead of Stephen, if still just a hack.

    Glen Davidson

  17. weatherwax says

    #11-“The DI doesn’t have a “business model”. They don’t need one.

    They’re funded primarily (shock!) by wealthy conservative Republicans…sorry for the triple redundancy there.”

    Sadly, I suspect the bulk of their funds comes from poor conservatives.

  18. Sastra says

    3) we’re living in a “post-Darwinian world”, where all the evolutionary biologists are already deserting the sinking ship of neo-Darwinism.

    Because I have hung out regularly in pro-science, pro-Enlightenment forums (I include skeptic, humanist, and atheist groups) for something like 20 years now, I have to fight my tendency to over-estimate the scientific literacy of the general public. I don’t just mean knowledge or understanding of facts. I mean the average person’s conception of the demarcation point where science meets pseudoscience — and their awareness of where the scientific community, as a whole, stands.

    That last one especially. There are many, many genuine conflicts within the scientific community. Absolutely. But there is still a general consensus in many areas. Evolution happened. Vitalism is a dead hypothesis. Homeopathy does not work. You’ve got maybe 95-99% (or more) of the experts on one side — and the other side has the cranks and crackpots.

    But most people don’t participate in the sort of forums which regularly engage with the mainstream scientific community nor do they read books written by good science popularizers.. They get their actual science in bits and pieces, usually through newsmedia reports or magazine articles dealing with major discoveries. The rest of their “scientific” information comes from whatever their little community or niche of friends is interested in … and it’s usually a critical mass of pseudoscientific bullshit.

    But they don’t know this. They can’t tell. To them, the “experts” who explain how “science” has shown that you can cure cancer through positive thinking or that evolution can’t explain the evidence are part of the mainstream. They’re real scientists, not cranks. And they’re recognized by their peers as being on the cutting edge. It’s all been proven through studies. Science today either is shifting or has shifted away from the former naturalistic view that we are nothing more than matter and energy in motion. The world has been re-enchanted. “They” found God, proved dualism, and are already deserting the sinking ship of neo-Darwinism.

    Skeptics and atheists are on the losing side. We’ve lost — and just don’t realize it yet. How funny. How reactionary

    The other day I asked a group of intelligent, educated people who claim to be very interested in science if they would give a rough estimate of how many physicists believe in the existence of Human Energy Fields — energy fields which can currently only be detected by the human hands of sensitive individuals. I was told it was probably “thirty to forty percent.” Of all physicists. And a couple of years ago I asked some Jehovah’s Witnesses who claimed to have spent a lot of time studying scientific works on evolution how many scientists today have now come to reject the theory of evolution. They said it was over half. They were not kidding.

    It’s one thing when they brag about how they reject mainstream science and the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists. That’s a serious problem. But it’s another thing when they do this and think that no, it’s the scientific humanists who are doing this. THEY are following what’s happening in science. They’re bright and alert and aware and plugged in to the exciting and revealing new discoveries. Uh huh. You bet.

    I think that, on the whole, that second situation is easier to correct. I also suspect that if it were corrected most of the woosters and religious would simply flip and take that first stance, and either stand boldly by the Brave Maverick Scientists bucking the System or insist that empirical rationalism itself is worthless at arriving at true conclusions. Or both (consistency is not their strong suit; persistence is.)

    But in the meantime it’s probably useful to remind ourselves how really easy it is to fall into the view that mainstream science is on your side … when it really isn’t. All you have to do is trust a source or sources which filter your information and point you towards the “reliable” scientists and away from the “unreliable” ones — and get it backwards. My woowoo friends are convinced this is what has happened to me.

    But I do not think physicists are moving towards a growing consensus in vitalism. They are not. That is not my “opinion.” It is fact. And it is a fact even if vitalism is really true. Appeals to personal experience aren’t going to move where the overwhelming majority of scientists fall. Creationists may be interacting with the rest of the world but they’re living in an isolation bubble which actually allows them to think this third argument by Luskin can be trusted.

  19. jaytheostrich says

    Oh, come on Professor MEYERS, we all know it’s really your pen name Stephen Meyers! heh.
    Seriously, however, it’s sad that DI can fund themselves so well selling schlock to credulous morons.

  20. eoleen says

    PZ, I would absolutely LOVE to buy and read those books. There is, however, just one little problem: $$$$$$$$$$$$. I am retired – that is how I have the time to read them. Unfortunately I am retired and on a fixed income which the Rethuglicans are promising to reduce even further. This after devastating my retirement nest-egg with the ninja mortgage debacle. Therefore I can NOT afford $80+ to BUY these books. And you know damn well they are not going to show up at my local branch of the NY Public Library…

    Why do they cost so much anyway? Are the authors attempting to retire on them???

  21. says

    Academic books are overpriced because their audience is relatively limited. They’re not going to end up on any bestseller lists, unfortunately. But these are actually relatively cheap — some of the more specialized academic texts are priced at hundreds of dollars.

    But what you can do is submit requests to your local library. It might be difficult to get the Phyla book, but the Cambrian Explosion book is aimed at a more general audience. You might be surprised — a lot of libraries are happy to see patron requests.

  22. says

    By the way, if anyone is interested in actually getting a copy of Darwin’s Doubt, the DI has a page where they offer a MASSIVE 43% DISCOUNT.

    As usual, they lie.

    Buy the hard copy direct from the DI, it’s $2 cheaper; if you buy the Kindle version from the DI, it’s a dollar more expensive than Amazon. I preordered the kindle version from Amazon, of course. I’ll read it in June when it magically appears on my gadget.

    Unless you’re going to review it, I don’t recommend that anyone else bother to order it.

  23. anchor says

    The DI jerks might wish to publish an evolutionary history of their own arrival at what they believe to be so…

    Nah…they wouldn’t even be able get that right. Never mind.

  24. rq says

    So that’s who ‘Dr’ Meyers is! It’s all clear to me now. They’ve been complaining about the wrong scientist!

  25. Acolyte of Sagan says

    An Ode to Stephen Meyers:

    He doesn’t use a toilet
    Never sat uoun the throne
    ‘Cos all his shit is processed
    In his fun-packed little tome.

  26. says

    More lies from the Discovery Institute

    Nitpick: Repetition of the same tired lies isn’t so much “more lies” as the drone of destroyed PRATTs, the only weapon left in the creationists’ armory.

    Glen Davidson

  27. Ogvorbis, broken failure. says

    Amphiox

    But just imaging the lobster salad you could make from that tail!

    ==========

    And remember, the DI only lies in months that have a vowel in them. Or years ending in a number.

  28. hypatiasdaughter says

    #21 Sastra
    The CreoIder’s have been working very, very, very hard for over 50 years (since the creation of the CRI) to persuade people that science and scientists are really on their “side”. CreoId is just a big ol’ propaganda campaign.
    The only up-side is that many who go on to investigate the real science are so outraged at being lied to that they run like hell from their religion.

    There are many, many genuine conflicts within the scientific community.

    As Eugenie Scott explains it: the core theory is not under dispute, only the details at the edges.This is true of ALL sciences.
    I often wonder what the average person thinks scientists do all day. That physicists go into their labs and roll balls down an incline every day? After all, few people question that physicists “got it right” about atoms and energy and gravity. So how are these physicists spending their time? (Hint: working on the “edges” of physics where the details are still unknown.)

  29. No One says

    PZ

    “Casey Luskin has already given us three reasons we’re supposed to buy it.”

    Yes but was it written in awesome Arabic?

  30. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Casey Luskin has already given us three reasons we’re supposed to buy it

    1) squeeeeeeeeeeeeeek
    2) squeeek
    3) squeeeeeeeeek

  31. wcorvi says

    According to the book “Grand Canyon – a Different View”, the Cambrian took place in the first few days of the Flood. When god was killing everything. So what are we doing with an explosion at that same time?

  32. Acolyte of Sagan says

    wcorvi
    14 April 2013 at 6:05 am (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    According to the book “Grand Canyon – a Different View”, the Cambrian took place in the first few days of the Flood. When god was killing everything. So what are we doing with an explosion at that same time?

    Come on, it’s simple. When you water things, they grow. Or something.
    The tide comes in……

  33. sschneider7 says

    Just a quick addition to PZ’s excellent list of contributors to the Cambrian “explosion”–maybe food for thought: Simon Ginsburg and geneticist/systems theorist Eva Jablonka suggested recently that the evolution of associative learning may have helped drive the Cambrian “explosion” (2010, J of Theoretical Biology). Associative learning includes learning from consequences (technically, “operant learning”). Niche expansion and creation is often driven by this form of learning, and niche changes in turn demonstrably help drive natural selection and further evolution.

    Susan M. Schneider
    (Author, The Science of Consequences)

  34. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Reginald Selkirk
    13 April 2013 at 11:14 am (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    1) It’s going to contain the best arguments for intelligent design creationism EVAR/i>

    So their previous arguments were not very good?

    Exactly, but they won’t spin it that way, of course. You know the way that the adverts for ‘improved formula’ soap-powders always clain to ‘get your whites whiter than ever before’? They never admit that either a) there’s no real improvement (there can’t be, otherwise my wardrobe would be the exact opposite of a black hole; full of clothes that absorb no light whatsover), or b) the previous formula was shite, do they?
    And that’s how they’ll do it; “Try Darwin’s Doubt, The Discovery Institutes’s most s’fistikated bullshit EVER.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Calling something that took 100 million years an “explosion” was probably not such a good idea. It’s been tremendous fodder for the stupid. (Although, whenever a creo starts talking about the cambrian explosion I ask them, “do you know how long that period of time lasted?” None of them has ever gotten it right.)

    …um. Not to distract from your general point, but the Cambrian began 541.0 ± 1.0 million years ago and was “already” over 485.4 ± 1.9 Ma ago.

    Joe Felsenstein’s summoning the aid of the educated public in demolishing Meyer’s “argument” is a little like the US military enlisting the aid of the Boy Scouts in destroying a birthday cake.

    ROTFL! Well said!

    Arthropleura was (probably) a detritus-munching docile herbivore/scavenger.

    Science marches on. Schneider & Werneburg (2010) cited Kraus (2005) as saying: “[...] the wooden parts were accidentally fossilized together with the Arthropleura specimen and do not constitute any gut content.” Although they said Kraus nonetheless thought that A. was herbivorous because it was (he thought) a millipede, Schneider & Werneburg countered that its footprints are found on dry soils, that Schneider & Barthel (1997) described a very well preserved ventral side and concluded that it was “functionally” like a scolopender, and that the jaw apparatus is still unknown (though head segments are being found more and more often). So, they concluded, A. was probably a very scary carnivore. Its maximum length, BTW, was 2.5 m.

    Unfortunately, the paper by Schneider & Werneburg (2010) isn’t merely in German (though with an English summary, English figure legends and even English acknowledgments), it’s published in Werneburg’s in-house journal that isn’t peer-reviewed (Werneburg is the editor) and is probably impossible to get (on paper or as a pdf) outside of Germany unless you contact the authors. In short, by posting this comment here, I may be doubling the number of paleontologists who have heard of this paper. *facepalm*

    Kraus, O. (2005): On the structure and biology of Arthropleura species (Atelocerata, Diplopoda; Upper Carboniferous/Lower Permian). Verhandlungen des naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins Hamburg, Neue Folge 41: 5–23.
    Schneider, J. & Barthel, M. (1997): Eine Taphocoenose mit Arthropleura (Arthropoda) aus dem Rotliegend (Unterperm) des Döhlen-Beckens (Elbe-Zone, Sachsen). Freiberger Forschungshefte C 466: 183–223.
    Schneider, J. W. & Werneburg, R. (2010): Arthropleura, der größte landlebende Arthropode der Erdgeschichte – neue Funde und neue Ideen. Semana – Naturwisenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen des Naturhistorischen Museums Schloss Bertholdsburg Schleusingen 25: 61–86.

    Stephanie at least doesn’t misrepresent fiction as fact, though.

    Being a Mormon, she’s spelled Stephenie. Yes, seriously.

    But there is still a general consensus in many areas. Evolution happened.

    And still happens. After all, it could only stop if there were no more mutations and all environments became completely stable. I’ve seen evolution happen with my own eyes, and so has everyone else in that required lab course for first-year students of molecular biology.

    Simon Ginsburg and geneticist/systems theorist Eva Jablonka suggested recently that the evolution of associative learning may have helped drive the Cambrian “explosion” (2010, J of Theoretical Biology).

    PDF here.

    The authors simply assert that associative learning may have enabled animals to enter new niches. They don’t try to test this assertion, or even explain how it might work; they seem to think it’s obvious, which it’s not. They further assert that, during the early stages of the evolution of associative learning, the epigenetic changes in neurons may not yet have been regulated well enough that the germ cells wouldn’t have participated in them – that’s possible, but the authors don’t try to test it, and again they don’t explain it in any detail. They leave all that to future research.

    And what’s up with the strange claim that miRNAs “are not lost”? The genes for them are not somehow immune to mutations!