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They’re still bacteria…and fish…and apes…and…

Ray Comfort has been doing a great job of stirring up his minions on twitter, who, without exception, seem to be as ignorant as he is. I already mentioned one, Republican Mom, who combines dismal stupidity with chipper smugness, but there are others. And they seem to be going after everyone with a reputation for defending evolution. I’m not feeling besieged, though: it’s more like a swarm of fluff.

They’re also going after Carl Zimmer (and a bunch of the names he mentions are familiar — there aren’t that many of them, but they’re all really noisy and each one is peppering lots of people with the stupid). He’s now written a very nice post explaining their error.

Here’s what creationists like Comfort always do to deny evolution: they demand an example of a new feature evolution, of evolution in action. Then we give them one (we have many) in some species of bacterium or fish or whatever. They ignore it (seriously, they promptly wave it away and pretend that what we’ve told them isn’t what they asked for), and immediately turn to all the other traits of the organism that are still unchanged, and announce, “Well, it’s still a bacterium.”

It’s infuriating. Here’s a single-celled organism that evolved two tails; “it’s still a single-celled organism.” Here’s a fish that evolved armor plating; “it’s still a fish.” Here’s a fruit fly that evolved a whole new mating signal; “it’s still a fruit fly.” Notice what’s common in every case: the conscious denial of what you just told them. It’s not just ignorance, it’s willful ignorance.

There’s no way around this game. They demand something that evolution does not predict, and claim its absence falsifies evolution. If I had an experiment in which a population of single-celled bacteria evolved into a multi-cellular mouse while recorded by a video camera (which would falsify all of our evolutionary theories, by the way), they’d ignore the miracle and say, “Well, they’re still both made of cells, aren’t they? It’s still cells.”

Once upon a time, a population of apes evolved an upright, bipedal stance — but they still had hairy ape bodies and binocular vision and grasping hands — they were still apes, but they were on the long road to us. And we are still apes with a host of shared attributes with chimps and gorillas and orangutans. When you see Ray Comfort and he denies that he is an ape, point out that by his “they’re still just X” argument, he has scapulae and hair follicles and a liver and jaws and an autonomic nervous system just like a chimp, and if he’s going to deny the evolved differences, he’s still just a chimpanzee. He’s still got a spine, just like a fish, so he’s still just a fish. And he’s bilaterally symmetric, just like a worm, so he’s still just a worm.

Comments

  1. rumleech says

    ” It’s not just ignorance, it’s willful ignorance.” And that’s very much the point. They see it as a strength – sticking to their principles even though they are completely untenable. I’m not sure what can be done about it.

  2. blf says

    Comparing X (for any X) to Teh Bannananananman is an insult to X.

    It’s even an insult when X = The Bannananananman. X is a nice harmless, multipurpose letter / symbol / signature / marking / doodle / et al., far more useful and intelligent than Teh Bannananananman. (Also easier to spell.)

  3. aziraphale says

    I think the Bible timescale is deeply ingrained in them, so when they hear “evolution” they think “all the complexity of life evolving in 6,000 years while men were around to observe it“. Put that way, it does take some believing.

  4. blf says

    U think the Bible timescale is deeply ingrained in them, so when they hear “evolution” they think

    I see a possible mistake there…

  5. Sastra says

    Hell, you could play this game with human aging. Deny that babies ever grow up to be adults and demand that they show you it happening right now — within the space of a year, say. Any small change they come up with can be countered with “but it’s still a toddler” or “that’s still an adolescent.” You will never be shown the head of a baby on the body of an adult and thus “catch” the change in mid-action — which is what would satisfy you.

    Dawkins labeled this “the discontinuous mind.”

  6. No One says

    By his own repeated admission Ray Comfort is a “simple man” and needs it explained to him in words that he understands. It’s a good dodge.

  7. TheBlackCat says

    Very good summary.

    “If If I had an experiment in which a population of single-celled bacteria evolved into a multi-cellular”

    Typo at the beginning there.

  8. blf says

    I have no idea how I manged to feckup the blockquoted text in @4. That initial “U” is supposed to the initial “I” in the original at @3. As “quoted” with the offering to Tpyos, it gives a rather different sense than I intended. My apologies to aziraphale for the misquote.

  9. says

    PZ’s recent post about Ray’s finances suggests many people happily consume his cosmic vapidity. He should be the honorary governor of Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Dover PA.

  10. Al Dente says

    If there is a discrepancy between science and the Bible then Comfort and his minions will go with the Bible. Apparently God has a snit if they accept reality.

    I think this is disrespectful towards their god. They claim the Bible was written or at least dictated by God. They also claim that God created the universe and everything in it. So a book which has been heavily edited, translated, emended, redacted and revised over the centuries is more authoritative than what their God’s creation tells them. They don’t see the Bible as one tiny part of God’s creation and the whole vast universe is both greater and more important than the Bible. Creationist think small, very small.

  11. blf says

    And a forty-ton, diesel-powered articulated lorry is, in Comfort-world, still a wheelbarrow…

    …which you push through the muddy street yelling “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!”.

  12. kantalope says

    Hell – he thinks that male and female evolved separately…

    While at the same time claiming all the speciation (from the kinds that were on the bigboat) took place after the flud? Their whole story makes no sense at all.

  13. says

    On top of the moving goalposts and inability to grasp cumulative change, it irritates me how they fail to understand inheritance and polymorphism. This failure happens in part because they’re trapped in a Platonic idealism where they think the symbols we use to describe large groups of breeding-capable organisms are more real than the actual organisms. They deny the messy, fuzzy, and changing nature of life that evolution acknowledges and choose to embrace a simple cartoon world where everything has a crisp black outline and every square hole has a precision engineered square peg to fit it.

  14. esmith4102 says

    Too much money to be made by catering to the ignorant, superstitious, and the religious. Ray Comfort is following the grand tradition of the American flam-flam man and personally, I say more power to him, because the stupid always seem to need frequent fleecing.

  15. congaboy says

    I never understood why, when ray pulled the “croc-a-duck” stunt, no one ever pointed out the platypus to him. It’s a living croc-a-duck and an example of evolution at the same time.

  16. OptimalCynic says

    He’s still got a spine, just like a fish, so he’s still just a fish.

    Going to have to call you out there, PZ – citation needed! The worm comparison is apt though.

  17. crocodoc says

    This “It’s still xxx” works just as long as they refuse to define “kind”. Unfortunately for Ray, his Way-of-the-master minions were recently forced to define kind as “familiy classification” and they seem to stick with that for the time being. Since then, mentioning the word “hominidae” is a reason to get blocked on the WotM channel.

  18. Amphiox says

    When it all comes down to it, we are all still collections of symbiotic bacteria biofilms.

  19. Rey Fox says

    I say more power to him, because the stupid always seem to need frequent fleecing.

    Explain.

  20. RFW says

    @13 Al Dente

    If there is a discrepancy between science and the Bible then Comfort and his minions will go with the Bible.

    The discrepancy isn’t between science and the bibble per se. It’s between science and a particular interpretation of the bibble. A very particular interpretation, at that.

    Someone needs to write a book “How the Bible Supports Evolution.” The author of this tome will be allowed to use any kind of cockamamie non-logic he or she wants to, as long as it rattles the bars of the creationists’ cages. This is called “putting the cat among the pigeons”.

    I say this in all insincerity, motivated by an intense desire to upset the xters and sow seeds of doubt in their minds.

  21. says

    I say more power to him, because the stupid always seem to need frequent fleecing.

    Ah yes. The wonderful world of capitalism.</snark>

  22. stevem says

    Re kantalope @ #15:

    – he thinks that male and female evolved separately…

    No! That’s his counter-argument: “If evolution was true then how could males and females, evolve at the same time and still be fertile?” Not that males and females are two different species that just find they can interbreed, but that evolution implies (in his argument) that males and females should “evolve” into two different species completely.

    My gross generalization is that a denier can never be changed to accept as true that which xe has been denying. No matter how many facts you throw at xim, xe’ll just deny it forever.

  23. sbuh says

    I say more power to him, because the stupid always seem to need frequent fleecing.

    Grift hurts all of us. It gives the grifters undue money and influence while impoverishing the people they prey on.

    It’s not as though “the stupid,” or rather the ignorant, are a limited resource either. Reinvesting just a fraction of their grift into stymieing education creates future victims to leech off of. It’s very much a self-sustaining system, and the solution is not to encourage it, but to break it.

  24. loopyj says

    Ray Comfort’s demand is to see an animal naturally give birth to offspring of a different species, preferably fish or fowl to mammal, or vice versa; he wants to see ‘evolution’ in a single generation. And even if that happened, he’d still say God did it, because he stayed up too late one night back in the 1970s and had a psychotic break that’s lasted decades.

  25. Rumtopf says

    They want the “evolution” as seen in Pokemon, where a creature spontaneously turns into some other creature in a flash of light.

    I bet they always equip their pokeymans with everstones.

  26. jimroberts says

    As Ray and his like see it, the thing defining fish, bacteria, frogs, etc is that they have the fish, bacterium, frog etc nature or essence. Like the Catholic magic biscuit, which starts with the biscuit essence, but by the magic of “hoc est corpus” discards that and acquires the “body of Christ” essence, the only way in which one “kind” can change into another “kind” is by a divine miracle. Hence all natural development can simply be ignored – it doesn’t change the essence, or kind.
    I know, of course, that Ray isn’t a Catholic, but he has a less coherent form of the same world view.

  27. Owlmirror says

    If I had an experiment in which a population of single-celled bacteria evolved into a multi-cellular mouse while recorded by a video camera (which would falsify all of our evolutionary theories, by the way),

    I am not so sure that such a thing would falsify all evolutionary theories. Didn’t I hear you once say, in a talk recorded on Youtube, that nothing would falsify evolution?

    This is something I’ve been thinking about. The number of changes between each generation of organisms is pretty small. The changes are pretty much random, so we would expect for the number of changes to be small, given everything else we know about the genome: a large number of random changes would be more likely to cause problems that would prevent the organism from developing properly at all.

    In the above scenario you posit, it certainly looks like the changes between each generation are not random; that they are indeed being guided by some mechanism.

    But we have a model for non-random changes being made to genomes: those changes made by genetic engineering. Does a rabbit or cat glowing with genetically expressed green fluorescent protein from a jellyfish falsify all of evolution?

    If a system of nanotech or programmed biotech genetic engineering were invented, it might well be demonstrated with exactly a video as you describe; each generation of cells having specific genes and gene complexes shuttled in and modified by the nano/biotech until a target organism was reached.

    Sufficiently advanced genetic engineering is indistinguishable from magic intelligent design.

  28. says

    @ sbuh, #26

    Thank you. I was looking for a way to say that, but rage interferes with my ability to form complete sentences.

  29. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Reality to the conservative mind, especially when it’s threatened and as desperate as it is today (not that anyone plans to actually harm them in any way other than their “feelings”), simply ignores facts and writes out its own version – one more flattering and reliable than the Wicked Stepmother’s Magic Mirror.

    Only physical injury (or financial ruin) have ANY effect upon (most of) them. No doubt only the length of time humans have been subject to the results keeps (most of)today’s conservatives from walking on water, at least where they can’t either swim to safety or be otherwise rescued, or sticking their hands in fire. WE know, unfunnily, that the truly hard core conservative would rather see their children suffer and die than accept a vaccination, or beat them to death rather than acknowledge them as homosexuals.

    These obtuseness is part of what humanity is, though. Would that I could find a purpose I could understand in the hatred and dishonesty that fills a mind like Comfort’s.

  30. Lofty says

    Aaah, Bananaman, who wouldn’t be a special snowflake if the universe was indeed 14 billion years old and billions of lightyears wide in every direction.
    A dimensionally pathetic individual.

  31. says

    I’ve got a zinger I’d wanna use on Comfort.
    “And your crocoduck would still be a crocodile. What does a fish still being a fish have to do with the question you asked me?”
    I’ve got a couple of routes this could take in my head but the easy one would be where he says it’s not a crocodile and I ask why then pin him into defining what he means by kind. If he’s going with the Biblical definition then I can give examples of that and if he’s not going with the Biblical definition he automatically loses when I quote it at him.

    Of course, that particular part of the recording would just get left out of his videos.

  32. says

    *I forgot an important part of that ^
    It sets me up to explain that words like “fish” refer to a family of animals, and unlike the way we replace our last names you never drop a name in Biology. You could evolve away breastfeeding, live births, the placenta, warm blood, and grow scales in place of hair, but because of who your ancestors were you would still be a mammal. You’d get some extra names tacked on to indicate that crazy route you took but mammal doesn’t go away.

  33. Yuriel says

    “[they'd] announce ‘Well, it’s still a bacterium'”

    Yeah, right! as if a Ray Comfort follower would know the singular form of bacteria. That’s mighty generous of you, Prof. Myers.

  34. procrastinatorordinaire says

    I’ve got a zinger I’d wanna use on Comfort.
    “And your crocoduck would still be a crocodile. What does a fish still being a fish have to do with the question you asked me?”
    I’ve got a couple of routes this could take in my head

    You must be unfamiliar with Mr Comfort. It does not matter what routes you have planned in your head, his reply to that question will be: “Do you consider yourself to be a good person? Have you ever told a lie?”

    Try and pin him down and he will always switch to his good person test. He doesn’t give a rat’s arse about your killer arguments.

  35. procrastinatorordinaire says

    As a fisher of men, I don’t mind admitting that I bait them with some attractive morsel*, and they usually bite. Most of them have said that they are closed to the gospel, but the others who are on the sidelines may have an open mind. Those are the ones to whom I am speaking—unsaved fence-sitters.

    * Normally an outrageous comment about evolution or atheism.

    This was a comment by Ray Comfort about his former blog, Atheist Central. You cannot correct him on evolution because making absurd statements about evolution is his shtick.

    Sometimes he would stray on to more religious topics and the comments on the blog would die down, so it never took long for him to be back with more ridiculous claims about evolution. The man craves attention and he knows how to get it.

  36. theignored says

    Ah! All this reminds me:
    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1017805

    American Atheists, Inc., today tweeted to its 31,000 followers for producer Ray Comfort to release unedited footage of interviews he conducted with four evolutionary scientists for his new film.

    In the film, “Evolution vs. God,” the scientists are unable to offer any observable scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution. The tweet said, “Ray, we challenge you to post the unedited interviews of the scientists — We’ll help promote them if you do.” They’re not the only ones who want to see the raw footage, according to the producer. These are just some of the many demands from atheists to see what didn’t make it into the movie:

    Andrew Dougy Rutherford: Yeah, getting to see the full unedited interviews would be great. If you case against them is as solid as you claim then you would have no problem doing this.

    Guess what Ray’s reply was?

  37. theignored says

    Here is a facebook post on Ray’s page. This commentator is full of win:
    https://www.facebook.com/official.Ray.Comfort/posts/627377587282718?comment_id=93013240&reply_comment_id=93016318&total_comments=70

    Narindra, Speciation shows that evolutionary mechanisms exist and can produce new, reproductively isolated populations. As for the “information”, mutations, such as duplication, inversions, SNPs, and others do add new “information” or allows for the addition of new information (duplications allow mutations to build up in one of the copies changing what that copy does, see HOX genes for an example). This isn’t hypothetical, these are observed mutations.

    And he proceeds to give serious evidence. The quoted part is only a small part of what he had to say.

  38. theignored says

    Ok, it seems that to get taken to the actual comment, one has to be logged into facebook.

  39. Azuma Hazuki says

    What I don’t get it, given all the examples of waste, trial-and-error, evolutionary dead-ends, laziness, and plain old idiocy we observe in nature, wouldn’t someone arguing for a not-evil-and/or-insane God not want to attribute all this to specific willful acts of a creator?

    It makes for only one explanation: oenotheism. God tries his best but gets really, really drunk beforehand. Exhibit A: what the unholy crap is a platypus?

  40. Snoof says

    Exhibit A: what the unholy crap is a platypus?

    A perfectly reasonable organism, provided you’re not fettered by North-Hemispherocentric preconceptions of what a mammal should look like. :P

  41. vaiyt says

    re: Stevem @25.

    There’s this old creationist argument that goes thus: when the first man evolved, he’d have to wait for the first woman to evolve in order to reproduce. It’s based on the creationist version of evolution, where a new (platonic) Species just pops out fully formed from the last.

  42. mjmiller says

    the creationist version of evolution, where a new (platonic) Species just pops out fully formed from the last.

    Wait, isn’t this kind of what they are saying actually did happen after the flood? Hyper speciation from a limited number of “kinds” to the enormous variation we observe (and back to the pre-flood state) in just a few years. Do they cite examples of observations of lions giving birth to house cats? I mean there were people around to see all this amirite?