A confused mess, part 1

I follow Uncommon Descent to keep up with what the cdesign proponentsists are up to, even though I’ve been banned from commentingUncommon Descent pushes out about three times as many articles as Evolution News & Views, and it’s clear that less than a third as much thought goes into each one. Worse, the articles’ authorship is rarely identified, robbing me of my second favorite sport after fly fishing, pointing out creationists’ self-contradictions. For both of these reasons, I don’t comment on their posts nearly as often. But if you read this blog at all, you must know that I can’t pass on a video that 1) claims to provide evidence against evolution and 2) has Volvox in it.

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In their own words, part 2

Evolution News & Views

I previously pointed out that Casey Luskin’s “false, straw-man [version] of ID” bears a striking resemblance to intelligent design advocate Michael Behe’s actual definition:

Let me get this straight:

life is so complex, it could not have evolved” is a “false, straw-man version” of

Cells are simply too complex to have evolved.

I promised that I would get to the second part of Luskin’s “straw-man version,”

…therefore it was designed by a supernatural intelligence,

and that’s what I mean to address in this post. Maybe Luskin wasn’t claiming that ID critics mischaracterize the logic that leads ID advocates to reject evolution, but rather that they mistakenly (or deceitfully) portray ID advocates as inferring supernatural causation. If so, he’s not alone. Advocates of intelligent design frequently deny that their theory has anything to do with the supernatural, and they imply that efforts to portray it as such are deceitful or, at best, misinformed.

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In their own words, part 1

Evolution News & Views

Cdesign proponentsists often complain that critics attack straw man versions rather than their actual arguments. That must be really frustrating; as I’ve said before, if you have good arguments, you don’t need to misrepresent your opponents’. Here, for example is Casey Luskin on Evolution News & Views:

Many critics of intelligent design have promoted false, straw-man versions of ID, typically going something like this:

“Intelligent design claims that life is so complex, it could not have evolved, therefore it was designed by a supernatural intelligence.”

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Get your story straight, will you?

Here are a few of the things that would or do support intelligent design, according to various authors on Evolution News & Views:

If evolving multicellularity is complicated. — Cornelius Hunter, Anne Gauger

If evolving multicellularity is simple. — Unsigned Evolution News & Views article

If the human and chimpanzee genomes are very different. — Denyse O’Leary, Casey Luskin, David Klinghoffer, Anne Gauger

If the human and chimpanzee genomes are very similar. — Cornelius Hunter

If life is uncommon in the universe. — David Klinghoffer

If life is common in the universe. — David Klinghoffer

So intelligent design is in the enviable position of being supported equally well by mutually exclusive predictions. Heads I win, tails you lose! Now we can add Kirk Dunston to that last entry (“Could Atheism Survive the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life?“):

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Maybe the dumbest thing I heard this week

Uncommon Descent

And remember, this is the week we learned ‘covfefe‘.

I don’t usually pick on Uncommon Descent. Their posts are too often incoherent; it’s about as sporting as fishing a hatchery pond. As much as I criticize Evolution News and Views, their posts are generally at least understandable. But I can’t resist on this one. A new post from ‘News’ (which I THINK means Denyse O’Leary; that’s never been completely clear to me) complains about a Nature editorial arguing that

As political leaders on either side of the Atlantic set out contrasting positions on science funding, researchers everywhere need to ensure that their voices are heard.

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Convergence falsifies evolution, according to Cornelius Hunter

Xerus princeps

Xerus princeps, the mountain ground squirrel.

Before I saw the light and switched to studying Volvox, I studied squirrels. With apologies to Iris Vander Pluym, squirrels are cool. If you grew up in the squirrel-deprived eastern U.S., you might not realize that there are over a hundred species. Chipmunks are squirrels. Marmots are fat squirrels. Prairie dogs are adorable squirrels.

Most of my squirrel work, and some of my Volvox work, has focused on understanding the evolutionary relationships among species. This fits in the subfield of evolutionary biology known as phylogenetics. Phylogenetics results are often visualized as trees and published in journals like CladisticsMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, and Systematic Biology. Phylogenetics is a vast subfield, with a huge number of papers devoted to developing methods that are theoretically and empirically sound.

Cornelius Hunter understands none of this. In a recent post over at Evolution News and Science Today (which used to be Evolution News and Views…when did that change?), he argues against the whole idea of common descent, the very foundation of phylogenetics. Dr. Hunter argues that convergence, similarities among distantly related species, falsifies evolution. The nature of his arguments shows pretty conclusively that he doesn’t understand the basic logic of what he’s criticizing.

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New fossil proves plants are younger than previously thought

That’s not a headline you’re likely to see again. Hopefully it made you think something along the lines of “how does that work, exactly?” Because it doesn’t. If your estimate of the age of a taxon is based on its oldest known fossil, finding a newer fossil isn’t likely to change that estimate. If it’s an extinct group, a newer fossil might show that it stuck around later than you thought, but not that it originated later. Paleontologists recognize that fossil-based estimates of ages are almost always underestimates, since the fossil record is spotty (and generally spottier the further back you go).

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Responses from both Davids (I’m Goliath)

David Klinghoffer and David Coppedge have both responded to my post “Lies of omission and straight-up lies.” Klinghoffer did so in a post on Evolution News and Views, “You Already Support Goliath with Your Tax Dollars; Won’t You Consider Balancing the Scales?“. In it, he calls me a bully for pointing out inconsistencies and omissions in his and Coppedge’s accounts. What he doesn’t do is refute anything I said.

Instead, he reveals how deeply the persecution narrative is embedded in his worldview. So deeply, in fact, that mere criticism is perceived as persecution and bullying. I’ve mentioned the persecution complex before (“The Discovery Institute still doesn’t understand free speech“), and I’m sure others have as well. Here’s how Klinghoffer responds to having inconsistencies in his narrative pointed out:

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Lies of omission and straight-up lies

In a pair of posts over at Evolution News and Views, David Klinghoffer waxes hyperbolic about the 2009 demotion and 2011 layoff of David Coppedge from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (“NASA on Trial: Persecution of David Coppedge Was a Preview of Creeping Totalitarianism“, “NASA Versus David Coppedge: Most Reprehensible Case of Anti-Intelligent Design Persecution Yet?“). It does sound pretty bad, though:

It was back in 2009 that the mild-mannered team lead computer administrator on the Cassini Mission to Saturn was demoted, shamed, and later fired. His workplace offense? Lending out documentaries on DVD favorable to intelligent design.

Coppedge loaned out documentaries on DVD, highlighting relevant scientific evidence of design in biology and cosmology, to willing colleagues. That’s it! That’s all he did.

Shit, that really does sound like religious discrimination. Look, I’m an atheist, but I believe in religious freedom. Firing someone for their religious beliefs, from a government agency no less, is a pretty egregious (even “reprehensible”) violation of the Establishment Clause (“prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). Assuming, of course, that we’re getting the whole story.

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Out on a limb. Way out.

Last week, I commented on Cornelius Hunter’s claim that the acquisition of antibiotic resistance by bacteria is not an example of evolution. This claim doesn’t just put him at odds with evolutionary biologists, though. It puts him at odds with many of his fellows at the Discovery Institute.

It puts him at odds with David Klinghoffer:

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria demonstrate evolution by breaking stuff…”

even though Klinghoffer is apparently a fan of the post in which Dr. Hunter claimed the opposite:

screenshot-2016-11-24-20-46-01

So which is it, Mr. Klinghoffer? Is it “not evolution,” (as Dr. Hunter says) or is it “evolution by breaking stuff” (as you say)? It can’t be both.

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