Devolution isn’t a thing


Yesterday I volunteered as a Meeting Mentor at the AbSciCon meeting. It’s not a big commitment; essentially all you have to do is hang out with a high school student for half a day, going to talks and enjoying the meeting as you normally would.

During a break, I was chatting with my mentee about Betül Kaçar’s research, and he surprised me by pointing out that (as he put it), “Devolution isn’t a thing.” The student I was paired with is interested in physics and space exploration, but his comment showed an insight that not even all professional biologists really own. From what I’ve seen, it’s an insight that very few creationists own.

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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:


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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Answers to “Ideological Turing Test”

tl;dr: definitions 3, 5, 7, and 9 are among the answers Barry Arrington says ”…demonstrate no more than a superficial understanding of, and a contempt for, ID”; all the others are from advocates of intelligent design.

I include my own deleted answer (#5) among those Arrington dismisses, since Arrington must have seen it before he made his ‘superficial and contemptuous’ comment.

No one got them all right, for example various commenters thought that answers from Michael Behe, vjtorley, Stephen Meyer, and were from critics of intelligent design. And that, of course, is the point. Arrington dismisses as superficial and contemptuous definitions that are pretty much the same as those offered by fellows of the Discovery Institute. In fact (and I’m surprised no one pointed this out), two of them ARE the same: #2, from the Discovery Institute website, is word for word identical to #7, one of the answers Arrington says is wrong. So according to Arrington, the Discovery Institute’s own definition of intelligent design fails his test. I’d love to point that out, but of course I’ve been banned.

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A fair “Ideological Turing Test”

Barry Arrington wants to pretend that critics of intelligent design don’t understand intelligent design, and so he set up an “Ideological Turing Test,” a challenge to correctly define an opponent’s position:

So, here is my challenge to our opponents: Do you understand ID well enough to pass the Ideological Turing Test? If you think you do, prove it by giving a one paragraph summary of ID in the comments below.

The problem is that Arrington himself is the judge, and he has a pretty good idea which of his readers are critics of intelligent design:


As Fordgreen points out,

It’s an interesting exercise, but shouldn’t the responses be anonymous for this to work correctly? Isn’t that how a real Turing test would be conducted?

So let’s give it a try. Arrington says that the answers given by critics of intelligent design”…demonstrate no more than a superficial understanding of, and a contempt for, ID.” See if you can distinguish which of the following definitions of intelligent design are superficial and contemptuous straw men and which are the real definitions given by advocates of intelligent design. I suggest really trying it; write down your guesses, or post them in the comments (honor system here, no googling or visiting Arrington’s post, please). I’ll post the answers tomorrow.

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You can’t meet Barry Arrington’s challenge, because he won’t let you

Barry Arrington posed a challenge to critics of intelligent design:

So, here is my challenge to our opponents: Do you understand ID well enough to pass the Ideological Turing Test? If you think you do, prove it by giving a one paragraph summary of ID in the comments below.

The “Ideological Turing Test” to which he refers is attributed to Bryan Caplan:

The Ideological Turing Test is a concept invented by Bryan Caplan to test whether a political or ideological partisan correctly understands the arguments of his or her intellectual adversaries. The partisan is invited to answer questions or write an essay posing as his opposite number; if neutral judges cannot tell the difference between the partisan’s answers and the answers of the opposite number, the candidate is judged to correctly understand the opposing side. [link in the original]

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to present my opponents’ arguments honestly, so I felt pretty up to the challenge:


Screenshot from at 1:04 pm EST.

Either Arrington doesn’t want his narrative spoiled, or he doesn’t want to be reminded of what he’s said in the past, because he deleted my comment:

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It’s not evolution, just adaptation

…”evolve” is not the correct term. The microbes adapted. – Cornelius Hunter

We heard several accusations during the recent Presidential campaign that one or the other candidate, or an interviewer, had taken a quote out of context. Of course, every quote is taken out of context. That’s what a quote is; otherwise it’s just the whole speech, or interview, or whatever. The important question is whether or not it’s taken out of context in a way that changes its meaning.

One thing I don’t do, and never have done, on this blog is intentionally misrepresent other people’s positions.  The quote above, from a recent post by Cornelius Hunter on Evolution News and Views, means just what it says. He really is arguing that microbial adaptation observed in Lenski-style experiments is not evolution.

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