I knew this would happen: creationists are pleased with the media coverage of the platypus genome, since it reinforces their misconceptions. The Seattle Times published a couple of letters from local creationists. Need I say that they are ridiculous?
It is rather sad to see the evolutionary spin doctors try to put a positive face on something like the platypus. “Bizarre DNA of Platypus tells a story about us” [Times, News, May 8] did not offer any plausible evolutionary scenario for such a creature’s existence. This is because there is none.1
The platypus has long given the evolutionists nightmares. The article states the platypus is a “transitional creature.” Even evolutionists admit that the platypus does not qualify as transitional. It is a mosaic, a curious compilation of features that continue to defy evolutionary explanation. Such chimeras offer no help to the hypothesis of evolution.2
The article speaks of the platypus (and echidna) being isolated on a branch of the evolutionary tree. What is true of every branch on the evolutionary tree is that there are creatures only at the tips of the branches and absolutely nothing leading up to them. The tree does not exist, nor do the branches, only their tips. Not much of a tree when it comes down to it.3
The spin doctors are hard-pressed on this one. If only the media would give equal time to other responsible viewpoints. And yes, they do exist.4
1There is a solid evolutionary explanation for the platypus: it’s a member of a branch of the mammalian family tree that split off in the Jurassic, before our ancestors evolved viviparity. It lacks some of the derived traits familiar to us from eutherian mammals, but has other specialized traits unique to its lineage. This rally shouldn’t be difficult to grasp; here’s a diagram that illustrates the relationships.
2I’ve never had a platypus nightmare, and I doubt that many evolutionists have. We love oddball lineages that have survived into the present day — they give us an opportunity to identify features of our ancient ancestors. That the monotremes separated from the mammalian lineage 166 million years ago means they are helpful in sorting primitive from derived traits. Our poor sad benighted creationist then muddles up his terms. The platypus does exhibit transitional traits; for instance, it secretes a true milk laden with sugars and fats, but it lacks nipples. This represents an intermediate state between the the more generalized secretion of primitive mammals and the more elaborate specializations of eutherian mammals.
It is a mosaic, but all animals are; features evolve by accident and utility at their own pace. Some lineages will retain different sets of ancient characters than others, so you don’t see every species evolving in the same way in the same direction. While it is mosaic, it is not a chimera of any kind. Its morphology is the product of an evolutionary history, not the cobbling together of bits and pieces from different species.
3The creationist gets something almost right in his third paragraph: only the tips of the evolutionary tree still exist. What he leaves out, though, is significant. There are also scattered ghosts of the deeper branches in the fossil record; it’s very spotty, of course, but enough to see an intermittent outline of the structure. Most importantly, though, we also have genetic information that allows us to see which of the various twigs are most closely related to one another, and that allows us to infer and reconstruct the missing branches. So it is like a strangely cored sort of tree, where all we see suspended in space are a halo of short twigs in an ordered, organize pattern, with a few branches hanging within — it’s more like an exploded tree, with modern species as part of an expanding wavefront. But we can still reconstruct the pattern; the evidence is there. Denying the tree is denying the data.
4Biologists are not hard-pressed by the platypus story: they sought it out, they worked to get funding for it, and a large group of biologists did the research with the explicit goal of fleshing out that branch of the mammalian family tree. It is utterly nonsensical to pretend that a research goal set by molecular and evolutionary biologists was something that they feared and were confused by…it’s like complaining that a man who buys an expensive fishing pole and tackle, practices his casting for hours, ties flies, purchases a fishing license, hikes to a remote mountain lake, and spends his vacation days catching trout has an abiding fear of fish and has had his hobby destroyed because he caught his limit. You have to wonder what kind of screwy version of science this creationist carries in his head. Does he think the platypus genome project was a creationist initiative?
And if other responsible viewpoints exist, they are not represented by his inane letter.
How about another one? Another common characteristic of creationist thinking is the false hierarchy and the disingenuous enthronement of anything-but-biology as the only “true” science.
A belief in atheism and evolution by natural selection comes up way short when you throw pure science into the mix.
Evolutionists rely heavily on the science of biology, which employs as its main support resourceful guesswork and subjective conclusions. You see a lot of maybes and might-haves and could-haves in their writings that have no place in mathematics, chemistry or physics (the pure sciences).
It has been math probability, chemical structure, the discovery of precise cellular organization (biochemistry) that have played havoc with evolution theory.
In the strictest sense, evolution by natural selection is not a science but a conjecture that has been sold as an established fact. We were content to accept it as a theory, but when it strayed into established fact, it became non-supportable by the pure-science folks and, like many things conceived by man, could not stand exposure by the light of truth.
In the words of a great statesman, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time.”
There is a deep confusion here, that absolute, unquestionable certainty is the hallmark of a true science. I assure you that physics and chemistry use proper scientific caution in their phrasing of their results, too, and like biology, all rely on evidence, not guesswork. This guy is a clueless loon who doesn’t know a thing about any of the sciences, while using his imaginary criteria to shuffle them into nonexistent pigeonholes.
And, as usual, he mangles math and chemistry to claim that these have refuted biological conclusions when math and chemistry are right there at the heart of modern biology; these are disciplines we use in our work.
I’ll be in Seattle in two week, and I hope Glen Howard and Ray Womack can make it to my talk. I’m planning to discuss common creationist misconceptions and failures to comprehend, as well as common creationist lies, and I intend to use examples from my mailbox as well as from the web — I may talk about their foolishness publicly. They’re welcome to show up and try to bluster away.
Oh, also, while I’m in Seattle…Carl Zimmer is following me around. He’s going to be giving a talk on 3 June, the day after mine. It’s like a ScienceBlogs invasion!