Vox Day and the status of Xiaotingia

I told you all the batty creationists were crawling out of the woodwork to crow over Xiaotingia‘s redefinition of Archaeopteryx‘s status as a victory for their ideology, when it really isn’t. Now another has joined the fray: Vox Day, creationist and right-wing lunatic. He makes a lot of crazy, ignorant claims in this short passage that I’ll answer one by one.

Precisely when has any evolutionist reconsidered either a) the basic hypothesis that species evolve into different species through natural selection1 or b) the corollary and requisite hypothesis that life evolved from non-life2, as a result of the falsity of one, ten, or even a hundred predictions that relied upon one or both of them? If it weren’t for DNA, which was not discovered or developed with any assistance from evolutionary theory3, evolutionary biology would already be openly recognized by every intelligent, rational, science-literate individual as being about as useful as phrenology and astrology.4

Darwinian biologists are very much like Keynesian economists. It doesn’t matter how many times their predictions fail5. It doesn’t matter how often their models are proven to be wildly wrong6. It doesn’t matter how many times they have been wrong in the past even with the benefit of margins of error consisting of millions of years7. They continue to insist that their position is based on evidence even when the evidence demonstrates precisely the opposite of what they have been claiming8.

First, the details:

1Of course biologists have considered alternate mechanisms! Coyne argues for selection as a mechanism of speciation (by pleiotropic side effects of genes that are selected for other functions), and Futuyma argues for speciation by drift.

2Similarly, mechanisms of abiogenesis have been proposed that suggest selection, but also chance or as a necessary outcome of the physico-chemical properties.

3The structure of DNA was analyzed by its chemistry, not it’s evolutionary history, obviously, but as this paragraph even concedes, the consequences of DNA biochemistry were profoundly important in their effects on evolution.

4Nope. Structure of DNA was determined in 1953; the neo-Darwinian synthesis occurred in the 1930s-1940s with the integration of genetics into evolutionary biology. It was genetics (especially population genetics) that established evolution as the only reasonable explanation for the history of life on earth.

5The precise taxonomic status of Archaeopteryx was not a specific prediction of evolutionary theory. Finding more data in the form of more fossils of feathered dinosaurs strengthens the idea of avian descent from dinosaurs.

6If you examine the family tree of Archaeopteryx and Xiaotingia, what you should see is that the taxonomic re-evaluation of Archeopteryx merely moves it from the Paraves branch to the nearby Deinonychosaurian branch…hardly a “wildly wrong” model.

7Vox Day has not described anything yet which shows evolution being wrong. Adjusting the precise timing of evolutionary events by millions of years is a reasonable response to new data which does not falsify the underlying hypotheses of relatedness.

8Again, this discovery does not demonstrate the opposite of what evolutionary biologists have been claiming, and actually makes for a better fit with other data about ancient bird ancestors; moving Archaeopteryx from a first cousin to a second cousin of the ancestor of modern birds isn’t a radical idea that invalidates evolutionary biology.

The big picture is even more damning for Vox Day. Of course we have huge volumes of information supporting the theory of evolution, that suite of mechanisms and principles that describe the broad course of evolutionary history, including common descent and descent with modification. And also there are a multitude of details that aren’t completely known — we have millions of species on this planet, and only a fraction have been studied in depth. The theory of evolution does not hang on the exact lineage of any two species out of those millions…it hangs on the fact that there is a lineage.

Vox Day is quite the poseur — he pretends to know better than real scientists, when he can’t even tell the difference between hypothesis and data.