<gasp> I forgot Paul Nelson Day!

We were supposed to have waffles on 7 April, but instead I was off at the Secular Social Justice conference, and completely forgot about Paul Nelson Day.

It is rather forgettable, so, to recap: in 2004, Paul Nelson presented a poster at the Society for Developmental Biology meetings in which he unveiled his sciencey super-concept, Ontogenetic Depth. This was, supposedly, a method by which you could measure the developmental complexity of organisms, and he claimed to have been working on doing just that, although his poster was nothing but hand-wavey claims of the concept. I asked him to give me details on the method, that it would be interesting to try on my zebrafish. He said he’d send me a manuscript explaining how to measure it, later. I pestered him a bit for the documentation, and it was always “later”. He finally committed and said he’d post something on 7 April, 2004.

He didn’t.

For a while it was because he was prepping a new version, Ontogenetic Depth 2.0, but since we haven’t seen either 1.0 or 2.0, and since “ontogenetic depth” is a phrase which hasn’t even caught on among creationists, I think it’s safe to say it’s dead. It’s yet another bit of rotting detritus in the pointlessly continuous reinvention and relabeling of creationism.

But it’s still useful to poke at them and remind them how useless and bad their version of ‘science’ is. And, apparently, how forgettable.


  1. Louis says

    I remember. I will always remember. I was there man, I was there. I know what I saw.

    It’s like Ed Balls Day on Twitter. Or the Bowling Green Massacre. These important world history events need to be commemorated otherwise we lose our sense of self, our sense of purpose.

    I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Flat Earthers on fire in the comment section of YouTube. I watched C-design-proponentsists materialise in the Panda’s Thumb. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

    Unless of course we remember, then it’s, well, all okay really.


  2. Doc Bill says

    Louis! I miss ye hairy hide! Still suffering from the Chinese feast in London. Those were the days, says my liver.

  3. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Has it been that long?

    Wow, time flies when you’re waiting for evidence overturning all of modern biology. ;)

  4. zenlike says

    Wow. They still cannot define or measure it, but it remains a “problem” for the theory of evolution. Somehow.

    And then they actually laugh at PZ.

    They really are the poster children of Dunning-Kruger aren’t they?

  5. kebil says

    I was curious as to what Sir Nelson had to say, and I read through one of his earlier defenses of ontogenetic depth 1 (https://evolutionnews.org/2011/04/understanding_ontogenetic_dept_1/). I tried to read it all, but the gaps in his understanding of biology, in general, is worthy by itself of serious study. The “urbilateria”, or whatever he calls it, that is just two cells stuck together. And does he actually think that most cells only contain fractions of the genome? And that ‘beneficial’ mutations occurring randomly, anywhere in the body (cancer?), like maybe extra good eye cells, should be passed on from those eye cells to the next eye cells?
    I think he deserves his own special day, as this is a special type of incoherence

  6. billyjoe says

    Here is Paul Wilson’s ten minute video explaining the problem – as he sees it – for evolution by natural selection posed by evolutionary developmental.


    It goes off the rails at about 4:45.

    Sure, the gamete has to contain all the instructions (or “recipe”, to take into account the environmental influences) for the development of the gamete over specific and ordered time sequences into all the different cell types distributed in a specific three dimensional space of the final organism. But why is that a problem for evolution?

    Just because the instructions in the DNA of the gamete has the final organism as its target, doesn’t mean that evolution has to have a target. Or, put another way, just because evolution led to gametes that have a target organism doesn’t mean evolution has to have gametes as a target.

    Please correct me If I’ve misunderstood his problem though.

  7. billyjoe says


    And does he actually think that most cells only contain fractions of the genome?

    He states correctly that every cell in an organism contains a complete set of genes. And he states correctly that the different cells in an organism is the result of different patterns of genes being switched on and off.

    And that ‘beneficial’ mutations occurring randomly, anywhere in the body (cancer?), like maybe extra good eye cells, should be passed on from those eye cells to the next eye cells?

    No. He specifically states correctly that mutations in somatic cells can’t be inherited and passed onto the next generation. And he states correctly that only mutations in germ-line cells can be inherited and passed onto the next generation. But, what I don’t see is why this is a problem (if that’s what he’s saying). Because a beneficial mutation in a cell within the organism destined to contribute to develop of the eye can’t be inherited doesn’t mean that a similar beneficial mutation can’t occur in a germ-line cell and therefore still be inherited that way

  8. Ichthyic says

    They really are the poster children of Dunning-Kruger aren’t they?

    more like the poster children for the profitability of conning gullible authoritarians via religion.

    because that’s really what the discotute is all about. even to the point of conning Howard Ahmanson that what they do there would actually make a big difference.

  9. Louis says

    #3 Doc Bill, Hey there. I remember. Well, my belly remembers. I’m in the process of making the damned thing much smaller, so it is currently annoying my brain by running a top ten thousand meals playlist at me. Other than that, work, sleep, work, repeat. Adult life is a lot less like the drug fuelled orgy I was promised. I am suing. How’s yerself?

    #9 fnxtr, Sky. Birds. My blood pressure post Brexit. The usual! ;-) How’s tricks with you?

    #11 Ichthyic, Oh but what they have done HAS made a big difference. To Ahmanson’s bank account. And indeed to my ribs, one of which I dislocated laughing at them.


  10. billyjoe says

    For a blog written by an evolutionary biologist, there seems to be very little interest in discussing that subject whenever it comes up. For example, almost no discussion here or about the videos on evolution whenever they come up. I know that other big topic is social justice, but it’s a pity the commentary is so social justice heavy and so evolutionary biology light.

    Oh well….