Also to Jerry Coyne. Now there’s a fantasy trio that ought to send shivers of revulsion down your spine! Anyway, I was once again featured on Hovind’s “Whack-An-Atheist” series, and he once again avoided my challenge.
Way back in January, after repeated demands that I debate him, I offered a different alternative: that Kent Hovind should read a book. I even suggested one, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, because it’s a good general overview of the evidence for evolution, and would give him something actually said by an evolutionary biologist to sink his teeth into.
He responded by…not reading a book, but just regurgitating the same tired, false points he’s been making for decades. Come on, Kent, at the very least I expected this would compel him to get some new material! But nope, it was same ol’ same ol’.
Then he did it again yesterday. Still not reading a book, but instead digging up a YouTube video of Coyne presenting a summary of some of the concepts in the book, and whining about that with the very same slides he’s been using for years.
My god, but Kent Hovind is the laziest creationist on the circuits. It’s not a thick book, it’s written for a popular audience, it’s a relatively easy read. Reading it might have spared him from making a few ludicrous errors.
What Hovind did was focus on a tiny part of the story, which is generally a good idea, but he clearly picked the part where he thought he had a good gotcha. He drilled down into Haeckel. Coyne talked about how some embryonic features reveal their evolutionary history, like the presence of hind limb buds in dolphin embryos — retention of conserved features in development is evidence of evolution. Hovind, though, went on a familiar tirade about Ernst Haeckel, and his discredited theory of evolutionary recapitulation from the 19th century.
It’s totally irrelevant. That a scientist advanced a wrong theory about evolution 150 years ago does not change the fact that embryonic similarities are observed, that they make no sense in terms of modern function, but do make sense in the light of evolution as relics of their ancestry. It would be a bit like me attacking Hovind’s interpretation of the Bible by citing the Book of Mormon at him; I don’t think Hovind considers Joseph Smith to be a significant contributor to his ideas. Going on and on about the invalid Biogenetic Law to refute Coyne’s discussion of embryonic atavisms is basically the Wookie Defense.
Now if he’d actually read Coyne’s book, he’d have known that trying to attack him via Haeckel was inappropriate. Coyne also rejects the Biogenetic Law, as he explains in chapter 3:
This “adding new stuff onto old” principle also explains why the sequence of developmental change mirrors the evolutionay sequence of organisms. As one group evolves from another, it often adds its developmental program on top of the old one.
Noting this principle, Ernst Haeckel, a German evolutionist and Darwin’s contemporary, formulated a “biogenetic law” in 1866, famously summarized as “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This means that the development of an organism simply replays its evolutionary history. But this notion is true in only a limited sense. Embryonic stages don’t look like the adult forms of their ancestors, as Haeckel claimed, but like the embryonic forms of ancestors. Human fetuses, for example, never resemble adult fish or reptiles, but in certain ways they do resemble embryonic fish and reptiles. Also, the recapitulation is neither strict nor inevitable: not every feature of ancestor’s embryo appears in its descendant, nor do all stages of development unfold in a strict evolutionary order. Further, some species, like plants, have dispensed nearly all traces of their ancestry during development. Haeckel’s law has fallen into disrepute not only because it wasn’t strictly true, but also because Haeckel was accused, largely unjustly, of fudging some drawings of early embryos to make them look more similar that they really are. Yet we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Embryos still show a form of recapitulation: features that arose earlier in evolution often appear earlier in development. And this makes sense only if species have an evolutionary history.
Yeah, fallen into disrepute. So why try to play gotcha with Coyne on that point? Coyne is actually presenting a von Baerian perspective here: von Baer, who did not accept evolutionary theory, had observed how similar early vertebrate embryos were to one another. That fact is not in dispute. I can go into my lab right now and pull up slides of sectioned and stained chick, mouse, and frog embryos that all show these shared developmental features. Pharyngeal pouches are a real thing! You can’t make them disappear by citing someone’s flawed pet theory for them.
Bonus! There’s a footnote in the passage above, and here it is.
Creationists often cite Haeckel’s “fudged” drawings as a tool for attacking evolution in general: evolutionists, they claim, will distort the facts to support a misguided Darwinism. But the Haeckel story is not so simple. Haeckel may not have been guilty of malfeasance, but only of sloppiness: his “fraud” consisted solely of illustrating three different embryos using the same woodcut. When called to account, he admitted the error and corrected it. There’s simply no evidence that he consciously distorted the appearance of the embryos to make them look more similar than they were. R.J. Richards (2008, chapter 8) tells the full story.
Coyne is a little too generous here. I think Haeckel demonstrated an over-zealous commitment to his theory, and while it may not have been conscious, he did bias his examples to favor an incorrect idea. He is correct, though, that it is really common for creationists to dig up the dead corpse of poor old Ernst Haeckel and wallop on it for a bit while telling everyone they’re defeating Darwinism. They aren’t.
By the way, the bit in the Origin where he discusses “the strongest single class of facts in favor of change of forms”, consists of Darwin discussing, among other things, von Baer’s observations of embryos, not Haeckel’s. Hovind misses the mark again, but I don’t think he’s read the Origin, either.
Bronze Dog says
My god, but Kent Hovind is the laziest creationist on the circuits.
Lately, reflecting on my own passage from church to atheism, it’s gotten hard to think about creationists as anything other than lazy. Part of what fed my growing skepticism was the feeling that they were lazy or arguably worse, holding out on me. I was a kid who wanted more concrete reasons to believe as I was growing up, and they continuously failed to provide any.
Walter Solomon says
We’re you flattered on disturbed? Anyway, I wouldn’t expect this guy to read anything much less something that challenges his worldview. He’s like a magician who has honed his performance over many years and is loath to change it. Also like a magician, he only appeals to those who want to be fooled.
Here’s a good overview by Hopwood of Haeckel’s controversial use of imagery to convey his developmental ideas: https://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/files/hopwood-pictures-evolution.pdf
And by Richards: https://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Haeckel–fraud%20not%20proven.pdf
I don’t parse Coyne as completely rejecting recapitulation “…this notion is true in only a limited sense. Embryonic stages don’t look like the adult forms of their ancestors, as Haeckel claimed, but like the embryonic forms of ancestors… we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Embryos still show a form of recapitulation: features that arose earlier in evolution often appear earlier in development.”
The von Baerian view was flawed given early developmental diversity before rough convergence onto phylotypy. Coyne doesn’t mirror Mayr’s assertion that Haeckel was talking of permanent (not adult) stages as Mayr rehabilitated recapitulation and rolled it into his own somatic programme concept later in his life when he became smitten by evodevo. Don’t know if Coyne was aware of Mayr’s views on that.
Sadly Mayr had some awkward views on eugenics: https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/ext/document/101584582X183/PDF/101584582X183.pdf
Owosso Harpist says
Hovind’s just like Dumb Idiot Ham: issues a challenge to knowledgable people like PZ only to retreat in a cowardly fashion when challenge gets accepted by those people, knowing all too well that if they allow them to debate with them the creationists like Dumb Idiot Ham and equally Dumb Idiot Hovind will lose big time, just like Ham experienced in the 2012 debate with Bill Nye.
Gotta love how they fixate upon embryonic features, without ever learning what forms those features and oh, that entire sharing DNA and hence, signaling systems.
Diffusion is obviously way too complex a thing for him to ever consider as well, such as diffusion of chemical signalling molecules from various tissues that will form in one of those folds. If the signalling system malfunctions, feature either doesn’t come into being or grows in a location it doesn’t belong, which tends to be fatal to something developing, as while a hand might not kill you if it grows out of your back, a heart on the forehead most certainly won’t be survivable and a hand growing inside of a heart is an instant disaster.
Which is an immense oversimplification, as building a hand or a heart is complicated, due to the vast number of different tissues involved.
Perhaps, PZ would be kind enough to describe how modern science samples some of these molecular signalling molecules – in brief, that’s really multiple semesters of coursework to cover everything needed to prepare a student to even begin to try to accomplish simple sampling.
Or perhaps, a blurb on thalidomide and its contributions to our understanding of cellular signalling and interfering with it in an embryo.
Angiogenesis and some NSAIDs being an adult model similar issue.
Nature “discovered” quite early and became prolifically proficient at making a tube. Close the ends of the tube, you get a sack to build upon. The tube could be a thorax and abdomen, a blood vessel, components of a GI system and more, the sack a skull or heart (for two of many, many examples). All governed in large part by diffusion of cellular signalling molecules.
And far beyond the comprehension of Hovind and his band of not so merry misfits.
Reginald Selkirk says
WaPo runs a sad story.
The surprising voyage of Charlie Duke: An astronaut reaches for heaven
The creationists determination to refer only to Darwin and Haeckel as if there has been no work done on evolution and embryology since that time is both lazy and deliberate. They are incapable of reading science, but my guess is they refuse to do so because their game of denial could no longer be maintained. The Haeckel thing is particularly obnoxious with the accusations of fraud (in exactly the same way as they use Piltdown Man), but they make that accusation because it is absolutely obvious to anyone that embryology reflects evolution.
Rich Woods says
No, not ‘only’. Magicians also appeal to people who want to be entertained. And I suppose also to those who want to try to work out how the trick is done.
You could say much the same about creationists. Some people do only want to believe, or to have their beliefs confirmed to their satisfaction. But some other people watch creationists in order to laugh at the sheer stupidity and ignorance on display, while yet more do so because they want to understand the arguments being used so that they may better counter them if/when they see them in their own lives.
Another line of thinking is that they keep referring back to Darwin in particular because they’re porting the authoritarian, ‘received wisdom’ mode of thinking over with them. If they discredit Darwin, people will stop believing in ‘Darwinism’. The fact that science doesn’t work that way and that anybody who actually follows the science of evolution knows that Darwin was not only wrong about some things but had no idea what was going on and so had no way to prove any of this and that those gaps were only filled in much later, that doesn’t seem to occur to them.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily apply to the higher-level leaders and grifters among the creationists; a number of them probably know the argument is bunk and are purely playing to their own crowds without caring whether or not their arguments make any actual sense.
I wasn’t home when I posted above. Anyone interested in Mayr’s later in his career take on recapitulation theory, its history, and modern interpretation via Mayr’s cooptation into a “somatic program” notion (I thought he spelled it different) should find: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/418541
He makes a stink about “permanent” versus “adult” that has haunted me since. Mayr was German and had a sense of history of biological concepts (his dismissal of memes as a fancy way of redefining concept itself was priceless IMO) so I am tempted to defer to him on this recapitulation thing a bit, yet Coyne sticks to “adult” above [“Embryonic stages don’t look like the adult forms of their ancestors, as Haeckel claimed, but like the embryonic forms of ancestors.”] so I dunno…
Mayr on memes: “Dawkins (19) has introduced the term ‘‘meme’’ for the entities subject to selection in cultural evolution. It seems to me that this word is nothing but an unnecessary synonym of the term ‘‘concept.’’ Dawkins apparently liked the word meme owing to its similarity to the word gene. In neither his definition nor the examples illustrating what memes are does Dawkins mention anything that would distinguish memes from concepts. Concepts are not restricted to an individual or to a generation, and they may persist for long periods of time. They are able to evolve.” https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.94.6.2091
@9 Yes, and they have to pretend to their credulous cretins that It is just one man’s opinion, and what is one man’s opinion worth against “god’s word”. Their duped followers would no,doubt be amazed to learn that tens of thousands of scientists since 1859 have confirmed, in dozens of disciplines, that Darwin was essentially right, and have refined the theory to a proved fact or series of facts.
@6. Reginald Selkirk :
Yes Charlie Duke’s religiosity has been known for a while sadly and featured on the In the Shadow of tehMooon doco among other places. ( https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2008/02/28/2175381.htm )
Sadly, he’s not alone of the Apollo astronauts in going anti-science since the only scientist ever to land on the Moon Harrison Schmitt later became a Climate Denier.
Huh, I just realized that this month is the 100th anniversary of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, better known as Nebraska Man. Kent is probably still referring to it in his talks as if it was a keystone of human evolution.
Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebraska_Man
Meanwhile in real fossil news we’ve found a really big ole baby here :
Plus 22 million year old extraordinary spider fossils here :
Found recently and learnt about recently. As opposed to creationist “science” which has found and learnt about .. sofd all real really.
Pierce R. Butler says
One (not everyone, but someone) can, with only moderate damage to the concepts involved, summarize the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis as
blockquote>Ontology recapitulates philology
but what good will it getcha?
hmmm he sure likes to Whack a lot of men in his videos. But hey, no judgment, whatever makes him happy. We’re all adults.