Hovind again?

The stupid was too thick to ignore, so I made a short video rebutting his claims about me.

Transcript below the fold. It’s pretty basic stuff.

Hey, friends —

Kent Hovind made me the target of his “Whack-an-Atheist” show this week. He made a classic creationist error of failing to distinguish between the fact and theory of evolution, and made an argument that completely missed the mark, so I thought I’d make a quick video explaining his error.

Here’s what he did: he picked one narrow topic — and that I approve of — and tried to demonstrate that I was wrong, and that evolution was therefore false. The specific idea he jumped on was embryonic atavisms as evidence of a deep evolutionary history. So he showed a video of Jerry Coyne briefly showing that dolphin embryos retain hind limb buds, even though adult dolphins lack any hind limbs at all. He brought up the existence of pharyngeal arches, the loops of tissue present in all vertebrate embryos, which are then coopted and reorganized to form adult structures like the gills of fish and the hyoid bone and the bones of the middle ear in humans. These are clearly vestiges of an ancestral morphology that has been modified to fill new roles in modern animals.

Hovind tries to dismiss the evidence for evolution in a peculiar way, by attacking an obsolete and discredited THEORY that I don’t believe in, and that no knowledgeable scientist accepts today. He brings up the dead horse of Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law and flails away at it, pointing out that it’s invalid, and curiously enough, does so by talking about all the scientists and scientific evidence that worked to discredit it. What’s odd is that he knows scientists rejected the biogenetic law long ago, but then acts as if we modern scientists still believe it.

A quick summary: Ernst Haeckel was an influential scientist in the latter half of the 19th century, and a contemporary of Darwin’s. AFTER Darwin published the Origin, meaning that in no way did Haeckel’s ideas influence the origin of evolutionary theory, he postulated that embryos recapitulate their evolutionary history…that is, that human embryos go through a fish stage, an amphibian stage, a reptile stage, etc., on the way to developing into adult humans. This became a persistent pop culture idea. It crops up even today among non-biologists — most infamously, it was reiterated in Dr Spock’s Baby Book, so a lot of baby boomers grew up with it. It was wrong. It was a dead theory a hundred years ago. If you know your history of developmental biology, it was killed in the 1830s by Karl Ernst von Baer, even before Haeckel popularized it.

That’s Hovind’s first mistake. You can’t tell me I’m dumb for believing in a theory I don’t accept, have never accepted, and have been crystal clear in arguing that it’s false.

His second big mistake is failing to understand the difference between fact and theory. Stephen Jay Gould explained this way back in 1994.

Evolutionists have been clear about this distinction between fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory—natural selection—to explain the mechanism of evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man: “I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change. . . . Hence if I have erred in . . . having exaggerated its [natural selection’s] power . . . I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.”

Here are a few of the facts of evolution.

1 The earth is very old. This fact has been established with observations from physics, astronomy, geology, and biology.

2 Life has changed over time. We have a documented history of both dramatic and gradual changes in the species found on the planet.

3 We have many examples of intermediate forms. We can see that extant forms demonstrate a range of morphologies that cover the breadth of life, and we have fossils of many lineages that show gradual change.

4 We understand the genetic mechanisms underlying these changes. We can observe these processes in action in nature, and also manipulate them experimentally.

That’s just four. There are many more. Darwin had those first three and stitched them together in an explanatory theory, and when the fourth set of facts came along, they were found to support and reinforce his theory of descent and modification by natural selection. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe there is a better explanation that ties together the four facts I listed than evolutionary change. I do not know what that explanation would be.

But here’s what I do know. Even if you were to utterly demolish the theory of evolution, as currently understood by tens of thousands of expert, professional biologists, those facts would remain, and would have to be accounted for by any potential replacement theory. Disproving common descent, for example, would not change the age of the earth or the fossil record or how genes spread through populations.

It is spectacularly ineffective to rail against a discarded theory — a theory which also foundered on the facts of evolution already — and then think you’ve accomplished anything effective. But that’s our Mr Hovind, exercises in futility and incomprehension his specialty.

All right, that’s all I wanted to say. It’s also an opportunity to break a prolonged silence and thank my supporters on Patreon. Just two more weeks of classes to go, and then it’s all spiders and wilderness adventures and time to make more videos. So stay tuned! Like and subscribe and all that!

Also, an announcement: my office is too crowded with books that I’ve accumulated over many years. I need to clear them out! I had an idea. I’m going to start a weekly giveaway on my Patreon account — I’ll pick out a a few worthy, useful texts, plus a couple of horrendously stupid, ridiculous books, and mail them away to anyone who asks for them. It’ll do double duty: maybe you’ll get a text you find interesting or amusing, and I’ll be able to relieve some of the burden on my groaning, messy bookshelves. Check my patreon page to see what I’m getting rid of each week, although you’ll need to be a member to make an actual request. Such a deal! Do you know much science textbooks cost nowadays?


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    Of course, Hovind’s response to these four facts will be a petulant “Nuh-uh!”

  2. nomdeplume says

    I have long been of the view that morons like Hovind should be asked to explain how – in a world where (1) there are populations of living creatures which vary genetically and phenotypically, and (2) there is enormous variation, geographically and temporally, in the physical conditions in which those populations live, and (3) there are vast numbers of physical features which can isolate populations from each other – what could possibly stop evolution occurring. I guess the answer would be “god”.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 2

    . I guess the answer would be “god”.

    That and whole bunch of Bible citations.

  4. says

    If we are governed by an omnipresent, omnipotent capital “G” GOD, Wouldn’t that just make us automatons? The absolute interpretation leaves no room for free will. I don’t know about you, but I’m not OK with that.

  5. charley says

    Thanks for taking the time to respond respectfully for the benefit of the few Hovind viewers who might be curious enough to seek out your side.

  6. StonedRanger says

    Hmmm. Any hovind follower who was curious enough to seek the other side of what hovind keeps telling them would have to ignore anything the other side (in this case Dr. Myers) had to say otherwise they would know and understand just how full of shit hovind is and they would no longer be his followers. This does not appear to be the case.

  7. nomdeplume says

    @6@7 Hovind followers lack all curiosity, a lack that could serve as a definition.

  8. charley says

    @7&8 What you say applies to the vast majority, but people – especially the young – do change, and you never know when that process may start. Maybe some kid is watching Hovind as a home schooling requirement, and they aren’t as invested in creationist nonsense as their parents.

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