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Evolution, Alberta and Headdesk Denyse - Part II


  03:47:36 am, by Nimble   , 1354 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion, Science

Evolution, Alberta and Headdesk Denyse - Part II

The Calgary Herald gave Denyse O'Leary an "in rebuttal" column (entitled "Theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders") to rebut Breakenridge's article.

From what I can gather, Denyse is ostensibly a journalistic defender of Intelligent Design.

Now, you could get the print copy from the Herald, but Denyse has also posted the article on her own blog and it includes the sources she used, which are revealing.

The column starts out with perfect irony when it refers to Breakenridge's column:

The resulting column is an excellent illustration of why one should not write about big topics without basic research.

She takes numerous examples from the Intelligent Design textbook, The Design of Life, the successor to the infamous Of Pandas and People.

The examples show the high art of Intelligent Design research: insinuation. Picking cutting-edge research that discovers new things and sometimes corrects old things and pretending it to be dirty laundry, complete with conspiratorial narrative, is many things: politics, lawyering, gossips... but certainly not science.

Let's take the Design of Life article which goes on at length about how creatures form suddenly and then do not change...

Take their primary example:

The date for definitive jellyfish has been pushed back to the Cambrian through a fortuitous fossil find in fine sediment, which provides detail where the vastly more common fossils embedded coarse-grained sediment could not.

Design of Life takes the KU press release containing:

(from press release)...With the discovery of the four different types of jellyfish in the Cambrian, however, the researchers said that there is enough detail to assert that the types can be related to the modern orders and families of jellyfish. The specimens show the same complexity. That means that either the complexity of modern jellyfish developed rapidly roughly 500 million years ago, or that the group is even older and existed long before then."

...and concludes...

In other words, this is another example of the tendency for life forms to appear suddenly and then not to evolve.

The sleight of hand here of course is that "same complexity" is taken to mean "no evolution".

Now hold on. There are over 200 species of jellyfish extant, including the box jellyfish with some impressive optics.

The other implication here is that the example of the jellyfish, which of course is "not evolving", can apply to everything across the board.

When brute force and insinuation aren't working, you aren't using enough of it, right?

It also quotes David Tyler as a physicist - as though physics entails any study of biology. It omits his status as a Young Earth Creationist - and thus in denial of several fields of science already - but also his current position. This is somewhat similar to the "pick the most prestigious title - not the current title" technique used to concoct the Dissent From Darwinism list.

Even the most interesting example sourced through Design of Life by Denyse: that a new study might indicate that peahens do not seem to use peacocks' tails as a distinguishing factor for a mate, is used to tarnish the whole enterprise, of course.

Marion Petrie's experiment on number of eyespots vs. female preference is very briefly mentioned by our erstwhile David Tyler. Weirdly, he gets the troubles with the peacock's train research right (in my opinion), then still manages to smear the whole enterprise.

Denyse even goes into "famous hoax" territory:

And remember that row of vertebrate embryos in your textbook years ago? It was dubbed in the journal Science one of the "most famous fakes" in biology—because the embryos don’t really look very similar.

Well, embryos still do look fairly similar at the pharyngula stage, and the textbooks have been corrected.

And Darwin’s majestic Tree of Life? It's now a tangleweed, or maybe several of them.

This, and the linked article, is pure sniping. You may have known that mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell, have their own DNA, and this may mean that they were once free-living.

Well, oh my god! You can't draw a single tree branch at that point! Oh my god! Oh my god!

Hell, we've even known for quite a while that viruses and plasmids can transfer genes around, and surprisingly that can complicate a "nice, clean tree of life" too.


Is there anything that screams "we've got nothing" more than tabloid-style science "journalism"?

Breakenridge also frets, “An even greater number of Albertans—40 percent—agreed that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.” That’s easy to explain. It was the only other option (barring “don't know”). The ever-popular “God uses evolution” choice wasn’t offered.

I'd say that "God uses evolution", but perhaps in a more specific way, probably should have been offered. That said, the question breakdown was the same for everyone across the country. It seems nigh implausible that the extra 18% just happened to tip their "God uses evolution" into the "created by God within the last 10,000 years" bin just due to some Alberta-local linguistic preference.

Forced to choose between excluding God and including him, I’d pick option two, even though I accept NASA’s estimate of our Earth’s age (4.5 billion years) and consider common ancestry a reasonable idea.

On the age and ancestry issues, it's nice to see that Denyse isn't totally in a box, although with her uncritical quoting of Dembski, Wells and Tyler (through Design of Life and otherwise), who at the very least deny common ancestry, if not the age of the Earth, I am a little surprised. It might be nice to know what is going on in there that she can claim the likes of this:

The creationists whom Breakenridge derides may be wrong on their dates, but not on much else.


I've never seen common ancestry to be a common idea amongst intelligent design proponents, and it certainly isn't amongst the leagues of creationists willing to use the language to slip under the constitutional radar. Apart from Behe and Denyse... who?

The letters published from the 18th and 19th were, on the whole, pretty good. Ivan Cancik, Alan Dewar and Willie Warholm wrote good letters, Juanita Patterson-Price a good, snappy short comment.

There was a sympathetic anti-evolution letter from the one non-Albertan in the mix... from Tennessee.

The one further anti-evolution letter from Greg Ligertwood showed the same basic misunderstandings as usual:

...For Charles Darwin's theory to be true, the fossil record must show millions of halfway species. It does not. There are the flying squirrel and the bat. There are no fossils of in-between species.

Halfway between what?

The claim of "no transitional species" seems to require ignorance of what a transitional species is, or assertions that there are gaps that are too large and will never be filled complete with use of largely decades-old references.

We have lists like this, which is not a complete list of what we have by far by any means. None of these are "good enough"? Don't fit their definition? Are they expecting crocoducks?

We would not expect a halfway between a bat and a flying squirrel, as well, based on their characteristics and fossils. They are not, taxonomically speaking, even within the same order. Should flying squirrels be less related to chipmunks than bats just because of the flying thing?

...It proves nothing about the origin of species. That's why scientists still call it the theory of evolution.

A scientific theory is not a "guess" or a "hunch". People just love to throw "just a theory" into the mix - anyone who's looked it up ought to know better - but it just sounds good, so the ends justify the means.

Since very few humans are atheists, I don't see why we should be forced to teach our children atheism in public schools. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't believe in God, you're just not paying attention.

Once again with the evolution-equals-atheism tripe. Most Christians are evolutionists, and vice versa. Those who cite God who have a problem with evolution either are afraid because of this rumour, or who believe in the parts of the bible that are, taken somehow literally, demonstrably untrue.


1 comment

Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

O’Leary seems to inhabit some wondrous alernate reality where she knows more about science than scientists; more about the beliefs of Christians than Christians themselves;

It comes across that way, but based on the way she sources her material, I think it may be closer to the truth to say she trusts people that she thinks know more about science than scientists. All that “scandal” she trots out in the article is second-hand and without much analysis. I don’t know her writings that well, though; is she always like this?

and that attacks on the writings or character of Darwin (or Dawkins) invalidate all of evolutionary science.

She and some other writers in a similar vein seem to be unable to treat the science as science instead of politics or some cult of personality, or perhaps a religion. I am constantly amazed by the type and ferocity of cherry-picking that goes on. They’ve already decided that it must be a conspiracy, so they go looking for anything that could possibly conform to that preconception: misstatements, hoaxes, meetings, partial quotes mined as though they were Freudian nuggets laying bare what’s “really” going on.

Especially the hoaxes. Screaming that evolution is wrong - well, a broken clock is right twice a day. Apart from all the paranoia, the hoaxes, however already-exposed-by-the-scientific-community they were, might be the only tangible things they can hold on to.

Of course, I may be psychoanalyzing beyond my ken. Some days, I wish I knew what was going through their heads when they fib and belabour things like this.

Man alive, they give the moon hoaxers a run for their money.

(Nice, fisking, BTW :>)

Thanks :)

09/09/08 @ 02:40