Friday, January 19, 2007

Debunk ID Claims. It's Fun!

Sorry I've been on a bit of an evolution/ID craze lately, but I just went the American Museum of Natural History last week, and my interest in the subject has been somewhat high of late. Anyway, I came across this piece of ID nonsense by Helena on the blog Shelly the Republican and became so frustrated, I decided I'd waste my time destroying the arguments piece by piece. Hopefully, someone will find something useful here for their own endeavors. So it begins:

“While I was reading to my daughter from Percival Davis’ excellent “Of Pandas and People” I learnt something about the differences between the way Neo-Darwinists an proponents of ID think. I think the Darwinists are only interested in looking at disconnected details: They fail to see the big-picture and that is why they fail to spot the handiwork of the Intelligent Designer even though the evidence is staring them in the face: Let me give you an example.”

Notice the use of the term “Darwinists.” No question where this person stands. As for reading to her daughter from Of Pandas and People, how lame can you get? I can’t imagine something more boring for a child than hearing excepts from a textbook. Of course, this person probably home schools her child to keep her away from the "evils" of secular schooling. Sound like a little brainwashing? Sure does to me.

As far as Of Pandas and People being excellent, or as Helena says in a caption under a picture of the textbook, “This is probably the best biology text-book ever written. It totally debunks the myth of evolution,” this is about as far from reality as you can get. Of Pandas and People probably the worst biology textbook written in the 20th century. I don’t want to waste space showing why, but Dr. Kenneth Miller, a cellular biologist and expert witness for the plaintiffs of Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board, does an excellent job in his critique of the book. Moving on to Helena’s great example:

“The Tasmanian Wolf looks remarkably like the wolf you and I know of. It’s about the same size, has a similar diet and even has the same kind of fur , jaw structure, teeth and behavior. Anybody can see that these two animals are examples of the same kind of creature. But if you ask an evolutionist where this creature might be placed on the “tree of life”, they would place these two very similar creatures about as far from each other as could be and yet still both be considered mammals. That’s sort of like somebody from Kentucky claiming that their next door neighbour lives in New Jersy!”

Riiiiight. The only problem is that the wolf is a placental mammal and the Tasmanian wolf is a marsupial. These are radically different methods of mammal reproduction and would not have arisen out of chance. It takes common descent for such different reproductive methods to evolve. The reason Tasmanian wolves are so far away from wolves in the mammal cladogram (or tree of life) is because the marsupial reproductive method is shared by several other mammals that live in the same area (Australia and the surrounding islands). Since the marsupial reproductive method is so different from the way all other mammals reproduce, it simply makes logical sense to group marsupials together. They’re obviously related. As for the Kentucky and New Jersey neighbors analogy, a better analogy would be that those people are both descended from Charlemagne. They might not be closely related now, but their ancestors were and shared similar lifestyles.

“These taxonomical oddities are not an isolated feature: Darwin’s “Tree of Life” abounds with anomalous classifications: Few high-schools mention that evolutionists regard all birds as a sub-class of reptiles. That is to say if one branch of the tree represents every living and extinct reptile, every known species of bird would be represented by a sub-branch of that reptile branch. Next time you hear an iguana say “Polly Want a Cracker”, tell me, but until then I propose that this classification makes no sense at all!”

Birds are classified as archosaurs (a group of reptiles) because they descended from reptiles through dinosaurs. You can see it in the fossil record. The creature classified as the
archaeopteryx
has the skeletal structure of a dinosaur but the feathers of a bird. This is also not the only case. The recently discovered microraptor gui is another, more advanced example of the transition of dinosaurs into birds. Helena has this quote under the picture of a parrot:

“Oh no! We are being attacked by a DINOSAUR… RUN! Oh wait - have the neo-darwinists been watching too much Jurassic-park?”

What makes her think all dinosaurs were vicious? I think she’s the one that needs to lay off the Hollywood a bit.

“Wouldn’t it make more sense if we devised a more functional taxonomy; one where very similar kinds of animal were grouped together? One based on the sensible principles and proven science of Intelligent Design?”

Um, grouping similar kinds of animals is the way animal classification works. However, they’re grouped beyond mere superficial appearances. Animals are grouped by everything from skeletal structure to musculature to reproductive strategies, etc. It goes beyond how they merely look. As for ID being proven: That just shows her ignorance of science. Science never proves anything. It simply finds evidence that either support theories or falsify (disprove) them. It’s made that way to keep the door open to new discoveries. As for ID, you can’t prove or disprove the presence of an intelligent designer, so it can’t be falsified. Therefore, ID isn’t even science, much less a theory.

“One might wonder why this idea has not occurred to the proponents of neo-darwinism? Actually it has, but they dismiss it because of a few small details here and there. One such difference between the Tasmanian and American wolf is it’s reproductive strategy: The Tasmanian wolves are “marsupial”, and other wolves are “placental” like our species. Evolutionists say that these are two very different branches of evolution, one which has retained primative DNA, the other has developed more modern features. Because of this one single difference, these two wolves are consigned to different ends of evolution’s spectrum.

“Why should reproductive strategy be valued above all other differences and similarities? It makes no sense at all given that everything else about the two wolf species is so similar. Surely science should recognise similarities as well as differences?”

Well, at least she knows that Tasmanian wolves are marsupials. However, different reproductive strategies are a huge difference anatomically. By Helena’s reasoning, the differences between the Echidna (a spiny, egg-laying mammal that lives in Australia and New Guinea) and a porcupine are miniscule. They both look spiny, but who cares if one lays eggs and other doesn’t. They must still be closely related, right? Please. Completely different reproductive organs require completely different ancestral lineages. Now, biologists do recognize the similarities between wolves and Tasmanian wolves. That’s why they’re both classified as mammals. The reason they have similar body structures is because mammals share similar body structures to begin with. The reason they share the same lifestyle is because they’re both predators. That sort of lifestyle favors quick animals with teeth effective for killing. Since they both came from a common ancestor, it’s no surprise they look similar forms to adapt to the same problem.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to see this in the context of Intelligent design? It’s possible that the designer made two different revisions of the same basic design. This is something that human designers do all the time, and it seems perfectly normal to us. What is the probability that these two creatures “evolved” to look the same: According to evolution, change happens by random mutation. An evolutionist might therefore expect one kind of wolf to turn blue, and the other one to grow antlers.”

The first half appeals to the intelligent designer that lies outside of science, so that’s the first problem. I’ve already addressed why evolution favors similar body types when starting with a common ancestor. The descendents only have so much to work with. As for the last half, it’s just another huge misrepresentation of evolution. The reason wolves don’t have antlers is because natural selection didn’t favor it. Things don’t just appear fully formed with evolution. There would have been a long progression starting with very small antlers on prehistoric wolves, probably started from small bony growths on its skull. If those wolves with small antlers managed to reproduce enough to live on, then we might have eventually seen large antlers on wolves. This is exactly what we see with deer evolution. However, wolves’ relatives never had antlers to begin with and natural selection never favored wolves with antlers. That’s why they never appeared. Natural selection is not random. Either a physical trait helps something survive, or it doesn’t.

“Fortunately that is not the case. We are left with two varieties of wolf, one version placental, the other version marsupial. We can only guess at what the objectives of the designer were, but I personally suspect that these creatures are two iterations of a design that eventually left us with the most perfect wolf-like form: The modern domesticated dog.”

The Tasmanian wolf is only called a wolf because European settlers thought it looked like wolves from Europe. Another name for these creatures is Tasmanian tiger because it has stripes. Does that make it another type of tiger? There’s no such thing as a marsupial wolf. Wolves are only placental. That’s part of what makes them Canis lupis, or wolves.

“So what can we learn from these wolves? I suggest that in science (as in all walks of life), sometimes scrutiny of the details alone can lead to false conclusions. Sometimes the only sensible, common sense approach is to look at the big picture: And once we step back and appreciate the many wonders of creation the Designer’s signature is self-evident.”

The major problem is that a Tasmanian wolf being a marsupial is a part of the big picture. It’s a radically different reproduction method requiring completely different reproductive organs from those of placental mammals. That’s what makes it part of a different species, genus, family, order, and infraclass. There’s no way a Tasmanian wolf and a wolf could have interbred, which would make them the same species. They don’t even have the same plumbing, so to speak. Ignoring such a difference ignores the big picture.

As you can see, ID persists because of ignorance and faulty reasoning. People who support it either know nothing about evolution and biology or simply repeat what a pastor told them without doing any real research. Helena tries to take the “common sense” approach but fails due to complete ignorance on her chosen subject of pontification. Looking at superficial similarities and ignoring actual differences is simply being lazy. It shows a complete lack of desire to learn something.

Update: After doing a little research, it seems like I've been had. This might actually be a parody. Read my full post on the subject here.

Update: This post is real. Read more here.

6 comments:

Anton Mates said...

Birds are not a sub-class of reptiles any more than mammals are. However, birds are descended from reptiles through dinosaurs.

Actually, birds are considered reptiles these days by mainstream biology--see for instance Berkeley's introduction to diapsids. Cladistics pretty much won--"reptile" is now a monophyletic group, though it may never be such in ordinary English.

Mammals are still not considered reptiles, of course.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which is funnier, the parody at Shelly the Republican or the people who just don't get that it's parody. LOL.

Lord J-Bar said...

The sad thing is, one can never tell when something is a parody or not because both look the exact same. One person's trying to be funny, the other doesn't know any better. If the entire Shelly the Republican blog is a parody, then, I admit it, they got me. Regardless, I've seen these kind of arguments from people who sincerely believe what they're saying, so I feel it's good to offer some good arguments against them, regardless of this particular blog's purpose.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually somewhat of a serious hobbyist when it comes to reading both sides of the debate. At times I've been drawn to one side, at times another. I always find it fascinating, because BOTH sides make assumptions. But of greatest interest is the evolutionary side, which assumes unproven things and often displays a greater faith in the unknown than a creationist does!

I.D. is a little different than creationism in that it doesn't proclaim a certain god. In fact, it allows for the theory that life was introduced by ANYthing: space aliens, whatnot. And I.D. usually merely pokes holes in the latest evolutionary theories (when there are holes to poke). Creationism is more aggressive.

As you can tell, I now lean a little more towards I.D., less toward pure evolution. But, eventually I may change my mind again.

I highly recommend the book "Darwin's Black Box" by Behe, which seems to be the best of the I.D. texts (IMHO).

Lord J-Bar said...

Unfortunately for Behe, Darwin's Black Box makes several false assumptions about the theory of evolution. Here's a good review that deals with those fallacies:

http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/22794?fulltext=true

Now, I'm curious, what sort of assumptions do people make for evolution that is a greater leap of faith than ID? Perhaps I can address those questions for you or point you in the right direction to do more research.

Bock the Robber said...

The whole point of the Shelley site is to attract enraged comments from people who miss the joke.

Reading the furious replies is even funnier than reading the posts.