Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dikika Hominid Revisited Devolving Into Tiktaalik Revisited

Actually, this post is not about the Dikika hominid per se, but I just discovered a northern California website promoting creationist misquotes and fake data and felt the need to address a couple of points. Tim Hearden in Redding, repeats the same "lawyer Luskin is a better source for information on early hominids than paleoanthropologists who actually study the material" falsehoods about Dikika, despite being challenged by some commenters. (Thanks to "Procopius" (no direct link to a blog or website unfortunately) who referred Hearden to my earlier comments on Dikika). I have not read all of Tim Hearden's posts on the subject of evolution, having only just found his blog; however, from the comments on the Dikika hominid I can come to some general conclusions:

1. Tim Hearden thinks Casey Luskin presents valid information on evolution in a critical, well thought out manner;

2. Tim Hearden thinks "dissenting views" of evolution should be presented, regardless of their validity;

3. Tim Hearden calls into question PZ Meyers credibility, despite his Ph.D. in biology, because of his blog tagline;

4. Tim Hearden thinks Answers in Genesis and Lee Strobel are credible sources of scientific knowledge;

It is really this last one I want to address. The suggestion that Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis crowd have conducted ANY legitimate scientific research goes far beyond the realm of reasoned and critical thought. First off, Hearden questions PZ's credibility because of his tagline: "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal"; OK, I might be able to understand why a Bible-believing fellow like Hearden would object to the word ejaculation, but how about the Answer In Genesis tagline: "Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse". No questions of credibility here, right?

As evidence for his case that "solid research" exists refuting evolution, Hearden cites David Menton, Answer In Genesis lecturer, as discounting any evolutionary significance of the recent fossil discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, an extinct lobe-finned fish. Ed Brayton, at Dispatches From the Culture Wars previously discussed Menton's assessment of the find, and needless to say, finds it lacking in context, factual information and downright truth. Hearden first has to establish Menton's credentials and of course cites the Answers In Genesis bio:

David Menton, an Answers in Genesis lecturer who served as a biomedical research technician at the Mayo Clinic, helped craft the creationist rebuttal.

'[Tiktaalik] is not an amphibian or a reptile,' said Menton, who holds a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University. 'It belongs to a group of fish called lobe-fin fish.'

To which Brayton correctly responds:

Why is a cell biologist making arguments on a finding in the field of paleontology? Well, because there are virtually no paleontologists who are creationists. The closest they have is Kurt Wise and I've seen nothing from him about this find (Wise is generally careful not to make statements without first doing some study on the subject, unlike Menton, who is more than happy to step completely outside his expertise and make bold statements without any real study of the subject). He doesn't even seem to know that they are called "lobe-finned" not "lobe-fin" fishes. But his point here is totally irrelevant. Of course it's not an amphibian, much less a reptile; no one has claimed such a thing. Yet he states this as though it was in opposition to some claim made about the find.

Now, after reading this, Tim will probably go off and say something like "It's a typical comeback, one heard often from those who espouse the apologetics of evolution -- don't address the subject, impugn the source" and then cite a laundry list of supposed scientists who dissent from the evolutionary viewpoint, almost none of whom actually study evolutionary biology. Before the usual protestations come forward let me say that, no, just because you don't have a degree in the field doesn't mean that you shouldn't be allowed to comment on a subject. The issue has never been about's been about credibility. Menton has no credibility on a paleontological subject. But we don't have to draw this conclusion simply from the fact that his degree has nothing to do with evolutionary biology. We can judge for ourselves from the clear lack of knowledge he has about the issue. Again, from Brayton's discussion:

The lobe-fin fish have bones similar to other vertebrates. Tiktaalik, Menton said, is not unique in having these bones because other lobe-fish, such as "coelacanth" fish, also have them. Evolutionists say the lobe-fin fish became extinct millions of years ago. [from the Answers In Genesis article]

This is utter nonsense. No evolutionist ever said that lobe-finned fish were extinct. It was once thought that coelacanths were extinct, until cousins of the extinct forms were found in the Indian Ocean a few decades ago. That's right, cousins. If you listen to creationists, you would get the idea that the coelacanths that live today were just like the ones thought to have gone extinct some 80 million years ago, but that idea is completely wrong.

Coelacanth, you see, is not the name of a species or even a genus, but of a family of fish. And the specimens that survive today, Latimeria chalumnae and Latimeria menadoensis, are of an entirely different genus than the ones that went extinct long ago. Coelacanths are evolutionary cousins of the Rhipidistian fish that gave rise to amphibians. And here again, his argument is simply irrelevant. Okay, so other lobe-finned fish have bone structures similar to Tiktaalik and other species. How this is an argument against the fish-amphibian transition is a mystery.

Menton goes further and demonstrates how disingenous he really is being:

"It was known in the fossil record a long time before we found a living one," Menton said. "They are a fish; they do not walk on the land; they use these fins to swim with." A 1955 Scientific American article exposing its consistent lineage embarrassed evolutionists, he said, because "it didn't evolve; it didn't change; it looked like the one found in the fossil record."

Brayton points out the obvious to those having studied paleontology seriously:

That is simply a lie. As stated above, the modern coelacanths are so distinct from the 120 or so extinct species of coelacanths that they are placed in an entirely different genus. Not just a different subspecies or different species, a different genus.

Every paleontologist (not cell biologists at the Mayo clinic, not lawyers, not mathematicians) who has actually studied these fossils knows that they are different, they have both shared and derived features (they are all transitional), and they are not like the current ones found off the southern African coast today. Menton, par for the creationist course, has LIED about the evidence. I hope Hearden understands this...Menton lied; he broke God's Ninth Commandment (or are we about to get some Biblical gymnastics that the ninth commandment doesn't mean that at all???).

Hearden also cites the "Cambrian Explosion" as evidence against evolution, but again, you can't buy that depiction of it unless you lie about the evidence.

So why do the Answers In Genesis folks, who Hearden thinks are appropriate sources of scientific information, at worst falsifying and at best, misrepresenting scientific data? Could it be because:
A. They're not really scientists with legitimate knowledge of the subject on which they speak?


B. They are required to "Uphold the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse"?



Procopius said...

Hi Chris,

Procopius here, I've been wanting to post comments in the past but couldn't, so I'm glad to see you've enabled anon and nonregistered comments. I'm also glad you got the trackback from my posting.

If you haven't figured it out yet, Tim Hearden is a reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight. The Searchlight has blogs for a lot of their reporters. I've sparred with Tim over a lot of subjects, but evolution is the one that really gets my goat.

Currently their blog software is eating some comments, so I have a large rebuttal sitting somewhere (maybe dev/null). I just emailed it to Tim directly so hopefully it should show up soon.

Keep up the good work.

Christopher O'Brien said...

Thanks Procopius...and again, thanks for linking to my blog here. Keep up the good work had a lot of good points and I look forward to your rebuttals of Hearden. Yeah, sorry about the comment issue on the blog...I'm somewhat of a blogging novice, and didn't realize the settings were incorrect. Take care and stay in touch...

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