There is a disturbing trend lately in the press to report every new scientific finding as something revolutionary that is going to overturn long held views, especially in the biological sciences. I suppose it is to be expected, since controversy sells. However, too many in the press go so far sometimes that what they write goes way beyond economically convenient exuberance, to outright misrepresentation of the issue. This is particularly true of evolution, where those sympathetic to creationism jump on anything that looks to be the slightest crack in modern evolutionary theory to trumpet that now finally, evolution is going to come crashing down like people have been saying for over 100 years. Frank Pastore’s latest article is a perfect example of this.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time debunking the many, many, scientific errors Pastore makes. They are mostly moldy oldies that have been debunked thoroughly numerous times in the past by scientists far more qualified to do so than I am. I will simply link to the refutations. My focus is on the sociological and philosophical aspects of what is happening.
Pastore has been launched into action on the subject because of two recent paleontological findings: a 10 million year old jaw and teeth of what looks to be a gorilla, and the discovery that two precursors to modern man, Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis, were found to have coexisted.
Right away Pastore attacks the issue, not as a scientist would, with evidence, but with appeals to cherry-picked authorities. In this case, an actor, Ben Stein:
”But, the bigger problem is—unless you’re a scientist—you’ve likely never have heard about it outside of this column or at least until you’d see the trailer for Ben Stein’s movie ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ coming out in February 2008.
As Stein exposes, there’s been a virtual Inquisition by Darwinian fundamentalists against anyone who dares challenge The Book—Darwin’s infamous 1859 ‘Origin of the Species.’ No longer about following the bread crumbs of inquiry in pursuit of truth, Big Science is now all about enforcing doctrinaire dogmatism.”
A simple google news search shows how absurd Pastore’s first claim is. News of these two discoveries has been all over the news, trumpeted as being far more extraordinary than they really are. Pastore’s article is another example. How, one wonders, if there is some evil Darwinist Conspiracy out there ready to crush all opposition, did these stories got out there? Did Pastore write his article from a super secret location? Did Stein and his movie crew get threats from the Darwinists? Just who exactly is being repressed by this conspiracy, and just why would anyone participate in such a thing, and how exactly are they repressing anyone? Pastore, as have all his predecessors on this issue, leaves the evidence for theory as an exercise for his readers. The reason is simple. There is no conspiracy. This is crankery, pure and simple. Lose the intellectual battle, claim the game is rigged. Evidence? Pshaw!
Just what is “Big Science” anyway? We all know about Big Oil, or Big Pharma, but those groups have massive economic incentives to behave in ways that might not square with what the rest of society has in mind. What possible motivation could a bunch of scientists, or research labs, have to repress evidence that evolution is incorrect? No one touting these conspiracies ever gives any reasons. The obvious counter is that any scientist that could disprove evolution would be hailed as the next Darwin, or better. He would be the father of a biological revolution, destined for a Nobel prize, and personal fortune and fame. Against this Pastore would put…what? His imagination, I guess.
Pastore is clearly grossly ignorant of the science surrounding this issue, as he demonstrates by rattling off all those moldy oldy creationist canards that scientists have been refuting for decades:
”Ask for explanations about the still missing ‘missing links,’
” the absence of transitional forms,”
the sudden Cambrian Explosion,
or the gaping gaps in the fossil record,
”…and be branded an unbeliever—one who must repent of their sins, recant and do penance or be damned to academic hell for all time.”
Come on Frank, surely you’re more imaginative than that. What about being burned at the stake, and having red hot pokers shoved up your…opinions? I mean, you’re obviously just making shit up, so why be so dull about it? I want fire and brimstone!
As I learned long ago, if you can believe the first sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” you won’t have much trouble with the rest of the 66 books.
I at least give Pastore credit for honesty here. The Intelligent Design crew is so tiresome with their evidence-free claims that their theory has nothing to do with religion. Pastore spells it out as it is: he isn’t interested in science. He is interested in making sure that his childhood beliefs about the big bearded magic man in the sky making this world just for us, and creating us especially, remains intact.
Indeed, if one can swallow the malarkey that the supreme creator of the universe made it just for us, on this little insignificant blue-green ball orbiting a very bland yellow star in a quiet corner of an otherwise ordinary galaxy among billions just like it, then buying that rabbits are ruminants, or that men once lived to be 900 years old, or that burning bushes and donkeys talk, and virgins give birth to men who rise from the dead, and all the other nonsense in that tome becomes pretty easy to swallow. But then, why buy the first part in the first place? Why take what is clearly meant as metaphor and interpret it literally? No answer from Pastore, we are just supposed to accept that as a given. Sorry, that is not how science works, and someone so intent on criticizing science ought to know better.
”Make no mistake. Fundamentalists are those who censure skeptics and prohibit inquiry. Today’s fundamentalists are not the Christians who, like me, are eager to examine the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution, but those who deny that opportunity from ever happening.
The real fundamentalists are those who chair the various science departments at our major universities—those unwilling to allow dissent.”
Bullshit sir. If you were interested in science, you wouldn’t be trotting out oft-refuted bullshit as some sort of revolutionary idea. You’d know already what a bunch of claptrap it is. It is not dissent that is frowned upon, but the touting of religious views as science, sans evidence, that is the problem. Perhaps it passed your notice, no surprise since you obviously aren’t keeping up with the latest science, that there have been major developments in evolutionary science in the last few years. Evo-devo, neutral drift, and punctuated equilibrium, among many other ideas, have surfaced long after the mothballs on your objections have collected. All had major influences on modern evolutionary theory, and changed the way scientists look at the issue. The difference? They had the evidence to back them, whereas that creationist nonsense you are parroting doesn’t. It is as simple as that.
”We are no closer today proving [evolution] than we were in Darwin’s day, a century and a half ago. In fact, we’re actually farther away.”
Well Frank, that’s an understandable position for someone so woefully ignorant of the science, but alas, it is not even close to true. Science is not about proof, it is about falsifiable experimentation, and evolution has been challenged for almost 150 years and has not only withstood the challenges, but has given us great insights into the workings of modern life. No experimental result yet has been at odds with evolutionary theory, and these recent finds are no exception.
”First, as reported here on August 9, two alleged ancestors of man, Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis, were found to be living together about 1.5 million years ago (MYA). This is a big deal because Erectus was supposed to have evolved from Habilis before later evolving into Sapiens (us).
Think of it as finding out dad and grandpa were actually brothers, not father and son.”
Uh, no Frank, it’s like discovering that dad and grandpa lived at the same time, and concluding that dad must not have evolved from grandpa. Literally. This is just another version of “if we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?”, and just as wrong.
Here’s a simple example of how this happens. Let’s say we have a species A spread all over the globe. Then suppose there is some sort of geographic event (a landslide, flood, or a rising mountain range) that cuts off a subset, call them A’, from the rest of A, into a new environment. Then suppose A’ evolves in the new environment into species B, and the geographic barriers drop so that the B’s and A’s can happily mix. Eons later, scientists will uncover these fossils of species A and B mixed, and ignoramuses like Pastore will claim this proves B couldn’t evolve from A. That’s all this discovery demonstrates. Habilis and Erectus coexisted. This may have an impact of the timeline of which ancestor lived when, but that’s it. That’s what people like Pastore don’t understand about science. It changes based on the evidence presented, and hones in on the reality bit by verified bit. Of course all the charts will be revised, that’s the whole point. If scientists thought they had the absolute truth, there would be no more excavations of new fossils. They’d be as inactive as, well, all the creationists Pastore so eagerly parrots, who are content to sit in the stands of the scientific game and hurl insults at every perceived imperfection of the players and their theories, all the while having the courage of their convictions to do nothing else but sit on their asses. They offer no competing hypotheses, no new data, only contrarian ignorant opinions aimed at reaching their predetermined unscientific goal.
”The second discovery, reported here, pushed the hypothetical human-ape split back another 10 million years, to now around 20 MYA. How so? The traditional theory is that man evolved from chimps about 6 MYA, chimps evolved from gorillas about 8 MYA, and gorillas evolved from orangutans about 14 MYA. But, with the discovery of a 10.5 million year old gorilla in Africa, this pushes the human-ape split back to at least 20 MYA."
Pastore reveals his ignorance of evolution by his phrasing. Humans did not evolve from chimps, nor chimps from gorillas, etc. Chimps, humans, gorillas and orangutans all evolved from common ancestors that were unlike any of them. This is not a mere academic mistake. Phrasing it the way he does implies that the system was designed with us in mind as the end product, and that the other lines were flawed or less evolved than us. Evolution has no goal. As it happens, chimpanzees have evolved more than we have since the split, so if anyone is more evolved, it is them.
But so what? Even if this turns out to be a real change in the timeline, how does a revision in a timeline of an event signal disproof of the event? This seems another example of a creationist tendency to pedantically attack any flaw they see in what scientists say, regardless of whether it has any relevance to the main point. It is as if you claimed there were no football teams with aquatic mascots, I responded that the Florida Dolphins have an aquatic mascot, and you retorting that the Dolphins are called the Miami dolphins rather than the Florida Dolphins and thinking you've won the debate.
"But between 15-20 MYA, there were dozens of primate species in Africa, and the hominid trail goes completely cold after 7 MYA. It looks like a dead end—or to the true believer, at least a serious detour over uncharted territory.
Bottom line, not only do we find that dad and grandpa were brothers, but now we find out that we were adopted—or created."
This is just Pastore making shit up again. No trail goes cold. Timelines may change, but that doesn't invalidate all the homologies, fossil or other evidence. We are 95+% chimp. We have the same broken vitamen C gene. We have two genes that are fused together from two seperate chimp genes. Just what exactly about this implies we were created?
Look at it this way. We have mountains of evidence that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor. We also have some pieces of evidence which are open to interpretations that, at least prior to falsifiable testing, contradict evolutionary theory. But here's the part people like Pastore can't answer: If 95% of the evidence says one thing, and 5% says the opposite, what is the rational of going with the minority viewpoint? There is none really, or at least none he would admit openly. He admitted it openly enough when he said:
"As I learned long ago, if you can believe the first sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” you won’t have much trouble with the rest of the 66 books.
Practically all IDers/creationists will make a comment like this if you get them talking. They can say all they want that they are interested in the science. Some of them might really believe it. But in the end, its always about the Bible. Always.