Punching bags

I really don’t read Neil’s blog very often. I usually scoot over there for a peak when I’m writing a post for FTSOS and I need to reference an old post. Those old posts often have links back to Neil’s and so I take a glance. And what do I see every time? Something wildly wrong:

The explicit reason for both the junk DNA error and the vestigial organs error was the need to find evidence for Darwinism in the form of stuff in life forms that doesn’t work. Without that need, these errors would not have been made. For many kids, mid-twentieth century, it was an error that resulted in needless, risky surgeries, removing supposedly vestigial tonsils and adenoids.

Neil is quoting from Uncommon Descent, a creationist blog that demonstrates the same understanding of biology as Neil has – none. That’s why this is such an easy one.

First, most DNA still is junk, i.e., non-coding and without use. It’s largely unneeded and has no developmental use or phenotypic effect. What was once labeled “junk” may have regulatory business to go about, but that is not the majority of DNA. Deal with it, creationists.

Second, I can’t believe creationists are still confused about vestigial structures. It was never the argument that these structures used to have a function and now they don’t. The argument was – and is – that they evolved to have a particular function, but they have since lost that function. They may well have been co-opted into having other uses, but that is not important to whether or not they are vestigial. Uncommon Descent and Neil ought to be hugely embarrassed.

Third and finally, tonsils were historically taken out for a number of reasons. One reason has to do with the availability of medicine to treat inflammation. It wasn’t until the middle of the previous century that penicillin and erythromycin were put into wide-spread use. Without that treatment option, surgery was a very viable solution. Second, improvements in surgical techniques plus the 19th century discovery of anesthesia made surgery that much easier. Third, long-term statistics were not particularly available concerning the effectiveness of the surgery. It was clear that it improved a person’s well being in the short-term as far as inflammation and soar throats were concerned, but beyond that it was a bit of a mystery. What was clear was that it did not pose significant long-term risks. Finally, the practice of removing one’s tonsils dates back approximately 2800 years prior to Darwin. The procedure is not based upon evolutionary thinking, nor was it ever utilized in an attempt to justify any claims about the vestigial nature of tonsils.

This is getting to be too easy.

Proven right in mere hours

It was only a few hours ago that I wrote about the condescension being expressed towards women who decide to have an abortion. The Republicans just don’t get it. Women aren’t getting abortions because they haven’t seen their ultrasounds. They aren’t making these decisions lightly. In short, women are not stupid. It’s crazy, I know. But one pseudo-libertarian right winger wants to make sure you all know I wasn’t just creating a strawman:

The pro-choice lobby has spread so much anti-science garbage over the years, I don’t for a minute believe that most women realize the implication of their decision to abort. Not for a minute.

Well, I never did expect someone from the right to believe in facts. Not for a minute.

The majority of the rest of this guy’s post is just projection – he knows the right has no grounds for claiming the side of science in anything, and he knows the entire point of all the ultrasound laws being proposed or passed in recent months is to be emotionally manipulative – plus he has a healthy does of red herring in there, but I am interested in one thing he said:

There is no debating that unborn children are human beings. Period. Science is clear on this issue. So, why are you being so anti-science by hinting toward a philosophical argument?

This reminds me so much of Punching Bag Neil. “Science is clear! Humanity begins at conception!” Except it doesn’t. What starts at conception is a process of development. Where that development starts to matter is a complicated issue – so complicated, in fact, that we can’t really begin to talk about it when people on the right don’t even understand the basic biology behind the issue.

Update: I noticed that one key part of my post wasn’t reposted by this guy. It was this picture showing the breakdown of what Planned Parenthood does. It shows that only 3% of their services are directed towards abortions. But do these facts matter? Of course not!

Why can’t you people just admit the facts? Why can’t you admit that Planned Parenthood’s livelihood is abortion services? Why can’t you people just admit that the trumpeted Hyde Amendment is utterly meaningless, because money is fungible!

Support abortion if you so choose, but for God’s sake, quit lying!

So when the facts are inconvenient, the other side is lying. Got it.

Punching bags

Once again Neil has proved a great resource for punching bags. Following the link to one of his commenter’s blogs, I found this link to Cornelius Hunter. The guy has written an anti-science book or two and works for – you guessed it – the anti-science Discovery Institute. He has a post about convergent evolution, something he doesn’t appear to understand.

Imagine a future space explorer who travels to a distant galaxy and discovers an inhabited planet with an advanced civilization. In his visit he tours a great art museum. The halls are adorned with many beautiful paintings, but as the traveler walks through the museum an eerie feeling of deja vu overtakes him. The various exhibits he observes show different styles and movements that are uncannily similar to what he is familiar with from his home planet. Even particular paintings are incredibly similar to what he remembers.

Ergo, God.

But despite making his entire argument, and roughly half of the arguments from the Discovery Institute, Hunter continues.

This would be eerie because this high similarity has occurred for no apparent reason.

Well, gosh, he surely can’t be implying that convergent evolution happens for no apparent reason, can he? Because we do know that similar environments are a major cause. When two distantly related species which do not share a (recent) common ancestor are each in a similar environment with a similar niche to fill, they may both well fill it. Hunter may as well be saying that evolution itself happens for no apparent reason. We either know or can infer the reasons behind why many traits evolve. That they sometimes evolve independently and then converge does not throw the world of evolution on its head.

A million different paintings are possible, the traveler would never expect to see such similarity in independent masterpieces.

Except Earth doesn’t have a million different environments, broadly-speaking. And life has been around for 4 billion years. And not every option is equally viable. The odds, it turns out, really aren’t so bad. At least, ya know, when we feel like using facts and junk.

The level of convergence in biology has been found to be amazing in recent decades. Strikingly similar designs run all through the biological world. Such similarities do not bode well for evolution because (i) they are supposed to be independently created by chance events,

Chance? Nope. Wrong. They are created via nonrandom natural selection acting on populations that usually exist in similar environments and therefore have similar needs and/or possible outcomes.

(ii) often they must have arisen in different initial conditions,

The foundation of biology isn’t turned on its head because organisms use a different starting point. In fact, we ought to expect many different starting conditions; we see different biochemical pathways, different genes, and even different (sometimes subtle) morphology which all indicate differing evolutionary histories. That these pathways converge is indicative of patterns in the way life operates, not of the Jesus answer Hunter wants. Indeed, instead of Hunter’s anti-science response of “Nuh-uh, couldn’ta happen’d!”, we have some very interesting questions raised through ever-increasing discovery.

(iii) often they are found in different environments

So? Similar environment is the big cause, but that doesn’t make it the only cause.

(iv) the design space is large

This is just a repeat of his analogy. It’s still wrong.

How can we understand these strikingly similar masterpieces?

Well it really isn’t so difficult after all. You see, if our eye evolved once, then why not twice? Evolution is a story of serendipity, so why not add a bit more? Accepting the evolution of life requires a credulous mind. Once evolution is accepted as fact, all kind of events can be accommodated.

In other words, convergent evolution proves Jesus because it’s really hard to understand. If that’s the case, then I think Jesus is proven to Hunter all the time. Also, convergent evolution is false because, um, uh, ’cause things can’t convergently evolve.

Consider how evolutionist Simon Conway Morris explains convergence at the Map of Life website that documents convergences. Incredibly, for Morris, not only is convergence not a problem for evolution, it actually is yet another proof text. The message from biology’s massive convergence is “First, that evolution is true.”

First, Hunter doesn’t link to any explanation of convergence. He links to the page that describes the aims of Morris’ website. Second, it is the message of the website that evolution is true, not of convergent evolution. Call me crazy, but if a theory can be said to have a message, I would say convergent evolution’s message is that, in evolution, convergence happens. But maybe I’m just being wacky.

And how do these convergences help support such an amazing conclusion? Morris explains that biology’s very complex structures, such as the bacterial flagellar motor, “evolved independently at least twice.”

In other words, if you think complexity argues against evolution, just look—convergence reveals independent versions, which of course must have evolved. Such independent evolution proves such structures can’t be too complex.

…what? Convergent evolution doesn’t mean that something is therefore simple (though a strong case has been made for Hunter’s simplicity). Very complex structures or characteristics or traits can come about through evolution while landing on a similar spot or the same spot. Hunter’s conclusion has no relation to anything any real biologist has ever said.

Next please.

Punching bags

I want to start a new series, but I need your help.

There are bloggers and other individuals out there that just offer themselves up as punching bags. They are always antiscience. But I can’t find them all. For instance, my most recent punching bag, Neil, only came across my radar because of how wildly confused he is between the science of development and the subjectivity of “humanity”. Not everyone is that blatant in their misunderstanding of basic science. (Okay, so every single creationist is that blatantly confused, but I want to find some people more worthy of my time.)

So I’m not looking for people who raise legitimate scientific questions; I’m not about to get into a match with Jerry Coyne over how to define “species” (especially since I generally agree with him anyway). I want punching bags: people who mangle legitimate science for the sake of their point of view – a point of view they formed independently of anything to do with science. Alt-med quacks are always good, though creationists will work when the issue is topical, i.e., new hot-topic research. I don’t want the big names like Chopra for this series, but don’t be afraid to send me that sort of malarkey as well.

If you find something you think would fit these posts you can either make a post right here or email me at forthesakeofscience@gmail.com. Just be on the outlook for buzzwords like “quantum” or for people who draw nebulous connections between real studies and their worldview. Those people make up the most solid candidates.