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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Then what is it, a shazzinflagin fossil?

Our bestest buds over at Answers in Genesis have chimed in over the latest discovery; an evolutionary "missing link." It is a transitional fossil of a newly discovered species, Tiktaalik roseae. It is called transitional because it has some attributes of fish, but also has some proto-features of land animals, like a moveable skull and proto-wrists. PZ Myers, as usual, has more.

Their response, "Gone Fishin' For a Missing Link" contains many laughable statements. Two in particular that I picked up on were:

It has features similar to fish:

"There is the coelacanth fish, found in the same geological system (Devonian it is called) as this Tiktaalik discovery, that also has lobe fins. These lobe fins were once thought to enable the coelacanth to walk on the ocean floor (in fact it was, like “Tiklaalik,” once considered by evolutionists to be a type of
transitional form). Later, it was determined that the coelacanth fins were used
for better maneuvering through the water, and not for walking. The new creature
uncovered in the Arctic might be something similar."

And it has features similar to land animals:

"All they have actually found is a fish that is another example of a lobe-finned fish (one of which still lives today—the coelacanth) that has bones similar in position to those seen in the arm and wrist of land-walking creatures—except these structures support fins with rays in them, not digits like fingers and
toes (and as has been stated, they are NOT connected to the axial skeleton)."

In other words they agree that it is an intermediate, but disagree with calling it transitional.

I just had to write them and ask some questions on this. Here is a copy of the email I sent to AiG:

I just finished reading your statement on the transitional fish fossil. I was wondering why the authors chose to attack the NYT article instead of the actual science articles (there were two) in Nature. You criticized the (NYT) article for using "cautionary" words, and the NYT for being the secular press. It should have been obvious to both Dr. David Menton and Mark Looy that the NYT had to use cautionary terms because it is 'secular'; that is the NYT has creationist readers as well as reality-based readers, so it has to cater to those creationist readers by including such ‘cautious' terms. So why attack science, using as your only source, the decidedly non-scientific NYT? Why not use the articles of the actual scientists who made the claims?

I would venture a guess that the reason is that the scientists didn't use those 'cautionary' terms that you built the majority of your response around. No matter what your reasoning was, it is dishonest and deceptive to your readers. An analogy would be going to the beach and beating up the 99 pound weakling, then looking at the 100 pound weakling and saying, "you want some of this?" all the while the van Dammes and Segals are looking at you saying to themselves, "is this guy nuts?" it is easy to pick on the NYT, but you seemed to ignore the real challenge – the actual science articles.

Then out of the blue, the authors wrote:
"For the moment, we can confidently state that evolutionists have no examples of mutations or evolutionary processes that can lead to an increase in genetic information[...]"
What does genetics have to do with the paleontological facts? No one claimed there was an 'increase in information' concerning this fossil. The evidence being discussed was macroscopic in nature, while genetics are molecular in nature, it was a red herring thrown out to confuse and deceive your readers. This is not even to ask just what an 'increase in information' really means. (Please don't simply point me to your article(s) like, "Evolution? It doesn't add up!," "Creation question: Snowflakes," etc., I have already read them and they only serve to confuse instead of enlighten as well, but that is a different topic). The way scientists describe the process, there is not an immediate increase at all, merely a copy of existing information, and the copied information serves no immediate purpose. Then later natural processes cause mutations in that copied information, changing its function. That is how information gets increased.

But again that is completely irrelevant in this example, because this was merely the first step in an actual scientific process, describing and understanding the fossils themselves. The molecular biology involved in understanding the genetics of this species, has not even begun and will take many, many years. Thus making a 'increase in information' argument now is just putting the cart ahead of the donkey, and fooling your readers into believing that something that has not yet occurred, in fact is years away.

Finally, concerning the actual argument made by Dr. David Menton and Mark Looy, that this is not a transitional fossil, but then they proceed to state that the reason it is not transitional is because it has some, but not all, of the characteristics of a fish, and also some, but not all, of the characteristics of a land-based animal. They admit that the leg bones are quite similar in many aspects to land walking species, but that they also have some differences, namely they are not yet fully attached to the axial skeleton – thus could only partially support the animal's weight. Again that is to say it has some features of land animals, but not all of the features. My question to the authors is what you think the definition of 'transitional' is, if it doesn't mean intermediary, possessing some features of fish and land animals, but not all the features of either? How do you define transitional then?

You claim elsewhere to use the same facts as scientists, just interpret them differently. In this case, you have come to the exact same conclusion as science (disregarding that red herring about 'increase in information'), only want to call it by something other than transitional, despite the clear truth that even by how you explained this fossil is by definition, transitional. You are free to make up any new word you like, and define it the same as transitional, but that in no way changes that your interpretation matches the definition of a transitional fossil.

You (AiG) wonder why you get no respect from science and everyone in science ignores you;well the reason is what you did here in this article. You chose to attack a secular popularized version in the NYT instead of the actual science the scientists produced, and claim that your statements knocked down the real science. How would AiG react if science attacked the AiG using an article about the AiG found in "The Onion"? The official statement of the AiG surely would be to cry foul. So why do the same thing to science by using the NYT to attack science, especially since the NYT is secular and therefore has to respect all its reader's views?

You mention that you are waiting to make any final statement because:
"No creationist to our knowledge has yet done a careful analysis on this fossil. Until one of ourscientists or an adjunct AiG researcher has conducted a careful study, we will not issue a conclusive statement."
My question is what research? The AiG, ICR, or any creationist 'researchers' are free to examine the fossils, but the truth is no creationist actually ever does any research at all. A thorough examination of the AiG q&a, and creationism journal turns up zero research. You never do any research. All that does appear are articles disputing what scientists claim, and that is not research. It is commentary, pure and simple.

In this very article you make the claim of species being static, or only 'losing information' (whatever that means). Yet where is any research by even one creationist scientist investigating what the mechanism that acts as a 'stop sign' to prevent microevolutionary (variation within aspecies) changes from adding up to a macroevolutionary (a new species evolving from an old species) change? Surely if you claim to accept that small evolutionary changes occur within a species, then you could develop a research program that determines what mechanism prevents those changes from creating a new species... Is it a genetic 'stop sign' or something else? Do some actual research, and not just critiquing real research and calling that 'research' and you might gain some respect from real scientists.

Why don't you do this already? I can only guess, but the most likely answer is that you only want to deceive your readers into thinking you do real science. But that leads me to wonder what you really are thinking, if you realize that you are only perpetrating self-deception and self-delusion onto your readers, or you actually think that 'doing research' only means critiquing facts and experiments that somehow magically appear in secular sources. You can't possibly think that the 'research' you do is the same as the research real scientists do, because then you really would have to believe that facts and experiments do just magically appear. Surely you must understand that you have to actually conduct research to claim to be a researcher.

For example, I could cite the NYT article and critique it saying it proves that the flying spaghetti monster actually designed fish and land animals, and my critique would be every bit as valid as your conclusion. If I do not add anything to support my conclusions other than my interpretation, I have not added any information. If you're truly intent on proving your interpretation as valid, you need to add information, yet not one single creationist has ever added one single piece of information; this time is most likely to be no different. Meanwhile real scientists are adding new information every single day – they conduct experiments, they dig up and analyze fossils, they observe living organisms, they conduct molecular biology experiments, etc. So, once again, if you want to gain that credibility needed to push your creationism theory, you must start adding information. That is why science is so far ahead of you on the credibility, theoretical, and evidenciary fronts, they do the work, they make the analyses, they build on what is known, they predict what will come in terms of new facts, they study and critique other scientist's work, they reproduce experiments, they test hypothesis against new evidence, and they are willing to junk bad hypotheses or analysis if found to be in error. None of that is done by creation ‘scientists'.

I look forward to your comments and responses to these points and questions I have made.

P.S. Why did you choose to mention the ‘96 Mars meteor, not once but twice? What does that have to do with this fossil? It is an apples and oranges fallacy. They have nothing to do with each other, other than they are both old and rock. You seemed to use it as an analogy, but even then the analogy makes no sense, as when the possibility was first announced, the very first thing other scientists said was that there were a lot of possibilities that it could be something else. No one in the science community said it proved life on Mars; even the scientists who did the analysis and made the announcement claimed it was [not] conclusive proof, just highly suggestive. So it was never a hoax, or a trick or a lie meant to ‘fool' the public; it was a piece of rock that looked like fossilized tracks of a unique type of bacteria. Some scientists concluded that it could be, many others, said more analysis needed to be conducted. They decided it was purely mineralology. Science worked just like it was supposed to. None of that is the case here, so it was a bad and misleading analogy for the authors to use. It clearly is a fossil, of what clearly is an animal, and it clearly has characteristics of both fish and land animals, which you admitted. Science always puts a halt to bad conclusions, maybe you should take that to heart.

P.P.S. Here is another secular article, this one from the Wall Street Journal

I have always gotten responses from AiG in the past, I will post their response when I get it.

Update: I have now received a response. Check here for it, and my comments on it.

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At May 11, 2006 9:09 PM, Blogger monado said...

Bravo! Well said.

At January 04, 2012 2:34 AM, Blogger John Tossot said...

simple tell me please that what is fossil? and where they found?


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