Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo

Four years ago, while describing the madness of the false dichotomy of micro- and macro-evolution, we said (here) that it was like someone declaring: “I believe in individual steps, but not a whole flight of stairs.” Later we expanded on that and wrote The Scientific Case Against Stairs.

The imaginary distinction between micro- and macro-evolution depends on a magic barrier between them, which somehow prevents one from gradually becoming the other. That imaginary (and unevidenced and unexplained) barrier says: “A species can mutate thus far and no farther!” It’s the reason creationists give to invoke the intervention of a deity (or an intelligent designer) who is somehow able to overcome the barrier and thus provide the appearance that life evolved naturally over eons, in a long chain of mini steps. Therefore, creationism requires belief in a two-part dogma consisting of: (1) the Great Barrier; and (2) the miracle that breaks through the barrier.

Given the obvious absurdity of what we call the micro-macro mambo, one might be forgiven for thinking that such foolishness is found only in the most primitive forms of creationism — the kind we recently posted about here: Rev. David Rives — What We Don’t See. But that’s a mistake. Even the “sophisticated” and allegedly “scientific” creationists — i.e., the Discoveroids, indulge in the same foolishness.

Look what we just found at the website of the Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page. Their new essay is titled Evolution’s Central Claim Has Not Yet Been Observed. It’s by Tom Bethell. He’s not officially a Discoveroid, but Wikipedia says he advocates intelligent design and other fringe science. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us. He begins by purporting to quote something Jerry Coyne wrote in Nature back in 2001:

When, after a Christmas visit, we watch grandma leave on the train to Miami, we assume that the rest of her journey will be an extrapolation of that first quarter-mile. A creationist unwilling to extrapolate from micro- to macroevolution is as irrational as an observer who assumes that, after grandma’s train disappears around the bend, it is seized by divine forces and instantly transported to Florida.

That’s a good description of the micro-macro mambo. It’s certainly better than anything we’ve written on the subject. But the Discoveroids don’t like it. Not one little bit. Bethell says, with a bit of quote-mining thrown in:

We do need to be reminded that Darwinism depends on extrapolation. According to Harvard’s longtime evolution expert Ernst Mayr [1904-2005], evolution across species “is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species.”

Was Mayr really scoffing at evolution by referring to it as mere extrapolation? That’s the impression we get from Bethell’s selective quote. Let’s check it out. We can’t find the place where it originally appears, but Wikipedia refers to it in Macroevolution and the modern evolutionary synthesis. They say, with a bit of red color added by us:

Within the Modern Synthesis school of thought, macroevolution is thought of as the compounded effects of microevolution. Thus, the distinction between micro- and macroevolution is not a fundamental one – the only difference between them is of time and scale. As Ernst W. Mayr observes, “transspecific evolution is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species… it is misleading to make a distinction between the causes of micro- and macroevolution

How very surprising. We’re shocked — shocked! — that Bethell left out an important part of that quote. It seems that Mayr didn’t really intend to dismiss macro-evolution, which is what the Discoveroids imply. Rather, he was dismissing the alleged distinction between micro-and macro-evolution. Mayr says, in effect, that it’s not magical at all; it’s merely a straightforward extrapolation. But the Discoveroids are citing Mayr as an authority for the existence of the Great Barrier that prevents you from going upstairs one step at at time, or that prevents granny’s train from going clickety-clack down the track, all the way to Miami.

Let’s see what else the Discoveroids have to tell us:

Coyne’s comment shows us that this extrapolation has not yet been demonstrated. If it had been, believe me, we would never hear the end of it. He wouldn’t have needed to put grandma on that imaginary train.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! We’ve got the fossil record that shows what happened. That history is revealed in DNA. And we’ve even got ring species. Frankly, the burden of proof is the other way around. It’s the creationists who assert, and thus need to demonstrate: (1) the mechanism of the Great Barrier; and (2) the activity of the barrier-breaking designer. (We imagine the designer — blessed be he! — creeps into the genome when no one is looking and, like a sleazy used-car salesman, he resets the invisible mutation-counter from “maximum” back to zero so the creature’s descendants can then continue to mutate to the next level.) Let’s read on:

In The Origin of Species, Darwin discussed the work of animal breeders, pigeon fanciers in particular. They might vary in coloring or display, but at the end of the day, as Darwin well knew, they all remained pigeons. Dogs vary greatly in size, but dogs they remain.

Darwin said that varieties were “incipient species,” thereby staking his claim to the belief they were on their way to becoming something else. In short, he was extrapolating. But that was philosophy, not science. He lacked the evidence to claim that the extrapolation had actually been observed.

Is “extrapolation” going to be a new mantra for the Discoveroids? Probably. Here’s more

Ever since, evolutionists have assumed that it has been observed. But the Coyne quote reminds us that it hasn’t been. Grandma just keeps traveling on to Miami, he reassures us, and it takes a “creationist” to raise doubts about that.

Then, in what is a real shock, Bethell takes a swipe at the Discoveroids’ patron saint, who they claim (while deep in his dotage) became an early convert to an incipient from intelligent design. But as this next quote shows, when Wallace’s mind was still intact he wasn’t the Discoveroids’ man — he was Darwin’s. Observe what Bethell says:

Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, wrote in 1858 that his theory could be summarized as “indefinite departure from the original type.” “Indefinite departure” is in fact the central claim of the theory of evolution by natural selection. But it still hasn’t been observed.

The Discoveroid essay goes on quite a bit, and it ends with this:

When you are relying on random variation, the track that Coyne presupposes doesn’t even exist. And if such parallel tracks could be created, and laid, they might lead anywhere. Or nowhere.

So there you are. You can’t walk upstairs, granny can’t take the train to Miami, and there can’t be any “macro-evolution” without the magical intervention of the celestial designer. Now you know.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo

  1. When discussing the micro/macro misconception, I like to ask the question, “Is black different than white?” Of course everyone agrees, and then I show them a gray-scale transition of white to black, with 128 or more shades, and simply ask “where did white become black?” Most folks understand; the Discoveroids would no doubt see the designer in there somewhere.

  2. Behe probably wasn’t the first but he’s the most notable crackpot to use the “proof of infinite steps” argument against evolution, that is, at Kitzmiller Behe testified that he would have to see every mutation in every intermediate along with a complete and exact description of the selective pressures (the environment) in order to be convinced that the theory of evolution is “true.” In Behe’s imaginary world you wouldn’t be able to claim that you drove from Houston to Austin without a detailed video of the entire journey and an accounting of how many bugs hit the windshield.

    Earth to Behe: nobody gives a rat’s ass what you think, you disingenuous moron.

    That’s the short of it. That’s what crackpots do. They put on their Serious Face, ask an impossible question and shout, “Ah, ha!” when an answer can’t be provided. Bethell is a British journalist with no scientific background and a known crackpot, crank, HIV denialist, climate change denialist and all-round contrarian; a significantly more mature version of Klinghitler. In this piece, Bethell quotes a creationist quoting another creationist writing a blog posting on a creationist website. It’s an echo chamber full of turtles, all the way down!

    The irony is that Bethell actually describes evolution by natural selection by having Granny lay tracks to Miami, some going here, some going there and some going nowhere. That’s exactly right, Tommy boy, by Jove I think you’ve got it! It’s wonderful when crackpots don’t even understand what they write, eh, Klinkhitler?

  3. If grandma came from Kalamazoo, why do we still have Kalamazoo?

  4. My great-grandmother worked on the railroad. Yes, she did. True ™ story. She could drive spikes with one hand while drinking rye with the other. She was a real hoot, from what they said, a rye sense of humor. Actually, that spur line that goes to Kalamazoo was supposed to go to Tallahassee. Hard drinking, hard working, bad sense of direction.

  5. The old Kalamazoo – Tallahassee conundrum. The K – T boundary messes me up, too.

  6. Charles Deetz ;)

    How far can this train analogy be taken to prove how silly ID is? Yes the video of the whole trip is the ultimate solution that Bethell wants. But what if Grandma called and left a message announcing every train station she switch trains at (fossil)? (Or maybe it has to be every single stop using a cell phone from within the train.) What if those train stations happened to form some sort of line toward Miami?

    And when you finally went down to visit her, she’d be standing in her kitchen. If you were and ID’r, you’d pester her about whether those phone messages were real, and maybe she switched to a bus and demand to see transfer tickets. And once the transferred tickets were shown, the ID’r would assume she printed those off her computer when she got home.

    And so on.

  7. Oh, Mark, Post of the Month!

    Curmie, clean up on aisle 5. We have a keeper!

  8. Even a video of the whole trip will not be enough. Because video recording is basically taking a finite number of pictures of the subject matter per second, there are some parts of the trip that would be skipped between each frame, and therefore not be recorded.

    Bethell has just debunked video evidence! Someone inform the courts!

  9. Mark – totally agree! I have driven past a KT boundary in the Raton Basin and it is not anywhere along the route between Kalamazoo and Tallahasse!!

  10. I like to imagine asking a creationist around the year 1900 “What fossil evidence would convince you of evolution”. He would probably come up with “intermediates between fish and amphibians, land animals and whales, apes and men..”. Then I would whisk him up to the present in my time machine and show him Tiktaalik, Ambulocetus, Australopithecus….

    I can dream, can’t I?

  11. I’m relatively new here, so pardon me if some of my points below can be dug up in the archives.

    1. Trains are irreducibly complex. If you remove the engine, the train does not go.
    2. What is grandma even doing on a train? Sex and drugs, probably.
    3. Trains were at one time segregated, and so are racist.
    4. Who made the trains run on time? Hint: Rhymes with Shmitler.
    5. James Watt recanted on his deathbed. He said, “I should have invented the jet engine.”
    6. Isaac Newton never took a train anywhere.
    7. “God does not play dice… on a train.” – A. Einstein.

    Checkmate, Mr. Coyne. Checkmate.

    All this, and much more, in my upcoming book, “Materialistic Pullmanism: A Transport in Crisis.”

  12. Mark Germano says: “All this, and much more, in my upcoming book”

    It sounds like a winner. But don’t leave out the fact that you can’t have tracks without a tracker.

  13. Myself, I prefer a Newtonian analogy over the ones that you mention.
    Newton observed gravity working on the surface of the Earth and extrapolated from that to gravity working everywhere, and from that extrapolation explained the orbits of the Moon and the planets (including the Earth). Not until there were rockets leaving the Earth did anybody do any direct testing of that extrapolation, but nearly everybody granted universal gravitation long before that.
    Someone could have called gravitation near the surface of the Earth “micro-gravity” and universal gravitation “macro-gravity”, and thereby called into question all of Newtonian mechanics.
    And I should also mention that the analogy isn’t quite to the point because there are tests of macro-evolution. For example, from the fossil record, we see transitional forms between larger taxonomic groups. (My favorite being the transition from “mammal-like reptiles” to “reptile-like mammals”.) Before Sputnik, where did we see evidence of the continuity between “micro-gravity” and “macro-gravity”? The continuity between “micro-evolution” and “macro-evolution” in “darwinism” is better attested to than the analog in “newtonism” was before Sputnik.

  14. TomS says:

    Someone could have called gravitation near the surface of the Earth “micro-gravity” and universal gravitation “macro-gravity”, and thereby called into question all of Newtonian mechanics.

    I like that. We should teach the controversy.

  15. I would like to ask a Discoveroid what they think the world would be like today if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had missed the earth 65 million years ago. Would we have the same populations of animals, i.e., no evolution, and thus no humans or other mammals of any significant size? Would the designer have continued to tinker with dinosaurs, producing new and smarter ones?

    Possibly they will answer that the designer hurled the asteroid at the earth, which would be an interesting statement about the designer’s character, or they might claim that it was a natural disaster but the designer had to intervene afterwards to modify life over millions of years to develop humans – even though humans were intended from the beginning. We never seem to read essays about the history of life from an ID viewpoint, with explanations of why life was created and destroyed over the eons as shown in the fossil record.

  16. Ed makes a comment about what advocates of ID think of the character of their designer(s), who deliberately engage in mass extinctions to achieve their ends. I’d also note that the advocates must think that their designer(s) engaged in a complex misdirection (one which has “specified complexity” far greater than a bacterial flagellum or even a vertebrate eye) in designing the world of life with the appearance of millions of years of evolution, and designing human intelligence to fall for that misdirection. What does that misdirection (dare one call it a lie?) say about their belief about the character of their designer(s)? What about designing the human body to be most similar to the bodies of chimps and other apes say about the intentions of those designer(s), and thus about the character of those designer(s)? That they intend ape-like behavior in their favored design (that is, according to the advocates of ID)?

  17. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    Douglas said …
    “When discussing the micro/macro misconception, I like to ask the question, “Is black different than white?” Of course everyone agrees, and then I show them a gray-scale transition of white to black, with 128 or more shades, and simply ask “where did white become black?”

    I find this graphic useful when discussing it. If I had any graphic skills myself I would “extrapolate” speciation by diverging subsequent text into two paths demonstrating population isolation and how one arrives at two different species under different selection pressures.

  18. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik


    That Darth Vader video was awesome. When he got the date with the checkout girl I began to sing “tonight is your night bro … tonight is your night bro,” like Danny DeVito in Twins.

    (for context this was several blog posts back)

  19. @David Evans:
    I like to imagine asking a creationist around the year 1900 “What fossil evidence would convince you of evolution”. He would probably come up with “intermediates between fish and amphibians, land animals and whales, apes and men..”. Then I would whisk him up to the present in my time machine and show him Tiktaalik, Ambulocetus, Australopithecus….

    I can dream, can’t I?

    But we can do much better than that. We can compare what creationists historically claimed were IMPOSSIBLE intermediate forms — not just that they hadn’t been found yet, up to that time, but which intermediates were IMPOSSIBLE and could not exist because their “transitional” body parts would kill them– against subsequent discoveries in paleontology, not just refuting their claims, but making them look ridiculous.

    I’ve been working on that kind of thing for months– I’ve read dozens of creationist textbooks, some going back to the early 1900′s, 1920′s, 1940′s etc, and I’ve extracted all their “predictions” about the fossil record, all their claims that there could never be a half-bat, no half-wing, no half-feather, no half-leg, etc. etc. etc. I have hundreds of quotes like that, cited to the original creationist book.

    So then I just compare what creationists predicted BEFORE the discovery of this or that intermediate form, against the properties of the intermediate form itself.

    To give you an example, here’s one from the creationist idiot who’s the topic of this post; Tom Bethell. He’s been a creationist since the 1970′s, and has made a number of grossly falsified, ridiculous predictions. I’ll describe one here.

    Bats: for many decades creationists have claimed that a half-bat is impossible because it would drop dead if it had half a wing. I have many quotes from creationists saying just that.

    These quotes are from Bethell’s 2005 book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science.

    On bats [sidebar]: “GUESS WHAT? The oldest fossil bats already have echolocation, or sonar, built in.

    [Bethell, PIG to Science, 2005, Chapter "Evolution: The Missing Evidence”, p.215]

    “The earliest fossils of particular species often have a way of appearing suddenly, as though they spring into existence fully formed. Bats, which come in 1,100 living species (20 percent of all mammal species) are the only mammals capable of powered flight, and yet the oldest bat fossils already have sonar built in. Both sonar and flight arose at about the same time, and quite suddenly. “The lineage leading to bats was thus characterized by two remarkable specializations seen in no other land mammals,” according to a recent analysis in Science. [ref: Nancy B. Simmons, 2005]

    …You would have though that if [sonar] emerged as the accumulation of many accidental steps, each one beneficial to the bat-in-progress, as Darwinism decrees, then the fossil terrain would include half-bats, near-bats, almost-made-it-bats; would-have-avoided-that-cliff-with-better-sonar bats, and so on. But we never find them. “There are no half-bats,” as J.D. Smith, a leading expert on bats, once told a conference of professional biologists.” [Bethell, PIG to Science, 2005, p.222-223]

    Note that this statement was falsified the year that idiot Bethell’s book appeared. 2005 was the year Nancy Simmons announced the discovery of Onychonycteris, which falsifies Bethell’s statements, because its finger bones are intermediate between a flying animal and a brachiating insectivore. It also has no echolocation. Nancy Simmons, the discoverer, is quoted as an authority by Bethell above.

    Since 2005 creationists have continued to insist there are no half-bats. They pretend Onychonycteris was never discovered. I have those quotes too.

    This is much other garbage in his book. Enough for now.

    All this is going in the book I’m writing on creationism.

  20. RTT – good idea for a graphic; perhaps color could be used to demonstrate divergence. I’ll have to give that a try sometime.

  21. Charles Deetz ;)

    I needed to come back to this thread after re-listening to the <a href=RadioLab episode called Emergence, where they talk about patterns emerging out of nature. Specifically, how dumb ants seem to be able to find food. I remember now the first time I heard that episode and was spiritually touched by nature’s ability to do things without a real brain, or a leader. How do all the dumb ants figure out what to do, where to go, or how to survive? Its absolutely mind-numbing, yet it happens.

    The episode talks about how the traces of pheromones by each ant run amock (like our train track everywhere analogy, which is why I’m writing this), and suddenly ‘sprong’ they all line up going to the same food source.

    If one doubts the emergence of species over time, I don’t know how such a person would react to studying this behavior of ants. What I found spiritual, they would be completely tone-deaf to.

    The point is emergence is a concept that helps answers the how and why that the IDers so desperately want to pin on God, yet it happens every day, and can we really accept that He’s guiding all the ants of the world while my son suffers a disabling disease?