We found a rather sad and revealing post at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
It’s Could This Be Darwin’s Most Trivial “Prediction”?, and it’s by David Klinghoffer, whose creationist oeuvre we last described here, and upon whom the Discoveroids have bestowed the exalted title of “senior fellow” — i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist. His name has some of the resonance of Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.
In his latest post, Klinghoffer (or Kadiddlehopper) is attempting to be smug about something someone else has written. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and David’s links omitted:
Sloths move very slowly. With that in mind, if you were going to predict a kind of animal that could tolerate a lot of variation in the architecture of its inner ear, with some presumably being more conducive to precise balance and some less so, what animal might that be? Take a guess. Squirrels? No, wrong, a squirrel with vertigo would not be a very successful squirrel. If you guessed “sloths,” you’re right! You could have been a great 19th-century naturalist. Sloths would seem to have very relaxed needs in terms of balance, and so could afford that kind of variation in a way squirrels could not.
There’s nothing remarkable about that — even Klinghoffer understands it. But does he know what it means? Stay with us, dear reader, and you’ll see that he doesn’t:
Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True returns momentarily to blogging on evolution with an interesting post, “Darwin right again: the inner ears of sloths are highly variable,” touting a study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Here’s the paper he’s talking about: High morphological variation of vestibular system accompanies slow and infrequent locomotion in three-toed sloths. Klinghoffer goes on:
The long and the short of it is that in the Origin of Species Darwin “predicted,” insofar as a feature is not useful to an animal, you may expect to find more variation in it: “An organ, when rendered useless, may well be variable, for its variations cannot be checked by natural selection.”
The paper confirms this with regard to three-toed sloths as compared to squirrels and some other creatures. Was this not crushingly obvious even before a team of seven international scientists, from Cambridge, the University of Vienna, and elsewhere, went to work on the problem?
Was that really “crushingly obvious” to someone who never read Darwin? Has Klinghoffer read Darwin? Does he know the context in which Darwin said it?
We find that quote in Origin of Species, Chapter 13, which is all about vestigial organs — a topic the Discoveroids dislike intensely because they so obviously contradict intelligent design (see Discovery Institute Justifies Vestigial Organs). Darwin, after discussing male nipples, rudiments of the pelvis and hind limbs in snakes, and several other examples, says:
I have now given the leading facts with respect to rudimentary organs. In reflecting on them, every one must be struck with astonishment: for the same reasoning power which tells us plainly that most parts and organs are exquisitely adapted for certain purposes, tells us with equal plainness that these rudimentary or atrophied organs, are imperfect and useless. In works on natural history rudimentary organs are generally said to have been created `for the sake of symmetry,’ or in order `to complete the scheme of nature;’ but this seems to me no explanation, merely a restatement of the fact. …
On my view of descent with modification, the origin of rudimentary organs is simple. … I believe that disuse has been the main agency; that it has led in successive generations to the gradual reduction of various organs, until they have become rudimentary, as in the case of the eyes of animals inhabiting dark caverns, and of the wings of birds inhabiting oceanic islands, which have seldom been forced to take flight, and have ultimately lost the power of flying. Again, an organ useful under certain conditions, might become injurious under others, as with the wings of beetles living on small and exposed islands; and in this case natural selection would continue slowly to reduce the organ, until it was rendered harmless and rudimentary.
And then Darwin comes to the “trivial prediction” seized upon by Klinghoffer, which explains the cause of vestigial organs:
An organ, when rendered useless, may well be variable, for its variations cannot be checked by natural selection.
And a bit later he ties that into his theory, and shows how vestigial organs contradict creationism:
Rudimentary organs may be compared with the letters in a word, still retained in the spelling, but become useless in the pronunciation, but which serve as a clue in seeking for its derivation. On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from presenting a strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the ordinary doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated, and can be accounted for by the laws of inheritance.
So the sloth’s rudimentary organ of balance (a specific prediction Darwin didn’t make) is far from trivial. It’s yet another piece of evidence that supports Darwin’s theory. That’s the danger of quote-mining Darwin. The full context is never very friendly to creationists.
Okay, back to Klinghoffer, as he concludes his silly post by telling us that whatever the researchers learned, he knew it all the time:
Yet applying common sense, and the knowledge that species display variations, would have “suggested” that “cool” insight, rendering the “prediction” trivial, without all the trouble this team of researchers went to.
We suppose this minimized and out-of-context prediction is a special type of quote-mining, but it’s not worth devising a term for it. In conclusion, we note that if Darwin’s prediction about useless organs becoming variable turned out to be false in the case of the sloth, the Discoveroids would be jumping with joy. But as it turned out to be accurate, Klinghoffer shrugs it off as obvious and “trivial.”
Hey — do the Discoveroids ever make any predictions? Sure, sometimes. We’ve posted about some before — see Discovery Institute: Tests for Intelligent Design! It’s amusing to compare Casey’s predictions to Darwin’s. But Klinghoffer wouldn’t understand the difference.
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