Discovery Institute: “But They’re Still Pigeons!”

One of the standard tactics of creationists is to demand repeatable evidence of something that can’t be repeated (or directly observed) and to claim that the failure to meet their demands is somehow “proof” that the theory of evolution has failed. (By implication, it’s also assumed to be “proof” that their supernatural tales are true by default.)

This grotesque style of argument — inventing a straw-man and then demolishing it — takes many forms. The most primitive is to demand that there be a biologically impossible combination such as a Crocoduck. Less primitive, but equally ridiculous, is to demand that biologists should somehow duplicate the evolution of the entire biosphere, from one-celled organisms to man — a development that required billions of years and which obviously can’t be repeated in the lab. The claim here is that “molecules to man” evolution has never been “observed” — except of course that it’s been demonstrated by a vast amount of evidence left behind over geologic ages — but creationists refuse to accept such evidence.

Further, although there are numerous Observed Instances of Speciation, including ring species, creationists ignore that and demand real-time visual evidence of very large-scale evolutionary progression — the kind that can occur only over millions of generations — and which are therefore evidenced only in the fossil record and in DNA.

We think we can include among the straw-man arguments the creationists’ false distinction between what they call “micro-evolution” — which can be observed — and “macro-evolution” — which occurs over huge and therefore unobservable time spans. We’ve discussed this (and numerous other creationist fallacies) in Common Creationist Claims Confuted.

The Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — are like all other creationists in using the micro-macro fallacy when it suits them. For example, see Klinghoffer: “But They’re Still Fruit Flies!”

Today the Discoveroids are at it again, demonstrating that despite their foolish denials, they’re really closeted creationists. Their latest is Darwin Vindicated at Last: Pigeons Evolved from Pigeons. It’s by Tom Bethell, a name we haven’t seen before, but his thinking fits right in with the Discoveroids. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Under the headline “Pigeon DNA proves Darwin right,” Nature reports on a study led by University of Utah biologist Michael Shapiro, that offers “insight into the genetics of both ‘fancy’ domestic breeds and plain street pigeons and supports their common origin from the wild rock dove (Columba livia).”

This is what he’s talking about: Pigeon DNA proves Darwin right. You can read it without a subscription. It’s not all that remarkable, but the creationists think it gives them an opportunity because it’s only about pigeons. Here’s more from the Discoveroid article:

Someone should compile a list of articles in science magazines that contain the phrase “proves Darwin right.” It would be rather a long list and would repay study.

Someone else should compile a list of creationist articles claiming to disprove Darwin. Anyway, we’ll skip the author’s discussion of pigeon details and get to the crazy stuff:

So the claim here is that pigeons are descended from a pigeon. Darwin seems to have noticed that rock pigeons lack the ruffs and other fancy adornments of more carefully bred pigeons. He also saw that it was safe to say that a critter that LACKS a trait or a whole bunch of traits is ancestral to those that possess it (or them).

That’s not exactly what the claim is — not even close — but that distortion is essential to the Discoveroid’s next paragraph:

The most famous such claim (in which ancestors are identified) is that invertebrates are ancestral to vertebrates. We can also say that cats evolved from non-cats, dogs evolved from non-dogs, and so on. A million such claims can be made, and they are all equally vacuous. They are disguised assertions that evolution happened.

Yes, evolution is nothing but wild assertions. Not at all like the exquisitely detailed demonstrations that the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is responsible for such things.

The article is so junky that we’re going to skip right to the end where the author drops his mask and launches into a clumsy performance of the micro-macro mambo:

In the case of pigeon-to-pigeon micro-changes, however, it is indeed easy to believe that evolution really did happen, and within a few pigeon generations.

Right. This pigeon research “proves” that the only thing the “Darwinists” have is evidence of micro-evolution. Macro-evolution is a myth. The Discoveroids can be proud of their mainstream creationist article. It’s so crude that Ken Ham probably wishes he had published it first.

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

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17 responses to “Discovery Institute: “But They’re Still Pigeons!”

  1. Well, Bethell wrote a credulous piece of tosh for American Spectator last year, very supportive of ID creationism.
    Bethell clearly hasn’t actually looked at Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. It’s clear why Darwin spent so much time on artificial selection.

  2. Jeffrey Shallit

    Bethell is a well-known blathering buffoon.

  3. You wrote, in irony, Yes, evolution is nothing but wild assertions. Not at all like the exquisitely detailed demonstrations that the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is responsible for such things.

    But i would note that what is so striking is not the lack of demonstrations, but rather the lack of descriptions of what the designer(s) did, when or where they did it, how their actions resulted in this world rather than something else, … Let it be noted, for example, that no one has ever suggested an alternative explanation for a nested hierarchy that did not involve common descent with modification. Or why is it, for example, that the human body is so much similar to the bodies of chimps and other apes – did the intelligent designer(s) want us to serve similar purposes of design, or was there some limitation on what they were able to design?

    Once we get some idea of what they are proposing, and only then, is it time to talk about demonstrations of it.

  4. Do they have any idea how stupid their “arguments” sound to the rest of us?

  5. Cats come from cats … or do they?

    AronRa provides a detailed analysis of our Can Haz friends while poking the creationists with a sharp stick.

  6. Many years ago Dembski, the Alfred E. Newman Professer of InfoSmartz, described the mechanism of the Intelligent Designer – blessed be he – or did he …

    As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

  7. Doc Bill says: “Dembski, the Alfred E. Newman Professer of InfoSmartz”

    The cascade of productive research that flows from Dembski’s groundbreaking insights is overwhelming.

  8. The other day I watched what I guess would be called a sermon by a certain creationist Doug Batchelor on YouTube. He pretty much used all the creationist talking points even the Moon’s recession (apparently they have trouble with the theory of gravity as well). Of interest to me was that in the same spiel he mentioned, like this article, that he buys microevolution but he also pulled out the 2nd law of thermodynamics classic. My question for creationists that try to use both: doesn’t microevolution violate the 2nd law?

  9. Thanks to Doc Bill for reminding us of this defense of Dembski’s. It should be repeated until everyone is familiar with it.

    I cannot resist a bit of quote mining:

    it makes no sense

    But seriously, why would one think that if intelligence is responsible for certain structures there would be fundamental discontinuities? If Leonardo da Vinci is responsible for painting the Mona Lisa, does that mean that we can’t ask about his methods, materials and motives, about when and where he painted, or about why he didn’t paint pictures of hobbits?

  10. But, da Vinci DID paint pictures of hobbits! They just haven’t been found yet.

    The shorter Dembski is this, which also sums up ID as a hole: Things may or may not have been designed, and we may or may not be able to detect design.

  11. Bethell has actually been around for quite a while. He was mentioned in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education as corresponding with Paul Ellwanger about the “balanced treatment” law that Ellwanger wrote. And, IIRC, he was quote mining Gould back in the 70s. He used to masquerade as a journalist but now I guess he’s come out of the creationist closet.

  12. johnpieret says: “He [Bethell] used to masquerade as a journalist but now I guess he’s come out of the creationist closet.”

    Anyone who lets his byline appear at the Discoveroids’ website is going to have a tough time denying that he’s a creationist.

  13. You forget the duck crocodile.

  14. Bethell is the smorgasbord of anti-science crackpottery, idiocy, and outright lying.

    Tom Bethell, 1976: “Darwin’s theory, I believe, is on the verge of collapse.…Natural selection was quietly abandoned, even by his most ardent supporters, some years ago.” – [Darwin’s Mistake by Tom Bethell. (Harper’s, February 1976. Cited by Stephen Jay Gould,

    Some years ago, he said, in 1976. So when did scientists “quietly” abandon natural selection? 1970, maybe? How’d that Darwinism collapsing thing work out for ya, Tommy?

    Pathetic liars.

    Bethell also denies that HIV causes AIDS, along with fellow IDologues Jonathan Wells and Phillip Johnson. Johnson and Bethell wrote this HIV denial paper with the infamous Duesberg.

    How’d that HIV denial thing work out for ya, Tommy?

    I’ve heard Bethell also denies the Theory of Relativity, but I haven’t found a reference yet. Pathetic moron.

    I read his PIG book, the Politically Incorrect Guide to Science. It’s regurgitates the usual ID creationism, but with right-wing pro-pollutionist crackpottery thrown in. He says that small amounts of pollution (mercury, PCB’s, dioxin) are good for your health, but environmentalists don’t want you to know!

    Let’s see some brilliant predictions from this IDiot seer!

    Here he is on the fossil record. He repeatedly insists no transitional fossil for bats can ever be found; It’s just IMPOSSIBLE!

    [p. 215]: “GUESS WHAT? The oldest fossil bats already have echolocation, or sonar, built in.”

    GUESS WHAT? YOU’RE AN IDIOT. Bethell’s book was published in 2005– the same year that Simmons discovered Onychonycteris! Onychonycteris is a transitional to bats, it had NO sonar. So much for his “already have echolocation built in.” Let’s see more from this genius.

    [p. 222-3]: “You would have though that if [sonar] emerged as the accumulation of many accidental steps… 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.”

    How’d that “No Half Bats” thing work out for ya, Tommy?

    [p. 215]: “In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin relied on sketches that turned out to be doctored. [Haeckel’s]”

    GUESS WHAT? YOU’RE A PATHETIC LIAR. Haeckel’s embryo drawings were made many years after the publication of the Origin of Species. Haeckel was inspired by Darwin, not the other way around, Pinocchio.

  15. @DocBill – thanks for the link to the cat evolution video. Great stuff, well presented, with humor. Lot’s of cats that missed the ark, for sure.

    So Darwin speculated that the various pigeon breeds found around the world probably descended from a particular wild pigeon, and it appears that comparison of DNA from a large number of breeds to the wild bird confirms that he guessed right. The studies also isolated the genetic mutations responsible for some of the features in fancy breeds, and researchers intend to see if the same genetic mutations are responsible for similar features in other species of wild birds. Interesting work. Bethall, of course, doesn’t mention the work on genetic mutations but instead goes off on a weird tangent about how evolutionary biologists identify ancestral populations as those that LACK (his capitalization) some trait, and then spins off that into what I suspect is a misrepresentation of various biologists views of cladistics. It’s simply amazing how a creationist can take a modest little article and imbue it with such far-ranging significance and import on subjects it doesn’t even address, then at the end of his rant conclude that it fails to prove those great issues and only demonstrated some limited fact – which was of course the only thing the article set out to demonstrate in the first place. This article was only ever about the relationship of pigeons, and Bethall, in the end, concedes that pigeons evolved from the wild stock. He apparently has no quarrel with the article. But in Bethall’s snarky spin, it was yet another failure to somehow prove his completely invented strawman issue. And what’s with the capitalization of LACK?

    It must have been a slow news day at the Discotute.

  16. Diogenes:

    Thanks, that was the Gould quote mining I was thinking of:

    “Darwin’s Untimely Burial.” This may be a better link:

  17. P.S. You can see Bethell’s original 1976 article “Darwin’s Mistake” here (pdf):

    Click to access Bethell%2076%20-%20Darwin’s%20mistake.pdf