Discovery Institute — Ignored Again!

The creationists at the Discovery Institute have never been able to generate a scientific controversy about the theory of evolution. They keep cranking out books and videos claiming that their “theory” of intelligent design is a serious scientific challenger to evolution, but so far they haven’t fooled anyone worth fooling. It’s a sad story.

As we’ve said before, all of their claims are greeted with either ridicule or indifference, in the same way the rational world routinely reacts to books about Bigfoot, haunted houses, and ancient aliens. The simple truth is that if there were any controversy, the scientific world would recognize it, acknowledge it, and teach it.

Today the Discoveroids are at it again. The latest at their creationist blog is Another Paper with the Imprimatur of the National Academy of Sciences Glosses Over the Cambrian Explosion with Verbiage. We won’t excerpt much of it — just enough to give you the flavor. They say, with bold font added by us:

Won’t somebody, somewhere in a major journal really tackle the greatest problem of the Cambrian explosion — the origin of new genetic information?

Information? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! See Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information. Back to the Discoveroids:

Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt has been out for almost two years now. Evolutionary paleontologists surely know about him and his book, but once again, PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] has published another paper that glosses over the problem that Meyer raises.

Waaaaaah! Nobody pays any attention to us!

Here’s the PNAS paper they’re complaining about: Diversity partitioning during the Cambrian radiation. All you can see without a subscription is the abstract, but it’s not important to read it in order to appreciate the Discoveroids’ rage at being ignored. Then they tell us:

If the authors Lin Na and Wolfgang Kiessling haven’t heard about it [Meyer’s book] over there in Germany, surely the honchos at the National Academy of Science know about it. Wouldn’t they have told them in the review process, “Hey guys, you really need to talk about the information problem here.” But, sad to say, the gloss goes on, putting another coat of whitewash over the major issue of the Cambrian event.

Waaaaaah! Let’s read on:

Since scientists can at times be masters of obfuscatory jargon [*Curmudgeon’s irony meter explodes*], let’s put this into plain English. Tell us, Drs. Na and Kiessling, how did almost twenty new complex body plans appear suddenly in the fossil record, without precursors? “Well, they appeared.”

Uh, that’s not how the paper explains it. The Discoveroids continue to rant:

This is SO dissatisfying. How can they get away with it, year after year?

[*Curmudgeon’s backup irony meter explodes*] They’re right. Evolution isn’t nearly as satisfying as Oogity Boogity. Here’s more:

With each new paper, our hopes go up that someone finally will buck up and face up to the real problem instead of assuming evolution’s unguided processes can work miracles.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! But the intelligent designer can work miracles. Moving along:

The paper has 71 references. All the usual suspects are there: [list of names], their views mildly non-conformist, get a passing nod. But not a single serious Darwin skeptic is mentioned in the text or the notes.

Waaaaaah! Moon-landing deniers have the same complaint about NASA publications. Another excerpt:

Let’s take a look at the three “strong and persistent evolutionary forces” that they say caused the Cambrian explosion. [Skipping that, because you can read the paper if you like.] If this isn’t arrant handwaving, then it’s unmitigated gesticulating. They’re treating evolution like a magic wand that takes any empty space and fills it with trilobites, worms, crustaceans, arthropods, and mollusks. “Come forth!” Evolution cries; “this niche is made for you!”

We’ll skip just about everything else. Here’s their last line:

Meyer’s book awaits a response. Ignoring the question does not qualify as an answer.

It’s a dirty rotten shame. Waaaaaah! Hey — the Time Cube is also awaiting a response.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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40 responses to “Discovery Institute — Ignored Again!

  1. docbill1351

    Seems to me that the Disco Tute has a Golden Niche waiting for them to fill: explaining the origin of genetic information.

    Come on, Tooters, show us how science is really done!

  2. michaelfugate

    Did they forget this?
    When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship
    Charles R. Marshall
    Meyer’s Hopeless Monster
    Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley R. Elsberry
    Meyer’s Hopeless Monster Part II
    Nick Matzke

  3. The arrogance of these droids is only matched by their evident self-pity. Typical pseudo-science conspiracy theory mongering.

  4. Ahoy, the Discorrhoids!

    Armchair tantrums, no matter how pouty or petulant, don’t advance science.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  5. Another reason they are ignored: The Discoveroids are in no way entertaining.

  6. docbill1351

    I’m surprised that the Tooters are more upset at being ignored then they are of Marshall calling Meyer a liar in print! Granted, Marshall was slightly obtuse referring to Meyer’s “systematic failure of scholarship” but it’s the best line ever and totally ignored by the Tooters.

    Later in a radio interview with Meyer and Marshall, Marshall explained nicely now the Cambrian radiation produced exactly what it did citing genetics, sexual reproduction, changing ocean conditions, oxygenation of the atmosphere and so on without invoking Oogity Boogity. It was too much for Meyer to bear so he threw a Hail Mary and challenged Marshall to explain the origin of genetic information. Unfortunately I don’t remember Marshall’s exact reply, it was the last comment of the interview, but it was something like “Whatever, there’s no point in talking with you.” Just waved him off.

    Poor Meyer! He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of creationism.

  7. michaelfugate

    IDist lack the ability to understand induction or if one were to grant them higher intellectual capacities they refuse to accept inductive arguments. They will never be satisfied and will always resort to what about Y when you have explained their what about A, B, C, D….X?

  8. Can anyone think of an instance in which a generally accepted idea was rejected without it being replaced with an alternative?
    The really big instance must be the Copernican Revolution. The Ptolemaic model limped along until Copernicus provided a well-worked out alternative.
    But I will go so far as to say that this is true of non-scientific ideas. I’ll just mention that the idea that Moses wrote the Pentateuch was known to have problems, but it was not finally rejected until the Documentary Hypothesis gave an alternative.,
    And I would go even further, which is that even the fringe theories, like “Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet”, have enough self-respect as to propose an alternative author.
    Is Creationism – and especially Intelligent Design – unique among would-be revolutions in not showing any interest in investigating an alternative?

    And another way that ID seems to be unique.

    Dembski has been promoting “Information” for quite some time. I’m not going to repeat by myself by pointing out that he doesn’t have any description of what it is, or whether it is. Rather, it is was he has to say about the so-called Conservation of Information. OK, we all know that he has no evidence for this conservation. But what is most astounding is that, whatever it might be, D. makes a point of introducing the Conservation merely and immediately to observe that it is not obeyed. (I will not dwell on it spontaneously decreasing, an odd sort of conservation.) His immediate observation is that human activity can increase “Information”. No sooner than he propounds this “law” (whatever it might mean) than he tells us that it is not obeyed.
    That has to be some sort of unique argumentation.

  9. Without a comprehensive definition of “information” or a method of measuring or quantifying it, what do they expect someone to say about it?

  10. I had an e-mail conversation with Dr. Marshall right after that radio interview, where I pointed out that Meyer misrepresented another of Marhsall’s papers. He said that he wished he known that before the radio show.

    Maybe he wouldn’t have been so nice in the show then.

  11. michaelfugate

    Without a comprehensive definition of “information” or a method of measuring or quantifying it, what do they expect someone to say about it?

    Oogity Boogity

  12. [*Curmudgeon’s irony meter explodes*]


  13. DNA carries the information across generation, but the information “comes” from mutation and sexual selection and genetic drift, after it goes though a redaction process that involves lots of hungry corpses.

  14. Another bit from their article that is offered as a criticism to the PNAS paper: “Animals just appear and emerge, as if out of a magician’s top hat”

    Wait…but if they appear out of an Intelligent Designer’s magic top hat…well, THAT’S JUST FINE!

  15. Let me attempt a definition of “information” that may work in the context of evolution: “Arrangements of DNA that specify proteins in an organism.”

    Carl Zimmer’s 2013 article in Scientific American blows away the ID charge that no new information can come into being. Key experiment tested a hypothesis about fruit flies, which have long been reared under lab conditions for many generations, pampered and sheltered from natural selectional pressures. Zimmer summarizes the hypothesis this way:

    “The zero-force evolutionary law makes a clear prediction: over the past century the lab flies should have been less subject to the elimination of disadvantageous mutations and thus should have become more complex than the wild ones.”

    Zimmer reports some disagreements about the implications, but the overall consequence is that, when selective pressures are low, mutations can proliferate. That is to say, changes in information that consistently occur in genes can be expressed in the whole organism or its parts without penalty. Then when populations get large enough to run up against environmental limits, selective pressures will cull the mutations that prove unfavorable under the changed conditions.

    In that case, why the Discovery Institute advocates a supernatural explanation for the Cambrian explosion is entirely beyond me. The vast Precambrian expanses of microbial nutrients would have pampered newly developed multicellular organisms with nutrients and (at first) little or no predation, placing so few limits on survival that an “explosion” of forms was the entirely natural result.

  16. Retired Prof says:

    The vast Precambrian expanses of microbial nutrients would have pampered newly developed multicellular organisms with nutrients and (at first) little or no predation, placing so few limits on survival that an “explosion” of forms was the entirely natural result.

    Oh yeah? Well, who created those conditions? Huh? Huh?

  17. Linuxgal, you said it much more succinctly than I did. If I had seen your comment before starting to write, I could just have written, “What she said.”

  18. michaelfugate

    From the PNAS paper:

    In other words, biological innovation—the evolution of larval stages (61)—in tandem with supercontinent breakup best explains the increase of geographic beta diversity. Our study pro- vides evidence for niche partitioning, plate tectonics, and key in- novations as strong and persistent evolutionary forces, and the Cambrian radiation is no exception, although it was more sub- stantial in quality than later radiations.

    They mention evolution instead of God and supercontinent breakup instead of a world-wide flood – no wonder the DI is mad!

  19. docbill: “Poor Meyer! He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of creationism.”

    No way. Dangerfield was funny.


    Curmy: First line, third para. : “Today they Discoveroids are at it again.” (…the Discoveroids …)

  20. Guess I can’t close italics with a “close bold” tag, can I?

    [*Voice from above*] No, but it’s admirable that you keep trying.

  21. Thanks, retiredsciguy. It’s fixed.

  22. Well, there are some who pay attention to these people, the religious self-righteous, the republican denialists, those who are totally ignorant of science, and the Fox News staff and commentators of course.

  23. @TomS: “The really big instance must be the Copernican Revolution.”
    Actually no. During the 16th Century both Copernican and Ptolemaean models were en vogue. Tycho Brahe spend literally decades to collect evidence for his compromise of the two. At the end everything was rejected and Keppler’s model became the popular one.

  24. SC said: “*Curmudgeon’s backup irony meter explodes*”
    Actually, the first one simply exploded. The second one did a victory lap, did a passable imitation of the “Saturday Night Fever” dance, THEN exploded.

  25. The irony to me is that almost everything the DI writes about is based on the work of actual scientists. They talk about the Cambrian explosion, but has any of them actually studied the fossils in any way? Has anyone done any sort of genetic studies to determine if differences date to that point in time (differences appear to originate earlier.) No. They rely on real scientists to do the work, then distort it.

    Of course, one reason no one pays any attention to them, besides their work not being in the least scientific, is that “mysteries” such as the Cambrian Explosion have already been amply explained. Erwin and Valentine’s text on the Cambrian Explosion completely destroys the DI’s claim that there were no progenitors to the animals in the “explosion.” It was, I believe, published before Stephen Meyer’s lame effort. So why respond to Meyer? He’s trotting out a “mystery” where there is none.

    If they want to be noticed, they can do some real work rather than writing popular books. Although, I do admit I would love to see “The Idiots Guide to ID.” That is the book that should be written.

  26. retiredsciguy said: “No way. Dangerfield was funny.”
    You left out “INTENTIONALLY”. In contrast, Meyer is

  27. Christine Janis

    @ Ed “They talk about the Cambrian explosion, but has any of them actually studied the fossils in any way? ”

    Precisely. Meyer talks about all those phyla that appear in the Cambrian. Actually, all that appears in the Cambrian are features in the rock that look a little like animals.

    Who determined that those impressions were actually animals, not “lying stones”? Scientists.

    Who determined that those animals were not all individually different, but that many resembled each other and so could be determined to represent the individuals belonging to discrete extinct species? Scientists.

    Who determined that these extinct species were similar enough to living animals that they could be considered to be the early members of lineages still present today (i.e., phyla) — and also that some were *not* related to anything alive today? Scientists.

    Who then came along and said that “scientists know nothing, but we’ll take the bits of what they say that we happen to find useful for our own polemics”? Propaganda merchant creationists who rely on the scientific ignorance of their target audience.

  28. @Christine Janis
    When I first heard of creationism, I thought that they would just brush away all of paleontology. It surprised me that I haven’t heard from fossil-deniers. For example, why do they go through all of the contortions to fit the dinosaurs on the Ark, when they could just deny the existence of dinosaurs? Piltdown Man was a hoax, so all fossils are a hoax.

  29. Christine Janis

    “Piltdown Man was a hoax, so all fossils are a hoax.”

    They save that for hominid/oid fossils. You can find something like the following on many websites:

    Piltdown Man was a hoax
    Nebraska Man was a pig
    Neanderthal Man was just an old guy with arthritis
    And Lucy is now agreed by all anthropologists to be a chimpanzee. (I’ve even seen them cite Don Johanson on this one!)

    ‘And that, ladies and gentleman, is the sum total of “evidence” for human evolution.’

  30. The biggest problem of the “Cambrian explosion”–for creationists–is that the Cambrian era exists at all, since according to them the universe is less than 10,000 years old.

  31. I think that a lot of people, including people who have no difficulty with accepting evolution, think that the evidence for evolution is mostly fossils.

  32. The whole truth

    TomS said:

    “It surprised me that I haven’t heard from fossil-deniers. For example, why do they go through all of the contortions to fit the dinosaurs on the Ark, when they could just deny the existence of dinosaurs? Piltdown Man was a hoax, so all fossils are a hoax.”

    I’ve seen on the internet (and have met and know) some creationists who deny that fossils exist or who claim that fossils are not old or that fossils are not really fossils and were planted by Satan to fool scientists, ‘Darwinists’, evolutionists, or whoever they’re supposed to fool. Every imaginable stupid assertion has been made by some creationist(s) somewhere, sometime.

    Even one of my brothers (a ‘born again’ christian) asked me once (in a snotty/smug way): “How do you know they’re old?” At the time I was showing him some fossils I had found, and after his snotty/smug ‘question’ I briefly explained how fossils are dated and suggested that he read up on radiometric dating, stratigraphy, index fossils, etc., and he just smirked and snickered in his usual, arrogant, ‘christian’ way. He obviously didn’t (and still doesn’t) accept anything but what he hears in church.

  33. The whole truth

    TomS said:

    “I think that a lot of people, including people who have no difficulty with accepting evolution, think that the evidence for evolution is mostly fossils.”

    I agree. I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing though, but then I’m kind of biased since one of my main interests is fossils. 🙂

  34. I think there is a slightly different point about the DI’s whining. Since everyone knows their ‘work’ is nothing but distortions of actual science, imagine the distorting they will be able to do if someone, an actual scientist, took Meyer’s example of fictional diarrhea and gave it the slightest nod of credibility?

  35. Meyer’s books have been responded to in length by numerous people. Many of the readers of S.C. wonderful blog have likely read at least one of them. Some have provided considerable reference to evidence that supports the statements made in their response to Meyer’s propaganda. Even the comments at amazon have had reasonable rebuttals to his silly fibs.

    But like a true charlatan, the DI and cohorts will always look through the transit glass and declare themselves the winner. It’s not about being correct it’s about declaring yourself the winner and hoping the uninformed will believe you.

  36. It’s so sad that Ed and Christine don’t appreciate the hard work the IDiots from Seattle do every day: to sift all those scientific texts for stuff that seems to confirm their predetermined conclusions.

  37. Christine Janis

    For a truly excellent new review of Darwin’s Doubt, that catches Meyer on a number of quote mines (or at least leaving bits out of his citations so that the scientists appear to be supporting his viewpoint) I recommend the recent one by Aaron Baldwin

  38. @Christine Janis: Your comment to Ed above (“Precisely. Meyer talks about all those phyla that appear in the Cambrian…”) is excellent!

  39. Another thought about the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” —

    It was probably actually the “Great Cambrian Extinction”. We know nothing of all the phyla that didn’t/couldn’t grow protective shells or exoskeletons during the Cambrian as predators came on the scene. We only call it the “Cambrian Explosion” because it’s the first appearance of easily fossilized critters — they were not only the survivors, but also the ones whose remains were preserved.

  40. Christine Janis

    @ Retiredsciguy

    Actually the entire point about the Cambrian “explosion” is that there are couple of faunas with exceptional preservation of soft-bodied forms (e.g., the Burgess Shale and the Chengjiang faunas) so that the taxonomic diversity shoots up at that point. So the magnitude of the “explosion” is at least in part a taphonomic (i.e., preservational) artifact.

    Geochemical studies point to the issue of changes in ocean chemistry that would affect the ability of animals to incorporate calcium into an exoskeleton — which is why we start to see such animals at the start of the Cambrian, a good 20 Mya before the “explosion”. These animals are unfortunately only known from small bits and pieces (which is true worldwide — another issue of preservation at the time) called the “Small shelly fauna”— in which at least some of the modern phyla (molluscs, brachiopods, possibly stem arthropods) can be recognized. Meyer conveniently ignores this entirely. (Or rather, he secretes it in an obscure one sentence in a footnote to another issue — just as if he could defend himself by saying that he Did Too include the SSF.)