Friday, June 27, 2008

Pseudoscientific Pap

This is another review I posted at the site, this one of Walt Brown's "In the Beginning"

This review is based on the online edition of the Seventh Edition of "In the Beginning" which is more recent than my print copy. It is one very long series of errors and misrepresentations. Brown, like many "creation scientists," cites and quotes many actual scientists lending an apparent connection between his work and reality. If a reader does not have the educational background, or time to personally read these citations, they might be fooled into thinking there is some support for Brown's wild ideas.

I'll take two examples as typical of Brown's disconnect from reality. In his "Frequently Asked Questions" section titled "68. Old DNA, Bacteria, and Proteins?" Brown cites Giuseppe Geraci et al., "Microbes in Rocks and Meteorites," (Rendiconti Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Vol. 12, No. 9, 2001, p. 51) for support of the notion that "fountains of the deep" (see Genesis 7:11) blew massive amounts of the earth into outer space. This article was published with a long list of objections and cautions that its conclusions were provisional, and that there were many doubts regarding methods used by the principal investigators. Brown ignores these cautions, nor does he note that over forty years of meteorite investigations have always found terrestrial contamination to be the source of microorganisms found in meteorites, e.g. "Bacterial Contamination of Some Carbonaceous Meteorites" J. ORO T. TORNABENE (1965 SCIENCE, VOL. 150, pg. 1047-1048). The probability of contamination increases in direct proportion to the amount of handeling the samples are subjected to under unsterile conditions. The two meteorite samples examined by Giuseppe Geraci had been recovered, handled and publicly displayed for many decades, one for over a century. Brown builds everything on this one error having ignored decades of related research.

In the same section, Brown claims that the discovery of "proteins, soft tissue, and blood compounds preserved in dinosaur bones" preclude an ancient earth. I have dealt with these topics at considerable length elsewhere, and the links to these articles are in the first comment below. In short, Brown's argument fails on this as well.

In a section on transitional fossils, Brown serves up massive numbers of out-of-context and manipulated "quotes." These are known as quotemines and most of those used by Brown are exposed in the "Quote Mine Project" maintained by the TalkOrigins Archive, which is dedicated to exposing the sort of creationist chicanery as Browns book.

Brown makes the statement, "If evolution happened, many other giant leaps must also have occurred: the first photosynthesis, cold-blooded to warm-blooded animals, floating marine plants to vascular plants, placental mammals to marsupials, egg-laying animals to animals that bear live young, insect metamorphosis, the transition of mammals to the sea (whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and manatees), the transition of reptiles to the sea (plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs), and on and on."

Lets just look at a few gross errors in that paragraph. First is the most obvious error regarding the supposed transition of "placental mammals to marsupials." Sorry Walt, it didn't happen that way. If you reverse it from marsupials to placental mammals you will be still wrong. The evolution of cyanobacteria and the evolutionary innovation of endosymbiosis lead directly to the evolution of photosynthesis, and while not complete, these must first be refuted scientifically before Brown can claim they cannot be completed. Then there is the question of sea mammals. Brown lumps three major groups, the Cetaceans (whales and allies), the Pinipeds (seals, walrus, sea lions) and the Sirenians (manatee, sea cow and dugong). Demanding a common group of fossils for these would be asinine. The transitional fossils for the cetaceans are the best known and the most accessible general reader source is from the laboratory of Dr. J. G. M. Thewissen, also an excellent source on the evolution of Sirenians. The known transitional fossils fall into six families, Indocetidae, Pakicetidae, Ambulocetidae, Remingtonocetidae, Protocetidae, Dorudontidae, and Basilosauridae. The transitional fossils of the Sirenians are less well studied with only about fifty specimens. None the less, the broad outline connecting the elephants, hippos, and manatees is known. The early transitional fossils for the pinipeds are the least well known, but one in which I have personal experience. The best fossil specimen in the world (over 90% complete) of the most likely ancestor of the pinipeds, Gomphotaria pugnax, was discovered by one of my former students and is curated by a museum where I was a director.

These basic errors show why engineers should not write about biology or paleontology- they are ignorant. It is for these reasons that I wish there were "negative" points I could award to Brown's pernicious book.

I would like to offer a few links to material I mentioned in my review;

Walt Brown's book is available on the web at

Misrepresented quotes used by Walt Brown. You will find the entire quote, and a discussion;

My articles refuting the "ancient proteins equal a young earth" error

"Dino-blood and the Young Earth"

"Ancient Molecules and Modern Myths"

"Dino Blood Redux"

The laboratory website of Professor Thewissen;

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