Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some Creationists Can't Evolve

I have been drawn into an exchange on the "Kingman Daily Miner" which prides itself as "Kingmans only Daily Newpaper."

*Edited to add Mar, 18: It has been 4 days since I submitted a partial response to the bullshit by Silas Stillwater, and there is no post on the paper's website. I doubt that there will be. My initial response was weirdly edited by the newpaper removing all of my original paragraphing. I suspect that the editorial policy at the paper is creationist through and through.

Following my response to Jim Hickley's creationist screed, someone using the name of Silas Stillwater posted a response.

My response follows

A common short definition of evolution is "change over time." The recent, rather long comment by someone perhaps named Silas Stillwater showed a remarkable lack of evolution. I'll try to be more brief. The objections to science he makes are all what we call PRATTs, or Points Refuted Thousands of Times. Most have webpages and even books refuting them, for example the "Index to Creationist Claims" ( ). But the dedicated creationist is oblivious. Stillwater shows that he is disingenuous at best when he excused Hinkley's falshoods because Hinckley "... writes for the casual reader." Who else should we try our best to be honest and clearly spoken with, Mr. Stillwater? Why do you feel it is acceptable to lie to general readers? Is it merely because it is easier than with a scientific audience?

Stillwater followed with an equally false note that he was not an advocate of a particular position even after his years of "research" and even publishing on the topic. Why then are all of his objections directed at science and his "get out of jail" cards wasted on Hinckley's creationism? On a personal basis, I earned a doctorate in anthropology over 30 years ago, and count in my professional experience being a statistical data analyst/computer programer, an analytical chemist, a professor of medicine, and a forensic scientist. But it was nearly 17 years ago when I was Curator and then Director of Education at a natural history museum that I was reluctantly drawn into the creationist attack on science and reason. Since that time I have contributed to several publications, print and electronic, on this topic.

Among the electronic media, I have been published by the which Stillwater despises as an "evolutionist haven." More of that dubious neutrality by Stillwather. I co-founded the Panda's Thumb website in 2004 which currently has recorded over 4.5 million visits, 18 times Stillwater's 0.25 million. Even accepting Stillwater's unsupported claims regarding his website (What was it called?), he is no comparison with Panda's Thumb, or TalkOrigins. T.O. publishes dozens of scientific experts, including leaders in their fields, on how their research and studies directly refute the sorts of creationist falsehoods presented in Hinckley and Stillwater's recent comments. Further, T.O. receives thousands of hits daily; even single articles out of hundreds published have far over twice the hit count claimed by Stillwater as evidence of his experience.

But, Stillwater draws on this minor experience to observe that mathematicians, or "mathy" types genearlly, are dismissive of evolutionary biology compared with actual biologists. Weirdly, Stillwater ignored the obvious conclusion that people who actually know about biology understand evolution, while those who lack the
needful training do not. Instead, he imagines some sort of "probability theory" problem for evolution. I have doubt if Stillwater, or Hinckley for that matter, has any idea what probability theory is, or how it is applied in population genetics, or evolution. Since nothing that Stillwater claims on this is supported by any document or evidence beyond his bald assertions, we can only guess at what this might mean regarding the popular understanding of evolution. One obvious conclusion is that people who know some math, but are ignorant about biology are just as biologically uniformed as people who don't know either math or biology. What we can be certain of is that this is not relevant to the either the significance or validity of evolution. It is pure smoke screen, like Hinckley's meaningless "probabilities" of amino acids randomly aligning into proteins which if Stillwater had even a modicum of the expertise he claims would have known.

For those following along point by point, I want to move to why Stillwater excused Hinckley's gross errors regarding Darwin and biology professor Kenyon. Stillwater wants you to skip these because they are gross errors! Stillwater is not unbiased, he wants us all to forget that Hinckley is incompetently repeating creationist frauds while pretending to be independent, informed and honest.

Stillwater made an accusation out of my pointing out that Hinckley followed in a long Creationist tradition of making false quotations. In fact, there are published volumes of these used by creationists. One example, that just happened to contain the Patterson "quote" Hickley and Stillwater so revere was published in the "Revised Quote Book," published by the Creation Science Foundation in 1990. The first "Quote Book" had to become "Revised" because the first publication was so filled with out-right fabrications and lies that even the creationists had to reissue it. I personally find it strange that the bulk of Stillwater's comment is related to this blatent misrepresentation of Professor Patterson. Since we are happily at the start of spring training, let me say that when a batter is leaning out over the plate, a high inside pitch is not totally out of the question. But, the creationist lies regarding Patterson's remarks and intended meaning are intentionally throwing at the batter! It is not about "footnotes" it is about lying.

The context that neither Hinckley nor Stillwater seem aware of was the heated debate within the sciences some 20 to 30 years ago regarding the place of fossils and molecular genetics in evolutionary theory, and how fossils could be orgainized into nested groups related to living species. Even more exactly, Collin Patterson was one of the leaders in a effort to replace the old classifications with more modern, more mathematical classification. He shared this position with Niels Ethridge, and Steven Jay Gould, all of whom provided much creationist fodder in their polemics against 19th century gradualism. Hinckley and Stillwater, by repeating the lies of creationist "quote mines" are apparently ignorant of this argument, since they have promoted the secondary falsehood that evolution is a monolithic dogma. Since Stillwather claimed to be a highly proficient expert, we must reject either his honesty or is claim to be an expert. Oh. That also means he is not honest.

Here is what Patterson had to say about the misrepresented fragment of his long ago talk, "That brush with Sunderland (I had never heard of him before) was my first experience of creationists. The famous "keynote address" at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981 was nothing of the sort. It was a talk to the "Systematics Discussion Group" in the Museum, an (extremely) informal group. I had been asked to talk to them on "Evolutionism and creationism"; fired up by a paper by Ernst Mayr published in Science just the week before. I gave a fairly rumbustious talk, arguing that the theory of evolution had done more harm than good to biological systematics (classification).

Unknown to me, there was a creationist in the audience with a hidden tape recorder. So much the worse for me. But my talk was addressed to professional systematists, and
concerned systematics, nothing else," Colin Patterson to Lionel Theunissen (1993).

Stillwater concluded that "Patterson had a problem with the theory of evolution."
Stillwater would be so totally wrong as to be reduced to a joke in the sciences, we have little patience for those who fail as badly as he at simple concepts. For readers interested in a full discussion of Patterson and creationists, I recommend the following (or go to TalkOrigins and search for "Patterson").

Stillwater acknowledges there are "problems" with Hinckley in spite of making every effort to deny or excuse them. He committed a major hypocrisy arguing that I should be careful with the po' lil' general public, when not minutes before his forgives Hinckley's frauds because they are written for the same po' general public. I am called to the Bible verse, 1 John 4: 1. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The real difference is that I have not lied.

Gary Hurd, Ph.D.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A "hunger for truth?"

Evolution: Scientific fact or faithful religion? by Jim Hinckley was published by the Kingman (Arizona) Daily Miner.

I submitted the following response;

As a scientist with a fondness for irony, I found much to enjoy in Jim Hinckley's recent ediorial on creationism. For example, there is his implication that he has a "hunger for the discovery of truth." We shall see.

There are many serious errors made by Hinckley in his March 8 commentary. The first is his two fold error regarding the sources of evolutionary biology. The minor part is that Anaximander of Miletus offered a Darwinian theory of evolution- this is not the case. Nor did Empedocles, who thought that isolated organs; hearts, spleens etc. had formed spontaniously and then "found" each other to assemble into whole organisms. But these are simple errors of fact. The deeper error was that it is a criticism of evolutionary biology that Charles Darwin was not the exclusive originator of evolutionary theory. He was not. The fact is that modern evolutionary theory is much stronger because it is the product of thousands of scientists working for well over a century.

Hinckley next confused the idea of "experimentation" with "observation." To study astronomy we don't need to create suns or galaxies, nor do we need to create life to study biology. An example from geology is that if we go and make observations about where oil has been found, we can go to where similar rock formations exist and find more oil. Geology, astronomy and evolutionary biology are histroical sciences which use a mix of direct observations from nature for the "big" theory, and much more limited experimental results for "fine tuning." Since we can now closely control gene sequences, evolutionary science has rapidly left field observations and moved to direct laboratory study. Hinckley seems to be ignorant of the last 15 years of biological science.

Hinckley is either grossly mistaken conserning Dean Kenyon, or he is a flagrant liar. Kenyon was neither fired, nor demoted, nor forbidden from presenting his research. Kenyon was told to teach a biology course for non-science majors from the textbook. He refused and was no longer assigned that class. The rest of Hinckley's screed consists mostly of what is called "quote mining," or the misrepresentation of an author's meaning by selective out of context quotation. All of the quote mined material used by Hinckley are found in lists of quotations compiled by creationist organizations who shamelessly wait for a scientist to die before manipulating their work. All of Hinckley's quotes are found and refuted in "The Quote Mine Project" online at

We have in Hinckley's essay is a perfect example of the creationist at work; attacking America's Constitutional protection of religious freedom, and undermining our fragile scientific and technological dominance in the world economy. His tools are half truths and out and out fabrications.

Gary Hurd, Ph.D.