Home » Darwinism, Evolution » Read my lips: “I take all responsibility for any errors in those chapters”

Read my lips: “I take all responsibility for any errors in those chapters”

In April I announced on this blog Ann Coulter’s then forthcoming book GODLESS (go here). There I remarked, “I’m happy to report that I was in constant correspondence with Ann regarding her chapters on Darwinism — indeed, I take all responsibility for any errors in those chapters.” Jim Downard, rather than simply taking me at my word, instead wants me to elaborate on my correspondence with Ann (go here); and for my refusal to elaborate, charges me with not really taking responsibility for errors in the chapters in question. But such elaboration is not my responsibility. If Ann’s chapters on evolution are so riven with difficulties, let him enumerate them, point out the errors, and then hold me up to ridicule for the errors for which I take responsibility.

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28 Responses to Read my lips: “I take all responsibility for any errors in those chapters”

  1. I agree. Which errors?

    Bill, it’s off topic, but I was wondering if you put in for that NCSE job? Seems like it would be right up your alley!

  2. Jacktone: Job descriptions and what prospective employers actually want are some times at odds. Of course, I’d be delighted to interpret the theological significance of evolution to the public.

  3. He probably means stuff like this:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/coulter1.cfm
    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/coulter2.cfm
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....lies?c=238

    Gave it a quick scan. Most of it is insults and ranting. Feel free to respond to his actual points if you want.

    To Downard (if you’re reading UD still):

    Try writing with a civil tongue and list your points coherently. That makes it easier to respond.

  4. So everyone should take this as a statement that you support all the arguments that Ann Coulter made as valid reasons not to accept evolution? It is somewhat hard to believe that someone as savy and inteligent as yourself would make such horrific blunders as exposed in his two part look at her works (if you haven’t read these, google “Secondary Addiction: Ann Coulter on Evolution”) and a whole range of other assessments that have gone totaly unanswered.

  5. Horrific blunders? That’s strong. Enumerate them as you see them — in your own words.

  6. TANSTAAFL –

    Did you actually read “Secondary Addiction”? It had hardly a coherent thought, and misses entirely what the thinking of ID actually is. In fact, his main argument is simply, “Coulter is not a scientist so she should shut up.”

    For one example, he completely misses the ID concept of “transitional fossils”. We have covered this before. He assumes that ID is equivalent with special creation and argues from there. And he even doesn’t do a very good job at that. In fact, I find it highly amusing that while Downard accuses Coulter of only citing secondary literature, he does the exact same thing when arguing against ID and creationism. While ID does not have a huge repertoire of primary literature behind it yet, Creationism has been doing this since the 60s. If popular works by Duane Gish are the technical extent of what Downard is looking at, this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    As to Creationary and ID positions, Creationists have no problems with limitted speciation (with “limitted” being much less limitted than one might think, depending on the Creationist), or with isolated island populations being the cause. In fact, in the last Baraminology meeting, Roger Sanders gave a great presentation about the nature of island speciation using data he collected while doing research on the Robinson Crusoe islands.

    For the ID position, there is nothing at all in ID which says that any form cannot change into any other form. The difference is that ID says that the notion that these occurred without algorithmic help is proposterous. Therefore, we see evolution happen in jumps (both big and small), because they would occur because the organism had information to adapt in a specific way. Here’s one example that Downard points out:

    “Transitional forms do in fact exist, but not as the smooth baby-step sequences Darwin imagined in the 19th century, noting Archaeopteryx as an example of where taxonomists had to arbitrarily classify it as either a “bird” or “reptile.” Such ambiguity is exactly what shouldn’t have been the case were “birds” and “reptiles” the unbridgeable typological categories mandated by the mythology of creationism.”

    First of all, he is equivocating ID and Creationism in order to make cheap shots at both. But in fact, this is precisely what ID’ers (and Creationists, for that matter) are talking about. There is a huge chasm between reptile and bird. Not only that, the “transitional forms” aren’t transitional so much as chimeric. Only if you gave a specific species of reptile and a specific species of bird and showed it to be transitional between those two species would the Darwinian paradigm even begin to make sense. But since it is just some features of some reptiles, and some features of some birds, it argues that it is a Chimera, and therefore argues for the ID position.

    His attack on Behe is rediculous. His attack on Coulter on behalf of Behe is even more so, since Coulter was talking about Behe’s _book_, and not any other comments Behe had made.

    Another stupidity in relationship to Behe is this one:

    “Cavalier-Smith was speaking as a rigorous scientist, of course. As it happens, science lacks “a comprehensive and detailed explanation” for many things. For instance, exactly how lightning is generated in a storm cloud. See for instance De Blij (1994, 62): “For reasons that scientists still do not completely understand, storm clouds separate charges into positive and negative clusters.”

    But does this therefore mean that we know nothing about the natural generation of lightning — or evolution of those “complex systems” Behe wrote about?”

    Let’s take the lightning analogy. What Downard wants to do is to say that because we don’t understand the separation of charges in lightning, we should only accept his view on the subject. He is equating his own views with “science”. How laughably absurd! Behe doesn’t argue against an abstract “evolution” as being changes in organisms over time. What he does argue against is that these happened gradually.

    The entire essay is full of silly things like that.

    TANSTAAFL –

    What did you read in those essays that you thought was such a great critique? It seemed to be bluffing the whole way — assuming the reader knew nothing of either evolution nor intelligent design.

  7. Lets see. Sorry I don’t have sources for all these, but I don’t actualy own the book. I had a day to read what I could, and have had to source what I could online.

    Firstly, the claims about Ernst Haeckel. She suggests that they were only exposed as fakes in 1997, along with claims that the fakes are still used today as evidence for evolution.

    Then there is the suggestion that the Archaeoraptor fake was claimed as evidence for evolution.

    She claims that Dinosaurs suddenly sprung onto the scene.Dinosaurs appeared, lived for 150 million years, and then disappeared, only to be quickly replaced with mammals. Neither the creation nor the extinction of dinosaurs was accomplished by a gradual process of any sort.Could you also explain this quote; There is no reason to expect, for example, that the first place our eyes ever appeared was on the front of our faces. Why don’t we have ancestors with eyes on the bottom of their feet, on their arms, or on the top of their heads? In a way this reminds me of an ID lecture at my university where the student presenting it included one of Hovinds slides as a ‘joke’. Surely this kind of stuff can’t be meant to be used as a serious argument.

    She uses the tautology argument, something so old that AiG have included it in their ‘doubtful’ arguments list. The second prong of Darwin’s “theory” is generally nothing but a circular statement: Through the process of natural selection, the “fittest” survive. Who are the “fittest”? The ones who survive! Why look – it happens every time! The “survival of the fittest” would be a joke if it weren’t part of the belief system of a fanatical cult infesting the Scientific Community.

    The beauty of having a scientific theory that’s a tautology is that it can’t be disproved. Evolution cultists denounce “Creation Science” on the grounds that it’s not “science” because it can’t be observed or empirically tested in a laboratory. Guess what else can’t be observed or empirically tested? Evolution!.In the same catagory is the claim that there are no transitional fossils (page 216 I believe) or empirical evidence for evolution. These claims have been discussed at lenght over at the Thumb, which I would assume you were aware of.

    Her description of the peppered moth incident is not simply a presentation of the ID/creationist view of the experiments, it is a pure misrepresentation of the scientists and experiments involved.

    Several sources have suggested that she took a lot of her evidence from newspaper articles about scientific papers, or simple editorials such as the one about the apendix by Zimmer;
    http://carlzimmer.com/articles.....endix.html
    Which she presented as though it was evidence for evolution (something that suggest she hardly read the article, let alone any actual scientific papers or even popular science accounts on the subject).

    I am supprised you need someone to point out any such flaws. They are splashed all over the internet, and it isn’t that hard to proof read a book, particularly one you are endorsing so strongly.

  8. Sorry about the tags in that last one. Not so used to this format, so most likely user error there.

    johnnyb – I do not believe that that is his argument. He knows that Coulter is not a scientist. That is the reason for his bringing the argument to Dembski. He was the one who most publicly took responcibility for the science in those areas, and he is someone who should have noticed some of the arguments and statements made that have been pointed out in that article.

    Your argument about Chimera fossils is something new to me, and I don’t have time to get into that at the moment. That will hopefuly change soon though.

    For the Behe example, I believe that he was refering to the difference between not having a “a comprehensive and detailed” explanation and something being truely inexplicable. I would suggest that you engage Downard himself, as he has already shown himself to be open to debate. I am sure he could explain his arguments far better than I could.

  9. TANSTAAFL,

    Huh? Archaeoraptor was claimed as evidence for evolution. The Pravda of Darwinism, National Geographic, claimed that Acrhaeoraptor was evidence of dino to bird evolution in its July 1998 issue.

    Haeckel’s embryos are still used as evidence for evolution. They still appear in some text books. There are still a lot of evolutionists out there that still believe ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or some slighty watered version of same. I have met them in on-line debate forums. I would not be suprised to learn that you believe human embryos have gill slits. In fact I bet you do believe human embryos have gill slits.

  10. There may be a few technical errors in Coulter’s tome, but they pale in comparison to many of the fundamental errors in today’s Darwinian thought. Nothing wrong with the data, which represents untold of hours of arduous work and detailed study. It’s trying to make the data fit preconceived fallacies that sucks.

    James Downard assails Ann Coulter by saying, “Like a scholarly lemming, she compulsively reads inaccurate antievolutionary sources and accepts them on account of their reinforcement of what she wants to be true.” I’ve got to hand it to him; a better descriptor of many Darwinists, including himself, I’ve not heard.

    Downard clings to the dated Nilsson & Pelger study, which establishes little. There have been many criticisms, including (1) that it only addresses lenses and partial retina formation, (2) that it assumes a preexistent photo receptor cell in a flat matrix, (3) that assumptions, based on a guess, are made regarding the mutation rate, (4) that it assumed a high percentage of favorable mutations, and many other criticisms.

    The study fails to address other relevant mechanisms of the eye, such as the eyeball itself, the cornea, iris, the ten layer retina with its nerve and vascular interfacing, its surrounding sheathing tissue, internal vitreous, eyelid and lubrication system, eyeball elongation mechanism for close focusing, and the musculature to operate these parts. The Nilsson study addresses morphological curving of a flat photosensitive membrane over time (1829 1% modifications), ~ 300,000 years. Bingo, a vertebrate eye.

    So who’s the Lemming?…

  11. The bottom-line is IF evolutionists want to stiffle people like Ms. Ann Coulter all they have to do is to start substantiating their claims! Yet even today, in the 21st century, we still do not even know what makes an organism what it is! And there isn’t any data that demonstrates that bacteria can “evolve” into anything except bacteria! Add to that the fact that evolutionists claim they do not have to demonstrate their theory via experimentation because of some time factor- “It would take too long to do that!” (evolve a bac flag for example)- As if that gives them a free-ride.

    Peppered moths- so what? If that is evidence for something please tell us what that is.
    Finch beaks- same thing- Both of these cases demonstrate oscillations in population variations. Nothing more.

    Bacterial antibiotic resistance? Nothing there that supports NDE.

    Eyes- we are still waiting for ANY data that would demonstrate a vision system could arise via blind watchmaker-type processes.

  12. TANSTAAFL appears to be blowing smoke, which he is welcome from now on to do elsewhere. –WmAD

  13. 13

    As Patrick notes above, finding errors and distortions in Coulter’s account of evolutionary theory is quite easy. Just check out http://mediamatters.org/items/200607070010 and http://www.talkreason.org/articles/coulter1.cfm.

    For example, Coulter claims that nothing in the fossil record supports the theory of evolution. If this were true, there would be no one supporting TOE. See http://www.gcssepm.org/special/cuffey_05.htm and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/specimen.html for examples of fossils which strongly suggest the accuracy of evolutionary theory. This does not mean that one cannot also plump for an ID interpretation of the fossil record of course, but to say that there is NOTHING in the fossil record which supports TOE shows ignorance.

    I’m glad that people are trying to find holes in TOE and other ways of thinking about the history of life. It’s good intellectual exercise and it speeds up the process whereby a scientific theory is improved by tough criticism. What Ann Coulter is doing is different, as shown by her attempt to link TOE to Hitler. Rather than reading up on the theory and trying to poke holes in it, she is just skipping straight to the “poke holes” part. You can’t refute something which you don’t even properly understand.

  14. In his latest response to Ms Coulter JD proclaims:
    “Structurally, feathers are essentially frayed scales.”

    That and the rest of his take on feathers should be easy to confirm in a lab. IOW we should be able to alter the genes in reptiles to see if feathers grow.

    The fact that “Archie” has characteristics of “reptiles” and “aves” could say more about our classification system then it does about the animal.

    presscleaner:
    “You can’t refute something which you don’t even properly understand.”

    You also can’t refute something that isn’t based on anything verifiable. IOW just how can we test, verify or falsify the notion that the bacterial flagellum “evolved” via some blind watchmaker-type process? (insert any population/ structure in place of the bac flag)

  15. Presscleaner, I went to the mediamatters link you supplied. Much of the list of “falsehoods, misinformation, and distortions” seemed to me to be just Darwinist disagreements with ID.

    Typical Example: “[Coulter] Falsely suggests that “irreducible complexity” disproves evolutionary theory.”

    Isn’t that what the whole debate is about? IDists suggest that ID “disproves” Darwinism, even while Darwinists assert that evolution is already “proved”.

  16. 16

    Jehu – Haeckel’s embryos are still used as evidence for evolution. They still appear in some text books. There are still a lot of evolutionists out there that still believe ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or some slighty watered version of same.

    I can confirm this statement. Recently my 15 year old daughter completed the evolution part of her years science class. At the start of the year she showed me the textbook that would be used throughout the year. I took the time to read the part on evolution. When I read it I was pleasantly surprised to note that the book admitted that Haeckel’s embryos were fraudulent. However, when the class was run, the teacher gave a hand drawn handout to the class which lo and behold showed Haeckel’s embryos as – you guessed it – evidence for evolution.

    This would seem to suggest that the teacher herself was not following the textbook and this coupled with her anti-ID statemnts at the beginning of the course could lead one to question the motives of the teacher.

  17. What’s interesting about Haeckel’s embryos is that even when they are not used as “evidence for evolution”, they are often still represented as factual. For example, Guttman’s Biology, while not supporting recapitulation, still presents the drawings as if they were anatomically correct.

    I do agree with many of Wells critics in that he was overharsh in his criticism of textbooks that did not use Haeckel’s embryos. However, I think that any use of Haeckel’s embryos in a textbook without explicitly pointing out the fraudulency of them (not just that recapitulation is incorrect, but that the drawings themselves are faulty), is being dishonest or stupid.

  18. Jacktone asks, “Which errors?”

    Since nobody seems to want to list them, here are the four errors Downard lists in his first posting at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/coulter1.cfm

    1. Coulter quotes Tom Cavalier-Smith saying, “For none of the cases mentioned by Behe is there yet a comprehensive and detailed explanation of the probable steps in the evolution of the observed complexity.” She ignores and does not print the rest of his paragraph:

    “For none of the cases mentioned by Behe is there yet a comprehensive and detailed explanation of the probable steps in the evolution of the observed complexity. The problems have indeed been sorely neglected, though Behe repeatedly exaggerates that neglect with such hyperboles as “an eerie and complete silence.” But when criticizing existing evolutionary explanations, Behe uses intellectually dishonest double standards. He dismisses my first treatment of the origin of cilia [citing a 1978 paper] as non-quantitative and therefore “utterly useless”, and ignores my later work on the topic [citing 1997 & 1992 works]. But it does not worry him that his empty, religious notion of “intelligent design” is equally non-quantitative; worse still, lacking even qualitative detail of what did the designing, and how the hypothetical design was executed, it explains nothing. He states that “if a theory claims to be able to explain some phenomenon but does not even generate an attempt at an explanation it should be banished” and “without details, discussion is doomed to be unscientific and fruitless.” If he had applied these strictures to his panacea of “intelligent design” we would have been spared this worthless book.”

    The quote continues for another five paragraphs, all extremely damaging to Behe’s case. Thus, this is an example of quote mining, which consists of quoting a snippet of text out of context so as to give the opposite impression of what the writer is saying.

    2. Coulter correctly points out that the Nilsson & Pelger “computer study” wasn’t actually a computer study. After discussing Berlinski and quoting Bethell on the subject, Coulter states, “In other words, River Out of Eden is the Darwiniacs’ version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

    Downard points out that, “the fact missed by the Coulter/Bethell/Berlinski daisy chain was that Nilsson & Pelger (1994) contained an entirely valid mathematical analysis of eye evolution basing each stage of the process on biologically known intermediaries. The upshot of their study was to show how surprisingly few 1% incremental wiggles (less than 2000 iterations) could nudge an active patch of cells into a focusing eye.”

    So, far from being a slanderous fiction, like the “Protocols”, the study is valid and the only thing you can say against it is that Dawkins misunderstood it as being a computer study.

    3. Coulter discusses a NYT report on a study by Bridgham et al stating that they had produced an irreducibly complex feature in the lab. Coulter ridicules this study: “But look at the allegedly “complex” mechanism that scientists asserted — not proved, asserted — might have arisen by natural selection: a two-part molecular mechanism, the hormone and its receptor. Two parts! Even a mousetrap — Behe’s simplest example of a complex mechanism — has three parts.”

    Downard points out that Behe “subsequently expanded his definition of irreducible complexity to include single receptor systems such as the one examined by Bridgham et al. (2006). Hence the Science paper was directly relevant to Behe’s IC claims.”
    Downard also replies to Coulter’s claim that Bridgham et al “asserted — not proved, asserted that this part might have arising via natural selection. Downard states that in actuality, “Looking at the existing variations among vertebrates in how the receptor systems operated, they had employed their supposedly pathetic evolutionary presumptions to figure out what a precursor molecule should have been and then retroengineered it! They then proceeded to test this new molecule and thus proved (not “asserted”) that the precursor did exactly what it should have. They then went on to determine the two mutations (each involving single amino acid replacements) that slid the system into the form currently known in higher vertebrates. Some “assertion”!”

    4. Downard quotes Coulter on the appendix:
    “As I understand the concept behind survival of the fittest, the appendix doesn’t do much for the theory of evolution either. How does a survival-of-the-fittest regime evolve an organ that kills the host organism? Why hasn’t evolution evolved the appendix away? (Another sign that your scientific theory is in trouble: When your argument against an opposing theory also disproves your own.) “

    It seems to completely escape Coulter that the appendix is the vestige of a much larger organ that other animals use to digest low-value plant matter, and that it is this much-reduced remnant organ that causes us trouble. Evolution did not design it to kill us.

    Downard goes on to say, “The path of natural selection can even lead to a potentially fatal cul-de-sac, as in the case of the appendix, that vestige of a cavity that our ancestors employed in digestion. Because it no longer performs that function, and as it can kill when infected, the expectation might be that natural selection would have eliminated it. The reality is more complex. Appendicitis results when inflammation causes swelling, which compresses the artery supplying blood to the appendix. Blood flow protects against bacterial growth, so any reduction aids infection, which creates more swelling. If the blood supply is cut off completely, bacteria have free rein until the appendix bursts. A slender appendix is especially susceptible to this chain of events, so appendicitis may, paradoxically, apply the selective pressure that maintains a large appendix. Far from arguing that everything in the body is perfect, an evolutionary analysis reveals that we live with some very unfortunate legacies and that some vulnerabilities may even be actively maintained by the force of natural selection.”

    Does anybody want to take responsibility for these errors or show how they’re really not errors?

  19. Presscleaner:
    For example, Coulter claims that nothing in the fossil record supports the theory of evolution.

    The fossil record cannot and does not tell us anything about a mechanism. Therefore in a debate primarily about mechanisms the fossil record cannot provide any help.

  20. I find myself wondering about all this “Haeckel’s embryos” and “transitional forms” business… Many contributors seem to feel that these arguments, as put forward by Coulter, are arguments against NDE. They seem to overlook that these are more arguments, albeit it poorly thought out, against any “progressive” process of creation including ID as presented by most – that is ID as non-Darwinian evolution with the Designer playing the foremost role – modifying what is already present to create new forms.

    This goes for many of the arguments that Coulter presents. She is not arguing for Intelligent Design, she just uses and abuses Intelligent Design to argue for the Creationism to which she seems to hold.

    Mike

  21. Houdin’s recapitulation of Downard’s assertions (item 2):

    Jim Downard’s criticisms of Coulter focus primarily on perceived inaccuracies and/or deliberate misstatements. Let’s analyze what he alleges to be lies by Coulter regarding the Nilsson – Pelger Study, and Richard Dawkins’ reporting of it, and taking Ann’s lies one by one (in bold):

    “Even if they start with light-sensitive cells, Darwin’s apostles still can’t get to an eye.”

    Mark Ridley, prof. of Anthropology/ Biology/ Zoology, Oxford, in his book, ‘Evolution’ (3rd ed) states, “The simulation does not cover the complete evolution of an eye. It takes light-sensitive cells as given and ignores the evolution of advanced perceptual skills (which are more a problem in brain, than eye, evolution). It concentrates on the evolution of eye shape and the lens.”

    “There have long been bald assertions by Darwiniacs of the existence of a computer simulation of the evolution of the eye.”

    Well, at least since 1993, when the study was published. A search of peer review articles and other comments finds almost universal and unquestioning acceptance of the study’s conclusions, so Ann’s correct so far.

    “The webpage of the National Science Teachers Association baldly states, “Computer simulations of natural selection are common, such as the computer simulation of the evolution of the eye as described in [Richard] Dawkins.”

    There’s nothing on nsta.org now, but websites do change. What hasn’t changed is Dawkins’ reporting on the study. Coulter references Dawkins’ “River out of Eden” as not only hyping the study, but embellishing it (citation to follow). Despite Downard’s downplaying of Dawkins’ embellishments, (“… let’s slap Richie Dawkins for being a bad student …”), I feel that they are key in promoting the study as having somehow proved the evolution of the eye.

    Here’s some quotes from a Dawkins’ article ln the New Statesman (6/16/95), just prior to the publication of his referenced book:

    He uses the term i”Computer Model”/i four times, and even states, “The results were swift and decisive. A trajectory of steadily mounting acuity led unhesitatingly from the flat beginning through a shallow indentation to a steadily deepening cup, as the shape of the model eye deformed itself on the computer screen …”

    Ann continues:

    “David Berlinski got to the bottom of the famed computer simulation, tracking down the scientists alleged to have performed this wondrous feat, and discovered — as described in a tour de force article in Commentary Magazine — it didn’t exist.”

    Downard then carps Coulter, stating:

    “Readers of Talk Reason will be familiar with the background of this story, and can only smile at how diligently Coulter has reported what other people claimed about Nilsson’s work without actually bothering to check out the actual paper. As noted in my discussion of David Berlinski’s escapades in “A Tale of Two Citations,” the fact missed by the Coulter/Bethell/Berlinski daisy chain was that Nilsson & Pelger (1994) contained an entirely valid mathematical analysis of eye evolution basing each stage of the process on biologically known intermediaries.”

    All Coulter alleged was that the Nilsson – Pelger study was misconstrued by Dawkins, not that it didn’t exist! Absent the study, how could Berlinski have critiqued it?

    Coulter added, “This notion that there is somewhere a computer model of the evolutionary development of the eye is an urban myth. Such a model does not exist. There is no such model anywhere in any laboratory. No one has the faintest idea how to make one. The whole story was fabricated out of thin air by Richard Dawkins.”

    It’s clear that she’s referring to the ‘eye’, not just a ‘part’ of it. She goes on:

    “The senior author if the study on which Dawkins based his claim — Dan E. Nilsson — has explicitly rejected the idea that his laboratory has ever produced a computer simulation of the eye’s development.”

    So Ann merely reiterates the misrepresentation, adding that the study’s author(s) admitted the same. Downard concludes by lambasting Berlinski and Bethell for inaccuracies, which he doesn’t clearly delineate, and jumps on Coulter for quoting them. He also alleges that she never even “checked out the actual paper”. (Did Dawkins?) Well reprints of Berlinski’s article are all over the web, as are Dawkins’. From what we hear from Jim, I assume that it’s implicit that she should have done her own study, to confirm the validity of the ‘tour de force’ piece, prior to quoting it, but accept anything that Richard Dawkins had to say without question.

    The vertebrate eye, as stated by prof. Mark Ridley and others, is much more complex than a lense and some light sensitive cells, as I stated earlier (#10). Even a complete, functional eye needs a data processing system to make it work. Criticizing Ann regarding her remarks in this instance is totally without merit.

  22. Nilsson & Pelger did “A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve” to see how much time it would take to evolve a “camera eye”, one with a lens, a cornea and a retina, all shaped and positioned to be functional as an eye. They used pessimistic values for such things as the amount of variation in a population and the heritability of each change and required that every step be an improvement because evolution doesn’t normally go backwards.

    The upshot of their pessimistic study: It takes less than 2000 changes, with each stage an improvement over the one before and no step more than one percent different from the stage before, to go from a few light sensitive cells to a functional camera eye. This would represent a mere 400,000 years of evolution. This is a devastating study for those who believe that an eye is too complicated to evolve. Since mammals have been around for at least 200,000,000 years, we’ve had time to develop that crude eye about four hundred times over – and we had a big start because mammals inherited functional camera eyes from their reptilian ancestors.

    Coulter doesn’t mention this study, just Dawkin’s honest mistake about it being a computer study. She quotes Berlinski (via Bethell – no such thing as looking at the original sources for Coulter) as saying, “The whole story was fabricated out of thin air.” and says herself, “In other words, River Out of Eden is the Darwiniacs’ version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

    So she conceals all knowledge of a study that supports evolution and is devastating to ID and leaves her readers (most of whom know as little about the subject as she does) thinking the study was not only fabricated but is an outrageous lie of the caliber of the grossly anti-semitic and just plain evil “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

    Sorry, but it takes a lot more than moving the goal posts to get her out of this. Not when you have literally hundreds of millions of years to evolve the retina and any other parts she may demand in the future.

    Anyone want to take responsibilty for this?

  23. Nilsson & Pelger did “A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve” to see how much time it would take to evolve a “camera eye”, one with a lens, a cornea and a retina, all shaped and positioned to be functional as an eye.

    In the following citations, I make reference to the only free copy of the study to be found on the internet:
    http://www.jodkowski.pl/kk/DENilsson001.html

    The study begins:

    “An originally flat light-sensitive patch, or retina, is gradually invaginated (solid line) to form a pit whose distal aperture keeps the size of the original patch.”

    In this opening sentence, the researchers conlate the word ‘retina’ with ‘light-sensitive patch’. The two are not the same. The primitive light sensitive patch alluded to is far removed from the multilayered matrix of a true retina. See: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball......ision.html

    The study begins:

    “We let the evolutionary sequence start with a patch of light-sensitive cells, which is backed and surrounded by dark pigment, and we expose this structure to selection favouring spatial resolution.”

    How does that involve retina formation?? So all the study addresses is a flat light-sensitive patch deepening (becoming invaginated) into a workable shape, with a lense forming in the pinhole opening. In other words, a primitive lense (perhaps within a ‘scera’, and with a light sensitive patch as its backplane, but NO actual retina) could form in less than 354,000 years. This has been taken by Dawkins and others to prove evolution of the vertebrate eye, naturalistically, and as many as 200 times over!

    In the ‘Discussion’ portion of the study, Nilsson admits that, “The only real threat to the usefulness of our model is that we may have failed to introduce structures that are necessary for a functional eye. Features of many advanced eyes, such as an adjustable iris and structures for distance accommodation, may in this context seem to be serious omissions from the model (2) sequence.

    Yes, and of course the retina itself. If you went to the ‘eye’ link above, you can (to a degree) see the complexity of an image defining retina, with its rods, cones, ganglia, and circulatory system. Here’s another view of its cross section: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball......ision.html

    Nilsson further admits that, “Because eyes cannot evolve on their own, our calculations do not say how long it actually took for eyes to evolve in the various animal groups. However, the estimate demonstrates that eye evolution would be extremely fast if selection for eye geometry and optical structure is imposed the only limit.

    I haven’t read the original criticism by Berlinski (only Jim Downard’s verbose comments and a few other critiques on it), but if you care to, and don’t mind paying the $19.95 for access to Commentary Magazine’s archives, go here:
    http://www.commentarymagazine......chive.aspx

    Instead, I’ve done my own analysis, which shows the study as summarily incomplete, with regard to a modeling (computer or otherwise) of eye evolution. Furthermore, the study postulates continuous favorable mutations, and of course, selection of those mutations, even though no immediate benefit to the organism would occur. It mentions that mutations would be faster in those who would benefit most from having vision capability, as alluded to here:

    “Such potentially rapid evolution suggests that the eye design of a species says little about its phylogenetic relationship, but much about its need for vision.” (emphasis mine)

    This reasoning is fallacious, since evolution has no ‘look ahead’ capability to perceive of such an end result. Unless there was some kind of intermediate co-opted functional benefit, these incremental mutations could hardly be considered ‘beneficial’.

    Richard Dawkins et al have grossly misrepresented the study by saying that it ‘proves evolution of the vertebrate eye’, and for the reasons stated, I feel that it does NOT. That being true, then Richard Dawkins has drawn an inaccurate and misleading conclusion (notice I didn’t use the word ‘lied’), which was the thrust of Ann Coulter’s comments. On the other hand, her comparing Dawkins’ book to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” seems quite strong, but was stated merely as an opinion. The rest of her comments, however, I go along with.

    If you (or others) would like to challenge me on any of the points I’ve just made, feel free.

  24. Corrections:

    The second link to a retinal cross section should have been:
    http://fourier.eng.hmc.edu/e18.....node5.html

    Also, “go(ing) here” to get Berlinski’s article gets you to a search page:
    http://www.commentarymagazine......chive.aspx

    After typing ‘berlinski’ into the search box, you get a list of his articles. Choose ‘A Scientific Scandal’, click on “not already a subscriber?”, and agree to a one year electronic subscription by filling in the requested data and billing information below.

  25. “The primitive light sensitive patch alluded to is far removed from the multilayered matrix of a true retina.”

    You’re pointing to a modern retina, which is the product of ~550 million years of evolution. Nilsson & Pelger’s article covers the evolution of [b]A[/b] retina from a flat sheet to a sheet covering the back of a lensed eye with a cornea. They restrict themselves to that simple eye and don’t attempt to cover the evolution of the nerve cells on the front of the retina or any other part of the eye. Coulter’s complaint that N&P don’t cover every single facet of the modern eye is just an example of moving the goalposts.

    “Nilsson further admits that, “Because eyes cannot evolve on their own, our calculations do not say how long it actually took for eyes to evolve in the various animal groups. However, the estimate demonstrates that eye evolution would be extremely fast if selection for eye geometry and optical structure is imposed the only limit.”

    True. Did you also catch this? “For a sluggish worm to take full advantage of a pair of fish eyes, it would need a brain with large optic lobes. But that would not be enough, because the information from the optic lobes would need to be integrated in associative centres, fed to motor centres, and then relayed to the muscles of an advanced locomotory. system. In other words, the worm would need to become a fish.”

    This is what N&P are talking about when they say, “Such potentially rapid evolution suggests that the eye design of a species says little about its phylogenetic relationship, but much about its need for vision.” In other words, an eye can evolve very rapidly, but if the animal doesn’t need improved vision, then vision improvements cannot be selected for and thus will be discarded when they occur.

    “Richard Dawkins et al have grossly misrepresented the study by saying that it ‘proves evolution of the vertebrate eye’, and for the reasons stated, I feel that it does NOT.”

    Is that an actual quote from Dawkins or is it by way of Coulter? I doubt that Dawkins would say that this “proves” evolution, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he said it was excellent evidence for evolution, which it is.

    “On the other hand, her comparing Dawkins’ book to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” seems quite strong…”

    Agreed.

  26. By the way, this is an old argument. Googling a bit finds that it was covered on ISCID and at Talk Reason. Try these URLS:

    http://www.talkreason.org/arti.....d.cfm#lund
    This page has several articles on the Berlinski article, including one from Nilsson himself.

    http://www.iscid.org/boards/ub.....00004.html
    An interesting thread on the Berlinski article on ISCID.

  27. My background is engineering and design, with biology a more recent field of study. In observing and commenting, I’m acting more in the role of a journalist, who reads as many background articles as he can, and then comments. This kind of endeavor invites technical errors at times, but often points out things missed by those closest to the issues. It’s often a case of “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. So in a way, I’m an impartial observer, since I’m not wedded to either camp. I do favor ID, since I am probably better at seeing design features than a cellular biologist might, due to my orientation. But, I also do see and acknowledge evolutionary processes. I do see those processes differently, though, than most biologists do. After years of careful analysis, I see them as adjuncts to designed entities, rather than the sole naturalistic cause of those entities. But as I said, I have no vested interest, no religious motive, and no fixed agenda to stay rooted in my current position, which would change in a heartbeat if I saw evidence to the contrary.

    I’ve read those reviews from talk.origins, and the ISCID discussion several times (awhile back and again the last couple of days). Interesting that the ISCID moderator finished the discussion with, “Warren,I’m going to ask that you not post at ISCID for a few days. Your generalizations and triumphant posturing are getting tedious. If they don’t stop, then I’m going to ask that you leave the ISCID community for a while.

    In the case of the link to talkreason.org, several scientists have critiqued Berlinski’s critique, probably the most virulent being the one from Nilsson himself. Without arguing for Berlinski point for point (I might even disagree with some of his assertions), I’d like to point out a few questionable ad hominem attacks by the first three reviewers reviewers:

    Nilsson:

    “He is not right in a single case, and instead reveals an insufficient background in visual optics, sampling theory, basic evolutionary theory, and more.”

    Eterman:

    “With no record of scientific research, either in biology or in computer science, he set out to pronounce judgment on certain topics of these two sciences.”

    Gross:

    “Connoisseurs of pseudoscience will recognize in David Berlinski’s latest essay all of the standard tropes of the crank’s playbook: The smug sarcastic tone. The barrage of bullet-point criticisms to create the illusion that something truly rotten is being exposed; criticisms he knows will be answered by nothing more formidable than a few indignant letters. The crude baiting of scholars of vastly greater accomplishment than he.”

    And on the most recent posting of UD “Why is a Giant of evolution getting so … ”
    A quote from Jerry Coyne goes:

    “Coulter was tutored in the “complex ideas” of evolution by David Berlinski, a science writer; Michael Behe, a third-rate biologist at Lehigh University (whose own department’s website disowns his bizarre ideas); and William Dembski, a fairly bright theologian who went off the intellectual rails and now peddles creationism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

    So is David Berlinski a blowhard without credentials? They might be right if they said that about me, but David Berlinski, Ph.D.??

    This is a response from Scott. All true? Surely it all can’t be horse puckey.

    “David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France. Recent articles by Dr. Berlinski have been featured in Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. He is author of numerous books, including A Tour of the Calculus (Pantheon 1996), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000, Harcourt Brace),.Newton\\\’s Gift (The Free Press 2000). Forthcoming are his books: The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky (Harcourt, October 2003), A Short History of Mathematics for the Modern Library series at Random House (2004), and Einstein & Goedel: Friendship between Equals (Simon & Schuster 2004). He is currently working on a book analyzing genetic algorithms.”

    So in effect what we have here are two sides to an issue that is so pivotal, and so key to a scientific theory (and perhaps careers) that it brings out the absolute worst in many of us, is highly political, and works against creative and cooperative endeavors.

    This thread is apparently dead, the other commentators having wandered off to other pastures. Too bad. The issue of Ann Coulter’s integrity is still at stake, and if there are gross misstatements, there could be a little onus on others, but it seems that no one else has had much to say about it.

    So let’s just conclude with my take. Yes, she made some misstatements, if you take as unvarnished truths all of the dictums that reside in the evolutionary dogma. I’m not criticizing; since dogma is not necessarily false. There is, in fact, dogma on both sides, and the central question of ‘sole naturalistic causation’ is not yet resolved. It may never be, but we all need to learn to work together. And you know what that entails? Presenting the two concepts as opposing theories, but acknowledging a certain measure of common ground. Both exist.

    I do not personally reject the Nilsson study, since it is a beginning. What I vociferously oppose is the closed mindedness I see today, primarily in scientific academia, which does more harm to science than ID ever could.

    Ann’s criticism was primarily of the N/S study. It should have focused more on those who with a fixed, philosophical viewpoint, attempt to discredit anyone who finds evidence to the contrary, and to present it for further study. Granted, Berlinski may have been a little gruff in his refutation. Where do you suppose he learned that tactic?

    Icons of science will often take a research study (like the N/S study), exaggerate its findings, and resting on their own academic or professional stature, foist it upon their colleagues and the public, where it must then be accepted as gospel truth. It’s like, “Hey gang, here’s one for our side!” Maybe it’s our fault for not being more critical, and demanding that more research be done before declaring some kind of ‘victory’. After all, that’s what science is all about. If ID doesn’t pan out, no harm done. We tried. If it holds up, yes, some may want to consider a religious viewpoint or pursuit. That kind of a personal decision is always on the table, but never required of anyone.

    Or should we simply dance to the music of Evo/Devo; in this case I mean the band! (actually, this guy’s got an interesting take on what we’ve discussed … ) See:
    http://www.newyorker.com/criti.....rbo_books1

    Every sermon has a concluding statement. I’ll conclude with this one.

    “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

    Richard Dawkins
    “God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November 1995

  28. I come from a technical background myself and I don’t fault people from a non-biology background who wish to comment on evolution. However, I do insist that they actually understand what they are criticizing and it’s been my observation that ID big wigs universally do NOT understand how evolution works. (This is not directed at you – you haven’t given me any cause to think that you’re as woefully ignorant as some of the top ID honchos are.)

    Your quote is fairly typical for Warren. Note that Warren is pro ID, ISCID is a pro ID web site and the moderator of ISCID who’s asking Warren to shut up is pro ID. The problem is entirely on Warren’s end. He’s using the handle of LifeEngineer now, by the way, and has a MSN group called Life Engineering at http://groups.msn.com/LifeEngi.....tsnew.msnw.

    I don’t see any ad homs in the lines you quoted. An ad hom is an attack on a person instead of the person’s ideas. The lines you quote explain why Berlinski is wrong. He does, in fact, have a woefully insufficient background in visual optics, sampling theory and especially basic evolutionary theory. He has also done no scientific research in any topic he criticizes and connoisseurs of pseudo science do indeed jump for joy whenever he publishes on evolution or ID. As I said in the first paragraph, ID is chock full of honchos who don’t understand what they criticize and he’s one of them.

    I would judge Behe as being second rate, if “First rate” is defined as the cream of the crop, the people who get the awards and publicity, “Second rate” is the run of the mill biologists nobody ever heard of and “Third rate” as those who barely squeak by and contribute nothing to their field. Perhaps he’s now third rate, since he seems to have stopped doing biology all together. If I had to describe Behe in one sentence, I’d say he is a biologist who had one grand idea (irreducible complexity) which turned out to be wrong.

    In answer to your question, yes, I would definitely call Berlinski a blowhard without credentials in the field in which he bloviates. PhDs don’t impress me. I’ve meet too many outright loons with PhD after their name. Notice that nowhere in the impressive paragraph of Berlinski’s credentials you provide is there anything about biology or evolution. I don’t expect much from his forthcoming book on genetic algorithms and I’m looking forward to RBH’s commentary on it when it’s published.

    May I suggest that what you are seeing isn’t really “closed mindedness”. Suppose you’re a professional working in a field you understand well. Suppose further that a gang of cranks starts demanding that you resurrect an idea that you know lost out to a better idea over a century ago. Suppose further that these people can provide no evidence beyond their say-so to support their claim and that these same people give ample evidence that they don’t understand your field or the idea that they are criticizing. Suppose further that these people spend a lot of time bad-mouthing your field and accuse legitimate workers of being part of a vast conspiracy to deny the old-fangled idea that the cranks champion. Finally, suppose these people demand that you stop relying on the time tested ideas and techniques that have made your field a rousing success for the last four or five hundred years and adopt a new policy (in this case, allowing speculations about the supernatural to have equal status with experiments and observations) that are guaranteed to kill your field. Would you call it close mindedness if people in your field didn’t jump to embrace the new, bad ideas?

    If you want to see real close mindedness, I’d suggest you look at ID, a field populated by people who don’t understand what they’re criticizing, whose “big ideas” (specified complexity, the explanatory filter and irreducible complexity) have all failed, who not only don’t do scientific research, but who literally can’t think of any scientific research that they could do, whose efforts in the field are at least 95% driven by their religious dogmas and who blow off every effort to explain evolution and their misunderstandings of it. That’s close mindedness!

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