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My paraphrasing of the quote by Alfred Pennyworth (played by Michael Caine) in the title of this post describes the behavior of 'unpersuadables'. No matter the amount of evidence, any given opinion once expressed needs to be defended at all costs, evidence be damned. The less pernicious of the lot describe this behavior as 'committment'. Widely read and syndicated US lawyer/journalist Ann Coulter does not belong to the less pernicious kind. This weekend, Ms. Coulter raped reality in an obscene reversal of the actual positions of scientists vs. unpersuadables. Her commentary on creationism on the website World Net Daily chastizes scientists for allegedly not changing their minds on evolution, when this is precisely what scientists constantly do and creationists such as Coulter don't. Let's start with one of the few sentences in the piece that seem reasonably close to reality:
More people know the precepts of kabala than know the basic elements of Darwinism.
At least for the US, this statement might hold and quite obviously holds for Ms. Coulter herself, as she demonstrates right afterwards:
Darwin's theory was that a process of random mutation, sex and death, allowing the "fittest" to survive and reproduce, and the less fit to die without reproducing, would, over the course of billions of years, produce millions of species out of inert, primordial goo.
No, Darwin said nothing of abiogenesis. He only wrote about how the described mechanism can lead to the origin of new species. You know, like some dog breeds. Or is Ms. Coulter trying to say that Chihuahuas would be able to successfully breed with a St. Bernard dog without human interference? That's reproductive isolation right there, a very common component of many species definitions. One might also paraphrase Darwin's theory as 'breeding also works without a breeder'.
The vast majority of mutations are deleterious to the organism, so if the mutations were really random, then for every mutation that was desirable, there ought to be a staggering number that are undesirable.
 There are a number of incorrect statements in these sentences. Of course, the vast majority of mutations is neutral (meaning the change the introduce is beyond measurement). Each individual human has around 60 of these mutations that are not present in their parents (Conrad DF et al. Variation in genome-wide mutation rates within and between human families. Nat Genet 2011) and maybe with the exception of unpersudables such as Ms. Coulter (and some cases of schizophrenia), these do usually not lead to any deleterious effects, which we would be able to detect. Also, the same mutation can be 'deleterious to the organism' in one situation (think of a mutation that makes a bird flghtless) and be 'desirable' in another situation, e.g., when that bird is trapped on an island where flight is either not required or might even lead to the bird drown at sea by accident. Same mutation, different effect on survival.
We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record – for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.) But that's not what the fossil record shows. We don't have fossils for any intermediate creatures in the process of evolving into something better.
Of course we have many of these fossils. Just see this image for one of many examples:

If you get your news from the American news media, it will come as a surprise to learn that when Darwin first published "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, his most virulent opponents were not fundamentalist Christians, but paleontologists.
Why should that be a urprise? In the 150 years since Darwin formulated his theory, tens of thousands of scientists have tested, re-tested and re-tested evolutionary theory and developed it into a field with such a massive body of evidence that evolution is now one of the best understood major processes on our planet. In contrast, physicists are running the world's largest, most complex and expensive experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, because they still don't understand how gravity works. Yet you don't see Ms. Coulter wondering why no scientist supports Intelligent Falling. I guess it's illegal to question gravity (see below).
But far from showing gradual change with a species slowly developing novel characteristics and eventually becoming another species, as Darwin hypothesized, the fossil record showed vast numbers of new species suddenly appearing out of nowhere, remaining largely unchanged for millions of years, and then disappearing.
One of the many things Darwin couldn't know at the time was that evolution, with its many feedback loops, acts like a highly dynamic, 'nonlinear' system. This means that change doesn't always have to be all that gradual. Many times it will be gradual, but the rates of change can vary dramatically. A very good example is a computer simulation that works according to evolutionary principles and shows huge variations in evolutionary change. I've explained one such simulation in my paper on the iterated Prisoner's Dillemma. Obviously, one can follow the rules of evolution and get both gradual change and relatively fast change, even without divine interference, nothing supernatural required.
One hundred and fifty years later, that record is a lot more complete. We now have fossils for about a quarter of a million species. But things have only gotten worse for Darwin.
 No, as the single example above shows, the fossil record supports Darwin just fine, which is the reason why anyone with enough education to have an overview in paleontology, wouldn't dream of questioning such an obvious conclusion from the available evidence. It would be insane, very much like claiming the sky was green.
Thirty years ago (before it was illegal to question Darwinism),
Creationists don't question 'Darwinism' (what an odd word, anyway: would you also say Einsteinism instead of theory of relativity?). Creationists don't even do science. All the creationists want is push religion into US schools. If you have an experiment where we can see the creator in action, please write it up and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal. Questioning evolution is about as illegal as questioning gravity: the penalty is often laughter
Dr. David Raup, a geologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago
 Dr. Raup is not a geologist, he is a paleontologist. And he retired from the University of Chicago back in 1994.
To the contrary, fossil discoveries since Darwin's time have forced paleontologists to take back evidence of evolution. "Some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record," Raup said, "such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information."
No such 'taking back' is taking place. In fact, Dr. Raup is correct that the evolution of the horse has been modified. It now looks like this:

To explain away the explosion of plants and animals during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago, Darwiniacs asserted – without evidence – that there must have been soft-bodied creatures evolving like mad before then, but left no fossil record because of their squishy little microscopic bodies. Then in 1984, "the dog ate our fossils" excuse collapsed, too. In a discovery the New York Times called "among the most spectacular in this century," Chinese paleontologists discovered fossils just preceding the Cambrian era. Despite being soft-bodied microscopic creatures – precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn't fossilize and therefore deprived them of crucial evidence – it turned out fossilization was not merely possible in the pre-Cambrian era, but positively ideal.And yet the only thing paleontologists found there were a few worms. For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.
This is probably the most perverse part of the entire article. Of course there have been hypotheses about what a pre-cambrian animal would have looked like: a small, worm-like creature. Of course, such animals are difficult (but not impossible) to fossilize. And now that we finally find such fossils that look precisely as evolutionary theory predicted, this is somehow evidence against evolution? This is exactly how science work: you derive a prediction from a theory or hypothesis, test it and if the test is positive, it strengthens the hypothesis/theory. Turns out, such tests of evolutionary theory have nothing but strengthened it for 150 years. That's an almost unprecdented track record in science.
Now, it all would have looked different had there been a rabbit fossil from the pre-Cambrian, but no, it was a worm, as predicted.
Intelligent design scientists look at the evidence and develop their theories; Darwinists start with a theory and then rearrange the evidence.
Evolutionary theory is modified constantly. New mechanisms are discovered all the time and especially molecular biology has revised many things we thought we knew in the phylogeny of organisms. The only evolution creationism allowed was that from creationism to 'intelligent design' via the intermediate form of 'cdesign proponentsists', and that wasn't due to evidence, but due to a court ruling. I'm ready to change my mind about evolution with a pre-cambrian rabbit or a signature from some god in my DNA or some such. Which evidence would make a creationist change their mind?
These aren't scientists. They are religious fanatics for whom evolution must be true so that they can explain to themselves why they are here, without God. (It's an accident!) Any evidence contradicting the primitive religion of Darwinism – including, for example, the entire fossil record – they explain away with non-scientific excuses like "the dog ate our fossils."
And this last part is probably the most egregious insult to the intelligence of any reader with enough neurons to form a synapse. Ms. Coulter trying to insult science by calling it a religion is probably just as effective as if Hitler had tried to insult Roosevelt by calling him a Nazi! That's got to be the most stupid thing I've ever read from a creationist. If evolution were a science, it would actually be a great thing, but since it's only a religion, we should all dismiss it? Ms. Coulter, you ar right about the dismissing religions thing, I grant you that!

Here's again what scientists do: state a hypothesis and predict future experiments. My hypothesis is that Ms. Coulter is an unpersuadable. My prediction: Ms. Coulter will never change her mind, no matter how often she is presented with evolutionary biology. A cambrian rabbit or other, analogous evidence would change my mind about evolution.
Posted on Tuesday 06 September 2011 - 00:56:28 comment: 0

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