No Transitional Fossils between Kevin Wirth and Credibility

Tiktaalik loves you.

The Access Research Network blog consists mostly of Denyse O’Leary’s dreadful articles that tell us nothing more than she completely misunderstands evolution. Among the rare non-O’Dreary posts are the even drearier ones from Kevin Wirth. He recently posted another article, in which he demonstrates a misunderstanding of evolution almost as bad as O’Leary’s.

Titled “Rationality and the Fossil Record Blather According to Ed Brayton”, Kevin sets out to destroy an article by Ed Brayton but only manages to destroy his credibility instead.

Before we begin, I’d like to point out that Kevin does not quote Ed Brayton verbatim. Go to both of the links I just gave you, and compare what Ed wrote with how Kevin quoted him. At least he had the decency to put the altered material in brackets. I don’t know how closely Kevin’s characterization matches everything that Ed has said in the past. I just find it telling that Kevin is once again changing the wording, even though he swore on this blog that he never does.

Let’s put that matter aside for the moment and look at the real issue. What has Kevin’s neuron in a knot today is that Ed Brayton said:

[C]ommon descent is the only rational explanation for the sequential nature of the fossil record.

That’s a pretty simple statement, and it summarizes the current knowledge extremely well. Who could possibly have a problem with that? Oh, that’s right. Kevin Wirth does. He knows more science than all biologists put together. He writes:

Rationality needs to be based on something other than assumptions, speculations, extrapolations, conjecture and even “common sense” to have any real substance.

That’s right! What rationality really needs is wishful thinking!

“Common sense” and widespread “consensus” are typically substituted for evidence precisely at points where the fossil evidence is most needed to establish evolutionary relationships, and that should give us pause. The existence of this pattern (stasis) is consistently evident at nearly every instance at the precise juncture where we need to see complelling [sic] evidence of linkage between species in the fossil record, according to the experts.

Kevin seems to be bringing up two points here. First is that the fossils we have are all in distinct species with no smooth series of transitional fossils in between. Second is that these species seem to exist for long periods of time with little apparent change. Then the next species appears in a relatively short period of time. Somehow, to Kevin, this disproves evolution.

Let’s look at that first point, transitional fossils. If paleontologists weren’t at the whims and vagaries of the fossilization process, the fossil preservation process, and the fossil discovery process, he might have a point here. But since few critters are ever fossilized to begin with, not all of those fossils have even survived into our age, and the very luck-bound nature of finding fossils, it’s a wonder that we have as much of the picture as we do.

Of course some parts of this picture are sketchy. That’s why paleontologists are out there today looking for more. But by the same token, this uneven distribution of what we find has given us a few pieces of the puzzle that do have smooth transitions. We have transitional fossils! It’s a tiny fraction of what we’d like to have, but every single transitional fossil we find has confirmed that evolution is a fact.

There is a secondary issue here, though, and creationists often throw it up as misdirection. That issue is how the evolution happened. If we know that species X evolved into species Y, how did it happen? The transitional fossils often change our understanding of the process (aka the theory of evolution). Creationists often act like these contradictions disprove the fact of evolution. Never has a transitional fossil contradicted the fact of evolution! This is the tactic that Denyse O’Leary uses in every one of her articles. (In her case though, I think it is due to a sheer inability to understand evolution as opposed to intentional deceit.)

It is on the second point (stasis) that Kevin seems to be harping the most in this article. The Talk Origins Archive actually has a good explanation for stasis:

Studies of modern populations and incipient species show that new species arise mostly from the splitting of a small part of the original species into a new geographical area. The population genetics of small populations allow this new species to evolve relatively quickly. Its evolution may allow it to spread into new geographical areas. Since the actual transitions occur relatively quickly and in a relatively small area, the transitions do not often show up in the fossil record. Sudden appearance in the fossil record often simply reflects that an existing species moved into a new region.

Once species are well adapted to an environment, selective pressures tend to keep them that way. A change in the environment that alters the selective pressure would then end the “stasis” (or lead to extinction).

As you can see, based on real data, stasis is exactly what we would expect to find.

So now let’s get back to Kevin’s attempted fisking of Ed Brayton’s article:

Competency requires our educators to present students with this kind of EVIDENCE (not just evolutionary speculation) behind Ed’s so-called rationality.

He is referring to Ed’s statement that “common descent is the only rational explanation for the sequential nature of the fossil record.” As I’ve just shown, common descent is extremely rational. “Speculation” is when you have very little information, so you start throwing around possible explanations. “Theory” is when you have hard data (in this case, a massive amount) and a good explanation that accounts for that data, can make predictions about as-yet undiscovered data, and is falsifiable. Evolution is all of those things. That is why competent teachers present evolution to their students and ignore goofy speculation like Intelligent Design creationism.

Kevin continues:

Stasis in the fossil record is apparently just the kind of evidence Ed loves to hate, since he refers to it as “blather.”

Really, Kevin? Where does Ed say that? Where is Ed trying to sweep stasis under the rug? In fact, Ed doesn’t mention stasis at all in the article that Kevin is attacking. Those straw men sure are easy to whip, aren’t they Kevin? [Update 4/10/09: Science, and writing about anti-science dipshits, are both self-correcting processes. When a mistake is discovered, it is corrected. Yes, Ed does mention stasis. However, Kevin has mischaracterized Ed’s position.]

But look! Ed actually mentions the stasis “problem” in an article that Ed links to from the article that Kevin is flogging. Maybe that’s how Kevin knows that Ed is trying to bury stasis. Let’s see what Ed actually wrote:

No one who actually understands evolution and Gould’s claims regarding stasis would argue that the patterns of stasis and punctuation found in the fossil record are in conflict with evolutionary theory.

That’s peculiar. That’s nothing at all like Kevin characterized it.

I think there has been a cave-in at the old quote mine.

28 Responses to “No Transitional Fossils between Kevin Wirth and Credibility”

  1. Michael Heath Says:

    Impressive fisking.

  2. LightningRose Says:

    The problem with finding transitional fossils is that the IDiots will never accept them as such, thus requiring scientists to dig up two more transitional fossils, ad infinitum.

  3. OtherRob Says:

    I was a transitional fossil once, but only when I was young and in college. 😉

  4. Kevin Wirth Says:

    Dude,

    You can’t even read.

    You said: “Really, Kevin? Where does Ed say that? Where is Ed trying to sweep stasis under the rug? In fact, Ed doesn’t mention stasis at all in the article that Kevin is attacking. Those straw men sure are easy to whip, aren’t they Kevin?”

    Pinhead, go look again. In the very beginning of my blog post I quoted Mr. Brayton quite clearly denouncing stasis as “blather” and “bunk.”

    “Competent teachers, of course, will know that this [supplemental material…that come straight from the usual suspects full of ignorant blather about stasis and how it negates common descent] is bunk. Competent teachers will know what any educated person knows, that common descent is the only rational explanation for the sequential nature of the fossil record.”

    Can you READ those words? That’s Ed dismissing stasis. Calling “blather” and right after that he called it “bunk.”

    In your haste to spear me (again) I guess you just skipped over that part, eh?

    C’mon dude. Show me up some more. I’m lovin’ it.

    As for the rest of what I said, I stand by it. You can’t dismiss the speculative nature of transitionals as CLEARLY spelled out by so many experts from your own side. It’s actually laughable that you guys continue to insist that the evidence for transitionals is overwhelming when it’s clearly just the opposite. Look, I didn’t write what they said, I just reported it. You should be going after them, not me. Good luck.

    Oh, gee — now I know what’s eating you: You’re upset because you couldn’t reach out and delete the quotes from my blog post on Brayton like you did to a post I made here a few months back.

    Awwwww. Poor baby.

  5. Kevin Wirth Says:

    Oh, yeah, and one more thing…

    Thanks for catching my spelling mistake.

    You’re hired!

  6. Ron Britton Says:

    Kevin:

    So once again you use bluster and noise to confuse people. I went back and reread Ed Brayton’s article. Yes, he did mention stasis. I have now corrected that part of my article. However, amusingly enough, even with my mistake corrected, it does not change my thesis much at all.

    Everything I wrote before and after the mistaken paragraph still stands. Nothing there has changed. You mischaracterized Ed’s position on stasis. It is not a problem in evolutionary theory. Ed is not sweeping it under the rug. You are still wrong.

    The bottom line here is that none of the stuff you mentioned in your article is a problem. Evolution is a solid fact. There are many transitional fossils. Many still are missing. None of those we have found has ever contradicted evolution. Period. Quote mine all you want. Lie about the data all you want.

    Evolution is a fact, and that pisses you off mightily.

  7. Ron Britton Says:

    Oh, and gee — Now I know why you’re so upset with “Darwinists”. You violated the published comment policy of this blog, and you were caught. That was months ago, and it still pisses you off. That and the whole bit about evolution being true.

    I also find it funny that you criticize me for deleting a violating comment, and what do you do? You deleted your own entire post, apparently just because I made fun of it! I just checked your blog, and that entire article is missing! What’s the matter? Can’t stand the humiliation? Apparently I do have the power to “reach out and delete” something off of your blog!

  8. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Kevin – Again, what’s your alternate explanation for transitionals and where’s your evidence? Note my use of the word “evidence.” Quote mines are not evidence. Neither is the bible.

  9. Brian Says:

    PL,

    He doesn’t have evidence, and I very seriously doubt he ever will. He’s running an elaborate shell game, using smoke and mirrors, running out the clock – pick your analogy. At any rate, he and his ilk contribute nothing to our understanding of biology and instead focus their energy on stifling any inquiry into it for fear that their precious goddamned beliefs might be compromised or undermined fatally.

    I would love to hear an explanation (supported with evidence, of course) of the mechanism employed by the “designer” to cause changes to occur in species. Does God do a “three snaps in Z-formation”, or does he wiggle his nose, or does he simply wave his wand and cast a spell he learned at Hogwarts? Perhaps God has nothing to do with it and space aliens are surreptitiously altering the DNA of every species from behind their cloaking devices. Maybe we ought to fear whatever they have in store for livestock, given their apparent preoccupation with them. I personally would give more credence to the idea that we’re all part of a Matrix-like computer simulation, subject to the whims of its programmers, than I would to to notion of the Judeo-Christian god mucking about with our genes.

    Whenever I think about all the work paleontologists perform to help our species learn more about ourselves and our planet’s biohistory, I feel a profound sense of gratitude. (Actually, I feel grateful for all of science for trying to bring enlightenment to our primate brains) Then people like Kevin Wirth try to shit on the whole noble endeavor in a wrong-headed attempt to drag us kicking and screaming back to the 12th century. I have no problem with any idea that dissents from what is a currently accepted fact. That is how science moves forward. I do have a problem, as I’m sure you all know, with those who attempt to do so without playing by the same rules as real scientists, and instead whine and cry about it whenever you call them on it. Evidence must be presented, and it must be able to withstand the scrutiny of one’s peers. As Ron said, it must be falsifiable. It must make predictions. (By the way, Kevin, how long has it been since you told us you’d get back to us on a single prediction your dippy notion can make? Still waiting…..)

    The mind of a creationist is dazzling in its ability to circumvent reason. Show them a transitional fossil and they’ll smugly say that there are now TWO more gaps in the record which must be filled. Then they will no doubt shout “hallelujah!” and high-five Jesus over Darwin’s grave. I can only hope that our distant descendants know that some of us in the primitive 21st century didn’t succumb to the crackpot ideology that plagues the world today.

  10. Rick Says:

    I still can’t believe that people claim that Intelligent Design and Creationism is a science.

  11. JonVal212 Says:

    This is my idea.
    Locate pristine fossil layer area
    use a front end loader to extract all layers
    along with sea water, place in very deep well
    15 years later take samples
    my guess is, the layers and bones will reassemble the original site.
    centrifuges may speed this process

  12. Ron Britton Says:

    At least what you propose is testable. However, there is no preliminary data to support your hypothesis.

  13. Jeff Eyges Says:

    Something I’ve noticed about Kevin is that every time he comes here to grace us with a comment, he’s snarky and sarcastic. Now, it’s expected that we’ll behave that way, because we’re hell-bound atheists – but he’s supposedly filled with the love of Jesus. So, is he reacting out of fear because his fragile world view is being threatened – or was Jesus just a wise-ass?

  14. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I don’t understand what JonVal212 is suggesting / responding to. Can somebody explain?

  15. Ron Britton Says:

    I think he’s claiming that it takes very little time for a site to become stratified, giving the illusion of many layers deposited over millions of years. This is how they “know” evolution isn’t true. They just make up stuff.

  16. Jeff Eyges Says:

    Oh, I get it.

    OK, lets revisit those experiments in which amino acids were placed in environments mimicking Precambrian Earth. As I recall, they began to organize spontaneously into proto-cells. Does that demonstrate evolution, or are they not REAL cells in the way that everyone who disagrees with Creationism isn’t a REAL Christian?

    These people have turned this country into a planetary joke.

  17. Jeff Eyges Says:

    Actually, it would demonstrate abiogenesis. My bad – but an even greater threat to them.

  18. Kate Says:

    I was going to comment, but Brian pretty much says it, and much better than I would have. I just have to add—while I (like anyone with half a brain cell and no Christianity denial complex) accept evolution and its processes as well-evidenced scientific fact, I’d like to point out that EVEN IF it were complete hogwash—which again, it isn’t—that doesn’t do a damn thing in proving Creationism (and that’s what it is, despite the “intelligent design” smoke and mirrors after Edwards v. Aguillard. Let’s see what bullshit name is next for them post-Kitzmiller!) I love how they sit and try and prove these nonexistent flaws and think that counts as argument in favor of their beliefs.

    Just because my shoes aren’t black doesn’t mean they’re purple, dipshit.

  19. OtherRob Says:

    You know, looking at the picture at the top of this post, I think it would make a great t-shirt. 🙂

  20. Ron Britton Says:

    OtherRob:

    If you follow the link to its source, you’ll find the original. It’s slightly higher resolution than the copy I posted. It probably would print onto a shirt just fine.

  21. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I think he’s claiming that it takes very little time for a site to become stratified, giving the illusion of many layers deposited over millions of years. This is how they “know” evolution isn’t true. They just make up stuff

    Okay, I get it now. He’s saying that 3000 years ago Moses took his backhoe and moved all the dinosaur fossils scattered across the entire earth (from the flood, of course) into deep wells to fuck with us. Moses, that prankster!!

  22. anti-supernaturalist Says:

    ** Know your opposition.

    “Christianity is the practice of nihilism.” — Nietzsche

    Fundie bible worshipers deliberately lie in their pseudo-scientific textbooks and they demand equal time for their lies in public education.

    For 2,000 years one vile hallmark of xianity has remained its hatred of natural knowledge and skeptical philosophy. The Stoics and Epicureans of Athens laughed Paul of Tarsus off the Areopagus when he proclaimed Christ’s resurrection.

    Paul’s quintessential, nihilistic rejoinder remains holy writ:

    27-But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28-He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are … (1st Corinthians: Chapter 1: verses 26-28 New International Version of the New Testament.)

    In his “On the genealogy of morals” (1886), Nietzsche cites Paul’s hatred of reason as the non plus ultra of xian resentment giving birth to values completely antithetical to those of Hellinistic-Roman thought. It took 500 years of very lucky breaks, imperial anti-pagan mandates, and destruction of libraries before xians finally destroyed every vestige of humanism for the next 1,000 years.

    Xianity still appeals to those who believe themselves mistreated. To those in whom resentment surges. To those masochists who must punish their guilty selves. To those sadists who must project that guilt onto others and into nature. (The whole of 1Cor1 deserves reading.)

    Their death impulse directed inward, engenders hatred of self. Directed outward, hatred of others and the world. Know them by their “fruits” — they are revenge seekers acting on their fideistic falsehoods “believed in” as absolute truths.

    anti-supernaturalist

  23. Jeff Eyges Says:

    Yet the fundies love to go on and on about how Christianity salvaged and advanced Western civilization, that if it hadn’t been for them, there’d be no hospitals, no universities, etc.

    I sometimes think that if the Roman Empire, in its death throes, looking about for a belief system to unite its remains, had chosen Judaism instead, history would have been a lot less bloody. Greek science and philosophy, Roman engineering and Rabbinic morality (still problematic, but a lot more benign than Christianity). Later on, as Islam went through its Golden Age, there would have been direct influence and mutual exchange of ideas. Win-win.

  24. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I don’t know that Judaism would be any better. At it’s core, Christ was quite the pacifist. And yes, I know there are passages that refute this here and there. But the point is, some (many?) will twist the teachings to suit their agenda — not the other way around.

    I believe you could make a religion out of Rainbow Bright and after a thousand years (probably a lot less), you’ll end up with fundies on par with modern Christian and Muslim Fundamentalists.

    The key is not choosing a unifying religion (although I know you weren’t implying that, Jeff). The key is access to a true scientific education devoid of any religious dogma.

  25. Jeff Eyges Says:

    Right. I just meant that they were in the market, and they used what was at hand.

    Also, in Judaism, there was never a central authority. Everything was subject to interpretation and debate. And salvific exclusivism was never an issue. It would have been a lot harder for groups of rabbis, bouncing ideas off of one another, basing their decisions upon legal precedent, to come up with ideas like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and, ultimately, the Holocaust (which the Church spent two millennia prepping Europe for).

    I don’t know; perhaps they would have just turned into as big a bunch of bastards anyway.

  26. Dan Smith Says:

    I’ve stopped arguing with these people, and have come to the conclusion that anyone who believes in ID is either willfully ignorant, insane, or stupid. There is no point in arguing with the first two, and as for the third…”never argue with a moron, they’ll drag you down to their level then beat you with experience”.

  27. Dan Shields Says:

    Science can be demonstrated.
    Belief cannot.
    The two are mutually exclusive.
    Next issue.

  28. J.R. "Bob" Dobbs Says:

    It’s hard to be humble with ancestors like mine!

    I know its just spam, but this could work well on a t-shirt showing homo sapians’ ancestors.