Berlinksi, whales, and why Intelligent Design can’t get no respect

A commenter expressed incredulity about my claim that ID proponents engage in deception and gross misrepresentations of science.

So to help prove my point in a timely fashion, along comes a video of Intelligent Design mathematician David Berlinski explaining why it’s implausible to imagine a cow evolving into a whale.

As many science bloggers have pointed out, we could just stop at the title: no possible understanding of evolutionary taxonomy could possibly lead one to believe that cows are relevant comparisons to the ancestors of whales and dolphins (amazingly, he even mentions a relevant ancestor, Ambulocetus, later in the video; so where did cows come from?). The entire thought experiment makes virtually no sense on any level, and his bizarre implication that biologists do not employ mathematics, let alone quantitative analysis, is just boldly ignorant.

But none of that even compares to sheer grandiose absurdity of Berlinski’s claim that he, with his supposedly unique grasp of the quantitative (i.e., in this case, counting) “stopped at” thinking of 50,000 differences between a cow and a whale, implying that he, personally, literally really did go through the process of listing them all out, one by one.

Here’s a bit of math for Berlinski: even if he was capable of listing out these differences at an implausibly fast average rate of one every ten seconds, it would still take more than 5 days of non-stop 24hr activity to accomplish this seemingly trifling task. Does he really expect anyone to believe that he actually did this? How was he sure that he didn’t double-count something during either in one marathon session of counting, or in many many counting sessions over many weeks? If he wrote anything down to prevent this sort of thing, that would just make the time required shoot upwards dramatically.

And what happened when he hit 40,000 after a few days of solid, uninterrupted counting? Does he really expect people to believe that he shrugged and said to himself “ah well, I might as well do 10,000 more, and then arbitrarily stop, just for kicks!”

Here’s a much more plausible explanation: Berlinski is full of it, and by my calculations, it wouldn’t even take a single morphological change to turn this guy into a laughingstock.

Update: If you’re tired of just rolling your eyes at Berlinski, and want to actually, well, learn something about whales and their family tree, check out this tour de force post on the evolution of locomotion methods over at Laelaps, covering the everything from the early lobed-fishes all the way down to the glorious cetaceans. What do we find here in everything from locomotion methods to skeletal structure? Why, nested clades of course: that ever so distinctive hallmark of ancestry.

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8 Responses to Berlinksi, whales, and why Intelligent Design can’t get no respect

  1. Berlinski is full of it

    You spelled “shit” wrong.

  2. Bad says:

    You spelled “shit” wrong.

    That would be a serious medical problem, rather than just a serious ego problem

  3. laelaps says:

    Thanks for the link and the compliment, Bad. I’m hoping to eventually expand that post and cover the near constant move of tetrapods in and out of the water in more detail, although I don’t necessarily have the time to do it right away (plus, Carl Zimmer wrote a pretty fair book about it already).

    I just don’t get why creationists can’t get it through their heads that scientists aren’t suggesting that whales evolved from cows or hippos. I guess it just goes to show that they can’t be bothered to read the actual scientific literature they claim to know all-too-well, Duane Gish’s half-cow, half-whale cartoon in the book “The Amazing Story of Creation” being one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen.

    (corrected an obvious typo, if you don’t mind -Bad)

  4. Bad says:

    Zimmer’s At the Waters Edge and Parasite Rex are definitely both “high information content” books: really worth their weight in price and pages, though I suspect that Edge is getting pretty dated by now if he hasn’t updated it.

  5. laelaps says:

    Yeah, I read “Edge” this past spring and it’s a bit out of date (it was right when the whole mesonychid/artiodactyl controversy was starting), but it’s still a decent primer. Even though cetacean evolution is interesting, it’s amazing how many archosaurs went into the water during the mesozoic, and hopefully I’ll be able to write something up about icthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, etc. in the near future, too.

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