I can tell that newfound Intelligent Design blogger Sal Cordova is going to provide a rich vein of bad ideas. I’m set! Like many Intelligent Design blogs, Sal and pals over at Young Cosmos apparently cannot handle allowing critics open access to comment and respond to his claims, which just means more entertainment for you, the Bad Idea Blog reader, rather than me dividing my efforts elsewhere.
In this latest edition, let’s take a gander at what Sal’s picture of what evolution is:
I reject Darwinism because it’s a stupid theory written by a stupid pretender. Fish do not turn into birds, and birds don’t turn into cows and nor cows into whales via mechanism we see in operation today. That is an empirically demonstratable fact which flies in the face of Darwinist lunacy. (emphasis added)
We actually dealt with this very bad idea in my very second post. The idea that fish do not “turn into cows” is in fact an evolutionary principle, not an evolutionary denial.
We can’t be sure exactly where Sal’s confusion comes from because he doesn’t go into detail. Is he mistakenly thinking of one modern animal (i.e. modern fish) turning into another (i.e. cows)? That of course, not only does not happen, but the fact that it doesn’t happen is a pretty core evolutionary assumption. If something like a modern fish could by some mechanism give birth to a modern cow, then pretty much all bets would be off in the very genetic and fossil evidence we use to trace evolutionary ancestry. In fact, such magical transformations are actually the claimed bailiwick of Sal’s God (who does things like turn women in pillars of salt or dirt into people: some pretty impressive taxonomic leaps if I’ve ever heard one!)
I have a hard time thinking that Sal is quite that misinformed. More likely is that his confusion lies in thinking that there is some good taxonomic group “fish” (or even some possible creationist “kind” of fish) that is distinct from “cows.”
But in fact, if you look through biological taxonomy, you’ll actually have a very hard time finding any classification that really equates with “fish,” (unlike finding groups that contain “birds” or “apes” or “mammals”) and and even harder time finding such a group that contains “fish” and only “fish.” In fact, the lowest level taxonomic group that still contains all of the different things we today all fish is Chordata, an entire phylum that contains, among other things, us. And also, as it happens, cows.
If you really pushed things, you could probably still contain most things we think of as fish in the group vertebrata (creatures with backbones). But that still would include people and cows. By the time you narrow your focus to Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) you’d have already lost lampreys, lancelets, and many extinct species of things most anyone would call a “fish.”
People and cows, in fact, wouldn’t drop out until you’d basically narrowed things down to only include the ray finned fish, but at this point you’d have excluded all sharks as well as the Sarcopterygii, a group that has members which are pretty obviously “fish,” but is also ancestral to tetrapods (i.e. pretty much all land animals).
This is no trick of evolutionary biologists screwing with taxonomy to fit their preconceptions. Most of the basic principles that deliver this system of classification were laid down before Darwin or the idea of common descent. And it’s really what you inevitably get when you actually look at the morphology of everything we call a “fish” over time. People and cows are, in fact, embedded solidly within this family tree of shared core traits and body structure, not some bizarre mutant digression from it, as Sal seems to believe.
If we call all vertebrates “fish” then, by that nomenclature, humans and cows are subtypes of “fish,” not fish turned into something non-fish. If that sounds an absurd way to define “fish,” then this is only because the word fish actually just means “slimy thing swimming in the sea that doesn’t breathe air through lungs” rather than any coherent or consistent biological classification. Which is perfectly okay, if you understand the limits of such a word, and what that word can and cannot demonstrate. Sal, apparently, does not.
Sal isn’t quite done yet though…
…Darwinian mechanisms have not been empirically demonstrated to be a credible mechanism for transforming fish in to cows and then cows into whales. Listenting to trained biologists argue that fish can eventually give birth to cows is a bit comical…..I’m tempted to ask them to characterize the LUCA (last universal common ancestor) of elephants, butterflies, and grass. You get the picture of lunacy that they can’t even in principle give a credible ancestor consistent with empirically observed configurations of these creatures. (emphasis added)
Sal is simply flatly incorrect here. Not only do biologists have a pretty solid picture of how these various creatures are related, but we know what many of the intermediaries looked like (some specifically, some more in general) and even what some of the key genetic divergences were. All of these creatures are, of course, variations on eukaryotic multicellularity, which itself is only one tiny portion of life on earth.
Sal is free to insist that he doesn’t find the evolutionary picture on this score convincing, but he’s basically lying when he claims that there is no credible common ancestor “even in theory.” The common ancestor of all these things was some form of eukaryotic cell (single or simple multi-celled we can’t yet be sure and it also depends on what Sal really means by “plant”), plain and simple, and most of the branching stages from this state are well described (especially the vertebrate line under which elephants fall), validated with many different lines of evidence. Again, Sal can claim that this evidence doesn’t hold up (though honestly, anyone that thinks that talks of fish “turning into” cows is not doing wonders for their credibility on understanding it all) but the picture is a perfectly plausible account of how these different forms diverged from simple eukaryotes.
How many times do we have to explain the basic idea and then have creationists simply ignore it in their caricatures?
Update: Sal “responds,” by which I mean, references what I said, without really acknowledging any of it, much less refuting it. He still doesn’t seem to understand his confusion in thinking of anything turning into anything else, as opposed to the actual evolutionary picture of sub-variations on a basal form (i.e. all land animals are sub-variations on the basic 4-lobed vertebrate form, not divergent creatures). He still seems to think that “fish” is a meaningful term, biologically, as if the fact that modern fish don’t turn into cows is a blow against evolution, rather than more support for it.
And, of course, like most Intelligent Design advocates, he doesn’t seem open to actual debate in comments from critics… unlike most sciencebloggers who are more than willing to take all challengers to their claims.