Another creationist drops by to show that there’s no evidence for evolution

September 24, 2012 • 10:15 am

About ten days ago I got this comment from “Steve” (obviously not one of the “evolution Steves”) about my July 9 post “What would disprove evolution?” That one listed a number of conceivable observations that could be seen as countering the existence of evolution, though none of them had ever been been made.

I offer Steve’s comment as another specimen of the mindset of creationists, and of their ignorance of biology. It seems to be a willful ignorance, since it’s easily dispelled with about ten minutes of Googling.

I have one more of these in the series, a post from yet a third creationist asserting that humans didn’t evolve. 

Here’s Steve on what would disprove evolution:

What would disprove it? How about the fact that it’s never been observed!?!? Genetic variance within one species is just that. Never has science observed one species produce another species. The fossil record disproves it. You don’t find two legged animals with no arms. You don’t find giraffes with 3 foot long necks. And here’s the biggest proof that evolution is a pipe dream. They say we evolved from this to this to this to this (e.g. bacteria to fish to land animal to human, or something stupid like that). Ever find it interesting that there are no species around that link the apes to humans? If we evolved from apes, then why are apes still around, but all the intermediate species between ape and man not? Evolution says that at some point, a particular species evolved into another one, but that the original species still went on. (In other words, we still see bacteria, fish, etc….they didn’t all evolve to the higher form). So what happened to all the cave men, neanderthals, etc. that we supposedly evolved from? Why do they not exist, yet all these other species in the chain still do? Face it, the whole theory of evolution is basically give something a billion years to happen, and it will happen. That’s not science, it’s a foolish belief that one must adhere to in the absence of a belief in God. There is no way you can objectively look at the complexity of humans and say it just happened. How did the eye know that it needed to generate an optic nerve? How did the brain know that it had to make room for this optic nerve and learn how to process its signals? How did the skull know it had to evolve two holes in it to allow for the eye? Geesh. A little common sense and you realize that all these systems had to work together or be created at once for them to exist at all. Evolution is a substitute for religion for those who refuse to acknowledge that we were created by a superior intelligent being who must be laughing at the supposed intelligence of those who say that this is all just one big cosmic happenstance. I don’t have enough faith to believe in evolution.

Just a few responses:

  • We have plenty of examples of speciation occurring in “real time”, via polyploidy in plants.  I document this in WEIT.  There are also fossil examples of lineages splitting, sometimes, as in marine protists, on a very fine scale. This is also discussed in WEIT.  There are other examples of “real-time” speciation on the Berkeley Understanding Evolution site.  And at this very moment Peter and Rosemary Grant are studying what looks for all the world like a new hybrid species of Galapagos finch on the island of Daphne. It apparently arose from a single female fertilized by a male of a different species, and the descendants of their offspring seems to be becoming an isolated hybrid group that mates inter se but not with either parental species.
  • No giraffes with three-foot necks? Sorry, Steve, but there is one:
The okapi (Okapia johnstoni), probably resembling an early giraffe.

No two legged animals with no arms? Here’s something pretty close:

Shuuvia deserti, a two-foot dinosaur with feathers.

Or how about a four legged animal with almost no legs?

Batrachoseps attenuatus, the California Slender Salamander. Is it on its way to becoming a legless amphibian?

Or a two-legged animal with no rear legs (they’re actually there, but are vestigial, and inside the body)? I also show an early stage in this transition:

  • Lack of intermediates linking humans and modern apes? Don’t be silly, Steve! Have a look at this photo from New Scientist:
Five skulls belonging to some ancestors and relatives of modern humans. From left to right, the skulls are: Australopithecus africanus (3-1.8 mya); Homo habilis (or H. rudolfensis, 2.1-1.6 mya); Homo erectus (or H. ergaster, 1.8-0.3 mya, although the ergaster classification is generally recognised to mean the earlier part of this period); a modern human (Homo sapiens sapiens) from the Qafzeh site in Israel, which is around 92,000 years old; and a French Cro-Magnon human from around 22,000 years ago (Image: Pascal Goetcheluck / SPL)
  • What kind of mindset does it take to say something like this: “How did the eye know that it needed to generate an optic nerve? How did the brain know that it had to make room for this optic nerve and learn how to process its signals? How did the skull know it had to evolve two holes in it to allow for the eye? Geesh. A little common sense and you realize that all these systems had to work together or be created at once for them to exist at all.”

This shows a complete lack of understanding of how natural selection works.  No organism “knows” what it has to do—that idea was dispelled over a century ago with the demise of Lamarckism. The other canard—that things have to be created because they couldn’t evolve in concert—we heard from our last creationist, Aaron.

And as for this:

Evolution is a substitute for religion for those who refuse to acknowledge that we were created by a superior intelligent being who must be laughing at the supposed intelligence of those who say that this is all just one big cosmic happenstance. I don’t have enough faith to believe in evolution.

Let me rewrite it more accurately:

Religion is a substitute for a real understanding of the universe; it’s designed to console those who want a comforting Celestial Father who will keep them alive after they die. I accept evidence, and don’t have enough faith to believe in fairy tales such as God.

The chance that real evidence will convince Steve is, of course, nil. He’s blinded by faith. I offer his post as an example of what creationists are trying to tell me.

133 thoughts on “Another creationist drops by to show that there’s no evidence for evolution

    1. What was his point about the two-legged animals with no arms? I thought I understood the creationist arguments pretty well, but that one just seems to be out of left field.

      1. I think it’s supposed to be some sort of “transition” species between no-armed fish and four-armed tetrapods, because it had to evolve the back legs before it could evolve the front legs or something, ergo Jesus.

      2. I do not what you call a man with no arms and legs in a swimming pool.


        Sorry, a bit disabledist but don’t say you did’nt laugh.

    1. Jerry, I don’t know how you do it. You have limitless patience with such drivel. Your reply to “Steve” was perfect and serves a greater purpose if any creationist will just read it.

  1. “What would disprove evolution?”

    If all species had one sex and reproduced only when food was sufficient and they had gained enough weight. (Make up your own jokes about Americans).

  2. As a teacher, Jerry is required to have such patience with the ignorant, who are usually belligerent in their misinformed views. At least this guy is thinking about the topic, and eventually he might start seeing how evolution really works, thanks to teachers like Jerry.

    1. “..might start seeing..”

      Well, that depends on how strongly you hold a belief in the Devil. After all, the Devil seems to be equally omniscient as the Supreme Being, going everywhere, doing everything, indefatigably attempting to cause human candidates for immortality to miss out in a blissful eternity.

      The Devil is even directing Jerry, instant by instant!

        1. Because he’s a fictional character whose author never bothered to characterize beyond “antagonist who opposes everything the hero does,” thus giving him no actual motivations for any of his actions.

            1. I was thinking along the lines of the villains in 80s cartoons who used multiple multi-million dollar suits of battle armor with high-tech weaponry to rob banks.

            2. This is as wilfully ignorant a statement as the original Creationist claptrap.
              The ignorant right deny Darwin’s findings and the ignorant left deny Adam Smith’s.
              The findings of both 18th Century English philosophers are evidence-based descriptions of reality, abundantly developed by theoretical advances, but the ‘sides’ deny and distort the findings of whichever one they disapprove of. Like evolution, Smith’s work is simple in detail and exquisite in its ramifications. The tragedy caused by the economics deniers is displayed in Zimbabwe and Argentine, is impending in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and threatening to the U.S.
              Abbot’s policy is based upon the work of Adam Smith. Suggesting that it is merely the wilful rejection of everything the ‘hero’ comes up with is the sort of statement you’d expect from a one-eyed footy supporter, or a political partisan, but not a claim to be made by anyone who knows what they’re talking about.

              1. Smith’s Invisible Hand is as flawed an ideology as any of the other utopias to come out of that era. He assumes that the buyers in his markets have perfect information about what they’re buying; that sellers don’t have any incentive to defraud their buyers; and that there aren’t any barriers to entry or natural monopolies.

                Predictably, his theoretically noble ideas fail miserably when those premises don’t hold up in real life — which is why there aren’t any successful economies that implement pure capitalism.

                As I noted, the other utopias also suffer fatal flaws, which is why we’ve seen the emergence of an hybrid model: regulated markets with nationalized essential monopolies and representative democracies at the helm.

                Even that hybrid model has a fatal flaw that’s just now starting to become apparent, and it’s quite the doozy: it depends on unrestricted exponential growth. Because there are hard-and-fast physical limits to growth, we’ll soon have to transition to a steady-state economy. And nobody has any idea how that’s supposed to work, or even if it’s something that’s possible for humans. It’s certainly unprecedented.



              2. Ben said: “Sorry, but that’s right up there with geocentricism and Young Earth Creationism.”

                No, you don’t get to apply that label to argumenents just because you don’t agree with them. You quoted my conclusion but ignored the material following in which I justified that conclusion.

                There’s a finite possibility any of us are wrong, of course, but I did not form my judgement without reference to source material, including my copy of the original ‘Limits to growth’.

                I believe it’s a fair precis of your argument to say you argue that there is less than a century of coal or uranium at exponential growth. I accept that, while pointing out that the demographic transition means we are unlikely to continue with that exponential growth- and there’s a millenium of each available at current usage rates.

                You refer to ‘the energy crisis’ as a limit to growth. What energy crisis? Even George Monbiot admits now that environmentalists were mistaken.
                I first heard the term ‘energy crisis’ when Jimmy Carter was telling us the world would run out of oil by the 1980’s.

                Many environmentalists refer to a ‘Moore’s Law’ in Solar energy productivity.

                All this is without any novel energy generation being developed, whether Nuclear Fusion, cold fusion, zero-point energy generation, orbiting space-based solar power stations, or some yet to be invented technology. We already do have the technology to turn coal to petrol; its just that we can get petrol cheaper by conventional methods so far.

                You mention ‘Global Warming’ as a ‘limit to growth’-, which is a novel argument to me. Just how extreme would it have to get to prevent growth?

                Our ideas about the future can only be opinions, not facts, until the future actually arrives, but lets both of us hope that I am right.

              3. @ ben

                Adam Smith used to be selectively quoted with great approval by our business leaders, who obviously hadn’t read all of him.

                But how about these:
                “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

                “No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable. ”

                “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

                Oddly enough I’ve never heard our business leaders mention those quotes…

              4. Wow, how fortunate to be provided with such a perfect specimen of what I was talking about so soon after I mention it!
                Just as Creationists show they’ve never actually read Darwin’s work, let alone understood it, but won’t let that stop them from ‘refuting’ it, Ben’s comment shows he’s doing the same thing with Smith’s work.
                It’s been 22 years since I last read Adam Smith’s work, so I checked my facts- something Ben could as easily have done before posting.
                I didn’t recall Smith ever proposing a utopia, so I checked. Google leads me to the blog article “Adam Smith Was Never a Utopian”. Looking further, I couldn’t find the word ‘utopia’ anywhere in the e-text of the book.
                The reference to his ‘theoretically noble ideas’ is again a sign of never having read the book. Like Darwin’s, the work is descriptive, not prescriptive.
                Creationists refer to ‘evolution by natural selection’ as an ideology and assert it’s been disproven.
                Ben’s argument refers to ‘the invisible hand’ as an ideology and asserts it’s been disproven.
                Some things that might startle Ben: “Adam Smith was different. He made no predictions about the future. He led no political movement. He avoided utopias, such as Laissez-Faire, perfect competition, the abolition of all tariffs, or the abolition of government and the state. His epigones invented his association with these ideas, all contradicted in his Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations. He never mentioned once the cry of some French Physiocrats for “laissez-faire”, he advocated expenditures by the state on major and some minor headings, including two – education and health -with certain prospects of growing considerably. And, most importantly for modern economists, he never used the invisible hand metaphor as a general expectation that it neutralised “greed” and “selfishness” and led to the bliss of general equilibrium and the public good. ”
                There are further signs in Ben’s comments that he is parroting the economic equivalent of creationists who are out to disprove the theory that they don’t wish to believe, but I am not critiquing Ben in particular.
                I do denounce the practice of refusing to investigate ideas just because one doesn’t want to believe them, or settling for critiques that reinforce one’s prejudices without ever reading the originals. Whatever the issue, economics, climate change, or creationism, it doesn’t matter- that’s the sure route to crackpotism.
                As for the reference to the physical limits to growth, any idiot with a calculator can predict catastrophe from exponentials, and many have. There are reasons these forecasts have not come true, and I find those reasons more persuasive than the disaster theories.

              5. I didn’t mean to imply in my previous comment that there are no physical limits to growth.
                However, we are so far from approaching those limits that the concern is laughable.
                Every developed country has below-replacement birthrates.
                The rest of the world is becoming developed. Even assuming the 21st Century doesn’t come up with any unexpected new technology, an unjustifiable assumption, the sciences already under development of nanotechnology, biotechnology and genetic engineering mean projections for access to food and resources with current technology are as foolish as an 18th Century forecaster projecting energy shortage due to insufficient whale oil.

              6. I didn’t mean to imply in my previous comment that there are no physical limits to growth.
                However, we are so far from approaching those limits that the concern is laughable.

                Sorry, but that’s right up there with geocentricism and Young Earth Creationism.

                The energy crisis and global warming are precisely what limits to growth look like.

                We’ve been increasing our energy consumption at an annual rate of about 2.5% for about as long as there’ve been humans. In just the past century or so that growth curve has reached the dramatic phase. In the past quarter century, we’ve used as much energy as in all of history before then, and we’re on pace to use more energy in the next quarter century than in all of prior history…

                …except that we’re starting to hit some very real, very hard walls. We’ve used up half of all the petroleum on the planet. And, naturally, we’ve used up the cheap, easy-to-get-to half. And our transportation system and our food supply depend utterly on petroleum. Like it or not, we’re either going to come up with a replacement for petroleum in the next several years and ramp up production to surpass even the most prolific output we’ve ever had from oil wells, or our transportation systems and food production are going to come crashing to a halt.

                At current rates of consumption, we use up the last drop of oil by mid-century. If we continue our historic growth curve (on which our economic systems utterly depend), we run out in 15 – 25 years.

                In reality, difficulty of extraction and scarcity will send prices through the roof, likely resulting in at least a 2% perpetually-sustained contraction of construction — something that will make the Great Depression look like a picnic. By mid-century, we’d be back to consumption levels of the 70s, and back to pre-World-War-I levels by the end of the century.

                There’s only one energy source plentiful enough to replace petroleum if we want to continue our growth curve for the indefinite future, and that’s solar energy*. It just doesn’t make a very good transportation fuel or crop fertilizer….


                * Yeah, we’ve got lots of coal and natural gas and nuclear energy. But we’ve used significant fractions of those, too. We’ve got less than a century of each at historical exponential growth rates. b&

            3. My reply to Ben’s most recent comment to me is out of order. Presumably my unfamiliaroty with this posting system has led me to make an error.
              Please read our comments in the order dictated by the date-and-time stamps.

            4. Ben, I’m bemused by your most recent post.
              Trying to guess how you get from what I’ve said to your conclusion “I find it fascinating that your central defense of unlimited growth…is to predict an imminent end to growth.” has me bewildered.
              Perhaps you could spell out your train of thought in more detail?

              Extrapolating to disaster by using exponentials is easy.People have been doing it at least since Malthus. The sums have always predicted disaster. And they’ve always been wrong.
              When the horse was the main means of transportation you could extrapolate the cities of the world would be killed by horse-droppings by todays date.
              The exponentials G. Harry Stein used for increased energy use had every person on Earth able to access the complete energy of a star by todays date.
              Malthus’s figures, like Ehrlichs, had the world collapsed by overpopulation by today’s date.

              Your proposal that I ‘need to spend some serious quality time doing the math’ is taken in the spirit in which its intended.
              However, the blog does not persuade me.

              You yourself point out some of the errors in the ‘do the math’ blog article on Futuristic Physics- some of the things some of the people say we’ll never see are actually already in existance.

              In his article on photovoltaics, he ignores the fact that one of the peaks for electricity demand is after sunset.

              The math you descibe for petroleum is one of the things I’m pointing out that is mistaken. I’m not saying you’re doing the sums wrong, I’m saying you’re doing the wrong sums. By analogy, we’ve all seen Creationists calculating the probability against a single stand of DNA forming. Their sums are impeccable, but they’re doing the wrong sums- like calculating that last week’s lottery was rigged because the odds against those particular numbers was 100 million to one.
              Likewise, your math doesn’t reflect reality. You do take into account escalating price. That’s better than those who calculate “We have X gallons a year and Y reserves, therefore we’ll run out in X/Y years”- but it fails to address substitution. In fact your ‘contraction’ only applies to the point where a substitute becomes economically feasible- after which you can expect innovation and economies of scale to reverse the contraction you address. That substitution can and will include gas and coal.

              If I understand correctly, one of your fallacious ideas is that a 2 percent economic growth means a 2 percent growth in the use of resources. Consider Malaysia’s Computer industry. for the sake of the example I won’t worry about getting the exact figures, accept that we’re looking at the principle. It’s original industries were fishing, lumber, oil production and others. When they added computer software, (including animation for Disney, etc.) they increased their economy by say 10%. This did not however mean they were suddenly catching 10% more fish or felling 10% more trees.
              Likewise, the development of efficiencies will increase economic performance while actually reducing resource consumption.
              The growth of the information industries are not limited by the same constraints as more standard industries. Pixar can produce five Shrek movies for very little more cost than producing one. What is the value that Google has added to the world economy already?

              You listed what you thought was a whole lot of flaws with Smith’s work, none of which I recall actually being in the work. Could you give me a cite to any of them?


              1. Leo, I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time nor energy for a detailed rebuttal of comparable scale to your post.

                I’ll only address a few points.

                In his article on photovoltaics, he ignores the fact that one of the peaks for electricity demand is after sunset.

                Dr. Murphy is well aware that energy storage is a problem; he wrote an entire post devoted to the concept of a “nation-sized battery.” And not only will he readily admit that he doesn’t have answers for many of these problems, his whole point is that nobody actually has answers for many of these problems, and that there are solid reasons grounded in physics to suspect that answers may not exist. The advice he most consistently offers is for people to personally scale back their individual footprints, and he has given copious examples of how he himself has done so.

                You suggest that we can substitute other fossil fuels for petroleum. This is true from a chemical perspective, but not necessarily from an energy perspective, and certainly not from an economic perspective. Natural gas might keep us going for a short while, but that’s about it. Sure, there’s coal-to-gas and the like, but that’s even more expensive and has less return on energy investment than the tar sands, and those tar sands are already more expensive than solar-powered hydrocarbon synthesis from atmospheric CO2. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into hydrocarbon fuel? The good news is that that’s as expensive as fuel will get, because there’s no limit to it. The bad news is that that’s unbelievably expensive.

                And I’ll even grant you a magic wand that gives you cheap conversion of any hydrocarbon petrochemical to something you can put in your gas tank. We’re already fucked thanks to global warming, and now you’re proposing we dump several times as much more CO2 into the atmosphere as we already have? I live in the Phoenix metro area. Do you really want our summers wherever it is that you live? I’m not looking forward to importing Death Valley’s climate here, either.

                Last, again, your answer to the growth problem is…that we stop growing. Great, fine, I’m with you on that. The problem is that every economic model we have gets thrown into chaos as soon as you stop growing. The physics says we can transition to the type of steady-state economy you envision where growth is non-material…but history, psychology, economics, politics, and every other modern study of what people do says, “good luck with that.”


  3. The key word is, as you say, ‘willful’ ignorance. I have often faced demands, apoplectic DEMANDS that I prove evolution. When I suggest books (like JAC’s) I am accused of hiding behind other people’s work. So I suggest that their other option is to do what I did: do a biology degree, then a zoology PhD, then 10 years of zoology research and teaching. Reading a book or two would be easier.

  4. Wow, Steve, aside from displaying weapons-grade ignorance of biology and Olympian-caliber Dunning-Kruger effect (who writes an expert in the field this kind of email?!), also manages to work in two of my bete noirs into his email:
    1. Common sense as a useful epistemology.
    2. “I don’t have enough faith to believe in [insert “controversial” origins topic here]…

    Why do so many creationists use the latter in their criticisms of evolution? Just because the denialist camp finds it cutting and clever doesn’t mean anyone else will.

    1. 2. “I don’t have enough faith to believe in [insert “controversial” origins topic here]…

      Yes, and further, they seem to be admitting that faith is believing in something without evidence (it is!) and that to do so is silly.

    2. Creationism seems to go hand in hand with a distaste for education, hence creationists like “Steve” place no value on hard-won expertise like JAC’s. This explains to a degree why the willfully ignorant community is all in favor of home schooling and school voucher systems: gotta keep those kids as ignorant as possible.

      The real mystery, of course, is how on earth JAC manages to be so polite and patient with these willful ignoramuses. I couldn’t do it, not in a million years, and not for a million dollars.

  5. Congratulations on having the patience, intelligence and curtesy to rebuff comments from people like “Steve”. Interesting to note how some people from the ‘opposite’ end of the evolutionary scale keep pushing superstition over science. Thanks!

  6. That’s not science, it’s a foolish belief that one must adhere to in the absence of a belief in God.

    That’s not science, it’s a foolish belief that one must adhere to in the absence of a belief in real answer — an answer we just made up to answer the question in the first place.

    Why don’t you believe in the answer we made up? It’s the real answer because we said it’s the real answer, by definition.

    Who created the universe? God.
    Who is God? The creator of the universe.

    Jesus, it’s so damn simple.

  7. As ignorant as Steve’s comments are, they do reflect a common misunderstanding of evolution that I believe is perpetuated by the use of linear ascent of man picture as a symbol for evolution. On this front, I think two things need to be done: 1. better education on the actual process of evolution (certainly WEIT helps fulfill this role and 2. give evolution better branding (as I’ve elaborated on before ( )

    1. It also illustrates something that Dawkins called the “tyranny of the discontinuous mind”.
      Like most (all?) creationists he expects that a new species arises suddenly, from one generation to the next, individual of species A gives birth to individual of species B (who then has no one to mate with).

      1. Once again, the armchair thinker/rationalist is caught within the problem of large numbers. It is against our nature to deal with concepts involving long terms of time…millions of years. It is basically inconceivable for someone not accustomed to the gradual and repeated utilization of mathematics, to grasp how large spans of hundreds of centuries can play out. It is much akin to expecting someone who has never swam in an ocean, to write a narrative about what it feels like to swim.

        1. Scott, I think you hit the nail on the head. While there are a lot of willfully ignorant people, there are also a lot of people who will honestly, yet drastically underestimate the effect compound interest can have on savings.

          That’s the same problem as evolution: an inability to grasp on an intuitive level just how much change can be worked by cumulative change.

          1. Indeed, most people have a real problem understanding exponential growth.

            Historically, the growth of oil consumption has been in the 2% range.

            We’ve used up roughly half of the total global oil reserves.

            Most people would think of 2% annual growth as an inconsequential number, and figure that, since we’ve got half the reserves left, that means that the remaining oil should last for as long as we’ve been burning it — a century or two or so.

            Sadly, that is pretty much the case…but not in the naïve way most people understand it.

            Because of the nature of exponential growth, at current rates of about 90 million barrels per day, and with about 1.3 trillion barrels in the ground, with neither growth nor decline, we’ve got enough oil for about 14,000 days or about 40 years — at which point the taps would suddenly run dry.

            If we were to continue the 2% growth rate, the wells would run dry much sooner — roughly half that time.

            In reality, due to the physics of oil wells, whether we like it or not, production is going to start declining at about the same rate it increased — which is why we’ve got another century or so of oil left.

            But, that also means that, by mid-century, we’ll only be burning oil at the rate we were in the 70s. By the end of the century, we’ll be back to the oil consumption prior to the first World War.

            Whether you like it or not, if for no other reason than that the difficulty of extraction is going to make it so expensive that nobody will be able to afford to burn it.

            Remember, the days when you had to be careful with a shovel in Texas lest you set off a gusher are long since gone. We’re now drilling several-mile-deep wells in oceanic bedrock with wellheads a mile below the surface, and even those are starting to run dry. Sure, there’re tar sands and what-not…but they make deep-sea oil look cheap.

            It’s the old parable of the bacteria colony that doubles its population every minute that starts with a single bacterium at midnight and overflows its bottle at noon. At what time was the bottle half-full? 11:59. At 11:58, they realize their impending doom and start an herculean effort to procure an entire new bottle, and they finish just in time. How long does it last them? Until 12:01.

            2% annual growth works out to a 35-year doubling period — right in line with the 40 years of reserves at current rates. It means that we’ve burned as much oil in the past 35 years as all of humanity did in all of history before then — and that we’re on pace to burn more oil in the coming 35 years than we have in all of history.

            Except that there isn’t that much oil left to burn.



        2. Yes, you’re of course right, few people can really grasp large numbers.
          This was also my point on the previous thread: most people, even intelligent people, still believe in a very parochial god concept.
          They may have learned that our universe is really large but on an intuitive level it seems they can’t really grasp how mindboggingly vast it really is and that such an anthropomorphic deity isn’t really plausible as its creator.

  8. I think Steve is imagining the fact that the common ancestors of humans and great apes are now extinct is a problem for evolution:
    Ape – not extinct
    Intermediate – extinct
    Intermediate – extinct

    Humans – not extinct

    Like many creationists he seems to believe that Great Apes are effectively unchanged from those living millions of years ago, rather than entirely modern species.

    1. He also seems to have the mistaken idea that evolutionary theory claims that humans and human ancestors, taken as a group, split off from all the other apes, taken as a group. He then wonders why we’re the only surviving species on our side of the split, and takes that as evidence against such a split.

      But in fact that particular split never happened. There is no common ancestor of the other apes that’s not also a common ancestor of humans. So if we look at the evolutionary path leading from the common ancestor of all apes to us, we find that there are indeed surviving descendants of intermediaries along that path — namely, orangutans, gorillas, and chimps.

      1. Part of his problem is that one of the biggest sticking points for creationists is the idea that humans could be part of the same group as a bunch of “dirty apes.” Humans are supposed to be *special* and therefore have to be in a group all by themselves.

        1. Humans can be, and often are, just as dirty as any dirty ape. Taking as the standard of dirtiness “flings feces around”, all one has to do is look at (some) small children who delight in feces, or (some) insane people who smear their feces on the walls – or even perfectly sane adults who do such things as a form of vandalism and contempt for social norms.

          “Dirty apes”, indeed.

    2. Yes, that’s right. Pace Jerry’s rebuttal – “Lack of intermediates linking humans and modern apes? Don’t be silly, Steve!” – that’s not Steve’s problem.

      He says, “If we evolved from apes, then why are apes still around, but all the intermediate species between ape and man not? Evolution says that at some point, a particular species evolved into another one, but that the original species still went on.” [my emphasis]

      Well, we know they didn’t. But it’s certainly true that many other descendants are much more like our common ancestors than we are. Modern fish are more like our fishy ancestors than we are; modern reptiles more like our scaly ancestors; modern shrews (?) more like our first furry ancestors; &c. So it’s not a totally silly misapprehension.

      Part of the problem is the iconic but artificially linear “ascent of man” illustration, which neglects all the offshoots that led to our cousins and the extinct species that have no extant descendants, and is a trap for the unwary and poorly educated (or miseducated).


      1. Are you sure those assertions in your third paragraph are true? Could it be that modern fish are no more like the common ancestor of fish and human than are humans? Are we being misled by superficial resemblances?

        The crux of this issue is, what is the correct measure of likeness between two species?

        1. Well, I’ll allow you “Modern fish are (at least superficially) more like our fishy ancestors than we are”, &c.

          But, whatever the “correct” measure is, most lay people (anti-evolution or not) would probably base “likeness” on morphology/anatomy, and wouldn’t be bothered by details such as the number of legs horseshoe crabs have (regarding them as true “living fossils”).


  9. So Steve is basically saying that if a species evolves into something else, said original species will eventually not exist? What happens, do they get swallowed up by the God Hole?

  10. Genetic variance within one species is just that. Never has science observed one species produce another species.

    Steve obviously thinks that a species is some sort of a Platonic ideal. The reality is that it’s much more like color — at what point on the rainbow is the color no longer yellow but green?

    Richard’s thought experiment of two familial lines holding hands across generations, daughter to mother to grandmother and so on, one with a human, the other with a chimpanzee, and the two converging to a common ancestor six and a half million years ago, is an excellent way of countering this nonsense. It’s even better when you include side-branches. Are you like your cousins? Yes and no. Your thirtieth cousin may well be an aborigine living in a back-bush tribe somewhere, with morphology as radically different from yours as one can get and still be human.

    Then there’re also the ring species. There’re the seabirds the particular species I keep forgetting, and there’re dogs. Clearly, a Greyhound and a Miniature Daschund are more different from each other than the lion and the tiger — and comparably inter-fertile (i.e., only with great difficulty). It’s not hard to trace the dogs’s ancestry to a wolf some thousands of years ago. Same thing with the cats, except their shared ancestor lived about 3.7 million years ago.



    1. In the spirit of mathematical exactitude, let me address the issue of that thirtieth cousin. My thirtieth cousin, at no removes, would share a common ancestor with me 31 generations back. Since a generation is about 30 years (old genealogical rule of thumb), that’s barely over 900 years, not even a wink of an eye in geological terms.

      While genetic studies, e.g. those by the Cavalli-Sforzas, support the idea of long distance migrations of humans, most of those must have occurred in prehistory when the earth’s surface still had lots of empty room for settlements. The last ones to affect Europe were the barbarian invasions that shattered the Roman Empire, say around 400 CE.

      IOW, thirtieth cousins will be of the same general appearance in most cases. Three-hundredth cousins would be much more likely to demonstrate your point, just given that rule of thumb.

      1. First, I know the 30 years is commonly used for a generation, but it seems quite excessive to me. Until very recently, most people had their first children in their twenties, and it wasn’t all that long ago that first children were born to teenagers.

        Second, don’t forget that family trees are quite messy. For most Americans, it doesn’t take very many generations to find a Native American or somebody with African ancestry. If you’re European, you can be pretty much guaranteed to have an ancestor who marched in an army across Poland — which, in turn, gets you related to almost everybody from the Mediterranean (and thus quickly to the Middle East and Africa) to Asia (and thus to China, etc.).

        Even if you yourself are “pure-blooded” (whatever the Hell that means), your great-great-grandfather’s third son might have gone on safari to Kenya, and by now everybody in that one village is a cousin of yours.

        I’d be quite surprised if there’s anybody alive today who isn’t at least your couple-dozenth-or-so cousin.



        1. “I know the 30 years is commonly used for a generation, but it seems quite excessive to me. Until very recently, most people had their first children in their twenties”

          Yes, but women kept on having children far later in life.

          The average age for childbirth in the West is now less than it was a hundred years ago.


            1. Actually, if age is counted from conception (as it really ought to be), then the average age at birth has undoubtedly decreased in the last 100 years, due to increasing viability of premature births.

              I grant that the mode is probably still at nine months (or “age zero” by the traditional definition).

              1. Conception is the point at which the developmental clock starts. Birth is just the point at which the lungs are ready to breathe air. The child certainly isn’t fully autonomous at that point, and won’t be for another couple of decades.

                Please note that I’m not making a pro-life embryos-are-people argument here; sorry if I gave that impression.

                What I’m saying is that if you have a six-month preemie and a full-term infant born on the same day, it’s silly to call them the same age. Developmentally, one is three months younger than the other, and our concept of age ought to acknowledge that fact.

  11. Evolution says that at some point, a particular species evolved into another one, but that the original species still went on. (In other words, we still see bacteria, fish, etc….they didn’t all evolve to the higher form). So what happened to all the cave men, neanderthals, etc. that we supposedly evolved from? Why do they not exist, yet all these other species in the chain still do?

    Nearly correct, except of course those who “went on” evolved too. Sometimes into us:

    “Here’s a somewhat simple representation of my current thinking now about human evolution over the last two million years:

    We’ve got the lineage of the hobbit, ‘Homo floresiensis‘ (in quotation marks because its human status in not yet clear), perhaps diverging more than two million years ago, evolving in isolation in southeast Asia, and apparently going extinct about 17,000 years ago.

    We’ve got Homo erectus, most likely originating in Africa, giving rise to lineages which continue in the Far East in China and Java, but which eventually go extinct. In Europe, it perhaps gave rise to the species Homo antecessor, “Pioneer Man,” known from the site of Atapuerca in Spain. Again, going extinct.

    In the western part of the Old World, we get the development of a new species, Homo heidelbergensis, present in Europe, Asia and Africa. We knew heidelbergensis had gone two ways, to modern humans and the Neanderthals. But we now know because of the Denisovans that actually heidelbergensis went three ways—in fact the Denisovans seem to represent an off-shoot of the Neanderthal lineage.

    North of the Mediterranean, heidelbergensis gave rise to the Neanderthals, over in the Far East, it gave rise to the Denisovans. In Africa heidelbergensis evolved into modern humans, who eventually spread from Africa about 60,000 years ago, but as I mentioned, there’s evidence that heidelbergensis populations carried on in Africa for a period of time. But we now know that the Neanderthals and the Denisovans did not go genetically extinct. They went physically extinct, but their genes were input into modern humans, perhaps in western Asia in the case of the Neanderthals. And then a smaller group of modern humans picked up DNA from the Denisovans in south east Asia.

    We end up with quite a complex story, with even some of this ancient DNA coming back into modern humans within Africa. So our evolutionary story is mostly, but not absolutely, a Recent African Origin.”

    1. Oops. Html fail.

      href=””>This is the link to Stringer’s Edge text.

      Let me try the image too:

  12. “or something stupid like that”

    Ah, the true sign that someone has done all the research to come to a well informed opinion.

  13. “…we were created by a superior intelligent being…”

    This superior intelligent being wouldn’t be the Abrahamic God by any chance would it? I only ask because I have read the Bible and quite a bit of the Koran, and the one thing that I can definately say about this god is that he isn’t very bright. In any case, where do you suppose that this god came from? was it created by an even more superior intelligence or did it evolve?

  14. “They say we evolved from this to this to this to this (e.g. bacteria to fish to land animal to human, or something stupid like that).”

    This sounds like Steve got his education from Mrs. Garrison in South Park (link to short YouTube video of Mrs. Garrison explaining how “you’re the retarded offspring of five monkeys having butt-sex with a fish-squirrel.”

  15. I have the impression that Steve, as well as Aaron a few days ago, are young people – perhaps students on fundamentalist schools? Once a student told me (after a lecture on Darwin) that she was raised at such a school, where they got homework (biology!): write a creationist reaction on a blog on evolution. These postings by Aaron and Steve look very much like ‘homework’ to me.

    1. Crazy, but plausible.
      I was just thinking, somebody like this Steve, with his limited but exist minimalist knowledge about modern science; and some interest in them (even in negative way) — he might be able to “turn” one day (remember Pharyngula’s series of why atheists).

      Except, if as mentioned above, this is a kind of self-brain-washing exercise.

  16. You don’t find two legged animals with no arms.

    The recently extinct Moa, has legs and no “arms”, the wings having disappeared. Same with the Kiwi bird.

    Pygopods (a type of lizard) have no fore-limbs at all, but they do possess vestigial hind limbs in the form of small, flattened, flaps.[1]

    Snakes, caecilians, and legless lizards have lost both their legs and arms.

    Fossil snakes with small legs are known.

    1. from The Pterosaur Heresies:

      Bipes, a Primitive Extant Amphisbaenian
      Bipes (Figure 1) is a living amphisbaenian with strong front legs. The hand is stout, like that of a mole, with digits 2 and 3 the longest, digit 1 absent and digit 5 vestigial. The vestigial hind limbs do extend beyond the body wall. By contrast, in typical lizards digit 4 is the longest.

      There is a genus of legless lizards that have front legs but no (visible) hind legs.

    2. The kiwi actually has vestigial wings tucked away in its downy feathers. (That was a kiwi-feather cloak the NZ flag-bearer wore at the Olympics; they’re the top kind. Nowadays only kiwi that die naturally or accidentally – too often at the teeth of dogs – are used to make them.)

  17. In my experience, it is often a waste of time to try to explain evolution to the likes of Steve. There is no amount of reasoning or evidence that will convince them, because they do not want to understand. An open-minded creationist is a rare animal.

    I remember getting caught years ago by my future rural Western US in-laws reading a Darwin biography. Being in the home of evangelical fundies, I was trying to be discreet, but privacy is not their forte. They reacted in a horrified manner, told me and my future wife how horrible it was, blah blah God blah blah, and then asked me what evolution actually was… I tried to explain the basics, and even gave them some accomodationist platitudes (something the present, post-“The God Delusion” me would never do). The only result was them sending us crappy, xeroxed creationist literature from their church weeks later. Not much can be done against willful ignorance.

    1. Probably true but not all the time.

      A lot of the brighter kids find out that they were lied to by their church.

      And start wondering what else their church is lying about.

      The churches are losing millions of members per year in the USA. Hatred of science is part of the reason why.

      1. Of course I shouldn’t generalize. I am sure there are many creationists, particularly younger ones, who just were never really exposed to evolution, and who might actually be open to being confronted with new ideas. However, I don’t have the impression this Steve is one of them. And in my own personal experience, most of the creationists I have met (older ones?) will simply ignore any evidence or facts if these contradict the preacher-given truths they were told in church. I mean, if a larger segment of the conservative population in the US were really amenable to reason, the Republican party would have lost much of its anti-gay, anti-minorities, and anti-abortion base a long time ago.

        1. Many of those who have come to their senses only did so after being challenged in a forum such as this.

          It may be many years before the seeds we plant today sprout and bear fruit, but one thing’s for certain: if we don’t plant the seeds, they’ll never bear fruit.

          It’s also worth keeping in mind a point that Richard often makes. The person you’re addressing may be a lost cause, but there may also be others silently paying attention who’re receptive. Even if Steve truly is hopeless, some of the friends he brags to might not be.



  18. I blame evolution for this. Careful observation at Whole Foods has led me to believe that there’s nothing a male Homo sapien likes less than admitting he’s wrong in the face of a challenger male (this is why, no kidding, I once had to crawl backwards out of the organic honey section to escape a pair of red-faced, screaming yuppie guys about to kill each other over who bumped whose cart.) If you saddle some poor little boy with a belief like this and then he publicly espouses it before he knows better, he either has to back down or defend it to the death. Many seem to choose the second option.

    I am vaguely curious, now, as to what the ‘good’ arguments for creationism are, since Jerry has been accused of cherry-picking ‘bad’ arguments, I believe. I can actually see someone coming up with a decent argument for, say, theistic evolution, but out and out young earth creationism would be quite a feat.

  19. There was a study I saw a little while back that suggested that climate change denialists are partially so because there is significant social hazard in them publiclly espousing the scientific consensus. I wonder how much of the anti-evolution worldview is based on social convienience? Incidentally, I was at a national monument (Hagermann Fossil Beds) this year that wouldn’t carry WEIT because it is only one side of the “controversy”. So, it would seem to me that even open-minded folks would get confused if they do not get a consistent message from authority figures.

      1. Yeah, I’m trying to get in touch with the local supervisor (although I am not an evolutionary biologist), but have found it difficult. The NPS folks in D.C. suggest I send a paper mail message. I’ll do it one of these days when I have nothing better to do…

    1. Truly disgustin’. They’re right across the street from a High School, and advertise on their NPS website educational tours, deep time facts, etc. I was just near there (Shoshone), seeing he Craters of the Moon Monument & had no idea it existed. Since I’ll be back and forth soon, I think I’ll make it a point to stop by Hagerman, look around and politely inquire WTF. It’s probably the locals pushing back against what they consider to be indoctrination. I swear that part of the country (Idaho) is screwed. Too many ignunt & proud of it types, as a proportion.

      1. Stephen, that would be great if you could do this. When I was there, I politely suggested WEIT would be a good book to add to their collection given the nature of the Monument, and got the response that they don’t want to take sides. I may have been talking to a local volunteer ranger, but she was the only one there. By the way, I love Craters of the Moon.

  20. Maybe Steve is evolving toward becoming a Hennigian cladist. Hennig makes the simplifying assumption that when cladistic, splitting, speciation occurs, there are two new species and the ancestral species is now extinct. Never mind how much one of the new species resembles the ancestor. Also, because one cannot recognize ancestors, all ancestors, nodes or branching points, on a phylogenetic tree, are hypothetical.

  21. Anyone so dim or obtuse as to write such a letter is unreachable. There is a kind of obstruction-as-entertainment mentality that precludes any desire to learn and understand. “Steve” is unworthy of your time.

  22. But what you’re all missing is that Steve’s religion has given him The Truth, and therefore by definition his parody of evolution is just as good as the real thing, and he only has to blow and it will fall over. He doesn’t seriously want to talk about the issues, because he Knows.

    Still, it’s a basic failure of logic to say, “What would disprove it? How about the fact that it’s never been observed!?!?” Failure to be observed (yet) has never disproved anything.

  23. “it’s designed to console those who want a comforting Celestial Father who will keep them alive after they die.”

    Sadly, religion – and its attendant entreaties to a mythical, benevolent, omniscient and all-powerful being – are also used to console those who feel they’ve been done wrong in this life too. They try to use it like a magic shield when they lose control over a bad situation or when they’re scared silly (e.g. “let go and let god”), instead of calling on their own resourcefulness.

  24. Steve – Your heart is in the right place, but your brain is missing. Your letter shows your misunderstanding of evolution. Why not learn about evolution before you make a fool of yourself again?

  25. Ah, bless! “Evolution’s never been observed [even though it has] so it isn’t proved”.

    And that’s nothing like the universe popping into existence on 23rd October 4004 BCE because that event was covered by the BBC, Sky News and even Fox, wasn’t it?

    Oh, that’s right! Adam was there. With ink. And a pen. And vellum. And the ability to write history from the point in time at he was created as a fully formed human being. And not a single velociraptor ate him. Or his vellum. And when Eve popped up, they had two sons and populated the whole wide world which, even a creationist would have to admit, involved some pretty heavy inter-breeding action. And, finally, SOMEHOW this history was still hanging around after Noah’s great flood without it even having been mentioned as having gone on the Ark…

    And so on into the distance of illogicality goes even a scintilla of “evidence” for any universe-popping-into-existence story.

    Goodnight children, everywhere. And tomorrow, read a FU**ING SCIENCE BOOK FOR ONCE IN YOUR BRAIN-ADDLED, USELESS AND WASTED LIFE!

    No, really, start with Dawkin’s new book, “The Magic of Reality”. The difference between it and the Bible is the difference between, say, “fact” and “fiction”.

  26. Dr. Coyne:

    As a determinist you can’t consistently accuse Steve of “a willful ignorance,” (i.e., a voluntary ignorance) can you? Steve’s ignorance may be unfortunate, infelicitous or exasperating, but it can’t very well be willful if Steve is without free will.

    To suggest that Steve’s ignorance of evolution is a matter of his will is to suggest that he might gain knowledge of evolution by the proper use of his will; by setting aside his prejudices, religious or otherwise, and paying sufficient attention to the evidence on offer.

    But to admonish Steve to do this is to tacitly admit that Steve has the free choice to do this. In a word, no rationality without free choice.

  27. “You don’t find giraffes with 3 foot long necks.”

    Then Dr. Coyne posts the pic, lol. I’ve owned creationists pretty bad like this too, but pointing out basic facts they have wrong doesn’t really do anything, they just keep trying desperately to win. More recently, my strategy is to stop the conversation right there and tell them their errors are a sign they should read the other side (Why Evolution is True or an equivalent book) and explain that if they do not do that, they are narrow-minded hypocrites.

    1. Yeah but those are okapis. Not giraffes! Everyone can see, their markings are wrong. Call yerselves biologists and you can’t see that? (They have got zebra’s asses, though. I’m sure there must be a terrible pun in that somewhere).

          1. I’m sorry, I was being a bit obscure. I was actually parodying the creationists who demand to be shown an ‘intermediate’ animal between two species, then when shown it, immediately demand further intermediates to fill in the smaller gap. I didn’t make the parody very obvious.

            Incidentally, I don’t think it’s a game that evolutionists can win, since creationists can just keep demanding more intermediates. Not sure how ring species would affect the argument, though they certainly serve to confuse the concept of species.

            1. Haha, yeah. While you are right about most creationists, when people are ‘fence-sitters’ I can actually really get the to think about this sometimes when I explain that in a certain sense there are really no ‘species’ in the sense that any child will be almost exactly like its parents, etc.

  28. “Here’s Steve on what would disprove evolution:

    What would disprove it? How about the fact that it’s never been observed!?!?”

    Erm…by that logic, God has also been disproved.

  29. How sad and utterly frustrating it is to debate these people; hearing the same ignorant, worn-out arguments over and over- they seem to think that repetition alone will “win the day”.

  30. Just out of interests sake – as regards evolution in the current era – an article appeared in the New York Times back in July 2011, written by Carl Zimmer, on “Urban evolution right under our noses”.
    A Dr. Munshi-South and other biologists were doing a study on mice in New York Central Park. Fascinating stuff. Maybe this “Steve” should look the story up….after all it is happening RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES – right now – with four legged mammals!!

  31. Steve’s first error is a failure to acknowledge the immensity of time – all natural selection needs is time.

    To ask for all intermediate phases would mean there were no species – there would be a continuum of life with cross breeding all along the range from micro-organisms to whales. It is like denying that two people share an ancestor because all the intervening generations are dead.

  32. I was recently thumbing through my copy of Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is, and came across a point about population thinking. The question about intermediates makes sense if one thinks of evolution as a chain, but it makes no sense in terms of population thinking.

    That two groups that are reproductively isolated developed different variation and have different environmental factors makes species problem largely go away, yet I don’t think creationists grasp this point at all. It’s been my experience, anyway, that the creationists don’t even try to think in terms of populations and it gets them into all sorts of trouble. A lot of “logical implications” of evolution are simply that they have that misguided notion of the process.

    I’ve been rereading WEIT over the last week, and that same point seems to jump from the pages. Page after page of nuanced explanations that make perfect sense if thinking in terms of populations, but would be lost on creationists who don’t try to see what the evolutionary picture actually is.

  33. Surely “Steve” is a Poe? I mean, that comment is just too perfectly inane to be real? It looks to me like it was fabricated as a joke.

    It can’t be real, can it? Can it? Are they really THAT stupid?

    1. Nice to see some evidence of intellectual standards among YECers. On the other hand, this passage from the website on “island weeds” is rather unedifying: “While this may be a clear example of natural selection, it must be realized that natural selection is not evolution (in the sense in which evolution is normally understood) since by itself it cannot generate anything new. Natural selection does not produce any truly novel characteristics, such as feathers on reptiles to turn them into birds.”

      1. That, of course, is why Richard generally refers to Darwin’s great idea as, “The Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection.”

        It’s also misleading, considering the significant plasticity already present in most genomes. Genetic drift via sexual reproduction can also be a driving force of evolution even lacking mutations. Pick any hybrid for a textbook example.



        1. I’ve recently come across the idea of genetic drift an find the concept really interesting. It suggests to some extent that any fixing of a genetic trait requires somewhat of a separation of the population expressing that trait, and the rest of the population. It makes me wonder what events cause such separation.

          1. That would be the process which is known as speciation. It’s a thriving area of study unto itself, and our host with one of his students literally wrote the book on it.

            But the short version is that you just need some form of reproductive isolation. Generally, that will be geographic, where the two groups don’t come into contact with each other; genetic, where a mutation causes one group to no longer be interfertile with another; or sexual, where the two populations live side-by-side and could breed, but have no desire to do so.

            And, yes, the boundaries are often quite fuzzy and much debate can rage over whether or where to draw the line. Further complicating matters are ring species…and then things really get weird once you get into the microorganisms….



  34. Genetic drift is a logically sound propositon, but difficult to demonstrate. Part of the problem is that genetic differences between populations are often a result of natural selection. How does one remove natural selection from the equation? So far as I am aware, the first demonstration of evolution as a result of genetic drift was that of Aspinwall, 1974. He looked at populations of a Pacific salmon species which has a two year life cycle. streams would thus have runs of odd year salmon one year, and even year salmon the next. No reason to think that the odd and even year populations were subjected to different selective pressure. He found genetic differences between odd and even year populations in a number of streams.

  35. Why would people take comfort from this so-called “benevolent creator” when in their book, he orders the deaths (or kills directly) millions of people and one time killed all people on the planet, save eight (Noah’s Flood)? This is comforting? This is “God’s Love”? That their god “loves us” is supposed to be obvious?

    It is not only their scientific thinking that is awry.

  36. -Please someone help me. Im trying to find actual evidence for geologist/paleontologist never finding rabbits buried with dinosaurs according to the geological columns. PLease email me some good information.

  37. @ kenny. Exactly what do you mean by evidence for never finding rabbits buried with dinosaurs? This sounds suspiciously like ctyptozoologist’s on television offering that while they found no proof of an alleged cryptid, that they also found no proof of its non-existence. How is one to offer evidence of having not found something?

    Perhaps I misunderstand your request, but it really makes no sense to me to ask anyone to point them toward evidence of non-existence.

Leave a Reply