The Discovery Institute’s “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” not so scientific

February 11, 2019 • 11:15 am

The Discovery Institute (DI) likes to make its case for Intelligent Design simply by getting people to sign a petition, the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“, which reads thusly:

Signatories of the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism must either hold a Ph.D. in a scientific field such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or one of the other natural sciences; or they must hold an M.D. and serve as a professor of medicine. Signatories must also agree with the following statement:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

You can see the signatories here; according to The College Fix article below, and a blurb by the Discovery Institute, they now number 1,043. The fact that the signers exceeded 1000 is cause for great celebration in Seattle.

Although there’s not, as far as I know, a list of scientists who accept “Darwinism” (I’d call it “modern evolutionary theory”), it would of course be much longer.  But scientific truth isn’t determined by lists of names, even of people who hold Ph.Ds (see below for their “qualifications”). It’s determined by the published work of scientists and whether it’s accepted by the scientific community. And using that criterion, ID has failed miserably.

It’s sad that The College Fix, a right-wing website that often has decent though slanted articles on the shenanigans of woke students at universities, has chosen the anti-evolution hill to die on. Of course the author of this article (click on screenshot) goes to Liberty University, where you have to sign on to creationism as a student and teacher.

The Right apparently hasn’t realized yet that they don’t gain intellectual credibility by espousing creationism or attacking established truths in evolutionary biology.

At any rate, The Sensuous Curmudgeon isn’t impressed. In a post about the list a week ago, they note this about “Project Steve“, which is the National Center for Science Education’s lighthearted but real list of scientists named Steve who have a Ph.D. and support evolution. The NCSE of course doesn’t use lists to support the truth of evolution; this is just a list to mock the Discovery Institute’s list.  Here’s what the 1400 Steves signed:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

And the Sensuous Curmudgeon’s comment on the DI’s crowing about the 1000+ signers of their anti-Darwin list:

The Discoveroids have a new post about it at their creationist blog: Skepticism About Darwinian Evolution Grows as 1,000+ Scientists Share Their Doubts. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Over 1,000 doctoral scientists from around the world have signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution. [Gasp!] The statement, located online at, reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

We always contrast that with “Project Steve,” a splendid enterprise of our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). It has its own page at their website, and it’s their response to the Discoveroids’ list. The last time we wrote about it was over two years ago: ‘Project Steve’ Now Has 1,400 Steves. They say: “About 1% of the United States population possesses such a first name, so each signatory represents about 100 potential signatories.”

. . . We don’t know how many Steves are on NCSE’s list now, but only ten Steves are statistically equal to all the 1,000 signatures on the Discoveroids’ list. If the Discoveroids limited their list to only “Steves,” they’d have about 10 names. Also, The Discoveroids are far less selective than NCSE in choosing their signatories. The Discoveroids’ list includes a significant number of MDs, dentists, engineers, meteorologists, industrial hygiene specialists, nutritionists, philosophers, political “scientists,” sociologists, and such. On the other hand, everyone on NCSE’s list of Steves has a PhD, and a majority of them are in a biological field.

The Curmudgeon concludes:

So where are we? Well, the Discoveroids finally got their list up to 1,000 names, so that’s something. It’s difficult to come up with a figure for the actual number of scientists in the world, because that term (like the Discoveroids’ list) can include social scientists, political scientists, etc. For the US alone, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has over 120,000 members, so the Discoveroids still have a lot of work to do.

But you’re probably asking yourself, “Well, who are those Ph.D.s who signed the DI’s statement?” Fortunately, DonExodus2 examined the list 11 years ago when there were about 100 signers, and you won’t be impressed by those who put their name to the document. (The videomaker contacted most of the people who signed the document.) Have a listen:

It’s pathetic that the DI spends its time getting signatures on the petition when it should be getting empirical evidence for its theory. After all, in 1998 the Wedge Document said that its 20-year goal was to see ID as the dominant paradigm in science. It’s 2019 now, and that hasn’t happened. And so the Discoveroids engage in ludicrous activities like this.

113 thoughts on “The Discovery Institute’s “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” not so scientific

  1. It’s pathetic that the DI spends its time getting signatures on the petition when it should be getting empirical evidence for its theory.

    Or just pragmatic and calculating. They know there isn’t empirical evidence to support their theory, nor is there going to be any forthcoming. Gathering names, however, will certainly bear some fruit.

    1. Creationism played that game at one point. They lost. Creationists actually came up with testable theories in the past, and tested them. Turns out some of them were true, and became part of our understanding of biology. For example, a common Creationist claim in the late 1800s/early 1900s was that animals didn’t go extinct, they simply moved to less-suitable habitat. And that happens, we can observe it today.

      The difference is, scientists accepted this data, went “That’s really neat! I wonder how it works…” and studied it until we understood it. Creationists refuse to the same when presented with data.

      Today’s Creationists are just depressing when you read the history of the Creationism/Evolution debate. Creationists at one time were in fact serious researchers, able to point out critical flaws in our understanding of evolution and offer testable counter-theories. The Creationists were wrong, but not TRIVIALLY wrong; disproving them advanced our understanding of biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy, etc. The ones today are just sad compared to their intellectual ancestors.

      1. “…that animals didn’t go extinct, they simply moved to less-suitable habitat. And that happens, we can observe it today.”
        What do you mean, animals do not go extinct? That there are some Triceratops in Antarctica or Plesiosaurs in the Sahara? Or what?
        I’m sorry, but animals do go extinct.

        1. “I’m sorry, but animals do go extinct.”

          I’m a paleontologist. I know perfectly well that animals go extinct. My point there was that not ALL species go extinct; some do in fact move to less suitable habitat. Creationists were wrong in saying that extinction doesn’t occur, but the mechanism is in fact valid under certain conditions. More significantly, it was a testable hypothesis.

  2. I’m not clear on what they mean by “dissent”. My impression of current Darwinian Theory is that it now holds the sort of overextended role that behaviorism did in Skinners day – when people thought anything and everything could be explained via principles of reinforcement. We now know that behaviorism, while no less true, is one gear in a much larger apparatus. Similarly, I don’t think random mutation as the sole mover of change within organisms really makes much sense at all when subjected to scrutiny. Mathematically I think it’s so unlikely that it can pretty much be ruled out. Some other factors have to be at play there.

    That said, if by “dissent” they mean “because God created all the animals in the book of Genesis, obviously,” then this is just a purely tribal display to show how many scientists are still wearing Creationist Team Colors. In which case, that’s just silly, science is about evidence and logic, it’s not a sporting event. People should paint themselves in team colors or whatever and channel those impulses elsewhere.

    1. Do you mean “descent”? Have you read our host’s book, of which this website bears the eponymous name? If not, you may wish to; it answers the issues you propound.

      1. I am 100% certain he does not answer this question, because no one has. That does mean I love him any less, of course, just that I continue to have what I consider a healthy sense of curiosity. I value what is true and acknowledge there is still much that is unknown.

    2. Nobody claims that “random mutation is the sole mover of change”. Other factors such as selection and drift are required (and well documented).

      1. That still really doesn’t solve the problem of there being an infinite number of ways for mutations to go wrong and an extremely finite number of ways for them to go right, at least in theory (I suspect there are not actually an infinite number of ways for them to go wrong but if one goes on that principle one allows for the idea that human forms are predetermined mathematical constructs or some such thing – not actually so far off from the idea of “God made humans”, if you believe in a pantheistic, math-like God).

        Anyways, this in no way aligns with what we see in the world around us. Where are the infinite number of chaotically mutated creatures? (I also don’t rule out that they do in fact exist in the multiverse or some such thing, but again, that gets into a much, much bigger picture than simply saying “Advantageous mutations happen!”.)

        1. Some slippery math there. ALL genomes are of finite length, therefore there cannot be an infinite field of bad mutations (or even combinations of). The notion that the number of observed beneficial mutations (which depends on context btw) can’t overwhelm the larger field of bad mutations amid the still larger field of neutral mutations is a notion argued by, for example, creationist John Sanford in his “genetic entropy” argument, which is however a wrong one, based on a string of false assumptions.

          As for seeing a glut of weird mutants were evolution true, that too is a canard known in creationist apologetics, but likewise snags on the details (most really dangerous mutations will not result in a living critter at all, and an array of mechanisms have evolved to keep the mutation rates to a workable level.

          1. 1) I mean, I guess you could say “Well, there’s no room for infinite ‘bad’ mutations because it just so happens that the genome generally only allows for beneficial mutations which allow for complex life to adapt in all sorts of interesting, diverse, extraordinarily complex, variated ways while at the same time never really devolving into chaos, because that’s just how genomes are. But at that point I really feel like you might as well be saying “Well, you know, the Math God did it.” or “Life as we know it is written into the blueprint of the universe.” Because this is not how anything else we observe works. If something is pre-set to only work in fairly adaptive ways, that requires its own explanation.

            2) I’m genuinely not familiar with what creationists say, but if they have a point, they have a point. An infinity-to-one ratio would be the expectation. This does not exist. To say safeguards against this have evolved doesn’t particularly help because they should also have existed at an infinity-to-one ratio.

            1. That you jumped to the same wrong conclusion as creationists is nothing be bragging about. It’s been a VERY long road to even metazoan organisms, with nothing in what is known of how the systems interact undermining the solidity of what we see, namely that natural mutations are underlying it all, filtered by the ever-busy sieve of natural (and later still, sexual selection too). For example, the connection between cell adhesion elements and evasion of parasites ultimately contributing both to multicellularity and sexual reproduction (think those fascinating volvocines studied by Matt Herron and others).

              Perhaps you ought to dive into more of the relevant technical literature, learning the present state of the art. That you bandy about “infinite” in this context suggests there’s still a long way for you to go in the data field ocean.

              1. I’ll respond to this and then Paul below as I’m likely over the comment limit. I don’t care if Creationists have a bad name and social mores tell me I should be ashamed to agree with a particular point they make. Whatever. I agree with who I think makes sense, not who is perceived as having authority. I’m still pretty (I’d even say ‘very’) confident that in 300 years the idea of random mutation as prime driver will be considered a quaint historical notion. You have concluded something else. Meet me in 300 years and we’ll discuss, I guess. In the meantime, I am extraordinarily pleased that scientists are doing the important work of studying evolution. We might not understand it completely and large chunks of that picture may be missing, but it is the people who study it in earnest who will be the one to fill in those gaps.

              2. The train’s already left the station on mutations underlying evolution, Roo, and apparently you missed it.

                It’s hard to think of any biological system that doesn’t ground on the mutations that can occur at many levels (from duplicated genes then mutating structurally, to regulatory mutations which alter the deployment of already existing genes).

                What works have you relied on to not have spotted this? So far you have been vague and general. Please take some actual biological example (bird origins, reptile-mammal transition, hominids, cetaceans, etc) and clarify where mutations aren’t playing the dominant role in the observed variations.

              3. Just occurred to me to ask – there’s viral DNA in Homo sapiens- do these locations mutate at a different rate (for instance) compared to the ancestral virus?

                I did no research for this question.

              4. Wildschutte et al’s “Discovery of unfixed endogenous retrovirus insertions in diverse human populations.” PNAS 113 (19 April 2016): E2326-E2334, surveyed what’s been found, but it mentioned no differential mutation rate among them. Whether future research finds any such remains to be seen.

              5. A nice lead, thanks

                Of course I said “rate”, but it’s the general question of the mutation process in the two scenarios that popped in my head.

            2. I don’t think it is true that the “genome generally only allows for beneficial mutations”. How would that happen? It’s mostly just both good and bad mutations determine whether the creature has 0, 1, 2, or 3, healthy or not so healthy, offspring. Of course, some mutations result in no creature at all, as the other commenter mentioned.

              1. Ok, last comment, because as I said above, I’m probably over the comment limit. What I mean by ‘beneficial’ is ‘not entropic / chaos inducing’. Even if evolution could produce as many successful life forms and adaptations as it has by random mutation alone, you would still expect to see an exponentially larger number of deformities, fatal mutations, and so on. It’s not that those things don’t appear, but they are a minority, not the extreme, extreme majority that, as I understand it, statistical models would predict. For every one way for things to go right, there are an exponentially larger number of ways for them to go wrong. And yet this is not what we see in animal populations. Granted, I still think that could be accounted for if:

                1) Life was not particularly diverse. If, over eons, statistics managed to spit out one self-replicated model, with little change, amidst the infinite other potential combinations of chemicals, well, ok, maybe. But this is not the case. I remember recently Jerry wondering why alligators adapted to eat rocks vs. increasing their body density via evolution. Alligators are, relatively speaking, pretty simple creatures on the evolutionary scale, and yet that is a very specific adaptation that we assume evolution can just sort of ‘make’, if needed. What is the ratio of maladaptive to adaptive mutations in a case like that (and remember, this is one teeny tiny change for one species of an extraordinarily large number of species on Earth.) What are the odds that random mutation would just pop out such changes, given the number of maladaptive changes that could have occurred in its place? And again, amplify that exponentially over all the adaptive changes over all the creatures living on Earth today. Why is the number of maladaptive mutations not much, much, MUCH larger?

                2) As I said above, if you see the genome as something that is inherently error-averse. Which is fine, but it’s… I dunno, it’s weird. And quasi-mystical. I mean, you can say “God didn’t create life but life just happens to exist in the formula of the universe in a way that allows for evolution”, and I have no problem with that, but to me it’s not all that much less bizarre than just saying “God is math or pantheism or something and s/he contains the blueprints for life.” I mean, maybe that’s a matter of framing, maybe to some the former seems bizarre and superstitious and the latter (the formula for incredibly diverse life just happens to exist because that’s the way chemicals interact, Because Reasons) seems reasonable and scientific, but they both sound pretty mystic to me. Again, perhaps that’s just a matter of framing though.

              2. Even if evolution could produce as many successful life forms and adaptations as it has by random mutation alone, you would still expect to see an exponentially larger number of deformities, fatal mutations, and so on. It’s not that those things don’t appear, but they are a minority, not the extreme, extreme majority that, as I understand it, statistical models would predict.

                Aren’t the assumptions here that 1) the mutations are damaging enough to cause deformities or eventually kill the organism, but not damaging enough that we wouldn’t notice the organism, and 2) every mutation causes the organism to differ?

                Whether something is maladaptive is dependent on the environment as well, isn’t it?

                I’m also inclined to think that anything that replicates imperfectly under a selection pressure would produce evolution, and it isn’t some mystical force that has to be allowed by the universe.


              3. I understand what you are getting at. If most mutations are deleterious then species can’t adapt to their environments. Since species do adapt, then perhaps most mutations are beneficial. But wouldn’t that imply some sort of foreknowledge in the mutation mechanism?

                I think the answer is that it is more complicated than you might realize. Wikipedia’s “Mutation” page ( tells us:

                “In general, it is accepted that the majority of mutations are neutral or deleterious, with advantageous mutations being rare …”

                So we don’t have to worry that some other mechanism is nudging the process in favor of beneficial mutations. Instead, we have to wonder how a species can adapt when most of the mutations it experiences are not beneficial. I suspect it is because the overall rate of mutations is low. Most reproduce without mutating. Most that mutate die right away or produce fewer offspring as they are selected against. These disappear from the gene pool, leaving only those that didn’t undergo mutation at all and a very few that received a beneficial mutation.

                All of this has been worked out mathematically over a long period of time. If you are going to challenge this body of work, you will have a lot of hard work to do. It doesn’t seem you are in a good position to call this all wrong based on some intuition. It is much more likely your intuition is wrong.

              4. You’re repeating the same mistake, that somehow oodles of defective organisms should be cropping up. Sources please on where you got this notion? It isn’t from reading science works, I fear.

                Crocodiles are vertebrates with as long a evolutionary record as we are (they used to have even broader range biologically, including fully aquatic forms). Again it would be useful to learn whether you have studied much about them in the science works directly.

              5. Since a few people have asked some specific questions I will attempt to clarify, but again, given the posting limits, this needs to be my last post on the topic, and at that point what I’ve said either makes sense to others or it doesn’t.

                The argument about mutations is an argument from common sense, yes. That said, I don’t think that in any way invalidates it. To say “You must be much more learned to even have an opinion” is simply an argument from authority. If a common sense argument is easy to refute, then the solution is to refute it, simple as that. And the common sense argument is – if you randomly move parts around on a circuit board, the odds of creating an improved computer versus breaking it are extremely small. If you randomly move words or letters around in a novel, the odds of writing a better novel vs. creating a bunch of typos is also extraordinarily small. And, even if you think a large enough time scale accounts for the ‘infinite number of monkeys typing’ effect, you still have to account for the fact that we do not see an almost infinite number of evolutionary dead ends for every one successful mutation.

                Regarding whether or not the statistics / probability / entropy issue of evolution has been ‘worked out’ – it has not. It is an ongoing discussion, with some saying it’s almost an impossible question to frame properly, some people proposing partial solutions (I know Dawkins did at one point but can’t recall the name of it,) to specific facets of this very broad issue, and some people taking one side or the other based on available evidence – but there is no equation/s anyone can point to that simply shows that these issues have been clearly resolved. They are still very much open.

                I do not deny that mutations drive change, what I deny is that random mutations could occur at the adaptive rate that they do without some other factor/s at play. Evolution is often spoken about as if adaptations are a matter of flipping a simple switch – an ‘adaptation’ gene happens, and there you go. In reality adaptations often require a multitude of changes that have to work in combination to produce a noticeable change. And show up at the right time, when needed. When a functionally infinite number of other mutations could have shown up. This is all just a bit “too cute” for me, by way of narrative.

                People here have commented that many mutations have no real negative effect on an organism. That’s fine, but clearly beneficial mutations do have a noticeable effect. So this gets right back to the idea of saying that somehow beneficial mutations show up in spades when it comes to mutations that have a noticeable effect, while harmful mutations, which should outnumber them exponentially, do not. This simply takes the same concept and moves it from ‘mutations’ to ‘mutations that have an effect’. Same principle though – where are the almost infinite number of errors in this process? At every single step of the way, for every new development, for every species?

                As I said above, one can certainly posit that this is some sort of fundamental feature of atoms or chemicals. They simply have properties that mean they are more or less destined to spit out tigers, bears, butterflies, humans, and so on. But unless you have a strong propensity for shrugging your shoulders and going “Well, I guess that’s just how chemicals are,” to my mind that requires its own explanation – it seems like a rather weird property for chemicals to naturally have. To my mind, at that point a bigger picture (a universal propensity for matter to increase in complexity over time for whatever reason, for example) needs to be discussed in order for this topic to make sense. Something needs to account for the general lack of error (relatively speaking) in evolution.

              6. You are on your own now. You ignored my explanation and, evidently, refuse to learn more from the many available sources. Your argument from “common sense” is just wrong. No one owes you an explanation. If you continue to believe in your common sense explanation, even though there is a large body of scientific knowledge to refute it, you are within your right to do so. However, it is an act of willful ignorance.

              7. if you randomly move parts around on a circuit board, the odds of creating an improved computer versus breaking it are extremely small. If you randomly move words or letters around in a novel, the odds of writing a better novel vs. creating a bunch of typos is also extraordinarily small.

                This creationist argument has been nicely debunked by Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker.

        2. The biologists can correct me on this if I’m wrong, but my impression is that most mutations are much more subtle in their effects than you are imagining. Also, it is not only mutations but the shuffling of the genome caused by sexual reproduction. Each creature (ignoring identical twins) is a unique combination of genes. That’s why we are all different. If the combination is favored by natural selection (ie, you produce lots of healthy offspring and don’t die early) then the combination gets used in the next roll of the dice.

          1. [ I’m not correcting or signaling my credentials here, just felt like contributing to discussion]

            Also consider (off the top of my head)

            generation time
            Viruses – these are not organisms yet they mutate and evolve, and rapidly
            There are mutation” hot spots” in genomes, I believe
            Mutagens do not all work the same way
            Mutation repair enzymes (e.g. MutM and so on)

            … I was getting the feeling it’s only about “us”, Homo sapiens.

            But of course there’s probably a good book on this idea…

        3. At several points you mention variations on this :

          Ok, last comment, because as I said above, I’m probably over the comment limit.

          There isn’t a “comment limit”, TTBOMK. There is a problem with the direct web interface to WordPress which limits the apparent depth of comment which can be replied to because after about 6 comments deep, it stops displaying the “reply” button. This is clearly a bug, not a feature, because if you use the “notifications” button of the WordPress wrapper around Jerry’s website (it appears top-right for me, adorned with a bell glyph ; if, or how, it appears for you, I’ve no way of knowing) then you keep on getting “reply” options for I-don’t-know-how-deep into a comment tree. I guess that the designers at WordPress couldn’t believe a discussion could go more than 6 branches deep, or they couldn’t figure out how to make a UI for it. For reference, a debate I was involved in from about 1996 to 2001 got up to around 1400 comments, and something like 100 branches deep. But that was with a threading news reader, not a web interface. I very much doubt that it was anything like a record.

          Jerry does have a Rool about not taking over a thread, but I doubt that this sort of genuine discussion would trouble him.

          Paul is doing a stalwart job of trying to get through to you where you’re wrong.
          Your fundamental error seems to be one which is common for creationists in that you’re thinking of the “whirlwind in a junk yard assembling an Airbus A-380 (bigger and more complex than a Boeing 747)” , when at any point since abiogenesis it has not been a question of assembling a whole new thing from scratch, but of making a finite number of slightly different variants, then finding out which of those variants produces more offspring than the others. Cross-breeding the more successful variants then happens automatically, because there are more of them – which is the measure of “success” in “natural selection”. Lather ; rinse ; repeat.
          “Artificial selection” in contrast can have whatever measure of success the human in charge wants, which is how we ended up with wolf genes producing both Irish Wolfhounds and Dachshunds. If you’re talking about breeding drug-producing bacteria, there are probably computer programmes already imposing their decisions in artificial selection.
          “Sexual selection” adds mate choice at the cross-breeding stage to the complicating factors, but still fundamentally is the question of differential reproduction – the more fecund inherit the puddle/ hill/ forest/ continent/ planet.

          1. The comment limit is approximately 10% of comments in a thread, although, as the number of comments increases, the 10% increases. It’s gone from about 74 to over 100 so I guess it’s ok to respond to this. To the above comments:

            – Saying “Richard Dawkins wrote a book that debunked this or that” is not an argument. I could say some other person wrote a book that debunked his debunking, and so on. I don’t mean that in a rude way, but in a back-and-forth exchange, I can only respond to the actual statements in front of me, not claims that somebody very smart has debunked an idea in an unspecified way (also, I am fairly certain this is not true, as I recall Dawkins writing an equation where he grappled with this very issue – but the equation, if I remember correctly, was not meant to encompass all of evolution, but one specific aspect of genetic transmission. This is not what one does if they consider a topic over and done with.)

            The Boeing example would be more properly stated as: Engineers took a bunch of Boeings, randomly moved parts in the engine, and then saw which ones flew the best. Then, assuming there was a single plane that didn’t crash (which there likely wouldn’t be,) they mucked around with the engine of that plane to see which version flew the best, and on and on and on… The expected result would be an almost infinite number of crashed planes, not neatly more functional ones every step of the way. Even if you think there was enough time for random mutations to produce a “better Boeing” this way, this does not account for the fact that the exponentially larger (I’m not talking a few defects, I’m talking about 800 trillion to one or some such thing) number of failed mutations that we would expect to see in this scenario apparently do not exist. You don’t generally see a quadrillion frogs die of fatal mutations before a single one produces a beneficial one. And again – multiply that by every beneficial mutation, across every species. There has to be some sort of explanation as to why the landscape is not overwhelming littered with the evolutionary failed mutants of every species at every stage. Especially considering, as I said above, that mutations are not a simple “on / off” switch. They generally involve multiple changes that need to work together, without causing extensive harm in other parts of the animal’s system, as you can’t change one part of a system without changing the whole thing. Now add to that that all this had to happen at a time when it was beneficial, environmentally.

            I have seen people tackle these arguments one at a time – the surprising lack of entropy in evolution; the seeming mathematical impossibility of it; the sparsity of random mutation as a generative source (I haven’t seen the “where the heck are the infinite number of failed organism?” aspect addressed, but I suppose that goes under entropy.) I have yet to see any model that accounts for all of these factors together. You can say there might have been enough time for evolution to happen – if random mutations occurred at what I think is proposed to be a bizarrely effective rate (again, how many Boeings would fly with random engine mucking?). I have seen arguments that random mutations aren’t as random as they appear – but without a proposal as to how such a mechanism would have appeared in the first place. Etc. Taken together, I have not seen an explanation that accounts for all of these. I suspect there is one, but I don’t think it’s known yet. And so what? Scientists are generally proud of the fact that they don’t claim to have every answer on every topic, and generally frown on such thinking when it appears in religion. Why would we need to pretend that evolution is completely understood and tied up with a pretty bow when, to my mind, it’s clearly not? There’s more to find out. My guess is it involves inherent properties of information, but it could be any number of things (some sort of unknown feedback mechanism between the environment and the genome, a corrective mechanism that developed at a time when there was a huge failure rate, maybe the Cambrian Period or earlier that now exists in almost all life forms, etc.). I’m fine with being curious about what that is, and I don’t think there’s any need to propose that this is a done deal. I believe evolution is very real, I believe humans descended from primates who descended from fish, I do not believe God plopped animals on the Earth on the 6th day – but I do not think random mutation alone can explain the creation of material that natural selection in turn prunes back. Not without other, “as of yet not entirely known”, factors involved.

    3. I don’t think the comparison with behaviorism is a fair one. Behaviorism was more about a choice of how to do research. It was not so much that they denied that brains had internal states. They just didn’t think looking at them was a valid way of doing science. It was in favor when I was in college and I am proud to say that I thought it rather silly at the time. I suspect it is no surprise even to most behaviorists that it is not the whole answer. In a sense, it was never intended to be.

      As to whether random mutation is solely responsible for evolution, it is easy to see why some people look for something more. Nothing wrong with looking, of course. Still, your claim that it can “mathematically be ruled out” is pretty strong. I think you are wrong there and it is just wishful thinking. If one could prove that it was insufficient, that would be a tremendous breakthrough.

      My guess is that the thing that is hardest for us to wrap our head around is the enormous amount of time that evolution uses to do its thing. I find it hard to think in terms of millions of years.

      The other thing I suspect comes into play is that genomes really represent bags of tricks ready to be deployed when conditions change. For example, our ancestors had tails. If conditions changed for humans such that tails again gave us some sort of advantage, our species would rapidly develop tails. (Or we’d split into two species, one of which has a tail.) I see this as a sort of force multiplier. There are bound to be many such traits in our genome, ready to be deployed when needed. This can make evolution seem to happen faster as not everything needs to be invented again by random mutation. It only needs to be favored in natural selection.

      1. Behaviorism was more about a choice of how to do research. It was not so much that they denied that brains had internal states.

        Let me tell you, that is absolutely not true. The stories I could tell, lol! (I’m kidding around, but trust me when I say that hardcore behaviorists really are True Believer types, and they really do deny internal states. [This had an unfortunate impact on animal rights for many years.] There are, however, many wonderful, wonderful people using behaviorism today in fields such as special needs treatment, however, and they are generally far more flexible.)

        As for the idea that mutation is totally pell mell and just so happened to result in humans and other complex life – I stand by the statement that this can be functionally ruled out, given how enormously unlikely it is. I think the concept of evolution benefits from the fact that humans (self included) do not have an intuitive grasp of statistics. I can’t say that I have a problem with that – the idea of evolution is unfairly hammered in so many ways, so it’s only fair, to my mind, that it should get a sort of ‘unfair leg up’ in others. I think that leg up is that the process seems intuitively correct to people. Something doesn’t work quite the way we want it to and so we make it a bit better, and a bit better, and a bit better. This fits extremely well with our superficial, common sense intuitions about the world. But, as I said above, the “infinity to one” ratio that I think we should expect to see at every step along that path is clearly not present. Yes, evolution took place over millions or billions of years. An infinite number of years is still much, much, much, much longer than that. In the grand scheme of things, I think it was much to fast and worked much too well to be attributed to mutation (as the sole ‘generative’ source) alone.

        1. There are radicals in every group. I didn’t say there weren’t those behaviorists who drank the Kool-aid but I doubt whether most shared their ridiculous beliefs.

          As far as those getting good results using behaviorism techniques, that is because they really have no choice. We have no good technology for messing with peoples’ brain states directly in order to cure disease. Prefrontal lobotomies and shock therapy have not produced great results. However, I believe it would be difficult to find such therapists who would tell you we will never understand how the brain works and be able to correct problems directly. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.

          There’s nothing wrong with behaviorism as a point of view. It is only when it is taken to extremes where it is thought to be the only point of view that it gets silly.

      2. « If conditions changed for humans such that tails again gave us some sort of advantage, our species would rapidly develop tails. »

        Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Tails would have to be present in the population for natural selection to drive “rapid development”. But the incidence of human tails is very low (Wikipedia: “Twenty-three cases of human babies born with such a structure have been reported in the medical literature since 1884.”).


        1. It’s our ancestors that had the tails, right? The genes that produce tails are in our genome but unexpressed. The fact that occasionally humans DO have tails is proof of that. In these few humans the tail suppression mechanism goes wrong.

          If, on the other hand, human ancestors never had tails, a mutation that produced a tail would be highly unlikely. In a sense, the genome would have to start from scratch to develop a tail and it would be a much longer process.

          1. I don’t disagree with that, but this is what you said:

            « If conditions changed for humans such that tails again gave us some sort of advantage, our species would rapidly develop tails. »

            My point was that those changed conditions wouldn’t make it any more likely that children would be born with tails in the initial population, so there’d be very little for natural selection to work with.

            Yes, that incidence would increase over time, but I don’t think that development would be rapid.


            1. Well, “rapid” is a relative term. My point was that tails would evolve more rapidly if some of our ancestors had tails than if none of them did, everything else being equal.

    4. No evolutionary biologist I can think of thinks that ‘random mutation’ is the “sole mover of change within organisms” (over time, I guess you meant).
      Exactly: random mutation (including much more than point mutations, but including duplication and even ‘symbiosis’ -incorporation of ‘alien’ DNA) is just the basis upon which selection works. And these mutations don’t even have to be random, they are allowed to be and generally -if not always- are random regarding the selective process.
      The notion that evolution by natural selection is somehow a random process is the most common misunderstanding about evolutionary theory among the uninformed. Natural selection itself is as non-random as it gets, it is non-random by definition.
      (Note I’m aware there is more than just natural selection, but I think it is the strongest driver of adaptation (‘change’) by far).

      1. Same difference though – natural selection can only ‘prune’ what random mutation (or so the theory goes,) provides in the first place. It’s not the sole shaping force, but it’s generally proposed to be the sole generative source.

        1. Roo, you need to realize something. Every single living animal had parents who didn’t die from mutations before they bred. And their parents’ parents didn’t either, and so on all the way back.

          If 99 out of 100 mutations are bad ones, that’s 99 dead offspring. If one of them is a good one, that’s a healthy adult, 2 children, 4 grand children, and 16 generations later 64,000 descendants carrying that good gene.

          Natural selection is simply the fact that over generations, all the bad mutations fade away as soon as they occur, and all the good ones multiply in the population. And that is what makes it work.

    5. What do you mean by “current Darwinian theory”? There was the Darwinian theory in the mid-1800s, and there is current evolution theory that has advanced a lot since that time.
      The same with the role of mutations (already discussed by others). I wonder what sources you have used to get information about evolution; it seems that they are mostly enemy (i.e. creationist) sources, or otherwise very incompetent.

      1. No, I’m not a creationist. Believe it or not, these are my own conclusions, based on my own logic. The idea that you believe “It’s all random mutation or else Creationism” is one of the silliest dichotomies of our time, to my mind. It’s like saying if you disagree with the role that Neanderthals played in human evolution clearly you believe in Adam and Eve. This simply does not follow, but evolution has become such a black or white, all or nothing topic that this seems to make sense to people in the time we’re living in.

        1. In science (unlike math), logic will not bring you far. You need data. You are right that „It’s all random mutation or else Creationism“ is a silly dichotomy, but you are the only one here presenting this dichotomy, and this is because you consider yourself competent without taking the trouble to read what others have found.

          1. I’ve read some of it, although like everyone in other professions, I only have so much time. And if posters here understand these arguments themselves, I don’t understand why they can’t simply summarize and answer the questions I’m asking.

            I say this as someone who is sympathetic to evolutionists (even if I don’t agree with the current paradigm surrounding random mutation, as described above) – making repeated appeals to authority or claiming that one knows better but they don’t “owe you an explanation” as to why what they are saying is correct comes off as suspect – even if it’s not suspect, it reads that way, to my mind. If I know that I know better than someone, let’s be honest, I am all about explaining why (unless of course hurt feelings might be involved.) I will talk your ear off about it. If I have a fairly strong opinion about something but the most technical aspects are not something I’m familiar with, I enjoy sharing my personal experience with the topic while acknowledging that people with giant brains in labs somewhere may well say something different or that the topic is still up in the air in many ways. But if, in my chosen profession, someone asked me a sincere question, I would never in a million years tell them that I am correct but owe them no explanation as to why; or that they must either go and get a master’s degree in my field or else simply accept my wisdom. To my mind, if I can’t answer their question myself, that’s on me, not them. If I understand said answer, I should be able to express it in words. If I am not able to express it in my own words, then it’s kind of questionable to claim that I actually understand it.

            1. Roo,
              Here is a short Web page, it may be helpful:

              But I don’t really expect it to help, because of your problematic attitude. You say:

              “But if, in my chosen profession, someone asked me a sincere question, I would never in a million years tell them that I am correct but owe them no explanation as to why…”

              You are not asking questions (let alone sincere questions), you are stating that you the outsider are right and the scientific consensus for the last 150 years is wrong, and while claiming to have sympathy to us (between the insults), you say that our behavior is “suspect”.

              Look at very the beginning of your comment:
              “I’ve read some of it, although like everyone in other professions, I only have so much time. And if posters here understand these arguments themselves, I don’t understand why they can’t simply summarize and answer the questions I’m asking.”

              In other words, you do not invest YOUR precious time to read an entire small book, yet you expect us to devote OUR time to teach you, while you haughtily put our understanding of evolution in conditional. Does this sound well? No, it doesn’t. Would any reasonable and self-respecting person try to pull you away from the Dark Side? No, they wouldn’t.

              You are unhappy with our appeals to authority. However, the authority of the teacher is a cornerstone of teaching. If teachers were having with their students disputes among equals, they’d never get to the multiplication table, let alone evolution. I am ready to answer questions if they are in my sphere of competence (and others here will confirm that I have done it repeatedly). However, I do it only when the other person seems inclined to listen to my answers. Until you admit that your ignorance about evolution is the problem, and get ready to listen to others with the presumption that they may have something to teach you, any discussion with you would be pointless.

              1. Well put. And I would add that it isn’t an argument from authority if it comes with references to readily available scientific and educational content.

    6. I’m not clear on what they mean by “dissent”.

      Neither are they. That’s the beauty of it. “Dissent” can mean anything the signatory wants it to be. That way they get more signatures.

  3. I wish I had a penny for every $10,000.01 the Discoveroids, Templetonions, Answers in Genisistas, etcetera have wasted on these efforts. If I could also have a second for every Ten thousand “man-hours” squandered, that would give me plenty of time to utilize the resources….. Oh and while I’m thinking of it…😼

  4. Isn’t “claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” a straw man?

    Isn’t there more to it than that (e.g. sexual reproduction)? Isn’t it valid (for an expert such as yourself) to say “sure, I’m skeptical of that oversimplification”.

    My point is the oversimplification of the “dissent” statement is intentionally vague and deceptive.

        1. It works perfectly well without sexual reproduction today. In fact, given the relative abundances of the organisms in question, the likelihood is fairly good that sexual reproduction would represent only a very small proportion of reproduction. Possibly a negligible proportion.
          You have probably more bacteria in and on you, each one reproducing asexually, than there are humans on the planet. And you are an absolutely typical human in this respect.

      1. I didn’t suggest sexual reproduction is a prerequisite of evolution, I suggested it’s a significant factor in “the complexity of life”.

  5. The dissection of the list in the video is very interesting, even if it is ten years old. It’s obvious that by including Ph.d.s in mathematics, engineering, and computer science that DI is casting a very wide net in its attempt to fatten the list. It’s not clear that MDs would automatically have a background in evolution, or chemists for that matter. Using the number from the video of 3.6 million Biological scientists in the US, even a real sample that returns 1000 respondents is a very, very small number. Padded out with non-biologists it’s even smaller.

    1. Yes, if the lettuce in my garden have yellow spots, I’ll ask my plumber what the problem is. Completely makes sense.

  6. It’s the Discovery Institute. I doubt if they check their own list. There are probably all kinds of problems with it. Like I says, it’s the Discovery Institute lol.

  7. When I first read the statement, I realized that anybody could sign it. Nothing but random mutation and natural selection? Of course not. In fact, I wonder if they got to 1,000 through people who accept the modern synthesis but were under pressure to bow to religion. Ah, what the heck. It’s not like I’m lying. Think they’d trade out random mutation for undirected genetic variation? I wonder.

    1. In fact, there were a number of scientists who read the DI statement, thought that yes, there needed to be a broader consideration of evolutionary forces, and signed it. When they realized how the statement was being used, they wrote and demanded that their names be removed from the list. Tne DI refused to do that.

  8. “But scientific truth isn’t determined by lists of names, even of people who hold Ph.Ds (see below for their “qualifications”). It’s determined by the published work of scientists and whether it’s accepted by the scientific community.”

    I consider this the same error as the DI is pushing. Science IS NOT a matter of consensus. It’s a matter of individuals examining the data and drawing their own conclusions. Yes, if 50,000 of the best minds throughout time agree with some idea it’s unlikely that I’m going to find a flaw in it; however, there is no Royal Road to scientific understanding. I still need to examine the data for myself, I still need to draw my own conclusions. Because I might just be lucky enough to find the data that proves everyone wrong. It’s happened before (Alvarez comes to mind).

    The issue is, if we accept that scientific truth is determined “whether it’s accepted by the scientific community” all we’ll end up with is competing lists, trying to determine who’s is bigger. And it doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether the data support a theory, or contradict it.

    1. The Creationists are just following the trend of truth being whatever one believes and public truth is whatever gets the most votes and/or whoever has the power to decide. This is the basis for the GOP’s refusal to believe in human-caused global warming, for example. They see scientists as just another voting bloc. They aren’t in power so they can be ignored.

    2. And Alvarez’s theory is still not generally accepted, the great lava flows of the Deccan Traps are contemporary (and note the Siberian Traps coincide with the Permian extinction).
      Strangely enough, the fact that the ‘great crater’ we were looking for, the Chicxulub crater, was found in the backyard of the US always made me skeptical, talk about irrationality!

        1. I’m not sure it is limited to the Gerta Keller team, unless you’d include all dissenters there.
          There are several hypotheses, such as the Deccan volcanism was eradicating and the impact just made it worse -finished it off, as it were, or even that the impact triggered the Deccan lava flows. Even the Iridium is disputed, not it’s presence, but that it is necessarily of meteoric origins, but could be associated with the lava flows (Note, I do not think so, the type and distribution of particles point to an impact). ‘Coincidence’ is relative, we do not have the means to approximate the dates closely, at least not within a scale of 10 or 20.000 years.
          There is even the respected Leigh van Valen who denies either of these 2 causes, if I understood him correctly.
          Note, I find the Siberian Traps association with the even greater Permian extinction very suggestive.
          My point was that the Alvarez theory has not really reached, or rather has lost, full consensus. I do not dispute it is the most prevalent theory, but just contend that the subject is still kinda moot.

          1. Yes–and IDers dispute evolution. Same thing is going on here.

            Historically the idea that life was hurting and the asteroid finished it off is based on poor statistical reasoning. See the Signor-Lipps Effect. And on poor sampling protocols in the past–see Peter Ward’s work, among many, many others. When you carefully sample discrete units of sediment in strata that cross the K/Pg boundary, you typically find that life was just fine until the boundary, at which point there’s a radical shift. The examples where this doesn’t occur seem to be due to local issues, not global ones–which is expected, as biotic responses to global forcing mechanisms are filtered through regional and local conditions.

            (This is a damning condemnation of my field, by the way. Paleontologists were very, very bad at collecting data in the past, and it’s something we’ve been struggling to make up for. It means that you have to be EXCEEDINGLY cautious using historic data to draw conclusions about LADs and extinction timing, though; thus the plethora of work done in the 1990s on biostratigraphy.)

            Again, no one I’ve worked with or discussed this issue with in paleontology disputes the Alvarez Hypothesis as the primary mechanism for the K/Pg extinction. Other things were going on, sure–and reasonable paleontologists accept that these affected the events at the time. But to say that the Alvarez Hypothesis is losing ground is exactly the same as saying that the theory of evolution is. The Deccan Traps have a good press agent, that’s all.

          2. As far as I know, van Valen supported the theory of gradual dinosaur extinction. More data will resolve the issue, but the support for this theory is decreasing.

            I am not a paleontologist and cannot judge the data myself, but there is widespread opinion that there was a consensus about the impact theory (with or without additional triggered volcanism) until Gerta Keller poked it in earnest. She seems to has devoted her life & work to debunking the impact theory (and she hasn’t even an original theory to replace it, because the Deccan Trap causation would make the end-Cretaceous extinction be like the end-Permian and the end-Triassic ones; of course, this does not make the theory untrue). She claims that she has been unfairly treated because she is a woman, and that there is a conspiracy against her. She is very cautious about her language in her articles, and very open when presenting her views to the lay public. My impression is that both features are hallmarks of fringe and woo science. In an article in Atlantic (praising her), it is mentioned that, after dropping from school, “She enrolled in community college, telling the registrar that her academic records had been destroyed in a fire”. One wonders about how many other things Prof. Keller is ready to lie when it suits her. I suppose that the impact theory will quietly regain consensus after her retirement.

      1. I’ve studied the K/Pg mass extinction. None of the folks I’ve studied with or under buy into the Deccan Traps nonsense. Yeah, sure, they occurred at the same time. However, to argue that the DTs caused the K/Pg extinction (or the P/T one) requires you to ignore all the other, larger basalt trap volcanism events that are NOT associated with mass extinctions. Classic case of correlation being confused with causation.

        That’s in addition to the iridium anomaly mentioned below, and a few other factors.

        I’m not saying the traps were good for the biosphere, but nothing I’ve seen demonstrates that they were catastrophic on their own.

        1. Which massive lava flows, on the scale of the Deccan Traps or the Siberian Traps were not associated with a massive increase of extinctions? (I’m not disputing there, I’m just unaware of them).
          And if -in line with David Raup*- all mass extinctions are associated with impacts, where are the other craters? Of course, they easily could not have been found yet. For all clarity, I do think the K-T extinction was, at least for a great part, caused by an impact.
          As far as I know (but I know little) there are no lava flows nor impacts associated with eg. the two end-of-Triassic or the end of Paleocene extinctions.
          My point is -again- that the precise causes of these mass extinctions remain moot, and -stronger- might be of different nature for each. The latter proposition would be, in a sense, less ‘satisfying’, but that should not deter us.

          * I think Raup was a bit tongue in cheek there.


            See the table. (Yes, I know it’s wiki; I’ve seen the same types of tables in peer-reviewed publications and am simply linking this for ease of access.) The North Atlantic Igneous Provence, for example, was twice the size of the Deccan Traps and there is no associated mass extinction. (I do object to the right-most column of the table; it’s pretty obvious they’re grabbing anything they can to achieve the appearance of temporal correlation).

            “And if -in line with David Raup*- all mass extinctions are associated with impacts, where are the other craters?”

            They’re not. The K/Pg was, but it’s not clear about the rest.

            Of course, simply talking about extinctions colors our view. A mass extinction is an event in which extinction rates exceed background levels. It says nothing about origination rates. And that’s significant. For the K/Pg extinction, for example, the origination rate peak lagged significantly; for other mass extinctions, the origination rate rose while extinction rates were elevated. To me it’s obvious that these have different causes.

            That’s not getting into the end-Ediacharan or the current mass extinctions, neither of which is terribly well understood even in terms of extinction rates.

            For my part, I think we need to treat every mass extinction as unique. We can’t find one general cause because there isn’t one general type of mass extinction. There’s at least two (defined by when origination rates peak relative to extinction rates), and it’s entirely possible that every single mass extinction is unique.

            1. Yes, I think that might actually be the case. Every single mass extinction might be unique. We simply do not know (yet).
              I’m aware of the Signor-Lipps effect and Peter Ward’s work right there at the K-T boundary in the Basque country.
              Note however, that he is a great proponent of titanic lava flows causing mass extinctions. Read eg. his “Under a Green Sky”.
              I also note that at least 10 of the 18 lava flows in the table you refer to are associated with extinction events. You may dismiss that as grabbing for the appearance of temporal correlation, but clearly not all in the field think so.
              It shows that gigantic lava flows with their concomitant release of gigantic amounts of greenhouse gases cannot be dismissed as nonsense, or only having a good press agent. It is a serious hypothesis that is not very popular right now, but is indeed far from proven.
              And no, it is not like creationists denying evolution, that is an unnecessary slur. I think most scientists are amenable to evidence, creationists are not.
              The evidence for a great impact at K-T is well accepted, the fact that it was the sole cause of the K-T extinction just less so (Again, I do think so, but I also think the evidence is not ‘ironclad’, or should I say ‘Iridiumclad’? 🙂 )

              1. Yeah, I agree with Ward’s field work (first encountered his work doing biostrat in the Great Valley), but I disagree with him on a number of issues.

                “I also note that at least 10 of the 18 lava flows in the table you refer to are associated with extinction events.”

                How closely? It’s significant that they leave that out. More careful study shows that they aren’t as closely tied as the table makes them appear. Many, as I recall, lag BEHIND the peak of extinction rates, ruling them out as a causal mechanism. (This is why Keller and her ilk focus so much on timing.)

                Secondly, you’re being VERY generous about your definition of “extinction events” (a term that is rare in the literature; paleontologists call them mass extinctions). Ocean anoxic events don’t qualify, for example–they were locally problematic, but do not appear to have had a huge effect on the biosphere as a whole. Using the accepted definition of the term, only 4 flood basalts occurred around the same time as mass extinctions. So we’re still left with the question of why these traps sometimes cause mass extinctions, but other times (even when the flow is larger) they do not. Until someone provides that, we cannot accept this as a causal mechanism.

                Finally, I will point out that you are engaging in rhetorical devices that do you serious discredit. NO ONE dismisses the idea that flood basalts contribute to various biosphere problems. NO ONE thinks that the impact is the “sole cause”. The debate is far more nuanced than the cartoonish representation you’ve provided. Most paleontologists accept that without Chixilub the extinction would not have occurred–flood basalts don’t cause global extinctions–but once it started, the flood basalts certainly contributed to the outcome and delayed the recovery time. That they happen is not disputed; that they affected the biosphere is not disputed; that they are a sufficient explanation for the events of the K/Pg, is.

                And I contend that your arguments do in fact follow the Creationist mold. You point to ambiguous doubts in the scientific community, even in the face of folks who are IN that community. You cite the existence of multiple theories as evidence of the validity of the theory. You cite nebulous flaws in the existing paradigm. You present a straw man version of the opposing argument, which no one actually holds but which sounds convincing. Standard stuff from the Creationist playbook. To be clear: I’m not calling you a Creationist; I’m pointing out the flaws in your argument.

                Here’s the thing: Paleontologists love a good debate. Folks have made careers out of saying things just to rile others up. That another theory is out there–even that it has honest adherents–means nothing to a descent paleontologist. The data are all that matter.

                (Sorry for the long post–there’s a LOT to unpack here.)

              2. James, you attribute much more to my words than they contend. For example, I did not say that van Valen’s theory must be valid because it exists, or that lava flows instead of an impact caused the KT extinction (I even explicitly mentioned I did not think so), I just noted that there is no unanimity, or overwhelming consensus. Maybe I am mistaken and the voices of van Valen, Keller or Ward get too much attention. However, even the table you gave me yourself had that right hand column, did it not?

            2. Actually magma plumes volcanism has been associated with four of the five great mass extinctions. The Permian Siberian Traps and Cretaceous Deccan Traps are the most obvious, but the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (the opening zipper of the forming Atlantic Ocean) coincided with the Triassic extinction. Percival et al “Mercury evidence for pulsed volcanism during the end-Triassic mass extinction.” PNAS 114 (25 July 2017): 7929-7934, is a recent paper on that.

              Oceanic volcanism (as a tectonic island arc collision eventually formed the Ural Mountains) disrupted the late Devonian, with Pravikova et al “Volcanism of the transitional stage from the Late Devonian island arc to Early Carboniferous rifts in the Southern Urals.” Moscow University Geology Bulletin 63 (Dec 2008): 359-367, re that.

              (I keep track of mass extinction matters in my TIP anticreationism research.)

            3. The North Atlantic Igneous Provence, for example, was twice the size of the Deccan Traps and there is no associated mass extinction.

              The NAIP was coincident in time with the PETM (Palæocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, for the non-geologists in the audience), and most people I know are happy to take the doming associated with the NAIP as the causative force behind the destabilisation of marine clathrates, so driving the PETM.
              The faunal exchange of the PETM is probably a good example of the interplay you discuss between speciation rates and extinction rates.
              The real situations were probably always far more complicated than the cartoons which we draw of them, if for no other reason than not all the events went into the geological record, and not all the events in the geological record survived, were exposed, or were recognised.
              (I spent about half the 1990s landing horizontal wells into the PETM and the varying sands shed off the flanks of the NAIP. But I completely managed to avoid drilling any of the basalts. Lucky basalts.)

  9. Where I am, it’s now February 12.

    I want to be the first on this thread to wish everyone a Happy Darwin Day.

    As has already been noted, as a sceptic I wouldn’t have any trouble signing the petition (if I was allowed, I only have a higher degree – not a PhD – in human anatomical pathology, which is sort of ‘biologishy’), but I wouldn’t. Random mutation and natural selection aren’t enough to explain the complexity of life. There’s much, much more.

    I argue that the cause of new speciation and the increasing complexity of life is environmental change (including climate change), which puts pressure on populations with natural variation. Natural selection is a sieve, a mechanism, removing the unfit and favouring the fit. Random mutation is just one way in which natural variation is produced in populations.

    1. You tease us with your final sentence. What are other ways in which natural variation is produced in populations? You mention environmental change but isn’t that really part of natural selection? I don’t see a mechanism that allows weather or climate to directly cause variation.

    2. Yes, please inform us what you mean, Mr. Robinson, being cognizant that modern evolutionary theory also incorporates factors like random genetic drift, horizontal gene transfer, and so on.

      Since I wrote the book (literally) on speciation, there’s absolutely nothing new or controversial about your statement that environmental change often induces speciation. But your last statement needs explication. If you can’t explain it in a way that shows that modern evolutionary theory is wrong, then you don’t belong here.

      I await your response.

      1. What I mean is that it’s changes in the environment of reproductively isolated populations that cause evolution, whether it’s climate change, or changes in predators, prey or competitors.

        Most populations are already adapted to their current environment, if it’s unchanging. Natural selection is acting as a stabilising mechanism.

        But if the environment changes, then any variant more fit to cope with the changed situation are favoured by natural selection. And less fit variants are eliminated by natural selection.

        Natural selection and random mutation aren’t causes of evolution, they’re mechanisms. Evolution still occurs for natural reasons by the slow progressive addition of changes, as Darwin proposed.

        Or am I misunderstanding it?

        Random mutations aren’t the only mechanism for increasing variation. The origin of the first eukaryote by a fusion of a eubacterium and an Archaean would be another.

        I’m not doubting evolution. I concede my understanding of it might be wrong.

        1. The environment doesn’t have to change to cause evolution, as exaptations show.

          Speciation isn’t necessarily connected with evolution unless you don’t understand what speciation is. Speciation is the evolution of reproductive barriers between populations of a species.

          Causes and mechanisms are the same thing here. Darwin didn’t propose evolution by “slow prog;ressive addition of changes”; he proposed it occurring by natural selection.

          So yes, you’re misunderstanding it with every sentence you write. And it’s people like you, who don’t understand it but who would sign the Discoveroids petition, that give them what leverage they have.

          You need to either a. learn about evolution or b. go hang around the DI website, where you’ll find plenty of friends who also misunderstand evolution.

          1. “Causes and mechanisms are the same thing here” . Indeed, very much so, you beat me to it. How could a mechanism be different from a cause here? I’d like to see Wayne or Bachfiend to expand on that, if they can.

    3. “Random mutation and natural selection aren’t enough to explain the complexity of life. There’s much, much more.”

      Any idea what the more is? If it’s changing environment, I think Darwin already covered it.

    4. I disagree. I think that, if two populations of the same species are kept isolated from each other, they will become separate species, even without any environmental change and pressure.

      1. But then the question arises: does that happen, can 2 populations be separated without any difference in environment? Is that not very unlikely?

        On second thoughts, yes, I guess it can, of course. Isolation need not be geographic. Eg. in insects starting to specialise in different food sources, or being active at different times of the day (which could be associated with the former) or season, etc. the ‘sympatric speciation’ and all that.

        1. If there is geographic isolation, I don’t think it is unlikely that the populations will be separated without differences in environment. Actually, I think that most mutations important for speciation are neutral ones (particularly the inversions and translocations). But even the adaptive evolution will fix different mutations in the two populations, driving their gene pools apart.
          I admit I am feeling a little awkward when I discuss speciation on Prof. Coyne’s site.

  10. Then there’s the Clergy Letter project.

    It says this of course: “We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.”

    But here’s the good part:
    “We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

    (Those are from the Christian version, which has 15,000 signatures. There also Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist versions with different statements.)

    1. I think the ‘one theory among others’ was based on a wrong translation of one of the previous popes’ (JP II) scribblings encyclical.

    2. But of course that is not specified so is interpreted by clergy as theological evolution, not the mechanistic process.

      Though I hear rumors that the catholic sect is “creeping to the cross” as the locals says. It will attempt to accept the fact that there never was a religious single human breeder pair. Which I suspect takes them to the protestant “it happened according to a magic plan”. Though with gold embossing, no doubt.

      1. If I read the present day Catholic dogma correctly, it fully accepts evolution -even natural selection-, but makes an exception for humans, a bit along the lines of Francis Collins (although he’s not Catholic, but some kind of Protestant).
        Somewhere along the line God injected/infused humans (erectus, habilis, australopithecines? they are not very clear on when and where) with souls -and morality and free will.
        It always reminds me of the ape circus in the ridiculous “2001 a Space Odyssey”: God as a rectangular monolith from outer space. Not that far-fetched, come to think of it, isn’t the Kaaba a monolith from outer space too?

        1. What I was told (by several priests) is that the Roman Catholic dogma is that the body evolved naturally, while the mind was divine in origin. This is consistent with other aspects of RCC doctrine, such as transubstantiation.

  11. “It’s pathetic that the DI spends its time getting signatures on the petition when it should be getting empirical evidence for its theory.”

    I’m not sure theory is the correct term.

  12. A minor scholarly point, the internal context of the video and accompanying description notes suggests the researcher is Whitney Gray, with the video being posted by DonExodus2 (whoever that is).

    Regarding the DI list, there are definitely some young earth creationists on the list (John Baumgardner, and Dean Kenyon, though he’s been waffly on the YEC thing since then). A few initially were ones who were still evolution supporters, and hadn’t realized the careful wording on questioning Darwinian mechanisms was a hide the ball maneuver. But most appear to be ID advocates, including the main PhDs in the bunch.

    If you’ve followed the metastasizing DI lists over the years you will discover new names are not put either on the end or start, nor is the list in alphabetical order, making it as hard to find specific names possible. This raises the possibility that the list was intelligently designed to try and wow the reader by the sheer number of pages, not illuminating the specific people on it.

    1. Short answer: almost certainly not. That’s a speculative explanation for sexual reproduction advanced about a century ago that some how persists. Recombination often breaks up favourable genetic combinations and reduces reproductive fitness. Which is why the prevalence of sexual reproduction in eukaryotes is a minor mystery.

      For a general discussion of this there are a number of posts on Sandwalk, like this one:

      For a more in depth technical look there is a paper by Joe Felsenstein here:

        1. The above comment is from me, Mike Anderson. “Paul Bramer” is somehow in my auto-fill settings and I don’t know how it got there.

  13. I’m deleting ‘whyevolutionistrue’ from list of reads.

    I completely agree that evolution is true. That Intelligent Design And other forms of Creationism are complete nonsense.

    But to be told by Jerry Coyne that I’m a fellow traveller of the Dishonesty Institute, to be ‘moderated’ and have my comments blocked because I think that the cause of evolution is environmental change (climate change, change in predators, prey, and competitors) acting on reproductively isolated populations with natural variation (one mechanism producing natural variation being random mutations) through natural mechanisms (the main one being natural selection, but also sexual selection, neutral drift and founder effect) makes me persona non grata.

    I’m out of here.

    1. You were moderated for arrant ignorance after you said you’d have no trouble signing the Discovery Institute petition dissenting from evolution, and then trying to defend yourself by making ignorant statements about what evolution is, and finally saying that you despise the Discovery Institute and backtracking on what you thought about evolution. I don’t put up with ignorance when it’s repeated, and I don’t put up with this kind of progressive dissembling. You won’t be missed around here.

      You were moderated so I could check on what you were saying, but now you’re gone for good. Your display of petulance is amusing, though.

      1. Hi,

        I wrote ‘I wouldn’t have any trouble signing the petition,’ but I also went on to stating that ‘I wouldn’t’. ‘Random mutation + natural selection’ in my experience is a shorthand formulation of ‘I’m a creationist and an idiot’. I’ve had numerous arguments with creationists, including Michael Egnor on his now defunct blog, when they argue that ‘random mutation + natural selection’ aren’t enough to explain evolution. My default position became to agree and point out that evolution is much, much more.

        Anyway. You’re the petulant one. You won’t tolerate even slight variations in emphasis. Michael Egnor was never as thin skinned as you. I quite happily told him he was ignorant, and he quite happily agreed.

        Anyway, I am still out of here. I loved your duck posts. Not so much your food and boot posts.

        Wayne Robinson.

        Sent from my iPad


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