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Evolutionary Shenanigans

Here’s another snippet about Palin’s newly-verified creationist beliefs from The Daily Beast.

In her new book…

…[Palin] finally comes out of the closet as a creationist—or as she puts it, “the C-word.” In doing so, however, she manages to obscure the extent of those creationist beliefs by citing her acceptance of “microevolution.”

Oh, microevolution! It’s the favorite “concession” by creationists, used so they can sound accepting of science and therefore feel more credulous when they dismiss Darwinian evolution.

Biologists use the phrase “microevolution” to refer to changes within a group of organisms over a relatively short period of time. The most-famous example is the peppered moth of England, which became darker over generations in response to pollution from a local factory that blackened the trees it relied on for camouflage, encouraging the survival of similarly colored moths. Because these changes are so easily observed, creationists tend to concede their existence. But only to a point: They do not acknowledge that over time, natural selection will lead to radically different new types of organisms, the process known as “macroevolution,” responsible for bigger leaps like birds evolving from dinosaurs.

What caught my eye about this article were two points. First, the author quotes Dr. David Menton, who, if you read my Creation Museum writeup, was the speaker for the Microscarium presentation at the museum. He’s a “scientist” (sarcasm quotes intentional) who, in his presentation, showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has almost zero understanding of evolution. Here’s the part with Menton.

The basis for this distinction is rooted in Christian doctrine, not science. According to Dr. David Menton, a staff scientist at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, microevolution is acceptable only if species vary within the same “kind,” a translation of a Hebrew phrase from the Old Testament describing the original sets of species that traveled on Noah’s ark.

“The point is you get a lot of different kinds of dogs but dogs remain dogs,” Menton said. “They don’t become cats.”

I find it interesting that he seems to admit his scientific claim isn’t based on science. The biblical “kind” argument is used constantly by creationists and figures prominently in the Creation Museum. There is no definition of “kind,” however, and it’s intentionally kept vague and nebulous so it can be used to support their arguments in whatever manner required.

Menton displays immense ignorance of evolution when he says that “dogs remain dogs… they don’t become cats.” Evolutionary theory doesn’t say that dogs become cats… or that chickens become horses… or that monkeys become people. What it does say is that minute changes build up gradually over a tremendous amount of time and eventually lead to speciation. Menton can’t accept this because, according to the bible, the universe is only about 6,000 years old, which doesn’t leave nearly enough time for evolution to occur.

The second point in the article that caught my eye was that Palin (and Menton) was refuted by an actual evolutionary scientist, Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True.

University of Chicago ecology and evolution professor at Jerry Coyne calls the passage in Palin’s book a “typical creationist ploy” easily refuted by fossil evidence suggesting transitions between animals as fish and amphibians or land animals and whales.

“Her stand is basically a biblically oriented stand…that has no basis in fact,” Coyne told The Daily Beast in an e-mail. “It is a ridiculous ploy of the ‘duck kind,’ i.e. a canard.”

Score one for Jerry Coyne.

Creation Museum – Microscarium

MicroscariumTicket One of the special presentations that Craig and I attended was called “Microscarium,” which required the purchase of a separate ticket and took place in one of the museum’s “classrooms.” The ticket indicated that this was part of the museum’s “Discover the Truth” series of workshops. I was rather dubious of that title.

The museum’s website describes the presentation with these words.

Welcome to the Microscarium! Enter the world of the microscopic with our intrepid Dr. Menton on a journey through a landscape filled with ferocious looking creatures that move rapidly through the dense jungle of the living world that is their home, hunting for something to eat. From single celled protozoa that accomplish many of the same functions that humans do with 30 trillion cells, to the more complicated creatures sucking in anything that comes near them, you will be thrilled with this trip through the wondrous [and sometimes a bit scary] micro-world created by our awesome Creator God.

Interesting, if not hyperbolic.

DavidMenton01 The presentation was being done by a Doctor David Menton, who gave us a bit of background about himself. He’s got  quite a list of credentials, which you can read about here and here if you’re interested. If not, suffice it to say that he he holds a PhD in cell biology from Brown University and the Washington University School of Medicine seems to think highly of him. It seemed somewhat encouraging.

He appeared in a white lab coat… very sciencey-looking until I noticed the “Creation Museum” logo embroidered on the front of it. Then it was just amusing.

The presentation was going to talk about all the life you could find in a drop of pond water and there was a very impressive phase-contrast microscope hooked up to a large-screen display so everyone in the room (about 30 of us) could easily see it. When we got there, we saw a pink image on the screen which turned out to be a very thin slice of rabbit tongue. While Dr. Menton was waiting for everyone to arrive, he was chatting about it. He seemed very personable, sometimes funny, and definitely happy to be there.

He talked about the tongue, pointing out the barb-like structures (mini versions of a cat’s barbs) and said that humans have them, too, which is why we can lick ice cream cones and actually get ice cream instead of having our tongues just slide off. He contrasted that by moving the slide to show the underside of the tongue which was very smooth. He also showed how the muscle cells in the tongue go every which way instead of in parallel like many muscles… because we can move our tongues all over in every direction. It was all pretty cool and his presentation was entertaining.

Then it suddenly want down the tubes. When talking about the barbs again, he said, “Can you imagine if they went the other way?” Everyone chuckled, and then he followed it up with, “That’s why I can’t be an evolutionist.” Almost everyone laughed. Craig and I were stunned. He then went on to make the same comment in relation to the tongue being upside down.

So after an introduction to some really cool material about the tongue, he lost all his credibility by showing that he had not the slightest notion of evolutionary theory… yet was quite content to dismiss it for reasons that anyone with a basic education in evolutionary biology should know are preposterous.

Craig left shortly after that (he wasn’t feeling well anyway… flu), but I stuck it out for the majority of the presentation and heard some gems.

Dr. Menton spoke about cells for a bit and said that the human placenta was a single, giant cell… the largest cell in the human body. I had never heard that before and he mentioned that he’s told that to other biologists and doctors who didn’t know that, either.

*skeptic bells go off*

Then he said (about the single-celled placenta), “You won’t hear that anywhere but here.”

*skeptic klaxon alarm blares*

Doing a bit of googling seems to indicate that the placenta is not a single cell, by the way.

That’s when what had been a somewhat interesting biology lesson turned into a high-alert bullshit-detection exercise.

He went on to show some slides of different single-cell (or thereabouts) organisms that we might see in the pond water (new pond water each time, so he never knows what he will see) such as amoebas and parameciums and the like. He got to one organism with a flagellum and my hackles went up in anticipation of a comment relating to bacterial flagellum, but no such comment materialized.

What did materialize was much worse.

flagellum He showed a diagram of the internal workings of a flagellum similar to the one on the left. His diagram was a bit more detailed but showed how it worked and how each internal piece interacted with others to create the whip-like motion that caused propulsion. It was a cool diagram and interesting information.

Then he said, “Can you imagine that just all happening by chance?”

*strike one*

He added, “There’s just so much that I know is going on there. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I know too much to be an evolutionist.”

*strike two* … *strike three* … You are SOOOO outta here.

“I know too much to be an evolutionist.”

Seriously? How can someone seriously make a statement like that with a straight face? How can someone with any sort of ethical values make that authoritative claim to an audience so anxious to hear real scientific information? The audience ate it up, though. They laughed and nodded and thought this fraud’s information was all true and accurate. After all, he was a doctor!

To give you an idea of the crowd, however, I offer this anecdote. I can’t say if this example is indicative of the entire audience, but it struck me as interesting.

When Dr. Menton asked the audience how many cells were in the entire human body, one man called out, “thousands.” Yes, he said thousands. Not even millions. Not billions. Nobody said trillions. The real answer is trillions (about 50 – 100 trillion, depending upon who you ask). “Thousands” isn’t even on the continent, much less in the ball park. Much like 6,000 isn’t close to 13.5 billion.

Dr. Mention said one trillion, by the way.

At that point, I was done. I watched detachedly as he put the drop of water under the microscope and panned around to find a couple swimming organisms, but after a couple minutes of that, I got up and left.

It was an appalling display of ignorance and abuse of authority.