Nick Matzke posted Entry 870 on March 13, 2005 11:19 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/868

http://www.geocities.com/animalprograms99/img37.gifThe Discovery Institute has put up a long screed by Fred Reed that was originally published in something called Men’s Daily News.  The article is entitled, “The Metaphysics of Evolution.” Fred Reed claims those nasty evolutionists don’t really know anything, they rely on plausibility rather than evidence, that evolution is an religion of anti-creationism,  and that Fred Reed has stumped all them evolutionists on the internet.

A representative quote is below.  Hey Fred, if you want some answers to your questions, come on over to the Panda’s Thumb and ask them.  Or, you could consider just going to a library, rather than wildly assuming that your personal ignorance bears some relationship to reality.

Fred Reed writes,

A few things that worry those who are not doctrinaire evolutionists. (Incidentally, it is worth noting that by no means all involved in the life sciences are doctrinaire. A friend of mine, a (Jewish, atheist) biochemist, says “It doesn’t make sense.” He may be wrong, but a Creationist he isn’t.)

To work, a theory presumably must (a) be internally consistent and (b) map onto reality. You have to have both. Classical mechanics for example is (so far as I know) internally consistent, but is not at all points congruent with reality. Evolution has a great deal of elaborate, Protean, and often fuzzy theory. How closely does it correspond to what we actually see? Do the sweeping principles fit the grubby details?

For example, how did a giraffe get a long neck? One reads as a matter of vague philosophical principle that a proto-giraffe by chance happened to be taller than its herdmates, could eat more altitudinous leaves than its confreres, was therefore better fed, consequently rutted with abandon, and produced more child giraffes of height. This felicitous adaptation therefore spread and we ended up…well, up—with taller giraffes. It sounds reasonable. In evolution that is enough.

But what are the practical details? Do we have an unambiguous record of giraffes with longer and longer necks? (Maybe we do. I’m just asking.) Presumably modern giraffes have more vertebrae then did proto-giraffes. (The alternative is the same number of vertebrae, but longer ones. I have known giraffes. They were flexible rather than hinged.) This, note, requires a structural change as distinct from an increase in size.

(Fred Reed, Discovery Institute website)

Even on the internet, you can sometimes find things out by using revolutionary tools like search engines.  I typed “giraffe skeleton” into Google Images and found this pretty quickly:

http://www.evolutionnyc.com//ImgUpload/P_889385_953683.jpg

Hmm, seven vertebrae.  This is the same number as humans, to pick a random mammal.  A brief web search reveals that this striking fact is approximately the most common giraffe factoid on the internet. [1]

Antievolutionists (even apparently noncreationist ones like Fred Reed) often claim that they “don’t get no respect” from the dogmatic evolutionist establishment.  This is a major part of Fred Reed’s screed.  But, really — pontificating on evolution, spouting off about giraffes without knowing the very first thing about giraffe necks?  Give us a break, here!

[1] Note: I have detected one reference to a scientific publication that indicates that there might be one extra vertebra in giraffe necks.  This appears to depend on how one defines “neck.” But regardless, the main mechanism of making long giraffe necks was stretching what they’ve got.

See: Solounias, N. 1999. “The remarkable anatomy of the giraffe’s neck.” Journal of Zoology (London) 247:257-268

INTRODUCTION
It is well known that mammals typically possess seven cervical vertebrae. This number is stable from mouse to whale in contrast to the necks of reptiles and birds. There are few exceptions to the number of seven cervical vertebrae in mammals. The sloth Choloepus has a variable number of either six or seven cervical vertebrae. The manatee Trichechus has six and the sloth Bradypus has nine cervicals (Filler, 1986; Nowak, 1991). In contrast to the stability of the cervical vertebrae in mammals, the number of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae is variable (Filler, 1986; Burke et al., 1995). Most zoologists accept that the best example of stability in the number of cervical vertebrae in mammals is the giraffe which has been observed to have seven. I propose to show that the giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis has in a subtle way escaped our scrutiny and actually has eight cervical vertebrae.

(Solounias, N. 1999. "The remarkable anatomy of the giraffe's neck.")

PS: Here are some random points about giraffes that people should ponder, should anyone wish to have a non-silly conversation about giraffe evolution.

  1. Check out Giraffidae throughout time

  2. How much of giraffe height is due to their long neck, compared to, say, their long legs, or just being very big?  Take a look at the skull photo at the top of this post. Obviously just sheer bigness is about half the story.  Giraffes would be massive , fairly tall critters even without their necks.

  3. Be sure to take a look at an okapi and a gerunuk.  Here is a gerenuk: http://members.aol.com/ctbijou2/Africa2/4dMaleGerenuk.jpeg

  4. On the African savanna, the various herbivores have divided up the savanna in a very finely-grained fashion.  There are antelope of almost every shape and size.  One big division is between browsers and grazers, and there are all kinds of different ways of browsing and grazing.  To pick a random example within grazers, zebras and wildebeest, even though they run around together, eat different portions of the same grass.

  5. Male giraffes feed the highest up, female giraffes a few feet lower, and juvenile giraffes below that.  Baby giraffes are six feet tall when born.  They are even taller when they stop nursing a few months later.  So even baby giraffes are already above most of the competition.  Maybe, just maybe, this has something to do with the “Why does the giraffe have a long neck?” question. (Frank Sonleitner pointed this consideration out to me)

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Comment #19871

Posted by Gary Hurd on March 13, 2005 1:44 PM (e)

Yep, Mr. Reed has written a number of pieces that are convenient regurgitations of creationists’ claptrap. Good job on the “neck of the giraffe.” As you pointed out, Reed’s lack of knowledge is indicitive only of ignorance, although one less kind might also infer lazyness.

What I thought was a classic was his, “But I’m not really a creationist?” whine.

I found it pointless to tell them that I wasn’t a Creationist. They refused to believe it. If they had, they would have had to answer questions that they would rather avoid. Like any zealots, they cannot recognize their own zealotry. Thus their constant classification of skeptics as enemies (a word they often use)—of truth, of science, of Darwin, of progress.

I think this calls for the application of the “duck test.” It walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck …

Comment #19872

Posted by Ed Darrell on March 13, 2005 1:59 PM (e)

The intelligent design paradigm really breaks down with the giraffe.

Not only are there seven bones in the giraffe neck, like almost all other mammals (does anyone know of any exception?); it contrasts quite unfavorably with the (usually) 14 bones in the neck of birds. The hummingbird, which would benefit from having 7 fewer bones, has 14; the giraffe would benefit from 14 smaller bones, has 7 huge ones. The mass of the bones is a major problem – it makes it difficult for a giraffe to get a drink of water, for example. Giraffes must splay their forelegs awkwardly to the side to get low enough to drink at the water hole, making themselves targets for predators. Getting back up is difficult, and this is frequently how older giraffes die. They have similar problems in mating. The story of Victor, the famous British giraffe, should be a chief example.

Then there’s the vagus nerve, and it’s evolutionarily-required loop through the aorta – making a nerve more than 15 feet long, down the neck and back up, to go from the brain to the larynx.

Creationists ought to study the anatomy of animals they point to, before they point to them.

Comment #19893

Posted by darwinfinch on March 13, 2005 3:28 PM (e)

What is important to me is that YOUR information about the giraffe, related species, and the relation to the environment is interesting to anyone who has any interest. It’s also reasonable and backed up by extensive research, etc.

This lazy blogger is interested in nothing at all, except being admired for being “right” about something or other. What absurd, and unjustifiable, vanity these people have!

Comment #19897

Posted by snex on March 13, 2005 3:43 PM (e)

also, i find it interesting when creationists spout on about how the giraffe would have to evolve all of these amazing pressure handling systems and what-not so that its head wouldnt explode when getting a drink. but they are completely oblivious to the fact that okapis already have these systems.

Comment #19899

Posted by Cary on March 13, 2005 3:54 PM (e)

… a (Jewish, atheist) biochemist…

Jewish and atheist? How does that work?

Comment #19908

Posted by Ken Shackleton on March 13, 2005 5:15 PM (e)

Cary wrote:

Jewish and atheist? How does that work?

He is probably refering to the biochemist as a cultural Jew, as opposed to a religious conviction.

Mr. Reed’s blog was also filled with some unsavory racist rhetoric that didn’t do anything for his credibility either.

Comment #19910

Posted by Dan S. on March 13, 2005 5:22 PM (e)

Jewish and atheist? How does that work?
Culturally Jewish - a sense of heritage, tradition, ethnic solidarity, perhaps adherence to a kind of secular Judaism as a source of ethical values, etc., but without belief in the Jewish (or any other) God. Lots of interesting history here.

Comment #19935

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on March 13, 2005 8:16 PM (e)

I fixed a few typos – for some reason I wrote “Fred Heeren” once instead of “Fred Reed”. Fred Heeren is a pretty loony guy with a soft spot for ID, but I don’t think he has quite the issues that Fred Reed has.

Comment #19946

Posted by moioci on March 13, 2005 9:08 PM (e)

>>Then there’s the vagus nerve, and it’s
>>evolutionarily-required loop through the aorta

Ed,
I think you meant the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

Comment #19954

Posted by Adam Marczyk on March 13, 2005 9:57 PM (e)

(Incidentally, it is worth noting that by no means all involved in the life sciences are doctrinaire. A friend of mine, a (Jewish, atheist) biochemist, says “It doesn’t make sense.” He may be wrong, but a Creationist he isn’t.)

Has anyone else noticed that as far as creationists are concerned, thinking evolution is correct makes you “doctrinaire” by definition regardless of what led you to that conclusion?

Comment #19958

Posted by Alex Merz on March 13, 2005 10:51 PM (e)

Doctrinaire? I don’t think that actually scores any points…

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

25. 20 points for each use of the phrase “hidebound reactionary”.

26. 20 points for each use of the phrase “self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy”

Comment #19959

Posted by Dan S. on March 13, 2005 11:28 PM (e)

“http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html … “

I especially like #34: “40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant).”

wow - a lot of PT trolls (and creationists in general, actually) are right off the crackpot scale. I wish we could apply it as some sort of rating system …

Comment #19960

Posted by steve on March 13, 2005 11:31 PM (e)

Heh. I like “5 points for each word in all capital letters”. It amazes me when people don’t understand how poorly those capitalized words reflect on their writing skills.

Comment #19967

Posted by Ed Darrell on March 14, 2005 1:29 AM (e)

moioci said:

>>Then there’s the vagus nerve, and it’s
>>evolutionarily-required loop through the aorta

Ed,
I think you meant the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

I drop clues that I’m not a professional at this with some regularity.

What did I mean? Let’s go to the kids’ bookshelf … here it is:

In fishes, which are comparatively ancient in evolutionary terms, branches of a nerve from the brain (the vagus nerve) loop around each of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th blood vessels which run between the gill slits.

Only two of these branches remain in mammals, as the anterior and recurrent laryngeal nerves, connecting the brain to the larynx. However, the recurrent laryngeal nerve still loops around the remnant of the 6th arterial arch, now known as the ductus arteriosus; so from the brain to the larynx the nerve runs down the neck, round the ductus and back up the neck. This nerve is far longer than it needs be to connect the brain and the larynx. In the giraffe the nerve is about 4.5m (15ft.) long. (R. J. Berry and A. Hallam, Encyclopedia of Animal Evolution, Facts on File, 1989, p. 83)

Thanks, moioci.

Comment #19985

Posted by Dave Cerutti on March 14, 2005 4:12 AM (e)

Or, you could consider just going to a library, rather than wildly assuming that your personal ignorance bears some relationship to reality.

Yep, that hits the nail on the head. I think that’s one of the very things that enables creationists/IDists to say the things that they do. However, I take a Knudsonian view: there’s a two-hit mechanism at work here. You have to have at least two of the rationality pathways knocked out before you really become evangelical about your creationism.

Comment #20003

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant on March 14, 2005 8:36 AM (e)

So Mr. Reed made no mention of alternate hypotheses about the length of the giraffe’s neck, like sexual selection and necking behaviour?

Comment #20007

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant on March 14, 2005 8:52 AM (e)

Fred Reed wrote:

But if evolutionists want people to accept evolution, they need to provide answers—clear, concrete, non-metaphysical answers without gaping logical lacunae. They do not. When passionate believers do not provide answers that would substantiate their assertions, a reasonable presumption is that they do not have them.

Yowza! Naturally Fred Reed lives up to the standards he sets for others. (?)

Comment #20018

Posted by Monty Zoom on March 14, 2005 9:47 AM (e)

The Darwinist Nazi Stormtrooper’s write all the books in the library and widely disperse the mis-information throughout the internet. Thus, it gives the non-evolutionary individuals an uphill climb to get there own point of view out. Einstein himself in his later years will bear me out on this.

Call me a hidebound reactionary, but I feel a Galileo type suppression of the ideas of Fred Reed. I feel that time will vindicate his ideas in the scientific community. He is diffinitely the self appointed defender of the orthodoxy that he perports.

After all, there are lots of theory’s besides Creationism and Evolution. None come to mind, and I refuse to distract my train of thought by wading through the mis-information widely available on the internet. It may invalidate MY PERSONAL BELIEFS, and then I would have to divulge my personal revolutionary theory that will put an end to these discussions once and for all.

With my many years at an acredited institute of higher learning, and my continued work in a major research university, makes me qualified to comment on the Fred Reed situation. However, I’ll wait until the extra-terrestrial civilizations make themselves known to the general public before I give the details. When all of it comes out, I’ll certainly win a Nobel Prize, and there will be a paradigm shift in this entire area of study.

To adhere to the standard set by him, I won’t even read his piece. In my advocationist way, I’ll not support Evolution because it is only a theory. When the final prooferization of it becomes as law as Einstein’s Relativity only then will I bow to the conspiratorial forces that push such an unsupported and inconsistant theory such as the one that Fred Reed is against.

390 pts.

Comment #20020

Posted by mark on March 14, 2005 9:51 AM (e)

Is Fred Reed a grownup? I thought everybody in the 3rd or 5th grade had learned that mammals–mice, humans, giraffes, whales and just about all others–had the same number of neck vertebrae (seven). Maybe Fred went to one of those funny schools that teach non-science, like Dover, PA!

Comment #20025

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on March 14, 2005 10:23 AM (e)

Monty Zoom, that’s hilarious!
(you could get even more points if it was all in caps, but that is hard on the eyes)

Comment #20032

Posted by nate on March 14, 2005 11:11 AM (e)

I must have missed a prior post. These comments all assume evolution caused the neck bones to grow longer.

Could someone please link me to a site showing fossils of the progression from short-necked giraffes to medium-necked giraffes, and finally, long-necked giraffes?

Or, if there is no physical evidence to support that explanation, is there some other way to demonstrate its validity?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Comment #20033

Posted by DaveScot on March 14, 2005 11:26 AM (e)

Holy Smokes! You boys better hope that article doesn’t get wide exposure. It’s devastating. Perhaps the best I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of them. It appears on lewrockwell.com which is, IMO, the best of the best for libertarian politics.

Comment #20035

Posted by DaveScot on March 14, 2005 11:33 AM (e)

Nick Matze

Instead of cherry-picking the easy bit about giraffe neck vertebra, how about you tackle the butterfly questions posed by Fred Reed?

Thanks in advance.

Comment #20044

Posted by Ken Shackleton on March 14, 2005 12:50 PM (e)

DaveScot wrote:

Holy Smokes! You boys better hope that article doesn’t get wide exposure. It’s devastating. Perhaps the best I’ve seen and I’ve seen a lot of them. It appears on lewrockwell.com which is, IMO, the best of the best for libertarian politics.

Devastatingly bad you mean…..[sarcasm switch on] I especially liked the points he was making about Africans being less intelligent and Jews being more intelligent than the typical European stock. The comments about Chinese women were especially enlightening [sarcasm switch off].

Mr. Reed is nothing more than an uninformed racist who is asking the bad questions based on his faulty perception of reality.

Comment #20045

Posted by Monty Zoom on March 14, 2005 1:07 PM (e)

Ok, I went back on my word and actually read it…

First big problem: He takes Evolutionary Hypotheses and treats them as if they were facts. Then, quite readily, shows that they shouldn’t be taken as facts. One example:

Humans are said to have a poor sense of smell because they evolved to stand upright in the savanna where you can see forever and don’t need to smell things.

This is only supposition. Origin of species evolution can never be exact because our time machine is in the shop.

Second problem: How did a butterfly evolve? How would anyone know that? Unless we could observe the process for the millions of years that it took, there is no way to know. Plausible explanations are all that can be given.

Third problem: If not evolution, then what? Evolution is no good. It doesn’t explain this. It doesn’t explain that. That is the easy stuff. Give a detailed theory that fits all the evidence, that is the hard part. If you take ID to its only logical conclusion, you get evolution. If you fill in the vast multitude of holes that ID has, you end up with a theory that is evolution.

Comment #20046

Posted by Tharmas on March 14, 2005 1:20 PM (e)

Nick Matze wrote:

Instead of cherry-picking the easy bit about giraffe neck vertebra, how about you tackle the butterfly questions posed by Fred Reed?

Thanks in advance.

The point is I think not that this stuff is easy but that it’s easy to find out with hardly any effort if you actually want to, or even if you want to check yourself before possibly committing an error.

Google “metamorphosis butterfly caterpillar” and you hit a half dozen creationist sites before finding a few that point out that Fred’s statement

How did a species that did not undergo metamorphosis evolve into one that did? Pupating looks like something you do well or not at all: If you don’t turn into something practical at the end, you don’t get another chance.

(my emphasis) is demonstrably false.

There are in fact many insects that partially metamorphose. In other words, the state of affairs isn’t “all or nothing,” and that’s certainly not what evolution had to work with.

A more accurate statement of the state of the science would be:

We don’t understand the origins of metamorphosis in butterflies, but we know that there are degrees of metamorphosis present among insects, and currently scientists are developing reasonable theories to account for the origins of full metamorphosis.

The fact is I know nothing about insect metamorphosis. Thanks to your challenge, Nick, and 90 seconds with Google, I now know a bit more than I did, and, surprisingly, a bit more than Fred Reed.

Comment #20049

Posted by Gary Hurd on March 14, 2005 1:28 PM (e)

I read this the other day in the March 5th issue of Science (it would be a good place to start regarding insect metamorphosis)

One of the most dramatic signaling events in biology is the developmental transition from larval to adult form in organisms that undergo metamorphosis. In insects such as Drosophila, the destruction of larval tissues and their replacement with adult forms is triggered by the steroid hormone 20-hydroxyecdysone. What other factors help coordinate transcriptional regulation with the wholesale tissue restructuring?
Chen et al. found that signaling through LIM-kinase (a protein kinase regulated by the small guanosine triphosphatase Rho) is involved in these transitions. Rho modulates cell shape by regulating actin polymerization, and these changes affect transcription mediated by the serum response factor (SRF) transcription factor. Rho works through LIM-kinase to modulate expression of ecdysone-regulated genes, including Stubble, a gene encoding a protease involved in remodeling of the extracellular matrix. Cultured Drosophila SL2 cells required Rho signaling through SRF to allow proper ecdysone-dependent gene expression. Rho thus appears to be well placed to coordinate tissue remodeling and gene expression through its effects on the cytoskeleton, the extracellular matrix, and ecdysone-dependent gene expression. – LBR

Curr. Biol. 14, 309 (2004).

The simple answer is that we observe that many but not all insects undergo metamorphosis, some only undergo a limited metamorphosis. There exists an appartent progression from no metamorphosis, to partial metamorphosis, to full metamorphosis. This is an evolutionary progression. Similarly, we know that wings, and legs and antenna, and mouth-parts are all modifications of body segments associating the evolution of insects with the segmented worms, the Annelida. (We all remember the famous gaffe by Jon Wells over “shrimp.”)

Davescot and Fred Reed pick an extreem (either through ignorance or a desire to deceive )and treat it as if it were isolated.

Comment #20051

Posted by Russell on March 14, 2005 1:32 PM (e)

Tharmas wrote:

Nick Matze wrote:
Instead of …

Actually, that was DaveScot writing to Nick

Comment #20054

Posted by Craig T on March 14, 2005 1:41 PM (e)

I’m not sure the ID folks feel the need to explain anything. I read a few creationist sites quoting Stephen J. Gould on Giraffe necks. They turn around and discount long necks from sexual selection because it does not explain the trait in females. They feel this is proof for ID. They skip the part on why the Designer gave female giraffes long necks that don’t help them in any way.

Comment #20055

Posted by cleek on March 14, 2005 1:42 PM (e)

These comments all assume evolution caused the neck bones to grow longer

not really. accumulated changes over time resulted in giraffes with longer necks than previous giraffes. nothing caused them to get longer necks.

Could someone please link me to a site showing fossils of the progression from short-necked giraffes to medium-necked giraffes, and finally, long-necked giraffes?

see point #1 in the PS.

Comment #20059

Posted by Colin on March 14, 2005 1:51 PM (e)

Mr. Hurd,

What was Wells’ shrimp gaffe? I’ve never heard that story.

Comment #20061

Posted by Gary Hurd on March 14, 2005 2:05 PM (e)

What was Wells’ shrimp gaffe? I’ve never heard that story

Here it is.

Comment #20062

Posted by Grey Wolf on March 14, 2005 2:08 PM (e)

Tharmas said:

Thanks to your challenge, Nick, and 90 seconds with Google, I now know a bit more than I did, and, surprisingly, a bit more than Fred Reed.

What I find surprising is that anyone still gets surprised when they find out yet another creationist lying, misrepresenting or generally making an idi0t of themselves. I mean, it’s such a common occourence that you might as well be surprised by tables. Or trees.

Mind you, you might be a follower of Wen the eternally surprised*, in which case please excuse my own bewilderment at your acts (or maybe not, because you’d want me to be amazed)

Not really expecting this to help anyone - but hopefully bringing a smile to someone’s face,

Grey Wolf

*Read Pratchett. Seriously. Your life isn’t complete until you do. And work your way to Thief of Time, where you will learn of the secret order of the History Monks and of the teachings of Wen the Eternally Surprised.

________

“No post meant to be funny can be said to be complete without a Pratchett reference” Me, just now

Comment #20065

Posted by Tharmas on March 14, 2005 2:45 PM (e)

Russell wrote:

Tharmas wrote

“Nick Matze…”

Actually, that was DaveScot writing to Nick

Egad! A thousand pardons! That’s what I get for doing this on the fly between meetings.

Still, that shows how fast you can find this information!

Tharmas, among the eternally stupified

Comment #20067

Posted by Mike Walker on March 14, 2005 2:50 PM (e)

Reed’s article plays up to people’s desire for simple and easy answers to complex problems.

In fact Reed himself falls into the same trap. He acknowledges that evolution seems likely to have happened since it is easy to look at the fossil record and see that some form of biological progression has occurred. But then, both because he hates the fact that abiogenesis is still a hard problem that is not yet solved, and because he is obviously unwilling to put in the work to understand the research that supports current evolutionary theory, he casts a jaundiced eye on both those fields.

All he is doing is pandering to the general public who either don’t have the time or the inclination to investigate his claims further. This happens a lot in today’s society where the truth is more and more being defined by opinions and not by the facts. And where facts are as hard earned and as hard to understand as they can be in certain aspects of evolutionary biology, it’s an uphill battle to counteract such glib and superficial comments like those of Reed’s.

I listened recently to a dicussion on the Cambrian Explosion from the BBC show “In Our Time”. It’s an interesting roundtable, with the scientists taking part offering up widely differing views on what happened during the Cambrian Explosion, and why it happened. As I was listening to a big argument between the guests towards the end of the show (all evolutionists, BTW) I couldn’t help but wonder what the creationists would think of all this discord between these experts. Being in the UK, I’m sure such debate barely raised a flicker of interest, but here in the States it would have been held up as more evidence that evolutionists can’t get their stories straight, and so they must all be wrong.

No wonder IDists stick to Reed’s style of rhetoric and stay away from developing their own theories. Why invent their own potential difficulties when they are making hay going after evolution’s mountains of facts and cherry picking a few of the more tricky aspects of evolutionary research?

Comment #20068

Posted by luminous beauty on March 14, 2005 3:09 PM (e)

I have a question for any one with the time and inclination to engage in a probably useless investigation and analysis:

Is it possible for internet trolls to evolve in a meaningful cognitive way, or is there some pathology that prevents them from integrating new information?

I’ve done some rough empirical investigations in this area. The best mechanism I’ve found to create any change of behavior in this varmint species of blogdom is not to ignore them, but to not address them directly, either. It’s something like the way one works with aggressive dogs by not making eye to eye contact. Refer to them only in the third person and only with the neuter case. Do not use their name. Do not validate their “arguments” with either rational counters or ad hominem attacks. Deconstruct their statements on a semiotic level. Be cool and analytical in speculating on its intent and what ideological or psychological constraints may be acting on its cognitive abilities. For example;

“The author of comment #20033 doesn’t seem to be aware the article it links to is the same article under discussion. Is this mere haste to post what it thinks is some kind of devastating new revelation or is it demonstrative of some kind of learning disability? AADD, perhaps? In comment #20035 it seems to be changing the subject, dismissing the subject at hand as “cherry-picking”. Has it shown any previous signs of obsessive behavior?”

My success so far has been mostly in political comment threads with trolls that have a high [flame/”rational” discourse] aspect. Unfortunately the only behavioral change I’ve been able to effect is that the trolls eventually stop posting when they discover that whatever they say is but fuel for a counter critical argument. While that may be a satisfactory outcome for most netizens, I’m curious if it could be used as a tool to bring about some heuristic effect. The quality of trolls here on PT seems to be of a somewhat more “rational” type but every bit as persistent in asserting their apparently inflexible ideas. I’d like to see if some of these may be possibly prodded into intellectual growth.

I’d be grateful for any help in expanding and developing this method.

Comment #20070

Posted by frank schmidt on March 14, 2005 3:23 PM (e)

As I was listening to a big argument between the guests towards the end of the show (all evolutionists, BTW) I couldn’t help but wonder what the creationists would think of all this discord between these experts. Being in the UK, I’m sure such debate barely raised a flicker of interest, but here in the States it would have been held up as more evidence that evolutionists can’t get their stories straight, and so they must all be wrong.

I haven’t listened to the story in question, but I for one, think that any attempt to self-censor ourselves regarding the vigorous discussions in science is uncalled for. First, the creationists are perfectly willing to argue that up is down, no matter what we don’t say. That’s because they bear false witness as a matter of course. More importantly, the loss to science would be considerable. We would have a very hard time getting anywhere without pointing out places where the data are missing, then going off to find them.

What the creationists fail to realize (not being scientists for the most part) is that science is a self-correcting enterprise. Betcha those guys arguing will run off to the lab or field site, and doing so, will learn something they didn’t know before. I am supremely confident that what they learn will not unravel modern Biology, no matter what the creationists hope.

Comment #20079

Posted by Mike Walker on March 14, 2005 4:44 PM (e)

Frank, I agree with you wholeheartedly - science should not compromise it’s integrity for the sake of image. I was just pointing out that, here in the USA particularly, it can be an uphill battle sometimes.

The IDists have found out they can avoid the hard graft of scientific research by taking a leaf out of the neocon political handbook. The facts don’t matter as long as you can get your opinions out there first and foremost. (Just ask one of the ounding fathers to the modern conservative movement, Richard Viguerie.)

In the long run (maybe decades the way things are going) the battle will be won, but it ain’t going to be easy.

Comment #20080

Posted by Neurode on March 14, 2005 4:53 PM (e)

Although Fred Reed’s caterpillar example is generally on-target, he may have erred a bit in its formulation.

By an offhand application of evolutionary theory, a modern butterfly would probably have arisen through a mutation (or other genomic transformation event) in a metamorphosing but non-pupating ancestral insect. The first metamorphosing insect would have come not from a larva-like organism which evolved into a new exoskeletal species, but from an exoskeletal organism whose morphological development, previously confined to an egg, needed to be partially deconfined and exposed to the environment, which would in turn have demanded that the externalized portion of its development be broken down into a sequence of metamorphic stages through which the end stage could be successfully reached under environmental pressure. The need for metamorphosis could have arisen from developmental constraints (e.g., as the raw material and metabolic energy demands of butterfly development require utilization of a plentiful food supply, leaves, in the seasonal absence of a preferred food, nectar, along with the appropriate mouth parts, digestive equipment, feeding instincts and behaviors, and energy storage capacity), and/or because the mass reproduction strategy favored by many insects requires the simultaneous production of many small eggs whose size limits the amount of development that can occur within them (e.g., as the semirigid, relatively slow-beating wings of a butterfly cannot be developed to the point of functionality within an egg conforming to the typical egg-body size ratio for butterfly-sized insects). This metamorphosing butterfly ancestor would then eventually have evolved into something approaching a modern butterfly, and this proto-lepidopteran, which may have needed a way to safely complete its development in the seasonal absence of a suitable food source, would have evolved so that its metamorphosis incorporated a pupal stage.

However, this still fails to explain how such a radical transformation would have occurred. One must still explain the genetics of the metamorphic breakdown of postnatal development into a particular sequence of apparently dissimilar forms - not an easy thing to do - and the appearance, along with new organs and organic functions, of the complex behavioral patterns permitting their exploitation. The biological basis of instinctual behavior is poorly understood, and mainstream evolutionary theory offers few clues on how nature manages to pair a set of new organs and excretions with an appropriate pattern of complex specialized behaviors (e.g., site selection, silk extrusion, spinning a cocoon, etc.). These explanatory gaps do indeed leave room for skepticism regarding the claims of standard evolutionary theory (evolutionary psychology doesn’t help), creationism has nothing whatsoever to do with it, and it simply won’t pay to argue otherwise.

Comment #20089

Posted by Russell on March 14, 2005 5:20 PM (e)

Whoa! I’m largely in agreement with Neurode! (except, of course, for the first clause of the first sentence). Does this mean time for a “checkup from the neck up”?

It’s a fascinating question. Not being conversant with entomology, I have no idea what is out there to be known. Given the rest of Reed’s little essay, though, I doubt he does either. I see there’s a brand new book Evolution of the Insects by Grimaldi and Engel. I don’t suppose anyone out there has access to it? Might be a good place to start.

Comment #20094

Posted by Gary Hurd on March 14, 2005 5:43 PM (e)

Whoa! I’m largely in agreement with Neurode! (except, of course, for the first clause of the first sentence). Does this mean time for a “checkup from the neck up”?

Judging from Neurode’s discussion of metamorphosis, I would have to say, “yes.”

Comment #20098

Posted by "Rev Dr" Lenny Flank on March 14, 2005 5:48 PM (e)

The Darwinist Nazi Stormtrooper’s write all the books in the library

Did you know that Hitler mentions “God” in “Mein Kampf” several dozen times, and never mentions “Darwin” or “evolution”, not even once?

As for your strident silly screed, may I suggest you start taking your medication again?

Comment #20100

Posted by DaveScot on March 14, 2005 5:52 PM (e)

Tharmas

http://wiki.cotch.net/index.php/Evolution_can’t_explain_butterfly_evolving_from_caterpillar

Go fill in the article if you think you found a good answer as none of those given even attempt an explaination of how a worm with the ability to produce silk evolved the ability to pupate and turn into a butterfly.

Comment #20101

Posted by Enough on March 14, 2005 5:52 PM (e)

Hyperbole is a great word.

Comment #20103

Posted by "Rev Dr" Lenny Flank on March 14, 2005 5:53 PM (e)

The Darwinist Nazi Stormtrooper’s write all the books in the library

Did you know that Hitler mentions “God” in “Mein Kampf” several dozen times, and never mentions “Darwin” or “evolution”, not even once?

As for your strident silly screed, may I suggest you start taking your medication again?

Ahhhhhh, you Loki’d me.

Ya know, the problem is that there is NO satire or parody that is so silly and stupid that some creationist or another has not said it with all absolute seriousness……

Comment #20104

Posted by DaveScot on March 14, 2005 5:54 PM (e)

Ken Shackleton

Instead of demonizing the questioner, just answer the questions.

Comment #20108

Posted by luminous beauty on March 14, 2005 6:06 PM (e)

“These explanatory gaps do indeed leave room for skepticism regarding the claims of standard evolutionary theory (evolutionary psychology doesn’t help), creationism has nothing whatsoever to do with it, and it simply won’t pay to argue otherwise.”

Skepticism is cheap. So there are explanatory gaps. Give me a theory that fits the non-gap bits better or give me a novel discovery that requires re-writing the existing theory.

No need for payment. I offer my thoughts freely.

Comment #20115

Posted by Neurode on March 14, 2005 7:00 PM (e)

Skepticism may be cheap, luminous beauty, but in this case, it’s no accident. Since standard evolutionary theory offers no support for the kind of explanation required to fill some of its explanatory gaps, it already requires a rewrite (or more accurately, an extension).

If you didn’t already know that, take it as a “novel discovery”, and consider yourself paid anyway.

Comment #20117

Posted by Russell on March 14, 2005 7:09 PM (e)

Me: Does this mean time for a “checkup from the neck up”?

GH: Judging from Neurode’s discussion of metamorphosis, I would have to say, “yes.”

You’re probably right. Let me rephrase that. (I skipped over the discussion of metamorphosis, as it was dismissed up front as speculation anyway.) What I would say is that the evolution of pupation raises questions I (me, personally) have never thought about, and don’t have any good guesses on.

Comment #20137

Posted by luminous beauty on March 14, 2005 9:20 PM (e)

Various evolutionary thinkers have proposed various hypotheses for the various gaps in evolutionary theory, None are part of theory because no observable repeatable phenomena has been discovered to test them. Novel discovery in the material world, not in the conceptual heaven of your imagination. It is not sufficient to overcome my scepticism to assert that what is unknown about a theory is evidence of it being erroneous. Now you owe me.

Comment #20150

Posted by Neurode on March 14, 2005 10:21 PM (e)

Theories aren’t material constructs, luminous beauty. They’re abstract constructs built on conceptual frameworks accommodating empirical content for which they are supposed to deliver explanations. When a theory fails, despite considerable affort, to deliver adequate explanations for the entire range of observations that it supposedly explains or predicts, it and/or its underlying conceptual framework must be modified or extended. As a rule, this cannot be accomplished merely by adding new content. In fact, it sometimes requires no new content at all. Sometimes, it’s a matter of correctly applying logic where it was formerly incorrectly or inadequately applied, so that existing content (let alone new content) can be adequately explained.

Incidentally, before you issue another retort for which you expect to be paid, I suggest that you find something solid on which to rest your exceptionally well-developed sense of entitlement.

Comment #20164

Posted by luminous beauty on March 14, 2005 10:47 PM (e)

“Theories aren’t material constructs, luminous beauty. They’re abstract constructs built on conceptual frameworks accommodating empirical content for which they are supposed to deliver explanations.”

Granted. However the empirical content of a scientific theory is material data. You haven’t demonstrated that the current explanation of existing data is inadequate, only how it may be excluded by some hypothetical non-existent data. So show me the data and the analysis or pay up.

Comment #20169

Posted by Neurode on March 14, 2005 11:39 PM (e)

In my post above, I pointed out that evolutionary theory fails to explain how nature manages to pair a set of newly acquired organs and excretions with an appropriate coordinated pattern of exploitative behaviors, e.g., as it pairs the silk-producing apparatus of a caterpillar with the complex methodical sequence of behaviors consisting of site selection, silk extrusion, spinning a cocoon, etc. How does a novel, freshly-mutated organism acquire the complex behavioral programming required to exploit its new advantages? Are these behaviors genetically determined? How?

These are interesting questions, but I’m afraid you can’t answer them using standard evolutionary theory. In fact, given the vast number of complex behavioral routines that any given organism might or might not spontaneously perform in its attempts to exploit a newly-acquired biological adaptation (of which it need not even be aware), or for that matter an old one, you can’t deliver an adequate explanation within any existing theory.

But maybe you’d like to try anyway. (No play, no pay. In fact, no pay anyway - in science, explanation is its own reward.)

Comment #20182

Posted by luminous beauty on March 15, 2005 1:25 AM (e)

I don’t claim to have any answers to any of the numerous unanswered questions of any field of science or any other branch of human knowledge for that matter. I’m highly suspicious of anyone who does unless he has expert knowledge in the field plus incontrovertable physical evidence. I’m just a curious lay-person, but I am able to discern from a person’s rhetoric whether he is truly interested in advancing knowledge or is just trying to win an arguement. Does he seem genuinely interested in clearing up misunderstanding.

That no adequate explanation for a phenomenum is presently known does not mean that there is no possible explanation within current theory. As I said there are several credible and organically evolving hypotheses about all these morphological problems that only lack that thing you seem to hold of small account, physical evidence. Now, if you can show an adequate positive explanation plus physical evidence for any phenomenon that unambiguously contradicts current theory you’d have something truly interesting.

Comment #20207

Posted by jonas on March 15, 2005 4:01 AM (e)

Neurode,

silk spinning sounds like classic pre-adaptation problem to me. As long as site selection, production of an adhesive or metamorphosis are fitness enhancing or at least fitness neutral in the absence of the production of a complete cocoon, they could easily have evolved independently and just came together and were refined enhancing the possibilities offered by each of those factors afterwards. Or one of the factors came first (e.g. adhesive or metamorphosis) and the others developed as they represented ways to make better use of the already existing features. As far as I know, this is pretty much standard evolutionary theory.
Metamorphisis itself appears more tricky, but given the need for all animals with exoskeletons to go through a molting process, a trend toward differentiating between adult and juvenile forms can already be seen in insects not doing metamorphosis. As a stronger specialization into feeding juveniles and mating adults offers a big potential for optimization of both tasks, thus improving fitness, the remaining questions are: How gradual could the change from molting to metamorphosis have been? Was there pre-adaptation that could be used in metamorphosis? Which factors would enhance the fitness gain by specialization and lower the risk of going through a chrysalis stage.
Two obvious scenarios would be a species already having a lot of strategies and features in place for lowering the risk of longer molting periods (camouflage, adhesives, site selections), which made metamorphosis less risky from the start, or a virtually predator free environment, making a ‘sitting duck’ metamorphosis a viable option given the possible benefit.
Concerning the possibility of a gradual development of the metamorphosis process itself (as opposed to benefits and risks of the process), I am sure there are some insect morphologists around, who could give you some pointers (me just being a dilletant when it comes to those finer points).

Comment #20212

Posted by DaveScot on March 15, 2005 5:08 AM (e)

Neurode wrote:

The biological basis of instinctual behavior is poorly understood

What bits of the biological basis of instinct is understood that would justify saying it is anything other than a complete mystery?

Reed’s butterfly question seems well enough formulated. A top-down analysis of the needs fulfilled by the metamorphosis does nothing to explain the bottom-up process by which it came to be. A butterfly does not produce silk as far as I know. No non-metamorphous insect I’m aware of produces silk before hatching. It’s a straightforward question to ask what incremental steps were involved in the evolution of pupating insects.

ID predicts irreducible complexity. This appears to be a good candidate but I remain open to plausible explanations.

Comment #20213

Posted by DaveScot on March 15, 2005 5:32 AM (e)

luminous beauty wrote:

Various evolutionary thinkers have proposed various hypotheses for the various gaps in evolutionary theory

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/ wrote:

The Marxist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Marxism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Marx had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.

DaveScot wrote:

The Darwinian account of history too, DaveScot held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Darwinism, DaveScot believed, had been initially scientific, in that Darwin had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, DaveScot asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.

The three pillars of western modernism - Freud, Marx, and Darwin. Two down, one to go.

I charge for this brilliant combination of education and levity. You owe me payment in kind.

Comment #20240

Posted by Carleton Wu on March 15, 2005 8:29 AM (e)

Dave,
The truckload of horseshit will be arriving at your parent’s basement door directly.

Comment #20245

Posted by Ken Shackleton on March 15, 2005 9:13 AM (e)

DaveScot wrote:

Ken Shackleton

Instead of demonizing the questioner, just answer the questions.

If Mr. Reed didn’t display such blatant racism, perhaps he would be worthy of more than some good ol’ demonizin’.

Comment #20269

Posted by luminous beauty on March 15, 2005 10:19 AM (e)

Dave Scott,

It seems I’ve heard every question you’ve asked answered repeatedly, often with excruciating detail and extensive references, yet I’ve never known you to respond directly to any expert criticism. It’s a straightforward question to ask, why not? Are you aware of the limitations of predicate logic in describing scientific theory? It’s a straightforward question to ask. Do you understand the primacy of empirical knowledge over theoretical explanation? It’s a straightforward question.

“ No non-metamorphous insect I’m aware of produces silk before [pupate?] hatching.” I’ll let you discover the inane illogic of this non-sequitor on your own. You’re a smart man, Dave.

You assert ID makes the prediction of irreducible complexity. What is the mechanism for this? It’s a straight forward question to ask. As a moderately intelligent designer I find the most basic parameter of design to be reductive simplicity. If I were designing life from scratch there wouldn’t be any vestigal bits or lines of functionless code. My first prototype would have all the functions I was designing for.

If my history hasn’t failed me, what Marx predicted was that the tendency of unregulated capital accumulation toward monopoly would, unchecked, inevitably lead to a totalitarian state. What Marx didn’t predict, was that Capitalism, faced with competition from Socialism, would submit to pragmatic regulation. If you haven’t noticed, now that State Communism (an oxymoron) is no longer percieved as a threat, Capitalists are busy, busy, busy dismantling those pragmatic regulations; thereby putting Marx’s predictions back on the table, with some evolutionary modifications. Popper’s arguements for the compatibility of Science and Capitalism also rest on the continuity of those pragmatic regulatory processes.

As for Freud, I suggest you set your sights a little higher if you want to take on psychological theory. The state of the art is called Cognitive Science, and it’s some bad ass cross-disciplinary theory, Gumby.

Real education is evolution in action and you’re not funny at all, much less brilliant. I expect refund in full, plus interest.

Comment #20278

Posted by Neurode on March 15, 2005 11:03 AM (e)

Jonas - Spinning a cocoon is a long and arduous process, and it is hard to see what advantage it would confer in the absence of silk. It takes a silkworm three days to spin a cocoon, during which it extrudes over a mile of silk through a spinneret on its lip while tirelessly moving its head in a figure 8 pattern without pausing to eat or eliminate. Put this together with a number of other behaviors in the proper order, and one gets what seems to be a highly improbable scenario. Pair this improbable sequence of behaviors with the convenient appearance of the associated body structures, and the improbability skyrockets.

It is true that evolutionary scenarios can be patched together for some examples of irreducible functional complexity. In cases like the one at hand, it becomes rather more difficult. When the right sort of gradualistic evolutionary scenario becomes so unlikely that the cumulative improbabilities of all of its junctures approaches the improbability of one concerted transformation - when the ordered accumulation of many small adaptations approaches their simultaneous occurrence in improbability - there is no longer any point in trying to avoid it; it becomes unavoidable, or if you will, evolutionarily “irreducible”. After all, it is not as though one can throw just any jumble of organs and processes together with any sequence of independent behaviors and expect a major adaptation to result. This one remains a mystery.

Dave, the sciences of animal behavior and biopsychology have arrived at an understanding of certain rudimentary aspects of the biological causation of human and animal behavior. For example, it can be observed that an intravenous flow of cocaine causes a rat to press a lever in order to sustain the flow, that providing a certain kind of sensory input can trigger a cascade of neural impulses tending to result in a certain kind of behavioral response, and that changing the relative concentrations of certain neurotransmitters in the brain changes the probability of various behaviors. Unfortunately, this sort of understanding is not yet of much use to us in explaining the pupation behavior of a butterfly. And even if it were (as one day it may be; for example, we may learn that the body of a silkworm is exquisitely wired into a biological equivalent of the above-mentioned cocaine dispenser), we would still need to address improbable confluences of minor adaptations which improbably result in major adaptations. As you’re well aware, in as brutal and demanding an environment as the one we inhabit, major adaptations of extremely high specificity just aren’t that probable.

Ken Shackleton, I read Reed’s article too, and I saw no evidence of racism. In fact, what I saw was a jab at political correctness by way of a sarcastic poke at what the author seems to consider racist literature. (This just goes to show you, the same body of evidence can support more than one explanatory hypothesis…even when they’re in diametric opposition.)

Comment #20281

Posted by luminous beauty on March 15, 2005 11:47 AM (e)

“Ken Shackleton, I read Reed’s article too, and I saw no evidence of racism. In fact, what I saw was a jab at political correctness by way of a sarcastic poke at what the author seems to consider racist literature. (This just goes to show you, the same body of evidence can support more than one explanatory hypothesis … even when they’re in diametric opposition.)”

Yeah. If you’re a racist. (beware, this is a sarcastic poke)

Comment #20282

Posted by Neurode on March 15, 2005 11:51 AM (e)

You’re rather a nasty little thing, aren’t you, luminous beauty? And so anxious to be paid! Why don’t you go find an occupation in which you can get paid for merely opening your mouth? (Clearly, nothing less will satisfy you in the long run.)

Comment #20283

Posted by luminous beauty on March 15, 2005 12:02 PM (e)

No need to get testy, Neurode. I told you it was sarcasm. Isn’t what’s good for the goose good for the gander?

Comment #20287

Posted by Russell on March 15, 2005 12:38 PM (e)

As I said before, it’s a fascinating question. The pro-ID case to be made from it boils down to:

…it is hard to see what advantage it would confer…

And, of course, it’s hard to know the mysterious ways in which The Designer moves.

However, in the first case (looking for a plausible evolutionary scenario) I have some hope that I’ll either find something in the literature, or see some relevant research in my lifetime. In the latter case, however…

Comment #20326

Posted by Nick on March 15, 2005 2:38 PM (e)

Reed might want to take a look at Truman and Riddiford (1999) “Origins of Insect Metamorphosis” Nature: 401:447-452. The paper proposes a fairly detailed model, based on endocrine and morphological studies, for the evolution of insects with complete metaphorphosis from more primitive insects that simply have nymph and adult stages.

Has anyone noted that many insects produce a chrysalis/pupa without a silk coccoon? Reed’s assertion that functional silk glands were required before the evolution of complete metamorphosis is retarded, as is his assertion that butterflies evolved from a caterpillar-like insect. To put it in language that IDists might understand, complete metamorphosis in a silken cocoon is not an irreducibly complex system, as demonstrated by all the insects that don’t have the cocoon and yet somehow manage to pupate successfully.

Oh yeah, and his claim that caterpillars don’t have legs suggests that Reed has never actually looked at one. They’ve got more legs than a butterfly In addition to the thoracic legs that both caterpillars and butterflies possess, caterpillars have abdominal legs that are absent from adult butterflies.

Comment #20350

Posted by Nick B on March 15, 2005 3:56 PM (e)

Hey, the whole argument is based on the notion that the international air transport system doesn’t exist.

It’s far too complex. You need billion dollar airports between which fly multimillion dollar planes with hundreds of passengers and thousands of gallons of jetfuel, plus all the required ancilliary support, like reservation systems, fuel refinerys, fuel xport, engineers, pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, schools for all the above…

How can such a system have developed without some centralized guiding hand? Clearly, back in 1914, there was an organization which decided what air transport would look like by 1970.

It’s obvious. Since there was no such organization, there is no such thing as an air transport system.

QED.

Comment #20387

Posted by Singkong on March 15, 2005 7:22 PM (e)

mark wrote:

“Is Fred Reed a grownup? I thought everybody in the 3rd or 5th grade had learned that mammals?mice, humans, giraffes, whales and just about all others?had the same number of neck vertebrae (seven). Maybe Fred went to one of those funny schools that teach non-science, like Dover, PA”

I don’t remember learning that, but I wish I had. I went to Catholic schools that taught evolution, then spent the last four years of my high school in the public system. (This is all in Sydney, btw - I can’t comment on US education). Evolution was always taken for granted, and like most people who were taught evolution, I wasn’t taught enough to understand the evidence for it, so I had little ability to argue against creationism when I finally encountered it. And I was the school nerd that usually came top in science subjects, so it’s not like I was asleep.

(Sigh). Very sloppy education.

Comment #20453

Posted by jonas on March 16, 2005 6:31 AM (e)

It has already been pointed out that there are lots of metamorphing insects without cocoons, some of them using adhesive to anchor their chrysalis. Furthermore spinning is not only adaptive in the context of cocooning, but is being used as climbing aid by a lot of butterfly species. Add to this, that many cocoons make far less elaborate use of silk than silk spinners do (e.g. find some small moth cocoons in the crevices of an old food or textile storage room).
So, if I am not completely mistaken, silk spinning exhibits not even the vestiges of irreducible complexity. Sure, the sudden appearance of a fullfledged spinning behaviour dissimilar to anything else observed morphological or ethological would be quite baffling and very unlikely to have appeared in one fell swoop. But each of the necessary intermediate steps between an unsuspended pupa and a silk spinner cocoon is not only possible to ‘patch together’, it is also beneficial to the animal concerned, in most cases evident in at least one metamorphing insect species and very much within the bounds of probabilistic models of evolution.
That somebody wants to introduce a very unlikely model of the evolution of silk cocoons (either first the behaviour and then the silk or everything at once) to prop up a claim for IR or a vanishing probability for evolutionary explanations is completely his/her problem. It does not constitute a serious challenge to evolutionary theory. For this the best and not the worst explanation had to be shown lacking. But as usual, one wont find anti-evolutionist doing so.

Comment #20834

Posted by Gipsy baron on March 17, 2005 5:42 PM (e)

Is there perhaps room for both? A really cunning wheeze for the ID’er is to have designed an entity and programmed it with the genetic ability to evolve: you wouldn’t have to spend all those aeons making all the myriad variants and popping back out of the unsightly tear in the space/time continuum to keed on inserting them at annoyingly inconsistent intervals in the fossil record. I believe that BT telecom engineers did this with roving diagnostics programmes that move around telephone networks copying and deleting themselves as they go and rewriting bits of their own code as they encounter faults and ‘learn’ from them. Presumably, the hide-bound Darwinian observer would detect the indisputable trail of evolutionary happenstance and point to the absence of an obvious creator in blissful ignorance of the fact that he’d finished early and sloped off to the pub.

Which is always a good idea.

cheers all.

Comment #21672

Posted by John A. Davison on March 23, 2005 6:42 PM (e)

Where did the myth arise that IDists are necessarily bible banging creationists? For all I know what seems to be Intelligent Design might be an autogenerated feature of the evolving organism, employing devices as yet undiscovered. It is interesting that Lamarck, in an attempt to explain the origin of new structures, suggested that they arose in response to an “inner urge.” Are any of us in a position to prove he was wrong. I like that aspect of Lamarckism because it fits my Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis perfectly. If you want something, just cough it up from the huge reservoir one has at ones disposal. That is if you are still capable of evolution which seems no longer to be the case.

But to come to a more pressing matter, I suggest that this forum voluntarily change its name from the Panda’s Thumb to something less transparently Darwinian. Time is running out for Darwimpism and it is no fun to be caught with an omelet for a face. If you must use a book title, here are a couple of suggestions.

“The Material Basis of Evolution” by Richard B. Goldschmidt.

or

“Nomogenesis or Evolution Determined by Law” by Leo S. Berg

Thanks for not listening. You never do.

John A. Davison