Jason Rosenhouse posted Entry 1295 on August 5, 2005 07:24 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1293

In the course of my recent series of posts on the 2005 Mega Creation Conference in Lynchburg, VA, I described a talk I attended given by Phillip Bell. Bell was attempting to explain to his audience why the extensive collection of hominid fossils that have been dug up over the years do not, in fact, provide anything of comfort to evolutionists. After the talk I engaged in a brief discussion with Bell about some of the points he made in his talk. I recounted our conversation in the fourth entry in my series.

Bell was not pleased by my unflattering description of him, and has posted a reply here.

I would like to respond to a few points that he made.

First, some general observations. At several points in his response Bell accuses me of misrepresenting our conversation. In particular, he states that I added things to my retelling that I did not say during our talk. I absolutely deny every such assertion. I would add that I based my retelling of our conversation on detailed notes that I wrote down immediately after our conversation concluded. There are several statements in his own description that, to put it kindly, do not match my recollection of events. However, since as far as I know there is no transcript available of our discussion, I will not address these points further.

Some of the points in dispute clearly revolve around subjective impressions. For example, at one point in my retelling I described Bell's tone towards the conference attendees as being condescending. I stand by that interpretation. Bell insists in his reply that he was not being condescending. So be it. Elsewhere he describes me as speaking with great superciliousness. I reject that description of my tone.

In defiance of both basic courtesy and standard blog etiquette Bell did not provide a link to my essay in his response. To get to my essay from Bell's response, you must scroll down to the bottom, and then cut and paste the web address into the appropriate line of your browser. Furthermore, he couldn't even bring himself to identify me by name, or identify the blog at which my remarks appeared. This seems to be SOP among creationist web sites. They want to make it as difficult as possible for people to obtain the views of the other side.

By contrast, when I began my series of posts on this subject, I linked to the conference blog even though I was not replying to anything specific that had been written there. I specifically told my readers to go to that blog if they wanted a more favorable description of the conference.

Bell did point out one genuine error that I made in my blog entry. I described him as having an Australian accent, when apparently he is not, in fact, Australian. I apologize for the error.

But since we're harping on trivialities, let me point out one obvious error that Bell made. He writes:

My talk was in the ‘basic track’ of the conference and so was pitched to the intelligent layperson accordingly. Had he read the program like everyone else attending the conference, he would have known this; or perhaps he knowingly omitted this rather significant fact from his review.

Ahem. I very clearly identified his talk as being in the Basic track of the conference. The entry in which I replied to Bell was clearly identified as Part Four of a series. Part Three of that series, which had been posted the day before, ended with the following remark:

Next up was Phillip Bell in the Basic track discussing, “Ape Men, Missins Links, and the Bible,” and Douglas Kelly on “The Importance of Chronology in the Bible,” in the advanced track. I went Basic this time. It was after Bell's talk that I worked up the nerve to confront the speaker after the talk. Stay tuned!

Throughout my series of posts I made it perfectly clear that there was a basic track and an advanced track at the conference. I'll look forward to Bell's apology for omitting this rather significant fact.

Now for a few specifics. Bell writes:

In our discussion, I had reiterated to him what I had explicitly stated on one of my slides, that the human fossils to which I referred included the several hundred known Neandertal and Homo erectus fossils (themselves ‘hominids’). Of the thousands of catalogued fossils, most of them are not considered helpful to the evolutionary story (hence the oft-repeated evolutionist canards like ‘all the fossils will fit into the boot (trunk) of a car’ or ‘onto a snooker table’, etc.). All the non-Homo fossils that I covered in my talk are extinct apes, as even most evolutionists have conceded - albeit that they argue among themselves as to which of these was on the illustrious line leading to humans. Most of the Homo fossils (with the notable exception of Homo habilis) are agreed by the majority of creationists to be extinct humans. His blog comments here, as elsewhere, were designed to imply that I and other creationist speakers didn’t even understand the basics of our talk topics. For instance, he wrote:

So I tried again and asked, “But the issue is what did the British museum have in mind when they used the term hominid in their catalog? You offered hominid fossils as something separate from ape and human fossils. So what are they?” We were off to the races again.

Yet at no point did I offer hominid as separate from ape or human, for the very definition includes humans, today’s apes and all those alleged ‘ape-men’ transitions.

As I stated in my previous entry on this subject, Bell showed a slide that asserted that there were thousands of hominid fossils, hundreds of human fossils, and numerous extinct apes. These were listed on three separate lines. So it's pretty clear that the collection of hominid fossils was being offered as something different from the collections of ape and human fossils.

Next, Bell specifically cited the Catalog of Fossil Hominids from the British Museum of Natural History as the source for his claim that there are thousands of hominid fossils. So what is relevant here is not what Bell thinks the term `hominid' means. It is what the British Museum had in mind in using that term, exactly as I said in the quote above.

After describing these three types of fossils Bell asserted with great confidence that there was nothing `in between.' In this context that can only mean there are no fossils bridging the gap between human beings and their ape-like ancestors. But the simple fact is that the hominid fossils referred to by the British Museum include a great many fossils that bridge the gap. If they are your source, then you have no justification for the claim that there is nothing `in between'.

And that brings us to the really important point. Bell seems to think that by shoehorning every hominid fossil into the two categories `ape' and `human' he can somehow explain away the fossil evidence for human evolution. Does he really not understand that attaching labels to fossils does not change the fact that these fossils show a clear progression from forms that are mostly ape-like to those that are mostly human-like?

Elsewhere he thought it deeply significant that paleoanthropologists do not always agree about the precise relationships that hold between the various available fossils. Does he really believe that such disputes somehow cast doubt on the hypothesis of common descent itself? Is it possible that he doesn't understand that the very reason paleoanthropologists have so much to argue about is that the fossil record provides them with such a wealth of data?

The question at hand is whether the extensive collection of fossil hominids provides strong evidence for the hypothesis that modern humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. Bell thinks that arbitrary classifications of individual fossils as either `ape' or `human' are relevant to that question. That is ample justification for the implication that Bell does not understand the basic facts of the topics they are discussing.

Bell goes on to question my motives:

But his statement reveals that his real motive - as with so many like him - is to paint creation-believing scientists as those who are prepared to use any means - fair or foul - to turn people against evolution.

My motive for talking to Bell after the talk was very simple: I wanted to obtain answers to my questions. I was not optimistic that he would have anything intelligent to say about them, but people have suprised me before and I wanted to give him a chance. Unfortunatly, his answers to my questions made it perfectly clear that he hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about, precisely as I described in my original essay.

My motive in writing about the conference at all was to give people an accurate impression of what happened at the conference, and to describe my reactions to those happenings. It was the behavior of the conference speakers themselves that justifies my portrayal of them as people prepared to use any means to make their points. I notice, for example, that Bell did not attempt to justify the blatant misuse of quotations that I described in my original essay.

This was not the first creationist conference that I have attended. A few years ago I attended an intelligent-design conference in Kansas City. There, I was so impressed with the behavior and intelligence of the conference attendees (as opposed to the conference speakers) that I was actually moved to write an article (PDF format) describing my reasons for being impressed. That was certainly not an article I anticipated writing when I decided to attend the conference in the first place. And it is not an article I would have written had Bell's description of my sinister motives been correct. So it clear from my past behavior that I do not decide what to write about a conference until after it has ended.

As it happens, though, most of the arguments made by the conference speakers were wrong for such obvious reasons that those speakers deserve to be portrayed as either deeply ignorant or incredibly dishonest. The unbelievably fawning reactions of the conference goers as well as my interactions with some of them make it clear that these are not people who have made any serious attempt to educate themselves about both sides of this issue. Hence, my snide portrayal.

I find nothing else in his essay that merits a detailed response from me. At one point he tells his readers that I contradicted myself in my previous essays on this subject. If some commenter would like to read what Bell wrote and tell me what the contradiction is I'll be grateful. Bell boasts of his twenty years of study related to the issues we were discussing and contrasts that favorably with my qualifications in mathematics. But the scientific assertions he was making don't suddenly become unstupid simply because he claims to have spent a lot of time thinking about them. And there was nothing in our discussion that requires more than a glancing familiarity with the material to understand.

At no point in our conversation did I challenge his credentials, or argue from authority. But since Bell seems to think it's relevant, I would point out that he holds a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology and that is all. You can find his speaker bio here.

In the end, arguing in typical creationist style, he levels a great many charges at me in lieu of offering a cogent response to the scientific points that were at issue. He suggests that I did something unsavory by not identifying myself as an evolutionist, accuses me of concealing my motives, attacks my credentials, describes me as supercilious and full of myself, quotes me out of context to suggest that I think violence is an acceptable means of settling disputes, and accuses me of distorting the facts.

Rereading my original essay on this subject, I find that my criticisms of him are confined exclusively to the things he actually said. I have continued to adhere to that policy in this reply.

Draw your own conclusions.

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Comment #41541

Posted by Dave Cerutti on August 5, 2005 6:39 PM (e)

The AIG “article” reads the way so many of them do. They make mountains of out mole hills–your sarcasm is turned into actual intent. Had you said enough, they… would have… pieced… [toget]her your [words]… to reveal your [ad]miss[ion] of… [molesting] a… [child].

These guys aren’t “masters of sleaze,” in the vein of Krugman’s articles. They are, as he said, too crude to fool the public at large. But they are very effective in their element, which is people as ignorant and docile as the ones you encountered.

Liked your reports on the Mega-Conference, by the way.

Comment #41574

Posted by Z.W. Dickason on August 5, 2005 8:28 PM (e)

Kenyanthropus is referring to Kenyanthropus Playops, the australopithecine-esque hominid found by Maeve Leakey’s team in ‘98-‘99. http://www.modernhumanorigins.com/platyops.html

What I don’t understand is why Bell hightlighted the current debate surrounding its genus. Whether or not Playops has been wrongly labeled and is actually an example of A.Afarensis or H.Habilis; or has been correctly labeled and in fact deserves a seperate genus distinction (Kenyanthropus), no one is arguing that Platyops wasn’t a human ancestor. The debate concerns whether or not Platyops was the precursor to H.Habilis and H.Rudolfensis, if so we may need to accept that the Australopithecines did not give rise to Homo, for some a tough pill to swallow. It is probable that what Bell actually meant to say is that Platyops has been misnamed as a hominoid and should prehaps be placed with Pan or some other ape classification, and given Bells obvious extensive background in osteology and paleontology, it makes sense that he should weigh in on this debate.


Comment #41592

Posted by Bob Maurus on August 5, 2005 9:47 PM (e)


I truly think that, based on what you put yourself through in this exercise, you might actually be being tested for sainthood.

Comment #41593

Posted by steve on August 5, 2005 9:58 PM (e)

To be a saint, you have to perform miracles. Although, I suppose it’s a miracle that after two or three days he didn’t lose it and shoot some people.

Comment #41594

Posted by Bob on August 5, 2005 10:01 PM (e)

No, the miracle is surviving those burritos.

Comment #41617

Posted by DrJohn on August 6, 2005 12:07 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'sarcasm'

Comment #41625

Posted by Michael Roberts on August 6, 2005 1:21 AM (e)

Having heard Bell at an AIG meeting in Britain he is very lightweight, and just repeats old YEC arguments on human fossils and anything else.
But what do you expect.

More concerning to me is that a book review in the latest Notes and Records of the Royal Society is implicitly adulatory of AIG. The reviewer Colin Russell reviews Aileen Fyfe’s Science and Salvation about 19th century evangelical popular science, which was not YEC in the slightest. (oh to get back to the Victorian era and not have to put up with YEC!) He tries to say that there were some competent Scriptural Geologists who held to a young earth- and without mention ing Terry Mortenson by name can only mena his work. Russell was Mortenson’s “Ph D” supervisor.. These were mostly people like George Fairholme who had less competence than anyone in AIG - just

Comment #41641

Posted by Bob Maurus on August 6, 2005 7:07 AM (e)


Back in the old days of Sainthood there was a requirement of three attested miracles. That’s no longer the case. The late pope has already been mentioned as a viable candidate.

Comment #41664

Posted by David Tisdale on August 6, 2005 11:49 AM (e)

I do not know the reason, but every post by Mr. Rosenhouse seems to draw comment from every bumpkin-basher and anti-religious bigot.

Mr. Rosenhouse is able to differentiate between the sin and the sinner, and so should we all. It is not useful to use scientific blog commentaries to abuse our opponents, it’s just an ad hominem attack on a massive scale.

Comment #41665

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on August 6, 2005 12:04 PM (e)

Bell did not provide a link to my essay in his response.

His footnotes include two URLs (though not technically links) to a pair of your PT articles.

…quotes me out of context to suggest that I think violence is an acceptable means of settling disputes, and accuses me of distorting the facts.

Well, you did say -

So I resisted the temptation to damage her physically in some way. I likewise resisted the temptation to unleash upon her a barrage of profanity so disgusting it would have made her ears melt right off her head.

- in reference to someone you’d just described as “this skanky, malodorous she-hag”.

Such pointless ad hominem attacks did lower the quality of your otherwise admirable reports (and cast some doubt on the digestibility of Lynchburg burritos).

Comment #41668

Posted by Jason Rosenhouse on August 6, 2005 2:12 PM (e)


In my response I said that Bell provided the web address of my PT essays, but that is not a link. The reader would have to go down to the bottom of the article and paste the address into his browser to get to my article, which is exactly what I described in my reply. That is very inconvenient, and not something Bell’s readers are likely to do.

My description of the lady you refer to was indeed unkind, but I think completely deserved by her own behavior. The context was that I had just made a series of very simple points that completely refuted the arguments that had been made by the speaker. I was then called ignorant in front of forty people by a person who plainly had not understood a word that I said. So I was describing my initial angry response to her, justified under the circumstances, followed by my attempt to put the situation to more productive use by engaging whatever points she wanted to offer.

I’m glad you generally liked my reports though! :)

Comment #41694

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on August 6, 2005 6:35 PM (e)

Jason -

In my response I said that Bell provided the web address…

Ah, yes - I stand corrected.

My description of the lady you refer to was indeed unkind, but I think completely deserved by her own behavior.

Skanky: A rhythmic dance performed to reggae or ska music, characterized by bending forward, raising the knees, and extending the hands.
Disgusting or vulgar matter; filth.
One who is digustingly foul or filthy and often considered sexually promiscuous. Used especially of a woman or girl.
– dictionary.reference.com/

Unless at the conference she physically demonstrated some high-steppin’ dance moves or serious hygienic & behavioral pathologies, adjectives such as “fanatically belligerent” might’ve done the job better; while omitting the reactions you did not carry out could’ve averted at least one Bell smear. As written, your report still indicates that the meat & onions in your burrito were over-fried.

Nonetheless, you maintained much more dignity & decorum than I would have in the same situation - but I suppose life at JMU has toughened you in the face of ideological insults to your intelligence…

Comment #41826

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on August 7, 2005 9:36 PM (e)

Some of the points in dispute clearly revolve around subjective impressions. For example, at one point in my retelling I described Bell’s tone towards the conference attendees as being condescending. I stand by that interpretation. Bell insists in his reply that he was not being condescending. So be it. Elsewhere he describes me as speaking with great superciliousness. I reject that description of my tone.

A common strategy. When the nouns and verbs go against you, try adding some adverbs and adjectives to even things up.