Ray Bradbury died last week, and so I wanted to share a story of his with you. First published in 1994, ”No News, Or What Killed the Dog?” is by no means his best or most famous work, but I thought it an appropriate one for the occasion, as the author’s passing gives us pause to consider where we are, where we’re headed, and from whence we’ve come.
Nathaniel Jeanson, newly of the Institute for Creation Research, gave a lecture in Boston last night entitled “Evolution: Bankrupt Science, Creationism: Science You Can Bank On.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with how creationist arguments work, but there was absolutely nothing new about his talk. As a freshly-minted doctoral graduate from Harvard’s molecular biology program, Jeanson is the embodiment of the very bleeding edge of so-called creation science: a dull intellectual wasteland rehashing decades-old arguments long since refuted, unable to be fertilized even by graduate-level training at an Ivy league university.
I attended the lecture with the Boston Skeptics. It was was mostly one stale, nonsensical creationist talking point after another, spanning everything from geology to astronomy to biology (in case you hadn’t guessed, by “evolution” he meant “every field of secular science that challenges Young Earth Creationism”), with bits of pieces of pure absurdity sprinkled in for flavor. I had to chuckle a bit when he brought up Irreducible Complexity; and here I had though Behe had gone out of style. There was, however, one claim he made late in his talk that caught my interest as a biologist: he suggested that the variation between species in a protein called cytochrome c (“cytC”) actually refutes common descent.
I like to keep tabs on some of the more prominent creationist websites, such as the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News & Views” page and William Dembski’s group blog “Uncommon Descent.” Cornelius Hunter, author of some cdesign proponentsist book or other, has been making regular appearances on both sites lately, cross-posting items from his own blog.
Many of his rantings have fallen into the classic fallacy of argument from incredulity: “I personally can’t imagine how X could be possible (and I’m going to ignore your attempts to explain X), therefore X is impossible.” It’s hardly worth addressing such resolute and deliberate ignorance.
But one post of his, which appeared at the Disco ‘Tute the other week, contained a particularly glaring abuse of logic. He uses a recent study, an investigation into the potential evolutionary origins of laughter, as an excuse to lash out at the evidence backing common descent:
Evolutionists group species by similarities, thinking this reveals patterns of common descent. Then they find another similarity (not surprisingly with the same pattern) and they conclude it must have evolved. After all, it fits the pattern.
Hunter goes on to call common descent “laughable.” But I’m absolutely stymied by his parenthetical note above. If he rejects common descent, why isn’t he surprised to see a new similarity fit the same pattern? I therefore pose this question to Hunter, or anyone who thinks they can suggest an answer. Please, enlighten me.
Why would otherwise completely unrelated traits exhibit common patterns of shared expression between species, unless those traits conform to an overarching pattern of inheritance via common descent?