C4ID weighs in – a half-baked publicity drive for Meyer’s latest book

Stephen Meyer’s latest creationist book, Darwin’s Doubt, was launched a week or so ago, so it was only a matter of time before Glasgow’s Discotute wannabees C4ID joined the fun. And so it proves, with the latest missive from chemist Dr Alastair Noble reaching my inbox.

Unfortunately for Meyer (who is not a biologist) his latest tome, published by the religious imprint HarperOne, has already been reviewed and dissected (Meyer’s Hopeless Monster, Part IILuskin’s Hopeless Monster) by people more competent than he in matters to do with evolution, palaeontology  phylogenetics and phylogeny. The email from C4ID seems to consider scientific understanding of the world (and indeed the Universe) around us to be some kind of popularity contest, in which determined attempts to dupe the public into believing that Intelligent Design creationism is in any way a credible explanation of life’s diversity will in some way make the existence of a supernatural ‘designer’ into a reality. Apparently believing that evolutionary biology, palaeontology and geology have all stood still since the middle of the 19th century, Alastair Noble provides the following quotations from The Origin of Species, and in so doing resorts to the traditional creationist trick of selective quoting, aka ‘quote mining‘. As is usual in creationist circles, Darwin’s the victim (see the Talk Origins Quote Mine Project).

‘The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on earth, must be truly enormous.  Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain.’

On looking at The Origin of Species, we find this passage. Note however the final sentence – which I’ve underlined, a sentence in which Darwin gives an explanation.

‘In the sixth chapter I enumerated the chief objections which might be justly urged against the views maintained in this volume. Most of them have now been discussed. One, namely the distinctness of specific forms, and their not being blended together by innumerable transitional links, is a very obvious difficulty. I assigned reasons why such links do not commonly occur at the present day, under the circumstances apparently most favourable for their presence, namely on an extensive and continuous area with graduated physical conditions. I endeavoured to show, that the life of each species depends in a more important manner on the presence of other already defined organic forms, than on climate; and, therefore, that the really governing conditions of life do not graduate away quite insensibly like heat or moisture. I endeavoured, also, to show that intermediate varieties, from existing in lesser numbers than the forms which they connect, will generally be beaten out and exterminated during the course of further modification and improvement. The main cause, however, of innumerable intermediate links not now occurring everywhere throughout nature depends on the very process of natural selection, through which new varieties continually take the places of and exterminate their parent-forms. But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.’

Here’s another interesting mangling of Darwin by C4ID:

‘The difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory were no doubt somewhere accumulated before the Silurian (ie Cambrian) epoch is very great. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.’

The text from darwin is as follows:

On the sudden appearance of groups of Allied Species in the lowest known fossiliferous strata.
There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks. Most of the arguments which have convinced me that all the existing species of the same group have descended from one progenitor, apply with nearly equal force to the earliest known species. For instance, I cannot doubt that all the Silurian trilobites have descended from some one crustacean, which must have lived long before the Silurian age, and which probably differed greatly from any known animal. Some of the most ancient Silurian animals, as the Nautilus, Lingula, &c., do not differ much from living species; and it cannot on my theory be supposed, that these old species were the progenitors of all the species of the orders to which they belong, for they do not present characters in any degree intermediate between them. If, moreover, they had been the progenitors of these orders, they would almost certainly have been long ago supplanted and exterminated by their numerous and improved descendants.
Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Silurian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Silurian age to the present day; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures.

To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer. Several of the most eminent geologists, with Sir R. Murchison at their head, are convinced that we see in the organic remains of the lowest Silurian stratum the dawn of life on this planet. Other highly competent judges, as Lyell and the late E. Forbes, dispute this conclusion. We should not forget that only a small portion of the world is known with accuracy. M. Barrande has lately added another and lower stage to the Silurian system, abounding with new and peculiar species. Traces of life have been detected in the Longmynd beds beneath Barrande’s so-called primordial zone. The presence of phosphatic nodules and bituminous matter in some of the lowest azoic rocks, probably indicates the former existence of life at these periods. But the difficulty of understanding the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory no doubt were somewhere accumulated before the Silurian epoch, is very great. If these most ancient beds had been wholly worn away by denudation, or obliterated by metamorphic action, we ought to find only small remnants of the formations next succeeding them in age, and these ought to be very generally in a metamorphosed condition. But the descriptions which we now possess of the Silurian deposits over immense territories in Russia and in North America, do not support the view, that the older a formation is, the more it has suffered the extremity of denudation and metamorphism.’

Note the splitting and reordering of Darwin’s text. Note also that this selective quoting is identified at the Talk Origins Quote Mine Project (quote #2.4), where the section of text is set correctly in context.

What’s really peculiar about the Discotute’s publicity drive for Darwin’s Doubt isn’t so much related to the content of the book (see Matzke’s review for a deconstruction of that), but this tendency of creationists (and I include Intelligent Design creationists here) to hang all their angst about natural explanations of life’s diversity on Darwin – labelling those of us who see the vast quantity of evidence supporting evolution as outweighing the absence of evidence for the existence of supernatural entities as Darwinists (see Paul Braterman’s blog for more on this – Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it – for more on this).

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