Friday, April 07, 2006

AiG tries to respond to Tiktaalik

So, Answers in Genesis (AiG), one of America's leading creationism ministries, has now issued a (preliminary) response to Tiktaalik.

It's sort of amusing and sad, all at the same time. This is no surprise, as the response is co-authored by Dr. David Menton, a captial clown. He and co-author Mark Looy have produced a terrible mess: all their basic facts are wrong, dead-wrong. There is the clear impression that they have not even looked at the original reports (a point further evidenced by the fact that they cite only one of the two back-to-back articles published in the same issue).

Most of the article discusses the report in the NY Times rather than the original reports in Nature. This has the clear implication that the authors are more interested in the public's perception of the matter and have no scientific interest in the actual fossil material itself. As if that needed to be said. It is another manifistation of that odd species of thought that is creationist solipsism.

Their opening shot is the fact that the discoverers, when interviewed, used tentative wording to describe their interpretations. This is a rather alien concept for creationists: the idea of proceeding cautiously towards conclusions, rather than brazenly starting with immutable revealed Truth.

Here's the pinnacle of dishonesty, though. Menton and Looy write: "[the use of tentative language implies that] the find is not as firm as evolutionists would lead you to believe". You only wish. I'm not sure how the use of tentative language could result in Daeschler and Shubin overblowing the implications of their discoveries. Creationists are no strangers to contradiction.

But as I said, they've got their facts dead-wrong, to the point of outright dishonesty. So, let me back that up. Here's the breakdown (break-down?) of some of their thoughts. I've taken some bits out of order.

There is the coelacanth fish, found in the same geological system (Devonian it is called) as this Tiktaalik discovery, that also has lobed fins. These lobed fins were once thought to enable the coelacanth to walk on the ocean floor
Thanks for that careful bit of analysis there, guys. You should get a prize for that. Sorry that we didn't circulate a memo beforehand to point out that tetrapods are widely regarded to have desceded from lobe-finned fishes for maybe the past 50 years. Somehow, I think it might be odd if a bona fide fish-tetrapod intermediate were not allied with the lobe-finned fishes. If it had been anything else, it would have been a problem! But I'm glad these gentlement have conceded the point on behalf of AiG.

However, this business with the coelacanth is a pretty nasty equivocation: 'coelacanths are lobe-fins, Tiktaalik is a lobe-fin'. Hmm... I'm not sure if that really captures all the details, so perhaps a little comparison might help us evaluate this claim:

The authors' cluelessness takes them to previously unexplored depths of hoplessly impotent arguments. But these intrepid crusaders in the name of ignorance soldier on!
(in fact it was, like “Tiklaalik,” once considered by evolutionists to be a type of transitional form). Later, it was determined that the coelacanth fins were used for better maneuvering through the water, and not for walking.
These guys have their own wild and weird theory of evolution that has no basis in reality. Coelacanths are still considered a plesion (branch) on the tetrapod tree. Coelacanths, as demonstrated by a large amount of molecular and morphological data, are closely related to tetrapods. What happened was, J.L.B. Smith who was an ichthyologist and not a palaeontologist or evolutionary biologist, took the accepted relationships of coelacanths and tetrapods to infer that coelacanths might walk around on the bottom. He was shown to be wrong. Science moved on. This is quite different from how the authors of the Tiktaalik papers reached their conclusions.

Please consider for a moment the fin of an extant (i.e. living) coelacanth, on the left; and the fin skeleton of Tiktaalik on the right.
The fin skeleton of Tiktaalik is much more robust and has a number of prominent ridges and scars for muscle insertions. The joints have surfaces that permit a range of motion in the fin elements suggesting flexibility and even elbow joint movement. The shoulder bones (not shown -- I'll try to get an image up soon) are like a tetrapod's: it has a robust, plate like region where the limb attaches. It has grooves and passages for more muscle attachments and suggests that there was a very sturdy shoulder region. All of these are features that set Tiktaalik apart from a coelacanth or any other lobe-finned fish and ally it closely with tetrapods. Moreover, the distinct structure of the two types of fin implies radically different functions, nonetheless. Whatever functional argument you want to make for that is immaterial, the fact remains that the equivocation of Tiktaalik's fin skeleton with that of a modern coelacanths is pretty absurd. But you guys looked pretty funny doing it! Nice try!

This hopelessly optimistic appraisal kind of made me feel sad on the inside:
The new creature uncovered in the Arctic might be something similar.
If only they knew how wrong they were, 'maybe, just maybe the editors of Nature were having a slow newsday and decided to publish two back-to-back articles on another generic lobe-finned fish!'. I hate to break your heart, Tiny Tim, but it ain't similar to a coelacanth -- that's why it's newsworthy!

After completely embarassing themselves in the domain of diversity, they move on to anatomy, the area where Menton is supposed to be an expert. In the process, they manage to discover the nexus of pathetic and hilarious:
[T]he bones for Panderichthys, Tiktaalik and the coelacanth are imbedded in the muscle, and are not attached to the axial skeleton, which you would find in a reptile or amphibian (and which would be necessary for weight-bearing appendages). [emphasis added - MB]
Presumably this is about how the shoulder girdle lacks a direct structural connection to the vertebral column. In fishes, the front fins attach to the shoulder girdle which is embedded in the tissues and muscles of the body. Well, guess what? It's exactly the same way in almost all primitive tetrapods, including Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, the taxa widely held to be the next plesions up from Tiktaalik. In fact, this is general for most tetrapods, where a bony structural link to the ribs or vertebral column is the exception, not the rule. Do we laugh or cry here? I'm not sure.

On the other hand, if they're talking about the pelvic limbs, then Menton and Looy are just blowing smoke, because there is no report on the pelvic girdle here.

Also, there are other creatures (e.g., the Panderichthys) that are thought to be fish and yet appear to be similar in lobe and fin structure to Tiktaalik.
Panderichthys is widely regarded as a close relative of tetrapods and it is only one node below Tiktaalik in the evolutionary tree presented by the authors of the Tiktaalik papers. It would, in fact, be somewhat of a problem if these two animals were not similar. Thanks for pointing this out, guys! It's amazing that these are the same people who say there aren't any transitional forms, but they've nicely admitted that both Panderichthys and Tiktaalik are transitional.

As we often state on this website, keep in mind that evolutionists and creationists have the same facts (e.g., fossils), but interpret the facts uncovered today differently in regard to the past.
Well, apparently you don't have all the same facts. According to your "facts", the shoulder girdles of tetrapods generally have a bony connection to the vertebral column. Apparently your "facts" did not include the facts of tetrapod anatomy and diversity at all. Your "facts" are convenient selections of observations, untruths, and equivocation of terms like "lobe-fin". These are not facts at all, but the framework of a deceptive fantasy that helps insulate you from reality.
Because evolutionists want to discover transitional forms, when they find a very old fish with leg-bone-like bones in its fins, they want to interpret this as evidence that it is some sort of transitional creature. However, other fish seem to have the same sort of structure as stated above, and these bones are not constructed as one would expect for weight-bearing legs.
So, there we have it again, further evidence that the authors have not read the paper. What appears to be more important than reality to these men is the term "lobe-fin", a term of convenience used to describe a general condition for a certain type of fish: the sarcopterygians. However, fin morphology is radically diverse in this group, and there are many ways of being a "lobe-finned fish". To deny the tetrapod-like nature of the fins of Tiktaalik on the basis of the fact that it happens to be a lobe-finned fish as well as is a coelacanth is a shameful advertisement of one's ignorance.

This is my favourite:
For the moment, we can confidently state that evolutionists have no examples of mutations or evolutionary processes that can lead to an increase in genetic information in a creature that would, for example, develop the appendage of a land animal from the fin of a fish
Here are two men, claiming that they will be able to provide a scientific opinion on this discovery, and they haven't the foggiest clue about anything they're talking about. One of the most remarkable things about limb and fin development is the extraordinary conservation of molecular genetic mechanisms. For the most part, fins and limbs employ exactly the same set of genes to make their structure. The main difference is the timing, level, and position of the deployment of these genes. Until AiG specifies exactly what they mean by "new information" whenever they say this, it'll be uncertain as to what "new genetic information" is that they're talking about. Presumably, they've somehow measured "information" in fishes and tetrapods and found that tetrapods had "novel information"? I thought not.

The interesting thing about all this is that the Menton and Looy are simply pointing out that Tiktaalik has attributes of a fish, but doing nothing to dispute the observed similarities with tetrapods. Has it ever dawned on them that an animal somewhere between fishes and tetrapods might actually have some attributes of a fish? What makes me wonder is why AiG didn't post a picture of the specimen. There are, by now, tons of pictures on media websites all over the place. A Google image search for "tiktaalik" turns out four pages of results. Here's why: they're scared, deathly scared. The implications of Tiktaalik are so bloody obvious that they have a lot of work to do in order to deal with this one.


JM O'Donnell said...

I still can't get over that they have taken their information from a papers abstract and a newspaper article. You would think that competent scientists like what AiG supposedly has would actually look at the papers themselves.

Mind, that might challenge their beliefs a little too much.

Kevin P said...

Nice job. Also, since when are there no mechanisms for increases in "genetic information" (variance?)? Mutation, viruses, gene flow, hybrid zones...?

Anonymous said...

Very good work in the AiG nonsense.

But, saddly, it is probably not going to be read by creationists. There is a website dedicated to debunking AiG maintained by John Stear,

I encourage you to send him an email so that he can at least post a link to your essay.

Gary Hurd

ted d said...


I've never paid much attention to blogs before but I've never been so close to a story that has stirred up so much attention before. I am thrilled, gratified, disappointed and scared all at the same time.

I appreciated your patience and care in answering the off-the-mark and rather feeble responses to Tiktaalik from AIG and others. You are a 21st century Thomas Huxley! I would not have the energy ... ahhhh youthful exuberance!

Keep it up.

Dan Dright said...

You go, buddo!

Lovin' every minute of your rebuttal. No contest.

In His Name said...

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world's brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense.
I Corinthians 1:20 (NLT)

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.
Romans 1:22 (NIV)

It's your soul, whether you believe you have one or not. You can scoff and call Christians morons who believe in fairy tales. It doesn't change reality: that you're headed straight to hell. Laugh it up right now, but I pray that you find the truth before you must stand before a perfect and holy God, guilty, and thus be damned forever.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that In His Name.

I had found this article to be a convincing demonstrations that Tiktaalik shares characteristics of fish and amphibians, and thus provides huge support to evolutionary theory. Now that I have carefully read your reply, I see how wrong that all is. It's open-minded guys with an in-depth understanding of the issues like you who are steadily undermining the ignorant, biased claims of evilutionists.


abyssal_leviathin said...

In His Name Says:
So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world's brilliant debaters? God has made them all look foolish and has shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense.
I Corinthians 1:20 (NLT)

Abyssal Says:
Where does this leave the "scholars" and "brilliant debaters" at AiG and such places? :P

In His Name Says:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.
Romans 1:22 (NIV)

Abyssal Says:
It's the Young Earthers to claim to know the entirety of Earth's early history. Meanwhile real scientists are busy looking for real answers without claiming that their beliefs are "divinely inspired" truth. When scientists disagree they debate evidences. When Young Earthers disagree with other Christians they label them as "compromisers" and play God by making threats against their own fellow believers' eternal souls. Now which group really sounds like what that Scripture is talking about?

In His Name Says:
It's your soul, whether you believe you have one or not. You can scoff and call Christians morons who believe in fairy tales. It doesn't change reality: that you're headed straight to hell. Laugh it up right now, but I pray that you find the truth before you must stand before a perfect and holy God, guilty, and thus be damned forever.

Abyssal Says:
Wow. Look at the well-reasoned and scientific argument you've presented! Oh well, if you can't convince someone of your views with facts you might as well try to scare them into taking your side. So much for creation "science."

And what was it Jesus said about "judge not, lest ye shall be judged?" I guess you never made it all the way to Matthew given your preoccupation with Genesis 1.

*sigh* Not all Christians are stupid. Please ignore this guy.

bg said...

This is not a rebuttal of the real\final answer from AiG to Tiktaalik. The real answer from AiG can be found here:

part 1

part 2