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The unusual twist is accuracy—both biblical and scientific!
December 6, 2004 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Coming soon, the Creation Museum. Tired of those pesky evolutionists getting all the natural history museums? Want to see dinosaurs threatening Adam or entering the ark? Then hie yourself to Petersburg, Kentucky, where what is billing itself as "the world's most unusual museum" will soon be opening its doors. "Uneasy answering questions about radiocarbon dating? Rock layers? Natural selection? Do you want to believe in six literal days, but you’re still confused about the big bang or Grand Canyon? You’ll find answers here!" Some background on founder Ken Ham and his theory that dinosaurs are "missionary lizards" who draw young minds to evolution and must be reclaimed.
posted by CunningLinguist (60 comments total)

 
What really goads me about this "museum" is that it is such a gratuitous and stupid waste of $20 million that could have been used for charitable Christian works.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM on December 6, 2004


missionary lizards. . .

or

ghosts impregnating virgins. . .

YOU CHOOSE NOW!
posted by quonsar at 5:15 PM on December 6, 2004


Dinosaurs walking up the gangplank. Just perfect.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:20 PM on December 6, 2004


Taking the museum walkthrough is almost as good as actually being there, but I for one will make a special trip for this one when it opens.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:21 PM on December 6, 2004


Words fail me.
posted by sotonohito at 5:23 PM on December 6, 2004


What sotonohito said.

#Evolutionary indoctrination has undermined the Christian foundations in America.#

This shouldn't be a case of us vs. them. The Catholic church agrees with evolution. I find it amazing that some people who believe in God are willing to limit the extent of his powers by saying evolution didn't happen. If it was planned, it would take an amazing intelligence to pull off something like that. It's pretty miraculous in and of itself.
posted by fossil_human at 5:38 PM on December 6, 2004


(I realize not all Christians are Catholic by any stretch of the imagination. I'm just pointing out that a pretty conservative organization, the Catholic church as a whole, agrees with evolution.)
posted by fossil_human at 5:40 PM on December 6, 2004


If you have any questions about the Creation Museum, you can send an email to any of our museum team staff / giggle, giggle, snort, snort/

I know what I'll be doing for the rest of the evening.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:43 PM on December 6, 2004


Another wasteful monument to artificial integrity. Further proof, if more were needed, that somebody will believe anything.
posted by ronin21 at 5:44 PM on December 6, 2004


I for one will make a special trip for this one when it opens.

Look me up when you're in town, and I'll buy you an evolutionary beer! Not everyone within spittin' distance of Petersburg is backasswards, CL :)
posted by tizzie at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2004


God hates dumbasses.
posted by chasing at 5:51 PM on December 6, 2004


I for one will make a special trip for this one when it opens.

Look me up when you're in town, and I'll buy you an evolutionary beer! Not everyone within spittin' distance of Petersburg is backasswards, CL :)


I smell a mefi roadtrip...
posted by puke & cry at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2004


WHY?
posted by elwoodwiles at 6:04 PM on December 6, 2004


In other parts of the United States this 'museum' would be called a church.
posted by Rashomon at 6:05 PM on December 6, 2004


fossil_human, I remember hearing someone say that the Catholic Church actually has it pretty easy in terms of being able to save face in accepting science, since they have an infallible spokesman for God and two millennia of taking the proclamations of Church Fathers to be nigh unto scriptural in their authority. The Protestants, however, have only the Bible to derive their commands from heaven from, and are thus kinda stuck with it.
posted by rustcellar at 6:06 PM on December 6, 2004



In other parts of the United States this 'museum' would be called a church.


I wonder if they already claim tax-exempt status?
posted by interrobang at 6:20 PM on December 6, 2004


There's also the Institute for Creation Research Museam. Two visits are recounted here and here.
posted by donth at 6:54 PM on December 6, 2004


Come on down to the Cincy area, get your giant lord and lizard entertainment all in one day.

How about a museum in a spectacular building?
posted by Exad at 7:06 PM on December 6, 2004


Maybe it's the whiskey (hereafter: MITW), but that illustrated walk-through of the "museum" was just, well, sad. No derision intended, either. It was just saddening, I guess? The combination of the kid-targeted sing-song lyricism of the text and the pastel dinosuars chasing the Jebusites around, or something.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:08 PM on December 6, 2004


Christians and missionary lizards alike recoil in cowardice to the relentless burnination that is Trogdor!
posted by Demogorgon at 7:21 PM on December 6, 2004


.
posted by ltracey at 7:28 PM on December 6, 2004


This just makes me wanna have another beer.
posted by jefbla at 7:36 PM on December 6, 2004


I find it amazing that some people who believe in God are willing to limit the extent of his powers by saying evolution didn't happen. If it was planned, it would take an amazing intelligence to pull off something like that. It's pretty miraculous in and of itself.

fossil_human, exactly, if one believes in an all-powerful God then one must consider it possible He could have created the universe through the mechanisms discovered and described by science, why not anyhow?

I really can't comment on the post itself for sotonohito's reason among others.
posted by scheptech at 7:46 PM on December 6, 2004


Because if you give up on the Bible as history your position on it as an infallible moral arbitrator also is weakened.
posted by rustcellar at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2004


scheptech: if one believes in an all-powerful God then one must consider it possible He could have created the universe through the mechanisms discovered and described by science, why not anyhow?

I think the reason is that such a system is self sufficient. It does not rely on God at all moments in order to remain functioning. Those who have built their entire belief system on a personal relationship with God are reluctant to concede that he is superfluous.
posted by Endymion at 8:09 PM on December 6, 2004


I find it amazing that some people who believe in God are willing to limit the extent of his powers by saying evolution didn't happen. If it was planned, it would take an amazing intelligence to pull off something like that.

well, except that the whole theory of natural selection is to explain how these is no external guidance. The point is that what survives, survives... that the intelligence of nature is not something outside it or beyond it or conscious in any sense, but is rather the behavior of life itself - that what works, keeps working, and what doesn't work, dies off.

It's nice to try to find some middle ground, but I think you kind of have to turn to a kind of immanent god / deism to if you want a religion consistent with evolution.
posted by mdn at 8:11 PM on December 6, 2004


rustcellar: Because if you give up on the Bible as history your position on it as an infallible moral arbitrator also is weakened.

Not necessarily. Morality, even secularly, is most often told in parable. I can remember the illustrated books of my childhood which featured children in various tempting situations. Children are then expected to extrapolate universal moral principles from these isolated examples. Children are rarely simply given a litany of moral rules. I think the reason that parables are so used so frequently is to inculcate a sense of empathy and humanity into otherwise staid proscriptions. The human element imbues children with not the rules themselves, which are ancillary, but with the driving force behind all morality: empathy. Teaching morality outside of parable just isn't efficacious because it lacks that human element. On the other hand history is impossible to tell in allegory because its building blocks are facts and to substitute one situation for another loses all that has been built.
posted by Endymion at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2004


Boy am I gonna get it for this one, but…

By no means am I a creationist, or religious. I just enjoy, á la Robert Anton Wilson, expanding my Reality Tunnel by giving equal time to all sides of issues.

Regarding evolution, I discovered this book, written by a non-religious science writer, Richard Milton. His site has a Darwin FAQ for those wondering how he could possibly argue with Darwinian evolution. Obviously not as detailed as the arguments in his book.

I found many of his arguments intriguing, and thought I would pass it on as it fits the topic. I think it only helps to bolster those ideas you believe by giving the opposite camp a fair shot at explaining itself.

Milton leans towards a new paradigm in understanding life on Earth, directly referencing Rupert Sheldrake's theory of Morphic Resonance, detailed in his book The Presence of the Past.

Let the flames begin!

FWIW, I think that museum is as idiotic as anyone else here.
posted by horhey at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2004


Coming soon? It's already here - there's a lite version of this creationist approach in Florida. (It's interesting to note the founder's views on taxes and building permits.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:59 PM on December 6, 2004


At Dinosaur Adventure Land, visitors can make their own Grand Canyon replica
with sand and read a sign deriding textbooks for teaching that the Colorado
River formed the canyon over millions of years: "This is clearly not
possible. The top of the Grand Canyon is 4,000 feet higher than where the
river enters the canyon! Rivers do not flow up hill!"


I'm no doctor of Science or anything, but WHAT THE HELL? Of course the river enters lower in the canyon now, the entire point is that it CARVED AWAY the interior of the canyon!
Am I wrong here? Or is that the most easily-debunked argument ever?
posted by 235w103 at 9:50 PM on December 6, 2004


No flames, horhey, but... :-)

Those Darwin FAQs don't offer any real counterarguments to Neo-Darwinian evolution theory. For example, the first one, dealing with natural selection - it's based largely on misunderstandings of the concept.

His first point, that "survival of the fittest" is tautological, and therefore meaningless, is accurate enough (if a very old point). Its only problem is that "survival of the fittest" is just a phrase, it's not a description of how natural selection works. Natural selection does not fall if that phrase is tautological. Furthermore, natural selection talks about traits, not individual organisms, and the tautology only arises when the phrase is applied to individuals. To say that genetic traits which increase the probable reproductive success of the organism they are manifest in (compared to the competition) will tend to appear with greater frequency in subsequent populations, is not tautological. And it's a more accurate explanation of natural selection than "survival of the fittest".

His second point, that selection should decrease biological diversity, but that Darwinism claims it increases it, is also based on a misunderstanding. Of course mutation increases diversity, not selection. What selection does is push that diversity in specific directions, towards specific ecological niches. It's not the reason animals are different, but it is the reason diversity is expressed (roughly) as species, instead of amorphous populations of non-specific animals featuring every possible combination of traits. It's why we have zebras and wildebeest, as opposed to populations of zebrildebestas and welbras and zibrees and everything else.

His third point -

"...Darwinists claim that camouflage coloring and mimicry (as in leaf insects) is adaptive and will be selected for, yet they also claim that warning coloration (the wasp's stripes) is adaptive and will be selected for. Yet if both propositions are true, any kind of coloration will have some adaptive value, whether it is partly camouflage or partly warning, and will be selected for."

...is simply wrong. This is no more a counterargument to Darwinism than noting a car manufacturer stating two propositions - "making SUVs is a good way of selling cars"; and "making Mini Coopers is also a good way of selling cars" - is an argument against the existence of the car industry. Those two statements do not imply that a midpoint between the two - making an SUV/Mini Cooper hybrid - would be a good way of selling cars.

His other FAQs involve similar misunderstandings, but I'll leave it to others to cover them, if they feel like it.
posted by flashboy at 10:13 PM on December 6, 2004


because if you give up on the Bible as history your position on it as an infallible moral arbitrator also is weakened

That's the literalist concern, it's not mine. Here's why, because the Word is more than just ink on paper or a set of words and phrases.

While reading, the reader is also involved, their past experiences, education etc and their current circumstances all come into play as they 'interpret' what they're reading. Any book can be like that, read 'Catch 22' at 14 and read it again at 54 and you'll get different things out of exactly the same book.

I think the Bible is like that, only God-mediated. I think God, not always but sometimes, communicates with us when we read the Bible but this happens always within the context of our individual personal lives. I don't believe the Bible is ever really understood or appreciated when looked at in the abstract or as a set of arms-length concepts. It has the greatest of all possible meanings when understood at a deep personal level, it only "comes alive" as they say, when read within the context of your own life in the very real here and now.

As far as missionary lizards and their interaction with mankind may be concerned, I don't recall either Jesus or Darwin referring to them...
posted by scheptech at 10:52 PM on December 6, 2004


As far as the Catholics go, it's a bit more than just the presence of a Pope obviatiing the need for strict adherence to the Bible. The Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible wholesale -- the Church is the sole interpreter of the Bible for Catholics, and it readily admits that much of the Bible is fiction designed to make a point, rather than literal truth. Yes, that makes the Church a control freak, but the powerrs were rightfully worried that having millions of Christians interpreting the Bible on their own would lead to impossibly stubborn and literal mindsets, shallow, vengeful and corrupt use of scripture, and general stupidity ... in short, the US religious right, as emplified by the Creation Museum.
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:14 AM on December 7, 2004


Two things:

Firstly, of course you can argue against evolution - and as a scientific theory it is not perfect (in the way that none are). But the alternative is something with virtually no proof whatsoever. You can't have it both ways: attacking evolution for a lack of scientific rigour then invoking faith.

Secondly, the Bible has been rewritten so often that to read it as the literal truth rather than metaphor and parable requires an ignorance so deep it borders on the profound.
posted by rhymer at 1:21 AM on December 7, 2004


When I was in high school, my church got this guy to come and speak. (At least, I think it was this guy. It was some australian creationist who goes around 'debunking' evolution, in any case.) At the time, I was desperately clinging to the creationist ideas I'd been raised with, so I came fully prepared to be part of the cheering squad for this guy. He was so unconvincing, that I actually came away more convinced that evolution must be true.

Among his less convincing arguments:
--It's generally believed that T-Rexes must have eaten meat, because they don't have any molars, which are necessary for grinding plant material. But, according to his Creationist view, T-Rexes must have originally eaten plants, because nothing ate flesh in Eden. So he showed slides of pandas, which have sharp teeth, and eat only bamboo, and neglected to mention that pandas have molars.
--Humans and animals lived longer before the flood (hence, Methuselah), because all of the water that is currently frozen in the ice caps was in a giant ocean surrounding the planet in the outer atmosphere that blocked harmful radiation.

He was also very smug and annoying. And his favorite joke was to show various slides of monkeys and to say "Ah, look! It's one of my evolutionist colleagues!" At which point he would stand and blink, waiting for a laugh.
posted by gleckt at 1:29 AM on December 7, 2004


Evolution's fake?
posted by joelf at 2:01 AM on December 7, 2004


On what day after 1,000,000 did God create... I don't even know where to go with that.

I see the team does not have an architect. *burns license knowing they eventually will*
posted by Dick Paris at 3:14 AM on December 7, 2004


Evolution's fake?
posted by joelf at 5:01 AM EST on December 7



yes, and so is gravity. you didn't get the bulletin?
posted by exlotuseater at 3:15 AM on December 7, 2004


It has the greatest of all possible meanings when understood at a deep personal level, it only "comes alive" as they say, when read within the context of your own life in the very real here and now.

You could say that about "The Phantom Tollbooth" too, you know.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:41 AM on December 7, 2004


The earth is flat.

The Bible says "the four corners of the earth."

Tell me about the firmament.

How did God create day and night before he created the sun and moon and stars?

What really goads me about this "museum" is that it is such a gratuitous and stupid waste of $20 million that could have been used for charitable Christian works.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM PST on December 6


Amen.
posted by nofundy at 5:09 AM on December 7, 2004


The Grand Circle: An eye-catching monument greets you, as you drive up the entry circle and drop off your family and friends.

Oh, so they're admitting the Earth is round these days?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:28 AM on December 7, 2004


hey, those Creation Museum guys convinced me -- science must be bullshit
posted by matteo at 6:30 AM on December 7, 2004


elwoodwiles, I consider myself a fan of Creepy Jesi, but that thing just takes the cake.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:34 AM on December 7, 2004


rustcellar: Because if you give up on the Bible as history your position on it as an infallible moral arbitrator also is weakened.

As a former evangelical Christian who read the bible literally... yes and no. It's more that if the bible is not historically accurate about everything, then how can we trust it to be historically accurate about Jesus? And if we can't trust it to be historically accurate about Jesus (death, resurrection, etc), then where is our hope of salvation? The fundamentalist reading of the bible isn't so much about morals as it is about saving people from hell--that's why they're not happy if you're an atheist but also a "good" person, they would rather that you were Christian, even if you were a jerk to everyone. At least you would be "saved".

The evangelical fundamentalist Christian puts his/her faith in the efficacious grace of Jesus, and if his life didn't happen the way the bible says it did, well... then they're fucked. So, it becomes very important to trust the bible as an accurate historical record. Inerrant, even.
posted by heatherann at 7:14 AM on December 7, 2004


I kind of want to go but I think I'd be asked to leave after laughing too much.

And ooh! Think of the souveniers!
posted by agregoli at 7:35 AM on December 7, 2004


Its funny to me how they dispense with science's discoveries, but still apparently have no issue with using science for, say, air conditioning, stable structural architecture, electricity, internal combusion engine, etc. Science is wrong when it comes to evolution, but totally right when it serves their purpose?

Or maybe their light bulbs really just harness the power of the holy spirit?

(shoots self in head)
posted by Dantien at 7:40 AM on December 7, 2004


Dantien, these people aren't "anti-science." Creationism is an ism precisely because it offers a (in theory) accurate description of why the world is the way it is. This is the purpose of science. Creationists and ID'ers (intelligent design) are emphatically science-oriented. They have the same fundamental faith in the "truth" and the "way things really are in themselves" that is irritatingly common among most scientists.

As pointed out above, Creationists are the way they are precisely because they don't want to have to interpret the bible.

But after talking to many creationists I don't think any of them actually believe what they say. You can't rationally dispute tangible items like dinosaur bones and literal mountains of archeological evidence. The fear to interpret the bible is just that--a completely irrational fear. The Creationist Museum should be regarded as simply the most obvious indicator of the deep fear that underlies most people's religion.
posted by nixerman at 8:36 AM on December 7, 2004


The point I was making was that they accept certain scientific "truths" while dismissing others (carbon-dating, fossils, etc). This isn't about the IDers, this is about a museum dedicated to the dissemination of information such as "Adam walked the earth with dinosaurs". This is so far from true that it disregards decades of scientific research.

I'm all for the questioning of the assumptions science has made. The whole point of science is questioning these assumptions. But these aren't IDers (who may be wrong, but possibly LESS wrong than others), these Creationists are hypocritical, which was my point. Why dismiss scientific evidence whilst simultaneously accepting other scientific evidence?
posted by Dantien at 8:53 AM on December 7, 2004


ooh! Think of the souvenirs!

We definitely need to organize a mefi roadtrip when this place opens. We can all stay with tizzie!
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:07 AM on December 7, 2004


Dantien, these people aren't dismissing any scientific "truths" here. Creationism is is a scientific truth for them. That's why they try so hard to dress it in all the trappings (textbooks, museums, "scientific arguments") of a scientific truth. This isn't about the acceptance of science so much as a fight over science itself. Have no doubt--these people believe much in the essential value of science--to the point where they're willing to build $20M museums!

(And ID is total crap. It's simply the latest attempt to put science in a Christian context--not the other way around!).
posted by nixerman at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2004


Evolutionary indoctrination has undermined the Christian foundations in America.

That's why you've gotta build your foundations on something a little more solid and/or flexible.
posted by Foosnark at 9:40 AM on December 7, 2004


flashboy - good points. A few thoughts in return:

"To say that genetic traits which increase the probable reproductive success of the organism they are manifest in (compared to the competition) will tend to appear with greater frequency in subsequent populations, is not tautological. And it's a more accurate explanation of natural selection than "survival of the fittest".

Agreed, but the distinction between micro-evolution (adaptation to one's environment) and macro-evolution (a totally new species arising from another) needs to be clearly pointed out. Favorable adaptations arising from expression of dominant or recessive genes and their usefulness to survival are traits already present in the genetic makeup. This will not lead to a new species arising. Mutation can do so, but most all mutation is detrimental to the oganism, therefore not providing any advantage.

His second point, that selection should decrease biological diversity, but that Darwinism claims it increases it, is also based on a misunderstanding. Of course mutation increases diversity, not selection. What selection does is push that diversity in specific directions, towards specific ecological niches. It's not the reason animals are different, but it is the reason diversity is expressed (roughly) as species, instead of amorphous populations of non-specific animals featuring every possible combination of traits. It's why we have zebras and wildebeest, as opposed to populations of zebrildebestas and welbras and zibrees and everything else.

Again, I think this well applies to variations within a species (adaptation to niches), but I think Milton is arguing that this will not lead to the appearance of a new species. In current thought, mutation must occur for new traits to appear, and the subsequent new species. Again, mutation is almost always detrimental to the organism.

His third point -

"...Darwinists claim that camouflage coloring and mimicry (as in leaf insects) is adaptive and will be selected for, yet they also claim that warning coloration (the wasp's stripes) is adaptive and will be selected for. Yet if both propositions are true, any kind of coloration will have some adaptive value, whether it is partly camouflage or partly warning, and will be selected for."

...is simply wrong. This is no more a counterargument to Darwinism than noting a car manufacturer stating two propositions - "making SUVs is a good way of selling cars"; and "making Mini Coopers is also a good way of selling cars" - is an argument against the existence of the car industry. Those two statements do not imply that a midpoint between the two - making an SUV/Mini Cooper hybrid - would be a good way of selling cars.


I think I agree here, there is no reason for an all or nothing approach.

Thanks for the thoughts, it helps to get my mind around these concepts. Keep in mind I don't necessarily disagree with you, just playing devil's advocate at this point to see how far it takes me.

We may need to move this to MTalk, it's getting a bit long for a comment… :^)
posted by horhey at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2004


It is interesting that Milton sites the Cairnes expermients. I did some research on this as an undergrad and found that there are alternative explanations.

Agreed, but the distinction between micro-evolution (adaptation to one's environment) and macro-evolution (a totally new species arising from another) needs to be clearly pointed out.

With all due respect, why does this distinction need to be pointed out? The difference seems to primarily be a product of ID and creationist attempts to obscure the issue by accepting things like antibiotic resistance, while insisting that some divine hand must have played a part in some species.

Having said that, one of the weak points in evolution are speciation events, largely because we don't have a clear unambiguous notion of what constitutues a species. Genetic drift due to isolation appears to be one factor.

Favorable adaptations arising from expression of dominant or recessive genes and their usefulness to survival are traits already present in the genetic makeup. This will not lead to a new species arising. Mutation can do so, but most all mutation is detrimental to the oganism, therefore not providing any advantage.

I think that one of the big problems that evolution faces is that most people don't get quantitative genetics at all. I didn't get introduced to the concept until college. As a result, far too much focus is placed on "mutations" as in the X-men sense of the term where suddenly there is a mutation and bang! A new species! As I mentioned above, we don't have a good definition of species.

The simplest explanation for evolution is that evolution is a shift in gene frequencies over time. These probably can result in different species if the two populations develop in ways that make interbreeding difficult.

In regards to coloration, one of the things that evolution does provide is a framework for exploring why certain coloration patters from mimicry, warning, and camoflage exists. ID seems to offer little more that "mysterious ways." Evolution is the base for a wide variety of theries that apply in specific cases. For example, the tails of peacocks can be explained by "runaway sexual selection" (which might also explain why both human males and females are comparitively well endowed for body mass.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2004


If it's a scientific truth, it must be borne out by studies and confirmations. Nothing they've done exhibit any of the structures of science, let alone the philosophy of it. While I get what you are saying nixerman, nothing they are doing regarding Creationism is scientific. It has nothing in common with the other methods they take for granted.

If they believe in science, yet also believe in creationism, its a pick-n-choose mentality which we see in the acceptance of Bible teachings. Hypocrisy. I have no patience for it.
posted by Dantien at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2004


We may need to move this to MTalk, it's getting a bit long for a comment… :^)

No. That is inappropriate use of MeTa.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:24 PM on December 7, 2004


I have come back to this thread four or five times, speechless, and I'm still almost without words. All I can really say is at least it's not MY money going to this.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:20 PM on December 7, 2004


Agreed, but the distinction between micro-evolution (adaptation to one's environment) and macro-evolution (a totally new species arising from another) needs to be clearly pointed out.

With all due respect, why does this distinction need to be pointed out? The difference seems to primarily be a product of ID and creationist attempts to obscure the issue by accepting things like antibiotic resistance, while insisting that some divine hand must have played a part in some species.


It needs to be pointed out because environmental adaptation cannot lead to new species, as the expressed traits are already present in the genes. There is no new information. Darwinists agree on the distinction between micro- and macro-evolution.

Having said that, one of the weak points in evolution are speciation events, largely because we don't have a clear unambiguous notion of what constitutes a species. Genetic drift due to isolation appears to be one factor.

A clear, unambiguous definition of what constitutes a species is necessary. From Milton, the current definition are two organisms which cannot breed. This does not include organisms which find difficulty in breeding (due to distance for example). Insemination can be used to determine this.

I think that one of the big problems that evolution faces is that most people don't get quantitative genetics at all. I didn't get introduced to the concept until college. As a result, far too much focus is placed on "mutations" as in the X-men sense of the term where suddenly there is a mutation and bang! A new species! As I mentioned above, we don't have a good definition of species.

Again, a clear definition of species is required to defend evolution. Mutations do not necessarily result in an immediate new species, but are looked to as an accumulated effect over time, over generations, which result in a new species (two organisms which cannot breed). Mutations are predominantly detrimental/fatal to the organism, which makes it more likely that the organism will not pass those traits on.

The simplest explanation for evolution is that evolution is a shift in gene frequencies over time. These probably can result in different species if the two populations develop in ways that make interbreeding difficult.

"Difficult" and "not possible" is the point Milton tries to make as far as a distinction of what defines a species, and takes this from pro-Darwinian writing. It's difficult for Americans to breed with Aborigines, due to geographic reasons, but that doesn't mean the two groups are different species.

Again, I am not bashing Darwinism, just exploring the arguments from another viewpoint. I think anyone interested should take the time to read Milton's book and judge for themselves if his concepts prove worthy. My paraphrased mumblings most likely do his book no true justice. I'm not necessarily defending his points, just giving them the benefit of the doubt to see how they stand up to scrutiny.
posted by horhey at 12:02 AM on December 8, 2004


horhey: It needs to be pointed out because environmental adaptation cannot lead to new species, as the expressed traits are already present in the genes. There is no new information. Darwinists agree on the distinction between micro- and macro-evolution.

Cite? This distinction never came up in any of my discussions as a biology undergrad.

A clear, unambiguous definition of what constitutes a species is necessary. From Milton, the current definition are two organisms which cannot breed. This does not include organisms which find difficulty in breeding (due to distance for example). Insemination can be used to determine this.

Not really. For example, mule deer and white tailed deer can successfully hybridize. However, the offspring are neither good jumpers, nor good sprinters, making hybrids badly adapted to either environment in which you find them. And what about the recent discovery of two species of African elephants with overlapping ranges?

Furthermore, what do you do about the large number of organisms in which sexual reproduction is secondary or nonexistent? It seems like Milton's argument is flawed because contemporary Darwinism rests on quite a bit more than a vertebrate-centric definition of "species."

Mutations do not necessarily result in an immediate new species, but are looked to as an accumulated effect over time, over generations, which result in a new species (two organisms which cannot breed). Mutations are predominantly detrimental/fatal to the organism, which makes it more likely that the organism will not pass those traits on.

Partly true, but the actual theory is more complex than you present here. Which is where quantitative genetics comes into the picture. Many traits are the product of a large number of genes, so many mutations are likely to result in small tweaks rather than lethal and/or fatal consequences. Again, if Milton is working from a view of mutations being either beneficial/determental, that points to his failure to gaps the core concepts of contemporary Darwinism.

"Difficult" and "not possible" is the point Milton tries to make as far as a distinction of what defines a species, and takes this from pro-Darwinian writing. It's difficult for Americans to breed with Aborigines, due to geographic reasons, but that doesn't mean the two groups are different species.

There are plant species that can successfully hybridize through artificial pollination. A fertile cross-hybridization of wheat and rye to produce triticale for example was developed over a century ago. However in most cases, wheat and rye populations are genetically distinct even when grown in close proximity to each other. Plants especially reveal that interbreeding standard for "species" is pretty flawed because quite a few hybridizations are possible that don't occur in the wild: they don't flower at the same time, they attract different types of insects, they exist in overlapping ranges but in different ecological niches. The thing that make species distinct might not be genetic incompatibility, it might be behavioral incompatibility as well.

Of course, as I mentioned above, the nature of a speciation event is one of the weak parts of contemporary Darwinism. However, this is not a detail that is fatal to contemporary Darwinism. There are competing theories of solar system development for example, and all of them are grounded gravity as the predominant operating mechanism. There is no reason to assume something as radical as morphic fields are responsible for solar systems. Likewise, the fact that we don't fully understand how a speciation event occurs does not mean that Darwinism fails as a framework for exploring this issue. The fact that at the molecular level, genetic differences are similar and consistent with Darwinism at all scales suggests that evolution defined as "a shift in gene frequencies over time" is a central part of what is happening.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:20 AM on December 8, 2004


Darwinists agree on the distinction between micro- and macro-evolution.

Um, only in a certain sense. They agree that these are useful concepts for discussing evolution at radically different scales (and over completely different periods of time). But, by and large, the idea that micro-evolution and macro-evolution are different processes is utterly rejected within modern evolutionary theory. Some Darwinists (mostly the Gouldian Punctuated Equilibrium crowd) do highlight this distinction, and suggest that there are different mechanisms governing the two, but they are a very small minority. In fact, that macro-evolution is explained by the processes of micro-evolution is the whole point of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.


A clear, unambiguous definition of what constitutes a species is necessary


See, that's the thing. No, it isn't, not really. The concept of species is a post-facto classification imposed on the natural world, not a definition rigorously drawn from it. It's a very useful classification (and it's very awkward trying to talk about the subject without it) but it's not an entirely accurate description of what's actually going on in nature. Genes don't recognise what a species is. The environment doesn't recognise what a species is. Organisms don't really distinguish between species; they distinguish between specific physiological and behavioural cues, they distinguish between predator and prey, they distinguish between close relatives and strangers, and so on. (This is particularly true when considering "speciation events"; obviously, if you're talking about how baboons and mongooses relate to each other, distinguishing between factors such as that is functionally identical to distinguishing between species.)

A rigid conception of species is not essential to the discussion of evolution. What is essential is an understanding of the processes that drive adaptation along specific lines, and what prevents those adaptations from being nullified by crossbreeding with other organisms that do not share them. The concept of a "speciation event" itself refers to a gradual, fuzzy process, and can be down to either a physical or behavioural barrier to interbreeding, or (far more common, I suspect) a lesser survival value for the offspring of such interbreeding.

Mutations are predominantly detrimental/fatal to the organism

Actually, the vast majority of mutations are completely neutral, and do not affect the organism at all. And in many of those that do affect it, the changes are minor, and could be either beneficial or detrimental in different environmental contexts. As KirkJobSluder said, mutations that are either BOOM! You're dead or BOOM! You're a superhero are comparatively rare.

On preview: OK, KirkJobSluder totally got there before me.
posted by flashboy at 6:03 AM on December 8, 2004


flashboy & kirkjobsluder - points well stated.

I am in no way prepared to go further with any of this, as my intention was to bring up Milton's book as a point of reference. I would however be curious as your criticisms of his work after reading the full text.

He does address some of the issues you have both brought up, wether he's "right" or not is a different issue of course…

I am more of a science buff than a scientist, so I really can't add anything further. As I said, if either of you find the time to read his book, I'd love to hear your criticisms on his arguments, not my watered down versions of them. I'm not looking to defend Milton, but to determine the validity of his claims.
posted by horhey at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2004


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