I don’t know whether I should be flattered that I appear to be that notable, or offended that my points seem to be so categorically missed. First the wrath of the geocentrists, now this.
So, way back this spring we took a gander on down to Winnipeg’s Creation Museum – yes, it exists, and yes, it is in a church basement, and yes, the church is full of people who believe in a literal Genesis story (which one, it’s still not quite clear), replete with Adam and Eve and plant-eating T-Rexes. There was a question and answer period after the tour of the “museum” (room). John Feakes, the pastor of the church, was an amiable, genuinely nice guy, but he was espousing some very odd interpretations of reality, including those which even Answers in Genesis has distanced itself (like the “human” tracks along side dinosaurs at the Paluxy River, which are pretty much irrefutably also the tracks of dinosaurs. Or you could go with giant humans with feet that look remarkably dinosaur-like in nature. Sure.)
In any case, in the question period, I asked him something along the lines of how he could refute the molecular evidence for evolution – that evolution predicts structural homology, that was used to create trees of life, and molecular biology has been used to confirm those exact same trees of life (with a few surprises which now explain a lot more about how life evolved). His response… well, I’ll let him tell the story in a lecture that he gave to the faithful. (This comes in at about the 51 minute mark)
Now I locked horns with a couple of atheist groups now, uh, last… year? They came out to see me. We talked for five hours on evolution and creation and all that kinda stuff. And one girl, she stood up at Q&A time, and she was very adamant, she said “I’m a scientist, and evolution has been proven, and now we can draw family trees based on the molecular data, and it’s just so scientific.”
And I said “Okay, just a minute here. Umm you’re telling me now, did whales evolve from galloping terrestrial mammals like cows, or something else? Right? Okay now, and we got into this whole thing where now the new molecular data shows they actually evolved from hippo-like creatures. [Sarcastic] Right.
I said “Okay, so are you saying that your family tree based on how these things look got replaced by a tree based on the molecular data?”
She said “Yes, that’s true.”
I said, “Okay, now, I want to tell you what Dr. Klassen said, because he is a flag-waving evolutionist. He was out debating creationists; he debated Duane Gish, back in the 80′s.” I said, “he said ‘If these things don’t line up, evolution’s been falsified.’”
[mimicking me with incredulous sputtering] Well that’s just his opinion and… [trails off]
Well, I’m not going to say he misrepresented me because I think he is more honest than most creationists – notice the “cow-like” and “hippo-like” animal references, rather than crocoduck accusations. He also prefaces this reference to me by talking about how the morphological tree of life based on morphology is rubbish, that it’s been thrown out and taken back to square one with the evolutionary tree. This is of course, completely false. Here’s a 2009 paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that looked at just that – comparing molecular to morphological data in mammals and molluscs. It turns out, in the overwhelming majority of genus, we were spot on with our homology data, or a single branch got bumped to another genus. Keep in mind that this is specific stuff here, it’s distinguishing between Homo sapiens, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis, etc. Of our entire genus, one branch would be booted out and go, no, that’s really not as closely related to those as we thought, they’re better suited to say, Australopithecus.
Of course, this is not a perfect analogy as from my understanding of the paper it was referring to only living species – however, consider that there are 20 species of common house mouse in the Mus genus presently, and any movement of those branch points to a different genus (say, a field mouse) counts as a hit. 65.8% of the time, molecular biology confirms exactly what we had figured out by phylogeny. 65.8% of the time! And this is being extraordinarily stringent, allowing for no minor corrections. If you include these minor corrections (a single species being moved from field mouse to house mouse origins, or inclusion of other branches which were thought to have diverged earlier), we were now right 87.3% of the time. What are the odds of a random, incorrect theory based on wild assertion getting two completely separate, independently verified pieces of data to agree 87.3% of the time. The other 12.7% of the time where we were wrong? Well these are the surprises that John Feakes points out. Look at this 12.7%, he says, and please ignore the 87.3% of the time that they got it right. Keep in mind, also, that this is from within Classes – certainly no mammals were being shown to be more genetically similar to molluscs or vice versa.
So yes, I did agree that the whale was a surprise. Yes, I should have been able to form a better argument than saying it’s an appeal to authority (but truly, it was the first time I’ve ever encountered the “so-and-so said” technique and was shocked by it.) None of that changes the fact that, the majority of the time, we were absolutely right. And the overwhelming majority of the time, we were very nearly right. No amount of personal incredulity will change the fact the odds of this happening by mere chance are extraordinarily low (p=0.029).
In fact, the authors of this papers state that “These results likely represent a worst-case scenario for morphogenus monophyly. Much of the compiled molecular work focused on ‘problem taxa,’ those known to be resistant to morphological analysis (e.g., freshwater bivalves, oysters, bovids).” These data are merely a conservative estimate on how right we were, based on data with a bias towards areas of morphological contention, and further works under the assumption that our genotyping techniques are perfect – and of course, errors are always possible. And they still were completely right in 65.8% of mammals.
If that isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.
Oh, and as a final note, I resent being referred to as a “girl.” It implies immaturity, it’s condescending and it’s dismissive. It makes me sound like I’m playing dress up with big-girl pants. No one would refer to the guys who stood up to ask questions as “boys.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask to request the same level of respect.