That’s no beaver

Brian Thomas writes:

Researchers in 2006 described a fossil they named Castorocauda. They found it in a sedimentary layer mixed with pterosaurs, insects, amphibians, a dinosaur, and a gastropod. It “has a broad, flattened, partly scaly tail analogous to that of modern beavers.” Maybe it was a beaver.

(“Devils, Dinosaurs, and Squirrel Fossils,” January 2015 Acts & Facts)
That’s a common idea expressed by creationists – they don’t like the fact that the organisms alive in the past were different to those around today, so wouldn’t it be great if they were actually the same? Unfortunately for the creationists, these are testable claims. Continue reading


Happy new year!

So I burnt out. Oops. It’s happened before, it will happen again, but this is certainly the longest so far. But I’m going to try to come back to it now – we’ll see how it goes.

But besides its length, the other unusual part of this hiatus is that for the last five and a half months I’ve been completely out of the loop – neither answering emails, moderating comments, or following the creationist news at all. So if anyone wants to update me on what’s happened since early August, the comments are open.

“Let’s quickly review some federal bankruptcy law”

James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D., never disappoints. If haven’t come across him before, and can’t figure it out from the degrees included in his authorship credit, he is the ICR’s main source of bizarre legal analogies, although he has also taken to (usually viking-related) history at times. For his column in the August edition of ICR’s monthly newsletter Acts & Facts he has an article titled “One Bankruptcy, Many Adversaries“:

Theistic evolution is like a mega-bankruptcy case containing an almost countless number of adversaries and contests, like piecemeal mini-lawsuits that in aggregate address smaller conflicts within a large-scale mess. Within this big picture it’s important to keep in mind that every small-scale “contested matter” and every “adversary” conflict is an important opportunity to advocate for truth.

I bring this up not because I intend to go through it in any detail, but because it’s funny. I can’t quite tell whether his argument is that “theistic evolution” is under attack from all sides, or that it is important to attack it from every angle, or indeed that he just wanted to call it “bankrupt” – mega-bankrupt even – but then had to waffle on for a few paragraphs to justify publication this month.

It could well be the latter – he runs out of courtroom trivia mid-way, and has to turn to martial metaphors for aid:

A long war is composed of several strategically influential battles, connected to a network of contributory skirmishes. Likewise, countering the anti-Genesis teachings of theistic evolution involves a complex combination of small-scale opportunities to promote the Genesis record as part of the defense of the faith.

You get the idea – or rather, you don’t. Isn’t he wonderful?

Defining Dinosauria

Owen and Dinornis 1879

Richard Owen poses next to a Dinornis (moa) skeleton in 1879—but is it a dinosaur?

This group, which includes at least three well-established genera of Saurians, is characterized by a large sacrum composed of five anchylosed vertebrae of unusual construction, by the height and breadth and outward sculpturing of the neutral arch of the dorsal vertebrae, but the twofold articulation of the ribs to the vertebrae, viz. at the anterior part of the spine by a head and tubercle, and along the rest of the trunk by a tubercle attached to the transverse process only; by broad and sometimes complicated coracoids and long and slender clavicles, whereby Crocodilian characters of the vertebral organs also exhibit the same transitional or annectent characters in a greater or less degree. The bones of the extremities are of large proportional size, for Saurians; they are provided with large medullary cavities, and with well developed and unusual processes, and are terminated by metacarpal, metatarsal and phalangeal bones, which, with the exception of the ungual phalanges, more or less resemble those of the heavy pachydermal Mammals, and attest, with the hollow long-bones, the terrestrial habits of the species.

That’s how, in 1842, Richard Owen described “a distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria“, a group of organisms which needs no further introduction. But what, 170 years later, can be properly classified as a dinosaur? Former highschool science teacher Brian Thomas thinks he knows better than today’s scientists. He wrote on Wednesday, in “Four-Winged Dinosaur Definition Doesn’t Fly“: Continue reading

Confounding the Patriarchs

In late 2013, as a response to an article by Brian Thomas rounding up what he considered the ICR’s greatest hits of the year, I wrote a post consisting of historical quotes altered to support each creationist claim Thomas brought up. For example – pertaining to the usual comet trope – Confucius almost certainly never said:

Heaven, in the production of things, is sure to be bountiful to them, according to their qualities. Hence the comet that is flourishing must be replaced often, as the bulbs don’t last like they used to.

Hardly the pinnacle of comedy, I know, but I never claimed to be any good. I mention this old post not to revisit past failures but to bring attention to the underlying point of this bastardisation of Marcus Aurelius:

He who has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end; for all things decay predictably and exponentially (except isotopes).

Anyone who has been reading creationist arguments for very long has probably noticed this for themselves: while YECs vehemently deny that radioactive isotopes decay in a predictable and inalterable fashion that could be used to accurately determine the passage of time, they themselves often contend that other processes decay in the same way. Humphreys’ ideas about planetary magnetic fields might be the example that most commonly appears here, but today Brian Thomas provides us with a new one. He writes, in “Did Adam Really Live 930 Years?“: Continue reading

Disappearing Genes

Four-leaf clover

We’re not actually talking about four-leaf clovers today.

Gah, some real writers block on this one. Sometimes I get halfway through a post and I know what I want to say, but I can’t wrestle it into my usual style. It tends to happen when the topic is generally fairly boring, yet at the same time intensely interesting to me personally in a way that I can’t show to anyone else. I want to go down all kinds of rabbit holes, but this isn’t terrible conducive to producing a coherent and informative blog post. So I’ve stopped writing and opened a text document, and I’m going to try give you a tour of the more interesting bits.

First: the Brian Thomas article is “Clever Clover: Evidence for Evolution?“; the paper is “Adaptive gains through repeated gene loss: parallel evolution of cyanogenesis polymorphisms in the genus Trifolium (Fabaceae),” (press release, pdf). Some clover plants produce cyanide, some don’t, the pattern isn’t what you might expect – you see both forms in the same species, and the versions that lack cyanide (having it is the default) seem to have evolved independently via the same pattern of gene deletion. You get the idea, I hope. Continue reading

Creationist Peer Review

A note from the editors — play the ball, not the man

CEN Technical Journal (now CMI’s Journal of Creation) 13 (1) 1999 – source.

The problem with peer review as practised by creationists, is that the peer reviewers are creationists.

This is a cheap shot, I know, but I don’t mean it like that – not entirely, anyway. Continue reading

We Don’t Know Everything About Electric Fish

There are six different lineages of so-called “electric fish,” each of which evolved its potential independently and convergently. The most famous of these is the electric eel, though speaking of convergent evolution that species is not actually an eel. The portion of the body that produces the electric field is called the “electric organ,” and appears to be derived from muscle cells, but are quite different from each other. A recent paper in Science – “Genomic basis for the convergent evolution of electric organs” (pdf, press release) – investigating representatives of four of six lineages determined that, despite their differences, the same underlying genetic and cellular processes have been leveraged (or hijacked) in each case.

Nathaniel Jeanson has an article up today about this paper called “Darwin’s ‘Special Difficulty’ Solved?” His conclusion is, if anything, unusually weak, and it’s difficult to know what to make of it. He begins by quote-mining Darwin, a common tactic but one which the ICR doesn’t seem to often resort: Continue reading

URCall: A Cringe Compendium

Zero replies URCall

A sorry sight at any blog

We’ve been looking at it’s videos lately, but URCall – the ICR’s latest attempt to be hip with the youth – has other provinces in its media empire. They have a blog, for example, in which a faint and whispery voice cries out for comments: “what do you think?” it asks. Let’s take a look at what they’ve got. Continue reading

Crooked Dealer at Sima de los Huesos

Homo heidelbergensis Cranium 5

A fossil from Sima de los Huesos.

While other groups of young-Earth creationists may hold differing opinions, the Institute for Creation Research insists that Neanderthals were humans too. This is all very well, but for reasons that are not at all clear they take this position to the extreme, minimising, misreporting, or denying any genetic and morphological evidence of differences between modern humans and their former contemporaries, and trampling over the more nuanced scientific view that Neanderthals were very closely related to us yet also a distinct group. Today Brian Thomas writes “Human Remains in Spain: Neandertal or Not?“, going so far that he ties himself up in knots.

A paper in Science – “Neandertal roots: Cranial and chronological evidence from Sima de los Huesos” (pdf), published on the 20th of June – investigated the accretion model of Neanderthal origins. The cliffs notes on this idea seems to be that the notable Neanderthal-specific features appeared at different times in a stepwise fashion, with those associated with the jaw for example developing before those related to the brain. The skeletons at the Sima de los Huesos cave in Spain, being around 430,000 years old according to this paper, lie in the middle of this transition and so provide a test case (who said you couldn’t test things in “historical science”?). The authors looked at the bones of 17 individuals and did indeed find Neanderthal faces with more archaic brains. They write: Continue reading