Monday, August 19, 2013

Donald Prothero Writes A Withering Review of Darwin's Doubt

On the Amazon page for the new Stephen Meyer book Darwin's Doubt, there is a review of the book by Donald Prothero, who is responsible for one of the best books on the fossil record in recent memory, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters.  Of creationists (sensu lato), he writes:
They either cannot understand the scientific meaning of many fields from genetics to paleontology to geochronology, or their bias filters out all but tiny bits of a research subject that seems to comfort them, and they ignore all the rest.
Another common tactic of creationists is credential mongering. They love to flaunt their Ph.D.'s on their book covers, giving the uninitiated the impression that they are all-purpose experts in every topic. As anyone who has earned a Ph.D. knows, the opposite is true: the doctoral degree forces you to focus on one narrow research problem for a long time, so you tend to lose your breadth of training in other sciences. Nevertheless, they flaunt their doctorates in hydrology or biochemistry, then talk about paleontology or geochronology, subjects they have zero qualification to discuss. Their Ph.D. is only relevant in the field where they have specialized training. It's comparable to asking a Ph.D. to fix your car or write a symphony--they may be smart, but they don't have the appropriate specialized training to do a competent job based on their Ph.D. alone.
This credential mongering was, of course, true with the modern progenitors of all subsequent creationist works, The Genesis Flood and Scientific Creationism, both written by Henry Morris, a hydraulic engineer with no training in any of the major earth or biological sciences.That they were accepted uncritically by masses of Christians is, to this day, astounding.  Onward.

Prothero, who is a palaeontologist, has found Meyer's book unimpressive:
Almost every page of this book is riddled by errors of fact or interpretation that could only result from someone writing in a subject way over his head, abetted by the creationist tendency to pluck facts out of context and get their meaning completely backwards. But as one of the few people in the entire creationist movement who has actually taken a few geology classes (but apparently no paleontology classes), he is their "expert" in this area, and is happy to mislead the creationist audience that knows no science at all with his slick but completely false understanding of the subject.
This is the same sort of experience I had with the abysmal Bones of Contention, written by Marvin Lubenow some years back, where every page had some sort of error on it.  I felt beaten down by the time I was finished and, despite having the best intentions of reviewing it, I never did because I couldn't stomach picking it up again.

Meyer's central focus of the book is the Cambrian "explosion," in which life seems to have proliferated and diversified during what Meyer argues is too short a time for evolution to have occurred.  After correcting Meyer's understanding of how long the Cambrian was, he addresses a persistent problem:
The mistakes and deliberate misunderstandings and misinterpretations go on and on, page after page. Meyer takes the normal scientific debates about the early conflicts about the molecular vs. morphological trees of life as evidence scientists know nothing, completely ignoring the recent consensus between these data sets. Like all creationists, he completely misinterprets the Eldredge and Gould punctuated equilibrium model and claims that they are arguing that evolution doesn't occur--when both Gould and Eldredge have clearly explained many times (which he never cites) why their ideas are compatible with Neo-Darwinism and not any kind of support for any form of creationism.
It is immensely disappointing to see this kind of problem over and over in ID writings. This example is similar to the lack of understanding of natural selection and adaptive valleys and peaks that William Dembski exhibits in his writings.  He seems to make the same errors consistently to the point where people don't even comment on what he has written because he won't address any of the criticisms. This is common of most ID writers.  I am currently piecing through Science and Human Origins by Luskin, Axe and Gauger and am encountering the same errors that I took Casey Luskin to task for three years ago.

You should the whole review in all of its caustic glory.  I will probably get around to reading it but have too many other things to read right now. 

1 comment:

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