Friday, April 29, 2016

What Happens When You Get Cited by Young Earth Creationists

This is an issue that has plagued Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in the past, when you get misquoted by a young-earth creationist.  Now, Dave Hone has written a column for the Guardian about how this has affected him personally:
Recently, I spotted a short creationist essay that had cited a paper of mine on various recent pterosaur finds and which was supposed to be some kind of response to an article written for the Observer. The creationist piece attempted to argue that these new discoveries helped support the idea that these pterosaurs were made by a creator. Oddly enough, I was left rather unconvinced, not least because of the obvious mangling of some fairly simple and very well-known history that contradicts the arguments presented in some delightfully ironic ways.

For a long time, pterosaurs were regarded as rather inept fliers and little more than unusual gliding reptiles, but this view has been overturned with more modern studies. In his piece on how our understanding has changed with new research, palaeontologist Dr Mark Witton wrote in the Observer that in the past, pterosaurs had been regarded as little more than “gargoyles with lanky limbs”. Our valiant creation-support correspondent then asks “Was th[is] description… a result of mere evolutionary speculation? Based on seeing pterosaur fossils occur in strata below other flying vertebrates, perhaps evolutionists reasoned that pterosaurs evolved first and therefore represented evolution’s initial, clumsy attempts to produce large flyers.”

Ah. Now, you see, there are a fair few issues here. Although the idea of changing species had been around for many years, there’s a good reason that biologists give so much credit to Darwin and On the Origin of Species for laying down the foundations of natural selection and ideas about changes over time. Darwin’s work was published in 1859, but pterosaurs were discovered around 1780 (see Wellnhofer, 2008; a point made in Witton’s piece but mysteriously overlooked). Early thoughts about them could therefore hardly have been influenced by “evolutionists” as there can’t really have been many around. Indeed, early researchers had considered pterosaurs might be marsupials and amphibians, or perhaps swimming animals (Wellnhofer, 1991) before most settled on flying reptiles.
Because the writer does not have the background to properly assess the prehistory of pterosaurs, he makes rudimentary, silly mistakes that destroy his own argument. This is, sadly common in young-earth creation circles and I have dealt with it with regards to the inept posts on AiG's site by David Menton and Elizabeth Mitchell, in which, clearly not knowing anything about the fossil record, they make suspect claims about the individual fossils that do not bear up under close analysis. 

Another hatchet job by AiG.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks; I note that the article Hone refers to is by Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research. He fails to mention that Genesis 1 does not refer to any kind of flying animals apart from birds. Verses 21-22 state: "And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky. "So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth"". Maybe that's because the writer of Genesis had never heard of pterosaurs (and also thought bats were nocturnal winged birds).