My earlier post urging readers to contact Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to urge him to veto the latest creationist eruption the Louisiana Lege gave him, produced an interesting comment. A fellow named Wayne provided links to a presentation by some guy named Perry Marshall, in which Marshall flails vainly against evolution theory. The video is billed as one the Louisiana Coalition for Science “fears.” Wayne wants to know, should we keep children from seeing it?
Marshall apparently isn’t even an engineer, but instead designs ads for internet placement — at least one step removed from the usual joke about engineers as creationists. Of course, that doesn’t help any of his arguments.
Wayne linked to three YouTube presentations, about half of the presentation Marshall made at an unidentified church (there are five segments total, I gather). What you see is bad PowerPoint slides, with audio. Marshall suggests that evolution couldn’t get from the American pronghorn antelope to the African giraffe, but in classic creationist form, he doesn’t address the unique signs of evolution we find in giraffes (neck, vagus nerve, for example) nor in pronghorns (bred for speed to beat the American cheetah, which is now extinct, and thereby hangs a great tale of sleuthing by evolution).
Marshall’s presentation is insulting. To me as a historian, it’s astounding how he can’t accurately list sequences of events well known to history. The science errors he makes are errors any 7th-grade student might make — but he’s passing them off as valid criticism of evolution theory.
Here’s the first YouTube presentation, and below the fold, my response to Wayne.
These presentations are an omen. They are sent to us as a warning for what the Discovery Institute will try to sneak into classrooms if Jindal signs that bill into law — heck, they’ll try anyway, but we don’t have to drill holes in our kids’ heads to make it easier for con men and snake oil salesmen to get their fingers in there.
My response below the fold.
“Wayne from Jeremiah Films” asked if I thought those films suitable for children.
Here’s my response, with a couple of edits for clarification:
The only stuff obscene about that film is the gross distortion of science and the celebration of ignorance.
1. There is absolutely no indication that DNA was designed. Why does Marshall assume that? Gross, incorrect assumptions completely unsupported by evidence isn’t a good way to make a case for rationality.
2. Why does he start with American pronghorn antelopes, and suggest they go to giraffes? While I think anyone familiar with mammalian physiology would see the links — but why didn’t he start with a relative of the giraffe, the okapi? Wouldn’t it make more sense to line up cousins we know to be related and ask whether they look like relatives?
Giraffes are walking advertisements for natural selection, especially with their bad designs — the neckbones, for example. To get a long neck on a giraffe, because they are mammals, evolution has seven bones to work with. You have seven bones in your neck, so does the giraffe. To make the neck long, the bones must get massive — that’s probably the easiest mutation to make a long neck in an okapi-like animal, something like the okapi being the ancestors to modern giraffes (okapis are cousins to giraffes). The massive bones mean that giraffes are not balanced well — they put their lives at risk to simply bend down to get a drink of water (many giraffes die getting a drink; when they’re old, they simply can’t get back up).
So, if giraffes are made by designers, the designers are sadistic, cruel things that play jokes on the gentle giraffe.
Why not give a giraffe a bird’s neck? Birds have about 14 bones in their neck — take the hummingbird, for example. 14 bones, and the bones are made lighter and structurally stronger by “pneumatizing” — they are matrices of bones that air can flow through, reducing mass dramatically. Bird necks would work much better for a giraffe.
Wouldn’t an intelligent designer figure that out? Evolution has to work with what it has, seven mammalian neck bones. Designers shouldn’t be fettered by exactly the same constraints that evolution is.
Giraffe evolution is pretty well known, from fossils, corroborated by DNA. There’s one quirk in giraffe anatomy that points back to mammalian piscine origins, too — the vagus nerve, which loops through one of the brachial arches, same as it did in fish. In fish, it’s a straight line from the brain to the throat where the nerve terminates. In mammals, the nerve must go from the brain, down the neck, through the aorta (as I recall), and back up the neck. In giraffes, then, that connection from brain to neck covers a distance of about 7 inches as a tiny crow would fly; however, because the nerve has to go down the neck, through the aorta, and back up the neck, typically it’s about 15 feet long.
How stupid does the designer have to be before you guys fire him?
3. The Google ad example isn’t analogous to evolution in living things — and probably more to the point, the guy didn’t bother to test the mutations to see which would survive or survive better. Clearly he doesn’t have a much of an understanding of evolution. He doesn’t subject the ads to natural selection. What are his criteria for a “more effective ad?” He doesn’t say, but it’s clear that he thinks proper spelling is the key. Were he familiar with advertising, he’d know that’s unproven. In any case, he appears frightened of trying the ads himself to see what happens — that would be natural selection.
4. The guy presents false conclusions from Dobzhansky’s and Goldschmidt’s work, especially lying about the creation of new species. New species are rather common in fruit fly work. If this is a damaging presentation to evolution, why doesn’t he present the real results of the research, the real conclusions of Dobzhansky — who was a devout Christian, by the way? Why does he lie about the work of good Christian men?
5. The presentation on Barbara McClintock’s work is truncated — but the guy’s up in the night. Genes were not known about, he claims? Genes were known about broadly after about 1900. McClintock was born two years later. Don’t take my word for it — but back to Dobzhansky for a moment: This LSOS Marshall talks about fruit fly research without mentioning Thomas Hunt Morgan, under whom Dobzhansky worked when Dobzhansky first got to America — when Marshall ignores the major theorist in the field for the early work, we can simply conclude that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Dobzhansky, who is quite famous among biologists, published one of his great lifetime works in 1937 — catch the year — and it was titled, Genetics and the Origin of Species. So, Marshall argues that we didn’t know about genes, when there were major works on genes published in English in 1937? He’s obviously wholly unfamiliar with the great Russian geneticists of the 1920s.
Does this gross and grotesque ignorance start to bother you yet? (You may read whole chapters of Dobzhansky’s book here: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/dobzhansky_genetics.html )
Why does Marshall think he can misrepresent the Nobel Prize winning work of a woman and get away with it? It’s well known that McClintock’s major work was done in the 1950s — not only were genes well known then, but DNA’s structure was figured out in 1953.
Marshall appears completely unencumbered by any knowledge of the history of biological research. Are creationists generally so out of it that they don’t bother to Google her up? McClintock’s work, on transposons, “jumping genes,” directly refutes many of the claims Marshall makes in his Google ad comedy routine. One has to wonder if he bothered to look at McClintock’s real work at all, or if he just imagined what he thought a “very old lady” (Marshall’s characterization) ought to be doing in science.
The gall of Marshall is appalling, isn’t it? We should keep children from seeing it just to let them avoid seeing such an obnoxious man.
6. Marshall’s claim that DNA is exactly like computer code is a fatuous error of monumental proportions. Do you really think he does not understand that there is a difference between chemistry and electronics? Is he such a monumental fool that he doesn’t understand the error of his claim?
7. Having gotten away with so much wool-pulling, I suppose Marshall thinks he can fabricate whole-cloth stories about anything and not get caught. On another page of that site:
When Darwin created his theory he stated his assumptions clearly in a true scientific method. He believed that cells were simple and if they were complex then his theory would be invalidated. To put it in other terms if the cell were as complex as an engine and a gun was fired through the engine which resulted in no immediate harm to the engine but instead improving the engine. If the cells were as complex as an engine than the theory would have problems.
That’s absolutely false. Darwin didn’t believe cells were simple. Darwin didn’t believe complexity of a cell would affect the validity of evolution in any way — Darwin’s evidence was almost all above the cellular level, so the complexity or simplicity of a cell was completely irrelevant to the function of evolution theory as Darwin discovered it.
It’s as if, having told a few fibs to get into this topic, Marshall and his accomplices must invent bigger and bigger fabrications as they go. There is a scientific term for this in psychology: Pathological lying.
So, why in the world would any Christian offer that presentation to kids trying to learn evolution? It offers no salient information for or against evolution, and nothing for design. It botches up what little evolution information it has. It suffers from a complete lack of critical thinking, instead relying on a false analogy to make its point. Why would any noble person offer to confuse and confound students so?
It was good of you to call those films to my attention, Wayne. You’re right, they shouldn’t be shown to children. They are garbage. I cannot imagine anyone hating children so much that they’d want to fill them up with boring, inaccurate, silly presentations like those. Marhall’s science wouldn’t get him past the 9th grade biology test on evolution here in Texas, and it’s well below high school understanding for any other biology classes. As for Marshall himself, I gather he’s no Christian. Any Christian would be familiar with Jesus’s teachings about those who would lead innocent children astray, repeated in three of the four gospels: “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:2; also see Mark 9:42 and Matthew 18:46). You can see why the Louisiana Coalition for Science is trying to keep Marshall from condemning himself.