The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Blackballed Film, Charles Darwin

The Daily Telegraph ran an interesting, if depressing, story last week, detailing the failure of Creation, the new Charles Darwin biopic (trailer above) to find a US distributor. The film, according to its producer, Jeremy Thomas, has been blackballed because evolution is too controversial for American audiences.

Equally depressing, however, is another article that appeared in the same newspaper just a couple of days earlier. Creation, it claimed, had "sparked fresh debate on the theory of evolution", and it followed up with a list of "the top five arguments on either side of this monumental disagreement".

It beggars belief that this list has appeared in a serious newspaper. It's just the sort of thing that gets science reporting a bad name.

Leaving aside the fact that there is no serious scientific debate as to whether evolution has happened, as opposed to how, the arguments cited by the Telegraph, on both sides, are a mixture of the wrong, the misleading, and the irrelevant.

The very first entry is probably the worst:

"There is no evidence for evolution. There is no evidence that evolution has occurred because no transitional forms exist in fossils... Perhaps because of this, a suprising number of contemporary scientists support the Creation theory".

The truth of the second part of this statement depends on how easily surprised you are, I suppose. Of course there are a few maverick scientists who believe in creationism, just as there are a few scientists who believe in the paranormal. There are a lot of scientists out there, and some of them are bound to believe strange things. But the idea that there's a significant element of the scientific community that does not accept evolution is simply untrue. It's no more a matter of serious academic debate than the existence of gravity.

The idea that there's no evidence for evolution, however, is still more staggeringly wrong -- and relying on the supposed absence of transitional fossils is just plain silly. Even the cleverer creationists out there have abandoned that one. Every fossil, of course, is a transitional fossil in some sense. And there are a large number of fossils that demonstrate very clearly features of two different kinds, which might plausibly be described as intermediate forms.

Archaeopteryx is one. Tiktaalik roseae, the "fishapod" that may have been among the first creatures to make the transition from land to water, is another -- it's the subject of Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish, a contender for the Royal Society Science Books Prize next week. And Brian Switek's readers have been cheerfully rounding up their favourites at his Laelaps blog.

As arguments against evolution go, the idea that there's "no evidence" is a pretty rich one. Richard Dawkins, after all, has just written a whole book, The Greatest Show on Earth, that gathers all the very copious evidence in one place.

Sad to say, the Telegraph's list of the "five best arguments for evolution" does none of this evidence justice at all. The paper could have cited Tiktaalik. It's especially convincing, in my view, because its discovery amounted to a sort of predictive palaeontology -- Shubin's team worked out where they could find rocks of the right age for a transitional fossil of this sort, then went out and found their fossil.

Or it could have cited Richard Lenski's experiments with bacteria, or Allan Wilson and Vincent Sarich's discovery of the DNA molecular clock. The former, incidentally, is beautifully summarised in Dawkins's new book, while the latter discovery is the subject of a great chapter in Sean Carroll's Remarkable Creatures.

Instead, we get two dreadful non-sequiturs:


Objects in space, which are more than 8,000 light years away, can be seen from earth.

No imagination stretchers

Show me Noah’s boat.

Now, it's true that objects in space (some of which are much further away than 8,000 light years) can be seen from Earth. And, to my knowledge at least, nobody has found Noah's ark. But neither of these are among the arguments for evolution at all, never mind among the five best ones. They simply have nothing to do with the subject.

For a full debunking of these and all the other Telegraph claims, have a read of PZ Myers' typically forthright take on Pharyngula. And for a taste of the mass of evidence for evolution, do read the books by Dawkins, Carroll and Shubin I've mentioned above.

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