January 31, 2008

Where are all the brain fossils?

PZ Myers, a developmental biologist from Minnesota and proprietor of the famous blog Pharyngula, has announced for Jesus and converted to Christianity.

Not really, but he did turn up on a local Christian radio station today. And, to great comic effect, so did a man by the name of Geoffrey Simmons, one of the most idiotic creationists in recent memory.

Simmons is another of these "fellows" with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank devoted to propagandizing on behalf of "intelligent design," the latest ongoing and spectacular failure at Reclaiming Science for Christ.™ Simmons has written a couple of books, one comparing Darwin's 19th century knowledge of physiology with 21st century medicine (Simmons is an M.D. and Darwin predictably doesn't fare very well) and another purporting to discuss in depth the fossil record.

Simmons's publisher, Harvest House Books, says it's committed to providing "products that affirm Biblical values" and "proclaim Jesus Christ as the answer to every human need." If Simmons ever needed Jesus, it was this afternoon. Some relevant facts would have been helpful also. Nay, verily, even just one. Sadly, it was not to be.

Apparently PZ was invited to impart on the topic of "evidence for evolution versus evidence for intelligent design" (read: tons v. none). But things began to go awry 90 minutes before airtime when PZ received a message from the station informing him that Simmons agreed to participate, but only on the patently ridiculous question, "Are Darwin's theories fact or faith issues?"

Despite immediately sensing shenanigans, PZ soldiered on, appeared at the appointed time, and proceeded to casually and affably pick clean the hapless bones of Dr. Simmons. According to the show's hosts, the audio will be available tomorrow at its website, KKMS.com. It's worth a listen.

During the "debate," Simmons made a number of false claims about the fossil record, an area in which, the radio hosts informed us, Simmons is "expert." Simmons, for example, declared there are no pre-whale fossils demonstrating some of the physical features characteristic of modern whales. The truth is, the evolutionary history of whales has involved some of the most revelatory endeavors in paleontology of late, owing to the discovery of a number of remarkable confirmations of evolution throughout the Indian Ocean.

PZ rattled off a number of such examples, none of which Simmons had even heard of, but said he'd once read an article in Scientific American, or something. While sleeping at a Holiday Inn, I bet.

One of the funnier exchanges occurred during a comparison of human and chimpanzee brains. Finding himself in uncomfortable agreement with PZ on the numerable close similarities, Simmons was moved to suddenly demur when PZ observed that the only substantive difference between the two organs was their relative volumes. Simmons then began to declaim on the distinctions, offering as evidence — wait for it — an anecdote about being able to play both concertos and "rock 'n' roll songs" on the piano.

Take that, godless evilutionist!

But the grandest insight came from another Discovery Institute drone, commenting at Uncommon Descent, the blog of William Dembski, one of ID's leading dim bulbs. The commenter, skeptical of PZ's claim that much is known about brain evolution, posed the apparently rhetorical question, "Does anyone know of any brain fossils?" This is what passes for evidence of intelligent design, incidentally. Life must have been designed because there are no brain fossils. While the Designer may have been intelligent, its disciples, not so much.

Never mind that the brain is composed of soft tissue, and is rather unlikely to fossilize. And never mind that the fossil record is only one of any number of evidences for evolution. Generally, it's bones that fossilize, so if a well preserved human brain is ever discovered, it's guaranteed to be that of a creationist.


Other Side said...

Brain fossils? OMG (G=good golly Ms Molly)!

Thanks, I'll be chuckling all day over brain fossils.

illusory tenant said...

Here you go. That's a direct link to an .mp3 file of the broadcast, by the way.

There are many, many highly entertaining moments. Another occurs when Simmons claims the fossil record is "even more incomplete" than it was in Darwin's day.

Seriously though, PZ does a fine job at reiterating some of the baseline questions.

Other Side said...

I was amused that Dr. Simmons claimed to have been an evolutionist for 40 years (though on his site he says he's studied it). And yet, he was confused over the scientific meaning of theory.

Remind me the next time I'm in Oregon (where Simmons practices medicine) and I get ill to specify that he not be my physician. I wouldn't want him theorizing my cure.

Display Name said...

Well, a recent ~100,000 y.o. hominid from China did (reportedly) show some "fossilized membrane on the inner side".

Pharyngula posted about me once!

illusory tenant said...

Ah, the Power Team. Good times.