Wintery Knight

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Darwinist Karl Giberson uses photo-shopped image of baby with tail in evolution debate

Evolution News reports.


OK, if there was any doubt that Karl Giberson’s tailed-baby photo is a Photoshop creation, that doubt is now dispelled. I emailed the creator of the image, photographer Larry Dunstan, to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. Yes, confirmed the helpful and candid Mr. Dunstan, it was created with Photoshop using a photo of a tail-free two-week-old baby. The tail is not genuine. It was generated by a computer, not by, as Giberson thought, a “gene for tails.”

The reader who found the source image on the Internet for me, over at Science Photo Library, works in graphic design and 3D modeling. Says reader Ryan, what made him leery was “the lack of shadow from the tail,” and the “framing and composition,” which don’t match what you’d expect from “a photo intended to document a mutation.”

Right. Casey and I had that same gut reaction, but it’s good to have our response confirmed by professionals — again.

[...]Why do I keep harping on this? Only because human origins is an ultimate question and using human “tails” as evidence for common descent is a mainstay of Darwin defenders.

Theistic evolutionist Dr. Giberson is noted for having criticized and broken with other Evangelical Christians over issues having to do with, according to his characterization, intellectual and scientific integrity. See his book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

Is Giberson right to be up on a high horse that way? I’m not a Christian so I don’t have his personal stake in the question. But Giberson, after complaining that my querying his use of this photo was “ad hominem” — which it obviously isn’t — characterizes me (and Casey Luskin) in a way that clearly is ad hominem.

Lest you think I am tricking you about this being used as evidence for evolution, here is Giberson in the Daily Beast reflecting on his debate performance.


I showed pictures of otherwise healthy humans who had been born with webbed feet and tails. I asked the challenging question: “Why does the human genome contain instructions for the production of features we don’t use?” The scientific explanation is that we inherited these instructions from our tailed ancestors but the instructions for producing them have been shut off in our genomes, which is why Shallow Hal is the only person most people know who has a tail. Sometimes the “ignore these genes” message gets lost in fetal development, however, and babies are born with perfectly formed, even functional tails.

Is he right about any of this?

Evolution News explains that he is not:

For now, here’s a crucial fact: even such so-called “tails” aren’t anything like those found in tailed mammals. That is for the simple reason that “true tails” in humans entirely lack vertebrae — or any kind of bone, cartilage, notochord, or spinal cord. As the aforementioned paper in the Journal of Neurosurgery explains:

In all reported cases, the vestigial human tail lacks bone, cartilage, notochord, and spinal cord. It is unique in this feature.2

Other prominent medical research journals agree:

  • A 2013 paper in the Journal of Child Neurology states: “True tails are boneless, midline protrusion usually attached to the skin of the sacrococcygeal region and capable of spontaneous or reflex motion. They consist of normal skin, connective tissue, muscle, vessels, and nerves and are covered by skin. Bone, cartilage, notochord, and spinal cord are lacking.”3
  • A paper from the Journal of Pediatric Surgery states: “The human vestigial tail lacks bone, cartilage, notochord, and spinal cord. It contains a central core of mature fatty tissue divided into small lobules by thin fibrous septa. Small blood vessels and nerve fibers are scattered throughout. Bundles of striated muscle fibers, sometimes degenerated, tend to aggregate in the center.”4
  • An article in the British Journal of Neurosurgery explains: “A true tail in humans is vestigial and never contains vertebrae in contrast to other vertebrate animals.”5
  • Most striking of all, perhaps, are the words of a famous paper on tails in The New England Journal of Medicine: “When the caudal appendage is critically examined, however, it is evident that there are major morphologic differences between the caudal appendage and the tails of other vertebrates. First of all, the caudal appendage does not contain even rudimentary vertebral structures. There are no well-documented cases of caudal appendages containing caudal vertebrae or an increased number of vertebrae in the medical literature, and there is no zoological precedent for a vertebral tail without caudal vertebrae.”6
  • Finally, an article in Human Pathology explains: “In humans a true tail, is vestigial, however, and never contains vertebrae. … Bona-fide cases of human tails containing bone have not been documented.”7

These observations certainly don’t make it sound like humans can have “perfectly formed, even functional tails.” In fact, it’s difficult to argue that any tail could be called “bona fide” if it isn’t “bone-fied.”

Where did Giberson find the image? In the humor magazine “Cracked”. That’s… chutzpah. I wonder if he used Dilbert comics as evidence in his PhD thesis?

Standard Operating Procedure

I think it’s a bad idea to use images from humor magazines as evidence for your point of view, but I think it’s par for the course with Darwinists, who are still using things like Haeckel’s embryos in science textbooks as evidence of evolution.

Who says? One of the top peer-reviewed science journals “Science“:

Using modern techniques, a British researcher has photographed embryos like those pictured in the famous, century-old drawings by Ernst Haeckel–proving that Haeckel’s images were falsified. Haeckel once admitted to his peers that he doctored the drawings, but that confession was forgotten.

Still used in textbooks, though. It’s “fake, but accurate”.

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Philip E. Johnson lectures on science, evolution and religion

I found this fun lecture by the grandfather of the big-tent intelligent design movement, Berkeley law professor Philip E. Johnson.

I’ll bet you guys have all heard of him, but you’ve never heard him speak, right? Well, I was a young man, I used to listen to Phil’s lectures and his debates with Eugenie Scott quite a bit. This is one of my favorite lectures. Very easy to understand, and boilerplate for anything else in the origins debate. This is a great lecture – funny, engaging and useful. You will definitely listen to this lecture several times if you listen to it once.

The MP3 is here. (91 minutes, 62 megabytes)

The Inherit the Wind stereotype

  • Many people get their understanding of origins by watching movies like “Inherit the Wind” (or reading science fiction)
  • The actual events of the Scopes trial are nothing like what the movie portrays
  • The law forbidding the teaching of evolution was symbolic, not meant to be enforced
  • The actual Scopes trial was a publicity stunt to attract attention to Dayton, TN to bring business to the town
  • The ACLU advertised for a teacher who would be willing to be sued
  • They found a substitute physical education teacher who would be willing to “break” the law
  • The movie is nothing like the actual events the movie is a morality play
  • The religious people are evil and stupid and ignorant and bigoted
  • The scientists and lawyers are all intelligent, romantic, and honest seekers of the truth
  • The religious people think that the Bible trumps science and science is not as reliable as the Bible
  • The movie argues that the reason why there is ANY dissent to evolution is because of Biblical fundamentalism
  • The movie presents the idea that there are no scientific problems with evolution
  • The movie says that ONLY Biblical fundamentalists who believe in 6 day, 24-hour creation doubt evolution
  • The movie says that Biblical fundamentalism are close-minded, and not open to scientific truth
  • The movie says that people who read the Bible as making factual claims are misinterpreting the Bible
  • The movie says that smart people read the Bible for comfort and feelings and arbitrary values, not for truth

Guided evolution and methodological naturalism

  • What scientists mean by evolution is that fully naturalistic, unguided, materialistic mechanisms caused the diversity of life
  • Scientists do not allow that God had any real objective effect on how life was created
  • Scientists think that nature did all the creating, and any mention of God is unnecessary opinion – God didn’t DO ANYTHING
  • Scientists operate with one overriding rule – you can only explain the physical world with physical and material causes
  • Scientists DO NOT allow that God could have done anything detectable by the sciences
  • Scientists WILL NOT consider the idea that natural, material processes might be INSUFFICIENT for explaining everything in nature
  • You cannot even ask the question about whether natural laws, matter and chance can explain something in nature
  • Intelligent causes can NEVER be the explanation for anything in nature, and you can’t even test experimentally to check that
  • Scientists ASSUME that everything can be explained with natural laws, matter and chance – no questioning of natural causes is allowed
  • Where no natural explanation of a natural phenomenon is available, scientists SPECULATE about undiscovered natural explanations
  • The assumption of naturalistic sufficiency is called “methodological naturalism”
  • To question the assumptions that natural is all there is, and that nature has to do its own creating, makes you an “enemy of science”
  • But Johnson says that naturalists are the enemies of science, because they are like the Biblical fundamentalists
  • Naturalists have a presumption that prevents them from being willing to follow the evidence where it is leading
  • Experiments are not even needed, because the presumption of naturalism overrides any experimental finding that falsifies the sufficiency of natural causes to explain some natural phenomenon

What can natural selection and mutation actually do?

  • what evolution has actually been observed to do is explain changing populations of moths and finches
  • finches with smaller or larger beaks are observed to have differential survival rates when there are droughts or floods
  • no new body plan or new organ type has been observed to emerge from these environmental pressures
  • the only kind of evolution that has been observed is evolution within types – no new genetic instructions are created
  • in textbooks, only confirming examples are presented – but what is required is a broad pattern of gradual development of species
  • if you look at the fossil record, what you see in most cases is variation within types based on changing environments
  • the real question is: can natural law and chance be observed to be doing any creating of body plans and organ types?

What kind of effect requires an intelligent cause?

  • the thing to be explained in the history of life is the functional information sequences
  • you need to have a sequence of symbols or characters that is sufficiently long
  • your long sequence of characters has to be sequenced in the right order to have biological function
  • the only thing that can create long sequences of functional information is an intelligent cause
  • intelligent design people accept micro-evolution – changes within types – because that’s been observed
  • the real thing to be explained is the first living cell’s functional information, and the creation of new functional information

Critical response

The next 15 minutes of the lecture contain a critical response from a philosophy professor who thinks that there have been no developments in design arguments since Aquinas and Paley. He basically confirms the stereotypes that Johnson outlined in the first part of the lecture. I recommend listening to this to see what opposition to intelligent design really looks like. It’s not concerned with answering scientific questions – they want to talk about God, the Bible and Noah’s ark. It’s our job to get people like this critic to focus on the science.

Here’s my snarky rendition of what he said:

1) Don’t take the Bible literally, even if the genre is literal.

  • all opposition to evolution is based on an ignorant, fundamentalist, literal reading of the Bible
  • the Bible really doesn’t communicate anything about the way the world really is
  • the Bible is just meant to suggest certain opinions and experiences which you may find fetching, or not, depending on your feelings and community
  • if Christians would just interpret the Bible as myths and opinions on par with other personal preferences, then evolution is no threat to religious belief

2) As long as you treat the design argument as divorced from evidence, it’s not very effective

  • the latest and best version of the design argument is the old Paley argument which involves no experimental data, so I’ll critique that
  • this 200-year old argument which doesn’t rely on science has serious problems, and unnamed Christians agree with me!
  • Christians should NOT try to prove God’s existence using evidence from the natural world (as Romans 1 says), and in fact it’s “Pelagianism” to even try
  • Christians should divorce their faith from logic and evidence even though the Bible presents faith as being rooted in reason and evidence
  • Christians should not tie their faith to the science of today, because science is always changing and the theism-friendly evidence of today might be overturned tomorrow
  • It’s a good idea for me to critique the arguments of 1000-year old people who did not know anything about the cosmic fine-tuning argument – that’s fair!
  • I find it very useful to tell people that the argument from design is false without mentioning any design arguments from DNA or cosmic fine-tuning
  • We need to assume that the natural world is explainable using only natural causes before we look at any evidence
  • We should assume that natural causes create all life, and then rule out all experimental evidence for intelligent causes that we have today
  • As long as you accept that God is a personal opinion that has nothing to do with reality, then you can do science
  • The non-Christian process theologian Teilhard de Chardin accepts evolution, and therefore so should you
  • Remember when theists said God caused thunder because he was bowling in the clouds and then we found out he didn’t? Yeah well – maybe tomorrow we’ll find out that functional sequences of amino acids and proteins have natural causes! What would you do then?

3) What the Bible really says is that you should be a political liberal

Q&A time

The lecture concludes with 13 minutes of questions.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer debates Peter D. Ward on intelligent design and evolution

The speakers

Stephen C. Meyer is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and a founder both of the intelligent design movement and of the CSC, intelligent design’s primary intellectual and scientific headquarters. Dr. Meyer is a Cambridge University-trained philosopher of science, the author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, philosophical and other books and journals. His signal contribution to ID theory is given most fully in Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, published by HarperOne in June 2009.

Graduating from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, in 1981 with a degree in physics and earth science, he later became a geophysicist with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in Dallas, Texas. From 1981 to 1985, he worked for ARCO in digital signal processing and seismic survey interpretation. As a Rotary International Scholar, he received his training in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, earning a PhD in 1991. His thesis offered a methodological interpretation of origin-of-life research.

Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., is a paleontologist and professor in the Departments of Geology and Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also serves as an adjunct professor of zoology and astronomy. His research specialties include the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event and mass extinctions generally. His books include the best-selling “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe” (co-author Donald Brownlee, 2000), “Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future” (2007), and “The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?” (2009).

The debate

Here’s the video of the debate:

The debate itself starts at around 8:19, after all the moderators have spoken.

The debate is focused on disagreements about scientific evidence.

Even though Peter Ward is an atheist, he has co-written a fabulous book that I own and have read called “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe“. I really recommend getting this book, as it is a great book by two non-theists on the habitability argument. It’s sort of a secular precursor to Jay Richards’ and Guillermo Gonzalez’s “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery“. The habitability argument is a really neglected argument, but it’s a good one.

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Another example of convergence found in human and squid eye genes

We have to start this post with the definition of convergence in biology.

In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

It is the opposite of divergent evolution, where related species evolve different traits.

On a molecular level, this can happen due to random mutation unrelated to adaptive changes; see long branch attraction. In cultural evolution, convergent evolution is the development of similar cultural adaptations to similar environmental conditions by different peoples with different ancestral cultures. An example of convergent evolution is the similar nature of the flight/wings of insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats.

All four serve the same function and are similar in structure, but each evolved independently.

With that being said, here is an article from Real Clear Science with me. (H/T Melissa from Science, Faith and Reason)


Eyes and wings are among the most stunning innovations evolution has created. Remarkably these features have evolved multiple times in different lineages of animals. For instance, the avian ancestors of birds and the mammalian ancestors of bats both evolved wings independently, in an example of convergent evolution. The same happened for the eyes of squid and humans. Exactly how such convergent evolution arises is not always clear.

In a new study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers have found that, despite belonging to completely different lineages, humans and squid evolved through tweaks to the same gene.

Like all organs, the eye is the product of many genes working together. The majority of those genes provide information about how to make part of the eye. For example, one gene provides information to construct a light-sensitive pigment. Another gene provides information to make a lens.

Most of the genes involved in making the eye read like a parts list – this gene makes this, and that gene makes that. But some genes orchestrate the construction of the eye. Rather than providing instructions to make an eye part, these genes provide information about where and when parts need to be constructed and assembled. In keeping with their role in controlling the process of eye formation, these genes are called “master control genes”.

The most important of master control genes implicated in making eyes is called Pax6. The ancestral Pax6 gene probably orchestrated the formation of a very simple eye – merely a collection of light-sensing cells working together to inform a primitive organism of when it was out in the open versus in the dark, or in the shade.

Today the legacy of that early Pax6 gene lives on in an incredible diversity of organisms, from birds and bees, to shellfish and whales, from squid to you and me. This means the Pax6 gene predates the evolutionary diversification of these lineages – during the Cambrian period, some 500m years ago.

I asked Melissa if this was another example of “convergence”, and she said it was. That’s because the gene is present in animals that DO NOT SHARE A COMMON ANCESTOR. In short, this is exactly identical to the case where a computer programmer reuses the same library of functions in two completely different programs. For example, using the Apache CXF web service library to create two completely different REST-like web services with two completely different clients. (Which is what I am doing at work right now!).

This example of convergence makes no sense on naturalistic evolution – you can evolve the same gene so many times in animals with no common ancestry. It screams out design. See the related posts below for more examples of convergence, and remember that the more we know about science, the more difficult the problem becomes for a naturalist.

Related posts



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Psychologist recommends Darwinian storytelling to suppress design intuitions

Amy Hall of Stand to Reason linked to this post by David Klinghoffer on Evolution News.


The Wall Street Journal salutes the research of Boston University psychologist Deborah Kelemen. She has discovered that it’s possible with Darwinian storytelling to suppress common sense in children of the kind that leads them to recognize artifacts of intelligent design in nature.

The Journal notes that quite apart from religious instruction, kids are primed to see life as reflecting “intentional design.” It’s intuitive. The corrective is to catch them at an early age and train them to see things in a Darwinian light.

By elementary-school age, children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them — even children brought up as atheists. Kids aged 6 to 10 have developed their own coherent “folk biological” theories. …

Dr. Kelemen and her colleagues thought that they might be able to get young children to understand the mechanism of natural selection before the alternative intentional-design theory had become too entrenched. They gave 5- to 8-year-olds 10-page picture books that illustrated an example of natural selection. The “pilosas,” for example, are fictional mammals who eat insects. Some of them had thick trunks, and some had thin ones. A sudden change in the climate drove the insects into narrow underground tunnels. The thin-trunked pilosas could still eat the insects, but the ones with thick trunks died. So the next generation all had thin trunks.

Before the children heard the story, the experimenters asked them to explain why a different group of fictional animals had a particular trait. Most of the children gave explanations based on intentional design. But after the children heard the story, they answered similar questions very differently: They had genuinely begun to understand evolution by natural selection. That understanding persisted when the experimenters went back three months later.

One picture book, of course, won’t solve all the problems of science education. But these results do suggest that simple story books like these could be powerful intellectual tools. The secret may be to reach children with the right theory before the wrong one is too firmly in place.

There are a number of interesting points here. First, that the example of natural selection is fictional. The mammalian order Pilosa (anteaters and sloths) is real, but “pilosas” are not. Second, it is decidedly in the micro-evolutionary realm — a kind of evolution that no one disputes, certainly not advocates of the theory of intelligent design. There’s no reason to think that the “pilosas” are on their way to true speciation, of the kind that evolutionary theory is really challenged to account for, any more than Darwin’s finches. The extrapolation from such a trivial thing into the origin of all species and all biological complexity by unguided natural processes is a cheat.

Most enlightening is that Dr. Kelemen and her colleagues would, to begin with, seek to talk children out of their intuitive response. Among ID researchers, the approach would be to test that intuition, objectively weighing the empirical evidence without preconceptions. Dr. Kelemen would “suppress” it: her own word!

The abstract of her research publication calls the Darwinian storytelling “interventions”. 

I do think it’s important for parents to counter what these educators are interested in doing to their children.

First, it’s important for parents to consider whether teachers are paid for their work (by parents who use privates schools) or whether their salary is coming from the government (parents are forced by law to pay taxes for government-run “public” schools), which has other purposes for children than parents have.  Second, it’s important for parents to decide how they intend to explain to their children the difference between macroevolution and microevolution, lest naturalistic educators use evidence for microevolution as a way of persuading children to accept macroevolution. Third, parents have to decide how to teach their children about the the standard cosmology, cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion – each of which is lethal to naturalism, and each of which is more rooted in experimental science than clumsy storytelling. Unfortunately, the good evidence that modern science offers is largely unknown to most parents, who still trust teachers to teach children truth and practical skills.

I do think it’s important for parents to have some sort of plan for dealing with this, and money to fund their plan. The BU professor is obviously not capable of winning an argument about Darwinism with a grown-up with a good knowledge of the facts, but that’s not her purpose. She is a psychologist in Boston – it’s unlikely she is familiar with actual experimental science related to origins. She’s not interested in debating William Lane Craig or Stephen C. Meyer – she’s never even heard of them. She doesn’t want to talk about the details of experimental science with someone who has an awareness of it, she just wants to pass her own religion (naturalism) on to your children when they are too young to know how to resist her. And I’m sure that she’d like the assistance of a secular government to accomplish that. And believe me, there are powerful people who are very interested in helping her, and in making sure that no parent can stop her from indoctrinating their children.

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