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Misleading Evolutionary Myths & Misconceptions – New Scientist

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Per recommendations, here is a separate thread on:

Michael Le Page weighing in at New Scientist with:

Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions

18:00 16 April 2008
He provides the mother pie statement that:

Darwin presented compelling evidence for evolution in On the Origin and, since his time, the case has become overwhelming. . . . Evolution is as firmly established a scientific fact as the roundness of the Earth.

This might be tolerable if “evolution” is limited to microevolution defined as mutations and heritable variations in populations. e.g., to “fast-changing viruses such as HIV and H5N1 bird flu” — except that he gives equal weight to the controversial “pollution-matching pepper moth”.Le Page then begs the question of macroevolution stating that:

DNA sequencing has confirmed beyond any doubt that all living creatures share a common origin.

Such are the skills of those who “strain out the cell and swallow the whale”, trying to persuade us of this Just-so story of from “goo to you via way of the zoo.”

Following are Le Page’ lists (with labels SM# added to Shared Myths, and CM# added to Creationist Myths):

So here is New Scientist’s guide to some of the most common myths and misconceptions about evolution.

There are already several good and comprehensive guides out there. But most biologists would probably agree that there can never be too many.

Shared misconceptions:
SM1 Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selection

SM2 Natural selection is the only means of evolution

SM3 Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexity

SM4 Evolution produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environment

SM5 Evolution always promotes the survival of species

SM6 It doesn’t matter if people do not understand evolution

SM7 “Survival of the fittest” justifies “everyone for themselves”

SM8 Evolution is limitlessly creative

SM9 Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexuality

SM10 Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution

Creationist myths:
CM1 Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant

CM2 Accepting evolution undermines morality

CM3 Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocide

CM4 Religion and evolution are incompatible

CM5 Half a wing is no use to anyone

CM6 Evolutionary science is not predictive

CM7 Evolution cannot be disproved so is not science

CM8 Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex life forms

CM9 Evolution is an entirely random process

CM10 Mutations can only destroy information, not create it

CM11 Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolution

CM12 The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

CM13 Yet more creationist misconceptions

CM14 Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics

See full article:

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Following comments are transferred over from
An Intelligent Discussion about Life – Chapman
#1 CN
In comments, please refer to SM# or CM# to help locate similar issues.

OFF TOPIC but useful me thinks:

From NewScientist

Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/dn13620?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn13620

Rebuttal anyone?
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#2 nullasalus
I find their entry on the myth of ‘Evolution and religion are incompatible’ as particularly poor. And I believe they -are- compatible.

Trying to offer up pantheism is a weak move that will just serve to make people misunderstand things more than anything else. Arguing that there’s ‘nothing supernatural’ about what makes us human goes over the bounds of science as well (just defining ‘supernatural’ is itself a point of debate.)

The article smacks of ‘Sure, you can be religious and accept evolution – but only on our terms’.
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#3 God’s iPod
Some people may want to go leave some comments on Digg here: http://digg.com/general_sciences/Evolution_24_myths_and_misconceptions
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#4 Jack Golightly
The New Scientist article probably needs it’s own thread.

Bruce Chapman’s article is very well done. What a breath of fresh air, as opposed to the drenched-in-bias vitriol that is usually served up in MSM.
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#5 God’s iPod
The comments left on Digg surprise me. I have never met anyone that believes in evolution that is THAT blind. These people have no clue about evolution, and yet they sit there and argue it repeating the stupidest comments I have ever seen on any topic. Where DO these people live??? I want to meet them…
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Let the critique continue:

20 Replies to “Misleading Evolutionary Myths & Misconceptions – New Scientist

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    I’ll start with CM#1, which leads to a passage in the article that would make any Christian laugh out loud.

    “The Bible is full of historical and scientific inaccuracies.”

    Such a bold assertation can be made only if one has failed to even read the Bible or, more likely, failed to understand the context of what’s being read. For centuries, the Bible has withstood critical attack and time and time again it has been vindicated. When the Bible touches on health or science, its accounts have repeatedly been proven reliable. .” I also noticed that the writer of the article doesn’t bother to give Scriptural references for what he states are Biblical errors.

    Starting with cosmology, as the article did, the Bible most certainly does not state that the earth is flat. Isaiah 40:22 describes God as dwelling “above the circle of the earth.” Because of the lack of Scriptural references, I can find nothing indicating that the moon emits its own light or that the sky is solid. With respect to stars being shaken from the sky by earthquakes, this is relatively simple to explain. It’s from the book of Revelation (6:12,13) and it is symbolic, not literal. Really, why is it that so many believe that every word in the Bible must be taken literally? Are the reading comprehension skills of the unbelievers really that bad?
    I had planned on continuing with the other objections, but the copious amount of bad theology and Biblical illiteracy in that article gave me a headache.

  2. 2
    selectedpete says:

    I posted at their site re: SM6

    When you say “evolution” what do you mean? All of your articles throw this term around as though there is no nuance to the theory. This makes it nice and easy for you to caricaturize critics. Most of your detractors take no issues with micro evolution – it’s when you go macro on us and say things like “it’s fact” that just does not ring true.

    Your fishing example is a lovely example of the micro – but why not use a good solid example of macro once in a while? Why do I never see that in literature?

    MSNBC loves to write cute little articles about guppies in Trinidad selecting for larger, longer, fatter guppies because they have no predators. Where’s the story about guppies developing into whole new species? Why not have the intellectual honesty to say we’re sure about this, but we’re not sure about that because we never once observed it?

  3. 3
    WinstonEwert says:

    SM10 is my favorite:

    Step 1. Define Creationism as broadly as possible.
    Step 2. Criticize it for being too broad.

    I could as well define Darwinism as being anything other then Young-Earth Creationism and then criticize it for the same reason.

  4. 4
    nullasalus says:

    One problem I have with the article is the same problem I have with every discussion of science and faith – they mention that there’s ‘no evidence of design’ in nature. But there’s no evidence of true randomness or purposelessness either. They only say one to imply the other – it’s dishonest.

    I can’t help but feel that when they wrote their section on religion and evolution, they were grudgingly following some talking points, but wanted to do so only in the most minimal, guarded way possible. Lest we dirty theists draw some inspiration from something that doesn’t belong to us (science, apparently.)

  5. 5
    GilDodgen says:

    CM12 The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex
    Basically the hopeless co-option fantasy, plus redefining IC as the parts not having any other potential uses.

    SM9 Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexuality
    A fine example of storytelling passed off as fact.

  6. 6
    SCheesman says:

    More silliness about the flagellum:

    Think of a stone archway: hundreds of years after the event, how do you prove how it was built? It might not be possible to prove that the builders used wooden scaffolding to support the arch when it was built, but this does not mean they levitated the stone blocks into place.

    The point is, we can think of all kinds of ways to build a stone arch step-by-step; erosion can even produce artificial arches. Give us just ONE way a flagellum can be put together, where each intermediate form is functional and advantageous. So this is, in fact, an excellent example to prove the opposite of what they want to prove.

  7. 7
    bFast says:

    selectedpete:

    When you say “evolution” what do you mean? All of your articles throw this term around as though there is no nuance to the theory. … it’s when you go macro on us and say things like “it’s fact” that just does not ring true.

    selectedpete, I wholely agree with the first part of your statement, that there are nuances to the term “evolution”. Universal Common Descent has been represented as “the fact of evolution”. Traditionally, if you accepted UCD, you had freedom to wonder about the cause of variation. Many IDers respect UCD, even more respect limited common descent (that some species are the descendants of a common ancester, that speciation without special creation does occur.) Now it seems that Unguided Variation plus natural selection has snuck in as the new “fact of evolution”. This is a new puppy. And this dog don’t, in my opinion, hunt.

  8. 8
    bFast says:

    On our dear friend the flagellum, did you notice that all but 2 genes have what you might call cousin genes? What about the two. They are orfan genes — genes whose only purpose is the flagellum, genes that left no trail of ancestry. Orfan genes are, on average, about 300 nucleotides long. Their structure must be precise enough to work. Try making a 300 piece contraption out of lego, and see if it works. Now try giving the lego to your pet monkey. Two orfan genes is plenty enough to blow any gradual flagellum theory right out the water.

  9. 9
    Berceuse says:

    I’m disappointed in NewScientist for this. Anyone else feel conflicted when a magazine they otherwise enjoy taints their credibility with such naturalism?

  10. 10
    Berceuse says:

    I forgot to mention, did anyone else see the article they had done on music a month or so ago? The article was desperately trying to deduce the evolutionary development behind why we love it so much.

  11. 11
    DLH says:

    Berceuse at 8
    “Taints” might better be stated “Picasso splashes”. It is seriously self destructive to New Scientist to be so adamantly biased against the foundational beliefs of clear majority of the country – AND against the very foundations of the Republic as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

  12. 12
    nullasalus says:

    I wouldn’t have minded most of the entries on ‘correcting misconceptions’, but their entries on religion were abominable and uninformed.

    Ah well. One more reason to be vigilant about separating science from philosophy.

  13. 13
    Douglas Moran says:

    “DNA sequencing has confirmed beyond any doubt that all living creatures share a common origin.”

    It’s hard not to agree with this statement, although its context is important. I think all of us here at ID would agree that all known life shares a set of building blocks integrated into unique architectures that differentiate one life form from another. That DNA evidence supports the strategy of reuse of common parts should not be misconstrued as evidence for evolution by random mutation and natural selection. Rather, it is evidence for an intelligent designer who defined basic building blocks and then constructed a pleathora of “things” from those blocks.

    If you’ve never played with Legos you won’t understand this concept: reuse of common building blocks is a strategy of design driven by intelligent forces, not by random serendipity.

  14. 14

    Barb, I also thought that chapter attacking the Bible was ludicrous. The christophobic author relies on suhc amazingly scholarly sources as Wikipedia (The Abomination that Causes Misinformation), the Religious Tolerance bozos (tolerant of everything except biblical Christianity), and that moronic Skeptics Annotated Bible (see thorough demolition) LOL. It’s crazy that New Scientist even uses the pi=3 canard, although Ph.D. mathematicians at the Math Forum confirmed that the Bible is not mistaken here (heard of the concept of approximation? duh).

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Dr Sarfati,

    Just for fun on the issue of operational definition vs rhetoric:

    –> On the pi tickler in 1 Ki 7:23, no less a personage than the late Dr Henry Morris pointed out that the vessel in question was a handbreadth [1 Ki 7:26], ~ 4″ wide at its lip [maybe, folder over, cup-like adn lily-like [as described in the text] — hate to think of solid bronze vessel of that size, 4″ thick!].

    –> If the circumferential measure was taken on the inside, and we use an 18″ cubit — distance from elbow to extended fingers, just as a yard is distance from fingertips to nose (do a nose-tip salute with extended fingers and the elbow held out straight, to see how one is 1/2 the other) and as an inch was three barleycorns from the middle of an ear — both reasonable, we will see that the result is precise enough for carpentry work.

    Inner circumference: 30 x 18 = 540″

    Inner diameter: (10 X 18) – 8 = 172″

    Ratio: C:D = 3.1395 . . . ~ 3.14

    Also (3.142 – 3.14)/3.142 ~ 0.06%, not bad for even metal work. [And yes, I know: 3.1415926539 . . . rattling off from memory.]

    So, maybe the makers of the vessel were a little less ignorant than today’s evo mat skeptics tend to asume or assert? [As in, is there a REASONABLE basis for the result you are criticising, Senor Skeptic? Or, are you blinded by the bigoted notion that those who differ with you must therefore be ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked?]

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Thought New Scientist was still UK based?

  16. 16
    Jason Rennie says:

    “So, maybe the makers of the vessel were a little less ignorant than today’s evo mat skeptics tend to asume or assert”

    I’d say it is a given. Significantly brain damaged bowls of custard are less ignorant on biblical matters than your average “skeptic”.

  17. 17
    Jason Rennie says:

    Whoops, that should read.

    Significantly brain damaged bowls of custard are less ignorant on biblical matters than your average “skeptic” when it comes to the topic of religion.

    Certianly a noisy gong like Dawkins falls into that category.

  18. 18
    DLH says:

    nullalasus at 12

    Ah well. One more reason to be vigilant about separating science from philosophy.

    Equally important to IDENTIFY the materialistic metaphyisical ASSUMPTIONS of neo-Darwinism.
    Especially in light of their increasing totalitarian efforts to impose their minority world view on the rest of the world. e.g., see Expelled.

  19. 19
    SteveB says:

    “but their entries on religion were abominable and uninformed.”

    Indeed. My response to NS is reproduced here:

    It is quite ironic that New Scientist is in the business of passing along myths in an article that allegedly seeks to debunk them.

    Let’s say I have a text (call it “X”) and assert that there are “hundreds of errors and inaccuracies and contradictions found in X,” as New Scientist does. In support of this claim, a reader might expect to find, if not hundreds, at least several actual examples of such errors.

    Instead, we have links to wiki articles which include quotations like the following (in which nominals have been replaced with a variable): “The X account is… generally discarded by Y,” “The X are considered by some Y to also be mythical…” “The X on the other hand, is a matter of heated debate…”

    Where are the alleged contradictions? Certainly not in wiki.

    But fear not, they do get around to producing one that can be tested (which is scientific–good for them for getting this much right). In support of the claim, they give us the following quotation from I Chronicles.

    “The sons of Shemaiah: Huttush, Igal, Bariah, Neriah, and Shaphat, six”

    Looks bad, doesn’t it? But the problem isn’t that the ancient Hebrews couldn’t add, it’s that the folks at New Scientist apparently can’t read. The entire quote from the book of I Chronicles reads as follows:

    “The descendants of Shecaniah were Shemaiah, AND the sons of Shemaiah: Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah and Shaphat, six.”

    Now, here’s the hard question: How many descendants are listed? If you think it’s not 6, you qualify to do research at New Scientist.

    The easy question: if New Scientist demonstrably either can’t read, can’t add, or worse–doesn’t CARE to read or add as long as their thesis is propped up–how trustwothy can its portrayal of the actual state of evolutionary biology be?

  20. 20
    Reg says:

    @bililiad:

    Totally. Which part of “evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information” don’t these morons understand!

    Many Christians in this country will find your implication that the Holy Bible is an interpretation by fallible people who did not possess all information – instead of the inerrant words of God – offensive. Many do consider Genesis to be literally accurate, complete with a real talking snake and all modern land-dwellers being really descended from survivors taken aboard by Noah before the waters did drown everything, only repopulating the Earth after the Ark made landfall.

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