As his recent posts in these pages demonstrate, Nick Matzke loves cladistics, and for reasons that defy explication, he seems to think that cladistics demonstrates – rather than assumes – common descent. It really is a stumper.
One wonders if his faith commitment to metaphysical naturalism renders him unable to see the circularity of his arguments, or if he does see it and just chooses to look the other way. My money is on the former. I think he is literally unable to grasp the obvious question begging that is immediately apparent to those who do not share his faith.
David Berlinski’s skewering of Matzke is particularly fun to watch:
[P]hylogenetic methods as they exist now,” [Matzke] writes, “can only rigorously detect sister-group relationships, not direct ancestry, and, crucially, … this is neither a significant flaw, nor any sort of challenge to common ancestry, nor any sort of evidence against evolution.” But there can be no sisters without parents, and if cladistic analysis cannot detect their now mythical ancestors, it is hard to see what is obtained by calling them sisters. No challenge to common ancestry? Fine. But no support for common ancestry either. Questions of ancestry go beyond every cladistic system of classification, no matter the character states. . . .
The relationship between cladistics and Darwin’s theory of evolution is thus one of independent origin but convergent confusion. “Phylogenetic systematics,” the entomologist Michael Schmitt remarks, “relies on the theory of evolution.” To the extent that the theory of evolution relies on phylogenetic systematics, the disciplines resemble two biologists dropped from a great height and clutching at one another in mid-air.
Tight fit, major fail.
By the way, I have quoted Berlinski. Matzke’s is always yelling “quote mining!!” whenever he sees a quote with which he disagrees. Let me be clear, then, what I am quoting Berlinski for. I am quoting him for the proposition that Nick Matzke is a fool who cannot see the obvious circularity of attempting to support Darwinian evolution through cladistics methods. I am pretty sure that in context this is what Berlinski means.