Bechly and Swamidass: For and Against ID

Now this is helpful for me. :+1:

1 Like

According to what ID proponents like Behe mean by that term, many of us are. He’s stated that basically anything you might want to include in modern evolutionary theory, such as neutral theory, CNE, HGT, endosymbiosis, and population phenomena, it’s all just “Darwinism” to him.

Honestly I think that’s how all the higher-ups in the ID movement think. Regardless of how much emphasis you put on selection, drift, or what have you, If God isn’t explicitly in the picture, it’s “Darwinism”.

You must mean valid, because they definitely haven’t been shown to be sound.

They’re trying to have it both ways. The Big Tent of ID is so big it contains mutually contradictory positions. Some are YEC, others are OEC. Some like Denton have argued that life’s evolutionary history was sort of an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, while others (Behe) argue evolution can only ever cause some ill-defined form of “degeneration” and therefor requires constant acts of guidance and poof interventions by God. Denton then writes warm abiding endorsements of Behe’s book, which flat out contradicts his own. Go figure…


Listen to the first four minutes of this presentation by Günter Bechly on the fossil record:

This is extremely misleading nonsense. Günter references a paper that says mostly FAMILIES of organisms in the Cenozoic and Mesozoic are well represented in the fossil record, to argue that the fossil record is essentially complete, so he can dismiss all appeals to taphonomy.
Here’s the paper:

Gunter shows the abstract in his talk, with this sentence(in bold) highlighted:

Measuring the completeness of the fossil record is essential to understanding evolution over long timescales, particularly when comparing evolutionary patterns among biological groups with different preservational properties. Completeness measures have been presented for various groups based on gaps in the stratigraphic ranges of fossil taxa1,2 and on hypothetical lineages implied by estimated evolutionary trees3±5. Here we present and compare quantitative, widely applicable absolute measures of completeness at two taxonomic levels for a broader sample of higher taxa of marine animals than has previously been available. We provide an estimate of the probability of genus preservation per stratigraphic interval6,7, and determine the proportion of living families with some fossil record8±10. The two completeness measures use very different data and calculations. The probability of genus preservation depends almost entirely on the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic records, whereas the proportion of living families with a fossil record is influenced largely by Cenozoic data. These measurements are nonetheless highly correlated, with outliers quite explicable, and we find that completeness is rather high for many animal groups.

When we also go into the paper and read, we find this:

The proportion of living chondrichthyan families with a fossil record is high because many families can be extended back in time on the basis of fossil teeth. It is instructive to divide the fossil genera into those ®rst appearing during the Palaeozoic Era and those ®rst appearing during the Mesozoic (Fig. 2b). Many Palaeozoic forms are whole-body fossils from deposits with exceptional preservation12. These are thus single-interval taxa, contributing to low estimates of completeness (see Methods). Mesozoic forms, like the fossil representatives of their living counterparts, tend more to be described from teeth outside of exceptional fossil deposits13; they thus have longer ranges and higher completeness values.

So basically fossil record completeness even at the family level is low from the end Permian(~250 mya) and older, but gets better nearer to the present, though most families and genera are represented only by things like teeth. Which nevertheless counts towards completion. LOL.

I’m sorry for disturbing your sensitive nature with my sarcasm here, but that’s totally Not a misleading statement to draw from that reference at all. Nope.

Now what this shows is that it is a waste of time to debate these people in real time. You don’t have time to check the references as you’re sitting there for an hour of live debate and discussion, and yet it is from selective and superficial readings of the literature that Günter like to make his assertions. So you’re required to know them basically by heart if you’re going to rebut statements like he made in the discussion with Swamidass.

It’s the classic disproportionality of bullshit(Brandolini's law - Wikipedia). It takes ten seconds to throw out four misleading, confident-sounding assertions of seemingly huge significance, with a reference name-dropped. But then it takes 30 minutes to an hour to unpack and refute just one of them.

And that presentation just gets worse and worse. But hey, now we know what material Günter gets his crap from. Check one of his slides:

Waiting for target double mutations(evolution with targets, lol), and we see a paleontologist confuse cousin species for ancestor-descendant relationships.


Hi @Rumraket,

Durrett and Schmidt again, eh? The ID movement has been flogging that dead horse for years. Curiously, many of the ID proponents who cite it appear blissfully unaware that it was written to refute ID claims. Contrary to their assertions, all the paper shows is that “a coordinated pair of mutations that first inactivates a binding site and then creates a new one is very unlikely to occur on a reasonable timescale.” Thus my response to any ID proponent appealing to Durrett and Schmidt to rule out whale evolution is: can you identify a single case in the line leading to whales, where two or more mutations had to act in combination in the manner described by the authors of the paper, in order to confer an increase in fitness?

And the 49-million-year-old Antarctic whale is another highly contentious claim that the ID movement continues to trot out. Now I see where Bechly gets his figure of 4.5 million years from. In reality, the Antarctic whale is only 40-46 million years old, as I explained here in an article for The Skeptical Zone exposing this ID myth.

Thanks for identifying the slide. Cheers.


As I explain in this article I wrote for Uncommon Descent many years ago, it’s probably somewhere between 1000 and 5000. Hope that helps. Cheers.


I didn’t even get four minutes in. His version of the “collector curve” at 2:47 is trivially wrong.

His version is this:
when it should clearly be this:

Yeah, that’s an old one - pretend that because a family is represented in the fossil record, it’s essentially complete. That’s like saying we’ve seen a badger, so we know all about black-footed ferrets, wolverines, sea minks, ratels, marbled polecats, stonemartens and giant river otters.

It’s garbage.

Added: I’ve listened to the rest now. Behe’s calculations, pre-specified mutations, evolutionary biologists are liars, not enough time, no fossil precursors… - it’s all garbage.


Is this what he’s talking about?: Raup D.M. Taxonomic diversity estimation using rarefaction. Paleobiology 1975; 1:333-342.

Then yes, trivially wrong.


No, it’s simpler than that. It’s just the number of different species found as the amount of time spent searching increases.

Think of it as analogous to the number of different flavours found as you pick jelly beans out of a bag. Initially you’ll get a new flavour with every bean. After a while, some of the beans you pick will be flavours you’ve already encountered. Eventually, most of the beans you pick will be flavours you’ve already encountered, and it’ll become rarer for you to pick out a bean with a new flavour.

It’s a bit more complex for fossils since they’re not distributed randomly but tend to be found in clumps of the same species. But there’s no way that you’d expect to see a curve like Bechly’s, which indicates that at the midpoint of your exploration you’re finding lots of new species with no effort at all.


So there’s no time axis on that graph at all?

“Effort” is time spent searching, but not time in the sense I think you mean.

Yes, what I mean is that time is not cumulative from left to right. It’s a point. You expend x effort, you find y species. Raup’s plots are of known species after some amount of time/effort.

That’s my understanding of Bechly’s plots (if you insert “supposed to be”). I can’t find an accessible version of Raup’s paper.

Doug Axe explained to @swamidass what he meant by the use of the word confrontational in this conversation. That took place more than a year ago now. You can see it here. It’s late in the conversation, beginning around the 1:09:00 minute mark. Is Evolution A Big Deal? A Conversation with Two Leading Scientists. - YouTube.


Since you asked me … it’s not really that 3000 beneficial mutations occurred, but that many variations in traits occurred. Traits are determined by one or more genes and interaction with the environment. The point is that a mutation in a single gene may affect more than one trait, and the number of affected trait grows combinatorially with each new mutation (magnitudes more than 3000). We also have a species transitioning between environments, and the fitness value of existing traits may reflect a favored habitat. It’s very likely that some beneficial traits will occur, or that creatures will prefer habitats better suited to their new traits (from otherwise neutral mutations. ie: genetic drift).

1 Like

That’s right, and I don’t think I misrepresented him. What I said was, frankly, quite vague and based on his own choice of words. So I’m not sure what the issue is.

Axe: “I do not argue for a confrontational approach to science. Look through the chapter. See if you can quote me on that. I’m talking about, it appears that God himself has described creation as though it confronts us.” (This comes a little after 1:13:00 minute mark.)

Are you saying that your characterization of him in the Bechly discussion accurately reflects the answer he gave you in the McDowell discussion?

I’m saying what I said accurate reflects what Axe wrote in the TE book. He certainly has the right to change his position of course, and perhaps he has. At the moment, I can’t square Axe’s quote with what he wrote specifically as an objection to WLC.

1 Like

I understood what he wrote in the TE book to be consistent with what he told you in the McDowell discussion. I don’t see any change of position. I guess we just understand him differently. Thank you for clarifying.

@swamidass, have you followed up to ask Bechly what he meant? I don’t think he can find a forum with other scientists that would be friendlier than this one.

If one is inclined to keep score (who won the debate?), then one way to tally things up is try to figure out which side is more confident in their position. Here, we have one “side” that will meet with critics freely, in different forums. The other “side” is so unsure of their claims that they will not discuss things with critics, including people they have openly criticized. That speaks very, very loudly. If Bechly is so unsure of his assertions that he cannot visit a friendly forum to hash things out, this tells me that his position really isn’t tenable.

Score one for @swamidass!


This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.