God - Or Gorilla? Archive

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 13

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 13, What is a Horse?.

Once again, McCann doesn't seem to understand the whole concept of common descent, and why vertebrates would appear similar to each other.

The most casual observer will not deny the extraordinary similarity. The rearing horse, standing almost upright, so vividly resembles the man in bony structure as to suggest an entirely new line of speculation. There is no monopoly of the ludicrous, no patent rights on the ridiculous! We are not now speaking of a resemblance between man and ape, but between man and horse!

Why did man not evolute from the horse? (McCann 166)

Humans and horses look so similar because we both evolved from a common ancestor, not because we evolved from horses, or horses from us. We're cousins.

If McCann understood this a bit better, he probably wouldn't have been so dismissive in the following paragraph.

At this point the "scientists" kick the great authority on evolution, Professor Huxley, right out of the picture. Perhaps they wouldn't have been so bold if Huxley himself hadn't authorized the act. The Palæotherium comes in with another creature called the Plagiolophus. One of these animals was a direct ancestor of the horse, according to Huxley. Now they admit Huxley was wrong. The critter was only a "collateral relative." (McCann 170)

or here

When they get to Link No. 8 they don't know what to do with Anchitherium and Hypohippus. The first of these fellows has been found only in Europe and the second has given so much trouble, though found in Colorado, that they have had to admit he "is off the direct line of descent." (McCann 170-171)

This is what I was alluding to in the review of the previous chapter. When we find a fossil of an ancient animal that looks similar to an animal living today, we'd like to assume that it's a direct ancestor. We like easy stories and linear relationships. But like I wrote above, evolution creates family trees that look more like bushes. Populations are constantly splitting, creating closely related 'cousin' species. Also keep in mind how spotty the fossil record is, and how much more common it is for species to go extinct than to survive. When you look at it that way, it seems obvious that any fossil you find is most likely to have come from an extinct 'cousin' species, rather than from a direct ancestor of any living animals. Recognizing that is not any admission that evolution is wrong. It's a better understanding of how evolution actually works, and a better understanding of our sampling of the fossil record.

McCann strikes me as the type who would say that the discovery of a 'missing link' just creates two gaps where before there was only one.

Again it is odd that the scientists always find plenty of specimens of the things to be connected but never a single connection. (McCann 175)

Because archaeopteryx isn't obviously intermediate between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds.

Yet again, McCann shows a misunderstanding in assuming evolution to be linear.

According to the evidence itself there was deterioration instead of advance in the evolution of the horse, for the Epihippus which came along "thousands of years" after the Protorohippus is very much smaller than its grandfather when it should be very much larger on its progressive way from a four-pounder to a creature weighing a ton. (McCann 178)

Evolution is not a ladder of progress. It's a drunkard's stagger. There's no reason why the evolution of the horse from prior ancestors would have shown a steady increase in size. Just look at the finch example I used back in Part III of this review. Looking at the evolution of a population of finches on the Galapagos, average beak size was observed to increase in some years, and decrease in others, depending on the selective pressures operating on the population at the time. There's no reason to assume that horse's ancestors would have increased in size over their entire course of evolution from something like hyracotherium.

Proceed to Chapter 14

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 12

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 12, Tricking Huxley and the World.

McCann once again brought up Haeckel's embryos.

As early as 1868 Rutimeyer, the Swiss zoologist, accused Haeckel of tampering with his illustrations. In 1874 the anatomist, Anton His of Leipzig, proved the charges of tampering to be irrefutable. In these frauds Haeckel caused the same plate to be printed three times in his "History of Creation," declaring that the illustrations represented three distinct objects extremely like one another. In 1906 the charges of Professor Arnold Brass published as "Ernst Haeckel als Biologe und die Wahrheit," against Haeckel's tampering with the illustrations of embryos attracted tremendous attention in Germany. Again, April 1, 1908, in an address delivered at a meeting of the Christian Socialists in Berlin, Brass renewed his attack upon Haeckel on the charge of having falsified the pictures of embryos. Brass showed that Haeckel in his "Anthropogeny," had not only falsified the illustrations of embryos but had assigned to them other names than those they had originally borne, thereby provoking Professor Anton His to declare publicly that Haeckel was lying. "I can make these charges," said Brat "from accurate knowledge, directly acquired, since I myself made the true drawings for Haeckel." (McCann 154-155)
So, too, was the falsehood of his "Anthropogeny," exposed by Professor Mimes Marshall. In true Haeckelian style the human embryo as described by the Jena mutilator was shown to be a description of the embryos of dogs, pigs, rabbits, even chickens and dogfish. Such were the frauds which the apostle of evolution did not hesitate to present to the world as "evidence" for "Darwinism." (McCann 157)

As I already wrote, this is nothing more than an ad hominem argument. Haeckel doctored some illustrations and misrepresented others. Haeckel deserved to have his reputation damaged because of it. But Haeckel is only one man. The reputation of evolutionary biology is not based on any single individual.

And, as I wrote before, even though Haeckel doctored the illustrations, it doesn't change the actual fact that embryos of different species really do look similar (here's a longer explanation). It's as if McCann never looked into it himself to see what embryos look like.

Immediately following the above, McCann showed that he didn't understand contingency in evolution. His statement also shows that idea that evolution has a purpose, or that it's guided.

In the writer's study of the chimpanzee at the Bronx Zoo, New York City, the conclusion was inescapable that this great ape, like the gorilla, gibbon, etc., never had a tail.

The evolutionist tells us that man's tail, inherited from the lemur, a monkey which had a tail like the tail of a fox, was gradually evoluted off (like the horse's toes) as he abandoned life in the trees for life on the ground, but Haeckel, off guard, describes "living human races who still live in trees" ("Wonders of Life," 1904). They have no tails - of course! Their tails were evoluted off! Presumptively the tails of the great apes were also evoluted off - during those millions of years of evolution - completely off, despite their usefulness for life in the trees. Yet with the "improvement" represented by tail-less-ness, there was no systematic improvement in other directions. The chimpanzee never lost those supra-orbital ridges which today are identical with the oldest fossil ridges.

Nor was there any gain in cranial capacity! Obviously the evolution of the great apes was limited - expressly limited - to tails - or rather to the loss of tails! Even the elephant has kept his tail, as well as the rat, though neither creature lives in trees. Natural Selection, confronted by the fact of tail-less-ness, must insist that the chimpanzee never had a tail. But this makes matters worse! Natural Selection demands that for his life in the trees he should have "developed" a tail because of its usefulness to an arboreal existence, just as the giraffe developed a neck for its arboreal usefulness. Haeckel did not see the consequences of his fraud; for his tailless embryo, designed to create an impression in one direction, merely serves to embarrass him the more in another. (McCann 157-158)

Okay, first let's set the record straight on the actual family tree. Here's a diagram focused specifically on apes.

Ape Family Tree

And here's a broader, less detailed, diagram on primates in general.

Primate Family Tree

Humans are a type of ape. We're most closely related to chimps and bonobos. All of us apes are an offshoot of the old world monkeys. In fact, another way to look at us is as a type of old world monkey without a tail. Old world and new world monkeys split some time earlier. And the lineage that led to lemurs split from our lineage earliest of all (among primates, of course). So, that clears up at least one misconception of McCann's - since humans are apes, the other apes didn't have to independently evolve the loss of a tail.

But why would us apes have lost our tails to begin with? If tails are so useful to monkeys for moving about through the trees, why wouldn't they also be useful to arboreal apes? One possible answer appears to be in our locomotion. Old world monkeys generally don't hang below branches swinging about. They tend to run along the tops of branches. In that lifestyle, a tail is very useful for balance. Apes (except humans) move through the trees differently. They do tend to hang from branches much more often. In the locomotion style of apes, a tail isn't nearly as important for balance. Whether there was any actual selective advantage to losing the tail or whether it just became vestigial and was therefore lost isn't really all that important in this discussion. Our ancestors lost their tails. Once a body part like that is lost, it tends to stay lost in all the descendants in that lineage. Hence, we don't have tails.

One could point to the new world monkeys, saying that they also hang from branches and swing around - why did they keep their tails when the apes didn't? Well, evolution's not guided. Even if there were optimal solutions for certain lifestyles, there's no guarantee that a particular lineage will hit on that solution. When tails were no longer needed for balance, the apes lost theirs, while the new world monkeys adapted their tails to be prehensile. With a new function as a kind of fifth hand, the tails of new world monkeys are certainly useful. Our ancestors just never hit on that solution (note that I'm anthropomorphizing evolution a bit here - obviously individuals can't consciously choose their own mutations).

After quoting a passage where Haeckel described the fundamental similarities between human tissues and cells to those of other animals, McCann had the following to say.

Obviously Professor Haeckel knew nothing of the chromosomes which differ in number, size and shape to an astonishing extent in the cells of all animals of different species, ranging in some from less than ten to the cell to more than one hundred and forty-six. It is precisely such statements as these that have inspired the great William Bateson, to whom we shall shortly come, to make what is recognized by scientific men all over the world as the most careful, most accurate and most truly scientific summation of the bankruptcy of the evolutionary theory now obsessing the popular mind. (McCann 159)

It's a bit funny to see someone using genetics as a criticism of evolution, but to cut McCann some slack, genetics wasn't really understood in his day as well as it is today. For a good example of how genetics helps confirm evolution, read Ein Sophistry's Genetic Evidence of Evolution.

Hmm. I think he's got things a bit mixed up.

Will Professor Osborn deny that the American Museum's Bulletin on the Evolution of the Horse discloses the hurried follies of the scientists who are eager to have their opinions accepted that they must themselves confirm as "truth" that which remains unknown, and reject, because it does not fit into their picture, that which is known? (McCann 163)

That's pretty funny to read, coming from someone who's already decided that a book written a few thousand years ago is completely accurate, and who discounts any evidence that doesn't fit with what's in that book.

I wonder how many fossil species McCann thinks we've found?

Professor Osborn must see the necessity of admitting that if the intermediate forms, the transition types, the missing links, or whatever else the pedigree manufacturers may see fit to call them, are not to be found, they never existed. (McCann 163)

I've already mentioned that there are transitional fossils to be found in abundance. But that's not exactly what McCann's saying here. He's saying, "if the intermediate forms... are not to be found, they never existed." The fossil record is incomplete. We haven't even yet found fossils of all living animals, so I don't see why anybody would expect that we'd have found fossils of all extinct animals.

Just look at some of the fossils we've found recently - Tiktaalik roseae, Ardipithecus ramidus, Georgiacetus vogtlensis. They weren't known in McCann's time, but they certainly exist. We only find new fossils by actually looking for them.

I suppose I've been giving creationism from McCann's time a bit too much credit. I was assuming that scientists of the day were still pushing a too linear approach to evolution, but this paragraph makes it clear that even back then, scientists were recognizing evolution as a bush more than a tree.

Professor Osborn himself, in an address before the British Association, asserted that more than a hundred more or less complete skeletons of horses and horse-like animals have been found in North America, and that although he thought he had established the fact that horses were polyphyletic, there being four or five contemporary series in the Miocene, the direct origin of the Genus Equus in North America was not established with certainty. (McCann 164)

McCann also seems to be trying to use this to cast doubt on evolution, that 'the direct origin of the Genus Equus in North America was not established with certainty'. But what's wrong with that? There are many, many related animals, all sharing common traits. Of course the picture of the exact lineages is going to be murky.

Updated 2011-04-29 - Added link to Ein Sophistry's Genetic Evidence of Evolution.


Proceed to Chapter 13

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 11

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 11, H. G. Wells.

Here is yet another example of how McCann didn't like tentativeness.

As if in defiance of all the palæontological and zoological evidence to the contrary, H. G. Wells devotes 103 pages, vol. 1, "Outline of History," to an elaborate moving picture of man's descent from the ape. His "logic" is a thing of awe and wonder. He elaborates exactly ninety-six premises for his conclusion "it follows, therefore."' These ninety-six steps of departure establish a new system in the tracery of deduction. There can be no more adequate or accurate method of describing an object than the exhibition of the object itself. Therefore, Wells' ninety-six steps, in the form of the very phrases he employs, are lifted from his stairway of "reason" without alteration, mutilation or change of any kind. Here they are:

         Phrases Used         Number of Times

Is probably or was probably ......... 20
It must have been ................... 12
It would seem ....................... 11
It may have been ....................  9
May or may not ......................  8
Perhaps .............................  5
It seems to be ......................  5
It is probable ......................  4
Possibly ............................  3
We may guess ........................  3
So far as we can guess ..............  1
This is pure guessing, of course ....  1
It is supposed ......................  1
They suppose ........................  1
If we assume ........................  1
It appears to be ....................  1
It is possible ......................  1
It may be possible ..................  1
It is doubtful ......................  1
It is commonly asserted .............  1
Almost certainly ....................  1
Are said to be ......................  1
Whole story is fogged ...............  1
As yet we do not know ...............  1
Confessedly jumbled .................  1
Inextricably mixed up ...............  1

This halting, faltering, stumbling gait is dignified by Wells' admirers as the logical stride of science from pure hypothesis to "it follows, therefore." Conscious always of the uncertainty, the fog, the darkness, the jumble, the inextricable mix-up through which he plods, Wells nevertheless is determined to get to man's ancestor, the lemur, as quickly as possible. (McCann 137-138)

I look at the above list, and that's exactly the type of wording I would expect. Like I said before, what other option is there? To pretend certainty where there is none? To assume that we have all the correct answers now?

McCann hasn't been shy about citing religion as a reason for his rejecting evolution, but this comment in particular struck me as a little funny.

The Son of Man is to be described, if described at all, as the Son of Ape. (McCann 142)

For some reason, this quote made me think of Charlton Heston.

McCann had an early version of, 'if we're just animals, why don't we act like animals?'

Why, indeed, should the descendants of such beasts yield reverence to Moses or Christ? Why should there be such speculation concerning an immortal soul, a future life? Why should the ouija board or the spiritist be worked overtime by the lineal offspring of the lemur? Why should men respect the commandment - "Thou shalt not kill" - or any of the other commandments now held in such contempt in a world in which killing, lynching, rape and graft can have no terror for the progeny of apes? Why meditate on chastity, mercy, justice, benevolence, honesty, truth? Why not take? Why not kill? (McCann 143)

First of all, it takes a person with a very weak moral compass to say that rape and murder are just fine if we weren't specially created. To people who actually believe such things, I tell them to keep on doubting evolution if that's all that keeps them in line. There's also the problem in thinking that understanding the history of life implies anything about morality. It's not as if understanding gravity implies that we should go pushing people off cliffs to test the theory. Besides, even if evolution somehow did away with morality, that still wouldn't be an argument for or against the reality of evolution. It's nothing more than an argument from consequences.

Proceed to Chapter 12

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 10

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 10, The Descent of Farce Comedy.

If McCann were alive today, I think he would be of the variety that says that mutations are all harmful, and can't ever add new information.

One year later, January, 1903, Sir Oliver Lodge, writing in Hibbert Journal, p. 218, declared himself in similar fashion. These are his words: "Take the origin of species by the persistence of favorable variation; how is the appearance of these same favorable variations accounted for? Except by artificial selection not at all. Given their appearance, their development by struggle and inheritance and survival can be explained; BUT THAT THEY AROSE SPONTANEOUSLY, BY RANDOM CHANGES WITHOUT PURPOSE, IS AN ASSERTION WHICH CANNOT BE MADE." Nor does he stand alone in this conviction. (McCann 122)

I think Richard Lenski's experiment, where e. coli developed mutations that gave them the ability to digest a new food source (citrate), certainly show that random mutations can result in new functions (unless people want to argue that an Intelligent Designer manipulated the bacteria in Lenski's lab).

McCann even talks of thoughts very similar to what we would now call punctuated equilibrium.

Speaking before the International Congress of Arts and Science, September 22, 1904, he employed illustrations from the history of fossil fishes which were his specialty and from the evidence thus afforded announced: "It must be confessed that repeated discoveries have now left faint hope that exact and gradual links will ever be forthcoming between most of the families and genera. Even approximate links would be much commoner in collections than they actually are if the doctrine of gradual evolution (infinitesimal steps in gigantic periods of time) were correct. Palæontology indeed is clearly in favor of sudden changes which have lately received so much support from the botanical experiments of H. De Vries." (See the Congress Report, vol. iv.)

We have had "early changes of great violence followed by stability;" "slow changes so gentle and infinitesimal in gradations as to require millions of years before they could be observed;" "sudden changes under our very eyes." Alas, what have we not had? And this is what they call evolution! - this ceremonial burial of "Darwinism." (McCann 122-123)

This is one of the funnier attempts I've seen at arguing that vestigial organs aren't evidence of evolution.

An instance in point is cited by Professor Vernon Kellogg ("Darwinism Today," 1908, pp. 37-38): "Spencer's example of the femur of the whale is a striking illustration of the reality of the absurdity connected with the argument of change (evolution) on a basis of the selection of infinitesimal differences. The femur of the whale, says Spencer, is evidently the atrophied rudiment of a bone once much larger. It weighs now about an ounce, less than a millionth the weight of the whole body. Let us suppose that when it weighed two ounces, an individual (whale) had a femur which by variational chance weighed but one ounce, what advantage over other whales would the difference give it - and yet this is the argument for the reduction of useless organs through the influence of natural selection." (McCann 124)

From our modern vantage point, we're very lucky to have a good understanding of whale evolution. We can actually see the transformation of that rear leg into the vestige that now exists.

Let's look at McCann's question, though, of why natural selection would favor reduction of the femur. In the ancestors of modern whales, when the leg was still large enough to protrude from the body, I think the advantage of reducing its size would be obvious - reduced drag, allowing the ancient whales to swim faster and more efficiently. It's also important to remember that nothing comes for free. To grow a leg takes resources, i.e. food. If a whale didn't have to grow a leg, it could either put those same resources into other parts of its body, or get by on less food.

There's also another possibility. Sometimes people have a tendency to attribute too much to natural selection. The adaptationists look at every trait of an organism, and assume that it must have conferred some selective advantage. That's not always the case. What if, for example, a trait has very little effect on an organism one way or the other? The whales' vestigial femur is, at this point, minuscule. The selective advantages from the above paragraph wouldn't be very great, and probably wouldn't have much effect on the survival of a whale who's femur was slightly bigger or slightly smaller. But, consider the types of mutations that could occur on the genes that produce the femur. What if those genes become damaged? In animals like us that need our femurs, those types of mutations would be weeded out very quickly, because the affected individuals wouldn't have many offspring (in the wild, they'd have none at all). But for whales, mutations that damage the development of the femur, so long as they had no other effects on the whale, wouldn't be a problem at all. They wouldn't get weeded out of the population. In fact, given how common mutations are, they would probably start to pile up. So, if there's no selective pressure to preserve an organ, deleterious mutations will begin to pile up, destroying the original function of that organ. (This is also the explanation for why cave dwellers lose their eye sight.)

And here's a real doozy on appendicitis, attempting to explain that it isn't really a problem.

"But why," asks the evolutionist, "if there is really a design behind creation, should there be an inflammation of the appendix resulting in disease?"

In answer to this, leaving out all hint of theology and relying solely upon pathology, one can go direct to Germany where the whole theory of evolution, as now popularly presented, was born. One of Germany's most eminent pathologists, Professor G. Bier, the successor of von Bergmann, propounded and established the thesis (Virchow's Archiv, 1897) that inflammations are not instances of inexpediency, but are, on the contrary, beneficial prophylactic devices on the part of an organism to rid itself of bacteria or other injurious matter that may have penetrated the system. A splinter driven into the flesh and left alone will be driven out again by inflammation and pus, most expedient and beneficial. (McCann 126)

Go talk to a doctor, and ask them what they think about appendicitis. I don't think you'll find too many people agreeing with McCann.

Here's a statement of McCann's that I would agree with, though I don't think he meant it seriously.

To be strictly orthodox as evolutionists we must now say that sheep and man, goat and man, and horse and man are related by blood. (McCann 128)

It's as if McCann has some mental block that keeps him from understanding what evolutionary biology actually says. It's like he thought of the human-ape connection, and couldn't get past that. Looking to the human goat connection seems outlandish to him. I suppose the human onion connection would be completely beyond his comprehension.

Just to be clear, universal common descent really does mean universal. All life that we know of on this planet, from bacteria to blue whale, shares a common ancestry.

I wonder what McCann would say if he were alive today and able to see the work of modern scientists, such as Jane Goodall.

It is difficult to understand why certain types of scientists consider bodily differences or bodily resemblances of such vast importance when even to the lay-man the mental divergence constitutes the chief difference between man and beast. The rational soul of man, as distinguished from the brute instincts of the ape, constitutes a gap over which science makes no effort to throw a bridge of any kind. (McCann 131)

In a recent article in the New York Times, primatologist Frans de Waal wrote the following, which is very relevant to the above quote.

In the field of cognition, the march towards continuity between human and animal has been inexorable... True, humanity never runs out of claims of what sets it apart, but it is a rare uniqueness claim that holds up for over a decade. This is why we don't hear anymore that only humans make tools, imitate, think ahead, have culture, are self-aware, or adopt another's point of view.

If we consider our species without letting ourselves be blinded by the technical advances of the last few millennia, we see a creature of flesh and blood with a brain that, albeit three times larger than a chimpanzee's, doesn't contain any new parts. Even our vaunted prefrontal cortex turns out to be of typical size: recent neuron-counting techniques classify the human brain as a linearly scaled-up monkey brain. No one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives. I interact on a daily basis with monkeys and apes, which just like us strive for power, enjoy sex, want security and affection, kill over territory, and value trust and cooperation. Yes, we use cell phones and fly airplanes, but our psychological make-up remains that of a social primate. Even the posturing and deal-making among the alpha males in Washington is nothing out of the ordinary.

Proceed to Chapter 11

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapters 8 & 9

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 8, Hybrids, Haeckel and Confusion and Chapter 9, The Swan Song of Darwinism.

Chapter 8

If only McCann had talked about crocoducks...

Even before Darwinism was abandoned by the modern scientist it was strictly scientific to believe that cats are always cats, whatever the variety, and that though they differ in many and wonderful characteristics within the limit of cat variation, they nevertheless remain in all their variations just what they are-cats. They never mate with dogs, and there are no half-dog half-cat animals even in the dime museums. (McCann 103)

This line of thinking involves two misconceptions tied into one. First, we get the notion of Platonic ideal forms, or Biblical kinds. This, to me, seems like a misfiring of a useful feature of the way our brains work. We categorize things. It's a useful way to make sense of the world, but we have to remember that the categories are in our heads, and there's no reason that the universe needs to oblige us by sticking to those categories. People sometimes extend this concept to say that microevolution is possible (i.e. small changes within a species), but not macroevolution. This seems to be what McCann is saying - that no matter what variation, a cat will always give birth to another cat. But the question is, where's the stop sign in nature that tells organisms to stop changing. Enough small changes added up over generations can result in big differences.

Next, is this weird notion that evolution predicts cats and dogs should be able to mate. This makes no sense whatsoever. Cats and dogs aren't particularly closely related, so there's no reason to suspect that they could interbreed. And evolution certainly doesn't predict that a cat would give birth to a dog, or even a half-dog.

What evolution does predict is that there will be grey areas (in fact, observation of these grey areas was one of the pieces of evidence Darwin used in Origin of Species). If speciation occurs, and evolution is a gradual process, it just follows that speciation won't be instantaneous. Consider a group of animals that gets split into two isolated populations. Just by genetic drift, these two populations will start to acquire different genetic makeups. Now, if you bring the two groups back together after just a few generations, they'll have no problem breeding with each other (like when Europeans and American Indians came in contact). Wait a little while longer to bring the populations back together, and breeding might become more problematic. Maybe some of the offspring will be sterile. Wait even longer, and maybe most of the offspring will be sterile. Wait yet longer, and perhaps even sterile offspring will be rare. Wait long enough, and the populations just won't be able to produce any type of offspring at all.

This is the whole reason why there's a problem in classifying organisms as varieties vs breeds vs species (see lumpers vs. splitters). Just how distantly related do two groups need to be before we call them two species? For example, most people would consider Grizzlies and Polar Bears to be separate species, but they can, in fact, breed and produce fertile offspring.

Another example, which McCann used below, is horses and donkeys. They can mate and produce offspring, but the resulting mules are almost always sterile.

Whatever the variety, dogs always remain dogs, horses always remain horses, jackasses always remain jackasses, and mules, like every other hybrid repugnant to nature, are cut off without offspring. (McCann 103)

Poor mules. Apparently, nature hates them.

Here's another example of McCann not understanding that common descent means humans are related to all organisms, not just that we have a common ancestor with the other great apes.

Darwin, be it remembered, was trying to uphold the theory of natural selection. He had not gone so far as to declare that man's ancestor was one of the great apes. He really did believe that man's descent was from some form of lower ape-like animal, and the student of his "Descent of Man" will recall the illustrations designed to show similarity between the embryo not of man and monkey, but of man and dog! (McCann 109)

Universal common descent really means just what it says.

Of course, McCann brought up the biogenetic law. Creationists still bring up Haeckel, and admittedly, Haeckel was wrong in thinking that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." However, McCann's rationalization for the similarity between embryos is a bit funny. Did he really think this was a good explanation for why all of us humans had tails as embryos?

The apparent repetition of many previous stages of development is accounted for by the fact that it is essential to the very nature of development to advance from what is simple to what is complex. The more highly any animal is organized, the more stages of development must it pass through, before reaching the complex final stage, and it is quite in accordance with nature that the previous transitional stages, being simpler, should resemble the final stages of other animals, which have remained stationary at a lower degree of organization. This constitutes no proof that the human race has passed through all these stages, but it only shows that the evolution of the individual goes on from the first sub-division of the impregnated egg through various stages, until the final form of the perfect organism is reached. (McCann 111)

To quote something that I wrote previously, "evolution is not a transformation of adult animals into adult animals. It is an adjustment of the developmental process - of growing up." That is why early stages of the developmental process look so similar across species.

I know I've already pointed out a couple of quote mines from McCann, but this particular quote mine is one of my pet peeves, after having read On the Origin of Species, and seeing how much space Darwin actually devoted to explaining the evolution of the camera type eye.

However, his comfortable though futile certainty, with regard to the truth of a conviction that has no truth in it, is quite sufficient to him, as an ape-man evolutionist, to offset the deadly complications and massive obstacles involved in the evolutionary riddle: "How did the eye first start?" Darwin himself was baffled by that all but miraculous organ. Referring to Virchow's reverential appreciation of its "beautiful crystalline lens" he says ("The Origin of Species," Appleton, 1920, vol. 1, p. 227) : "To arrive at a just conclusion regarding the formation of the eye, with all its marvelous characters, it is indispensable that the reason should conquer the imagination; but I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at others hesitating to extend the principle of natural selection to so startling a length." Let the skeptics pause, for here again Darwin voices belief in God. The succeeding paragraph contains the following: " ... a living optical instrument as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man."

Of course there can be no explanation of the origin of the eye, about which evolutionists are quite as silent as, in the case of the gills, they are vociferous. (McCann 113-114)

Saying that 'evolutionists' are 'silent' on the evolution of the eye is absurd. It makes one wonder whether McCann had even read On the Origin of Species, as Darwin devoted several pages of the book to discussing eye evolution leading up to that quote that McCann used. If you want to read it for yourself, it's in Chapter 6 of the book.

While Darwin didn't put illustrations in the first book on natural selection, we don't have that shortcoming today. Just take a look at the following illustration showing existing mollusc eyes. Yes, those are existing species, which means that the pinhole eye of Haliotis didn't evolve from the deeply cupped eye of Leurotomaria, which didn't evolve from the cupped eye of Patella. Rather Haliotis and Leurotomaria shared a common ancestor that probably had an eye more like that of Leurotomaria, and in the lineage that led to Haliotis, the eye evolved into the pinhole type, while in the lineage that led to Leurotomaria, the eye didn't change much. What this clearly shows, however, is the usefullness of each stage in the evolution of a complex camera type eye.
Evolution of Complex Eyes

If you want to really read up on eye evolution, take a look at this free issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach.

Chapter 9

I almost didn't pick any quotes from this chapter, so I settled on its closing paragraph just to have something.

We have had "early changes of great violence followed by stability;" "slow changes so gentle and infinitesimal in gradations as to require millions of years before they could be observed;" "sudden changes under our very eyes." Alas, what have we not had? And this is what they call evolution! - this ceremonial burial of "Darwinism." (McCann 123)

McCann seems to be bothered by the fact that evolution doesn't always proceed in the same manner. But why should we expect it to? By way of analogy, consider the path rain water takes back to the oceans. Sometimes it's a mighty river like the Amazon. Sometimes there are waterfalls like Niagara. Sometimes it's a meandering river. Sometimes there are rapids. Sometimes it's an inland delta like the Okavango, and the water must evaporate and fall again before going back to the ocean. The point is, even though water flow is controlled by simple laws of physics, the ways in which it flows vary based on local conditions.

Similarly, evolution need not always progress in the same manner. Gradualism is the term for constant, slow change. Punctuated equilibrium is the term that describes periods of stasis, interspersed by short periods of rapid (in a geological sense) change. Both modes of evolution have been observed in the fossil record. It all depends on the conditions.

Proceed to Chapter 10


Selling Out