Barry Arrington: his part in my downfall

Just my thoughts on the recent series of posts at Uncommon Descent on Darwin, Eldredge and the fossil record. Click on the link if you want to know more!  

It all started with this post from Denyse O’Leary which Lizzie picked up on here at TSZ replying to O’Leary’s claim that Stephen Meyer’s presentation of Louis Agassiz’s question:

Why, he [Agassiz] asked, does the fossil record always happen to be incomplete at the nodes connecting major branches of Darwin’s tree of life, but rarely—in the parlance of modern paleontology—at the “terminal branches” representing the major already known groups of organisms?

 

Was there any easy answer to Agassiz’s argument? If so, beyond his stated willingness to wait for future fossil discoveries, Darwin didn’t offer one.

To which O’Leary offers:

And no one else has either.

Lizzie points out:

Oh, yes, they have, Denyse.  That’s what what punk eek was.  But it also falls readily out of any simulation – you see rapid diversification into a new niche at a node, and thus few exemplars, followed by an increasingly gradual approach to a static optimum, and thus lots of exemplars.  But I present an even more graphic response: when you chop down a tree, and saw it up into logs for your fire, what proportion of your logs include a node?

While mung the Merciless links to Lizzie’s post, it doesn’t draw much attention but Uncommon Descent blog owner and bankruptcy lawyer, Barry Arrington decides to pick up on the theme with a post entitled “Steve Meyer: Cambrian gaps not being filled in”; Dr. Nicholas Matzke, well-known evolutionary biologist and former public information project director at the National Center for Science Education, comments, linking to his article on the Cambrian Period at Panda’s Thumb. I just can’t help myself (having had my ability to comment at Uncommon descent recently restored due, I believe, to the intercession of mung the mendacious) jumping in to fight with the tar baby, starting at comment twelve.

It might be worth mentioning here my attitude to commenting at Uncommon Descent. Having had posting privileges restored, I decided I would comment on my own terms, as and when I had time and inclination, neither seeking nor avoiding “death-by-cop” and generally only when I noticed the more blatant errors and claims by the more credible habitués.

Barry Arrington then authored a follow-on post where he posted a number of quotes purporting to support his claim that the fossil record does not support gradual evolution.

Alan Fox: “The current record is certainly not incompatible with gradual evolution over vast periods of time.”

Again, leading Darwinists disagree:

Darwin’s prediction of rampant, albeit gradual, change affecting all lineages through time is refuted. The record is there, and the record speaks for tremendous anatomical conservatism. Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record. (Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myth of Human Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 45-46.)

In passing, it is worth noting the typo in the quoted publication. The correct title of the book is The Myths of Human Evolutiuon not “Myth”! The book was published in 1982. The iconic transitional fossil, Tiktaalik roseae, was found in 2004. Unimpressed with the quotes, I commented

Nice selection from the Bumper Book of Quote-mines, Barry.

as it was fairly obvious that the quotes were all obtained from secondary sources. Barry took umbrage at my impugning his integrity and another commenter, William J. Murray, took up Barry’s cause in posting:

You owe Mr.Arrington an apology for claiming he was quote-mining when he was obviously not, and you should admit you were wrong about what the known fossil record actually reveals wrt the prediction made by Darwin.

My response:

Maybe WJM has a point. I was under the impression that Barry didn’t think evolutionary processes were the explanation (or sufficient explanation) for the Cambrian period and the proliferation of stem groups that first put in an appearance over that period. Of course Eldredge is fully committed to the view that evolutionary processes are sufficient. If Barry agrees with Eldredge then I am sincerely sorry for thinking otherwise and welcome Barry into the fold of Darwinism.

was not considered an adequate apology. It was not published and I am now, presumably as I haven’t bothered to post any further comments, persona non grata at Uncommon Descent.

However the quote-mine saga rolls on with Nick Matzke and also another commenter, Roy, (welcome to TSZ by the way) continuing to point out the obvious. Barry has no more read Eldredge’s original work The Myths of Evolution than I have flown to the Moon. This book is not available as a download so I have only managed to read the excerpts available via Google books that indicate it to be clear, well-written and aimed at high-school-level students. An essay by Niles Eldredge entitled Confessions of a Darwinist (PDF is here) makes it very clear that Eldredge’s views are very much in line with those of Charles Darwin.

The story continues at On Quote Mining and Breaking News!!!! Wesley R. Elsberry Solves 154 Year-Old Riddle of the Fossil Record; Awaits Call from Nobel Committe. The latest post is has the Kairosfocusesque title, Nick Matzke Admits His Quote Mining Accusation Was False; Instead of Apologizing Tries to Change the Definition of “Quote Mining” to “Refusing to Agree With Me”.

So, no apology from me to Barry Arrington.

ETA correct link to Eldredge

260 thoughts on “Barry Arrington: his part in my downfall

  1. Mike Elzinga,

    We need to get really clear about several different issues. The intelligent design movement thrives on vagueness and sloppiness; we should not emulate them in this.

    First, there is the completely general question, “what is the relationship between science and religion? Since neither “science” nor “religion” are natural kinds, there are many different approaches one can take here, depending on the background, underlying picture one has of “religion” and of “science”. (I can tell you from personal experience that someone who was raised as a Reform Jew will have a very different ‘picture’ of religion than that of someone who was raised as Southern Baptist!) Generally speaking, scholars of the science-religion question identity different models of the science-religion relationship: conflict, independence, dialogue, cooperation/integration.

    Now, on the one hand, Gregory faults us for being fixated on the conflict model and not noticing the existence or prevalence of the other models. And in a perfectly general sense he’s right — but after all, none of us are scholars of the science-religion relationship, and one doesn’t have to be in order to criticize creationism. Furthermore, and in my mind, much more problematically, Gregory fails to appreciate that the conflict model does correctly apply to creationism. But my suspicion is that he doesn’t appreciate this because he’s not part of the American cultural-political landscape, not (as Mike suggested) because he’s an academic and thereby ‘above the fray’.

  2. A simple question was asked: “Does Western Michigan State University physicist Mike Elzinga consider Francis Collins a ‘creationist’?”

    Will there be an answer?

    Re: the outdated (cf. unnecessary) warfare model, I’ll likely respond to KN and rhampton (and perhaps rejoin Patrick’s naturalism spiral on page 1) sometime soon.

  3. Gregory: the outdated (cf. unnecessary) warfare model, I’ll likely respond to KN and rhampton (and perhaps rejoin Patrick’s naturalism spiral on page 1) sometime soon.

    Let me emphasize: I do not dispute the general claim that the warfare model is outdated and unnecessary for the science-religion relationship. All I’m saying here is that there are certain groups who still cling to the warfare model, and creationists are among them. So I treat creationists as being themselves committed to a warfare model — even though they don’t see themselves that way at all! I certainly don’t think that one is committed to a war with science simply by virtue of being an Abrahamic theist!!

  4. Kantian Naturalist: Now, on the one hand, Gregory faults us for being fixated on the conflict model and not noticing the existence or prevalence of the other models. And in a perfectly general sense he’s right — but after all, none of us are scholars of the science-religion relationship, and one doesn’t have to be in order to criticize creationism. Furthermore, and in my mind, much more problematically, Gregory fails to appreciate that the conflict model does correctly apply to creationism. But my suspicion is that he doesn’t appreciate this because he’s not part of the American cultural-political landscape, not (as Mike suggested) because he’s an academic and thereby ‘above the fray’.

    I’m thinking that my fascination with Gregory’s character and motivation is unbecoming to me, but I can’t resist responding (for the last time, I swear). I think you’ve got the cause and effect wrong there; I speculate that Gregory has retreated into academe deliberately because that allows him to stay out of the trenches. He surely has witnessed the forces of creationism infiltrating his native homeland, Canada. But for whatever reason, he must think open battle against the Dark Ages is beneath a man like him so he has taken refuge in a remote land – which is where he is now surrounded by those you mention, those who don’t take religious foes seriously because they’ve never lived close to the US cultural landscape.

    Bah. Enough. It would be worth it if helping Gregory identify his own motives and shortcomings helped him stop being so scummy towards those of us who care about fighting against imposed ignorance – a fight which should naturally be his fight as well. But since there’s no hope of that, I swear to cease this pointless analysis. Done.

  5. Gregory: A simple question was asked: “Does Western Michigan State University physicist Mike Elzinga consider Francis Collins a ‘creationist’?”

    Will there be an answer?

    What’s it to ya, Gregory?
    Of all possible questions to repeatedly demand an answer for, why this one? Why do you care which category Elzinga assigns Collins to? Is Elzinga’s answer going to prove something about “scientism” or “evolutionism” to you? What do you think it could prove? To what unsupported conclusions are you prepared to jump?

    I predict you won’t answer my questions. Or if it turns out you’re stung into answering, it will be as incomplete and inaccurate as you can make it without directly lying. Can you find a way to word your answers without (giving me the satisfaction of) admitting that you were playing petty games against Elzinga? I wonder how long I should wait before I declare that my predictions came true.

  6. A hypothetical question:
    If I write
    “I have not found a purple polka-dotted penguin in my bedroom”,
    and some-one else writes
    “Roy expects to find a ‘purple polka-dotted penguin‘ in the rest of his house”,
    is that quote-mining?

    Roy

  7. Roy:
    A hypothetical question:
    If I write “I have not found a purple polka-dotted penguin in my bedroom”,
    and some-one else writes “Roy expects to find a ‘purple polka-dotted penguin‘ in the rest of his house”,
    is that quote-mining?

    Roy

    Not if B. Arrington, Esq does it.

  8. Roy:
    A hypothetical question:
    If I write “I have not found a purple polka-dotted penguin in my bedroom”,
    and someone else writes “Roy expects to find a ‘purple polka-dotted penguin‘ in the rest of his house”,
    is that quote-mining?

    It could be, depending on the context of the quoted words. Can’t tell without seeing more of the original text.

    If said original text was something along the lines of I have not found a purple polka-dotted penguin in my bedroom, which doesn’t surprise me at all, seeing as how there ain’t no such animal, then yeah, anybody who quoted you in support of the proposition that you expected to find such a beast in your home… or, indeed, anywhere else… would be guilty of quote-mining you. Because in this case, your original case didn’t say that you expected to find such a beast in your house.

    But let’s say your original text was something different, something more along the lines of Damnit, I know there’s a purple polka-dotted penguin in my house—but when I searched my bedroom, I couldn’t find it! In this case, your original text does indeed say that you expected to find that polka-dotted penguin in your house, so quoting you in support of the proposition that you did expect to find such a beast in your house, well, that’s not quote-mining at all. Rather, that would be a proper, accurate quote.

    Context—or the lack thereof—is the key to determining whether a given quote is or isn’t a quote-mine.

  9. cubist: It could be, depending on the context of the quoted words. Can’t tell without seeing more of the original text.

    Here’s some more original text:

    “I have not found a purple polka-dotted penguin in my bedroom. I’m sure that such creatures occasionally traverse this area at dawn, but it’s dusk and my cat has demonstrated extreme efficiency at catching and eating them within a few seconds of their trespass.”

    Roy

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