Luskin on National Geographics Website? Why?

National Geographic has an Intelligent Design vs. Evolution feature that gives some time to Casey Luskin. One has to wonder why. To their credit National Geographic counters Luskin with Don Prothero. An example, in talking about the evolution of whales we get this nonsensical argument from Luskin:

Whales “have a long generation time, and they don’t have huge populations. They’re like the worst-case scenario for trying to evolve structures rapidly,” Luskin said. “To fix all the mutations needed to convert a little land mammal into a fully functional whale [in ten million years]–mathematically that’s totally not
possible.”

Leaving aside the fact that whale populations where much larger in the past, prior to whale hunting depleted whale populations, casey doesn’t give us any reliable figures on how many mutations it would take to accomplish the change. Anyway, Prothero replies in the only appropriate fashion:

“We have the fossils showing how it happened,” Prothero said. “Anyone who makes that argument is flat out lying about the fossil record.”

We also get Luskin on the eye, flagella, cambrian explosion, CSI of DNA, the afforementioned whales, and fine tuning of the universe. In other words we get the DI’s standard laundry list of misconceptions and misunderstandings. Here is another example in discussing the evolution of the eye Luskin says:

“If you look at these [evolutionary] schemes, they often very abruptly add a lens or a cornea,” said Casey Luskin, a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that advocates intelligent design. But things don’t just appear suddenly in evolution, Luskin said. “You need to evolve things in a step-by-step fashion.”

Who says evolution only adds things in a step by step fashion?

It’s all very balanced and quite useless. One wonders why National Geographic wasted their time on this deck.

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9 Responses

  1. Sorry, that link should be here

  2. Yeah, I was dismayed that a science-based organization like Nat Geo gave the DI any space at all. But at least they didn’t give them unopposed space (like the crap that Stephen Meyer just posted on CNN.com), and gave me a chance to answer it without any rebuttal from them. If the answers seem a bit odd, remember that they culled down almost an hour interview into just a few sentences–and misquoted me in a few places (such as the implication that we have a fossil record of transitional eyes, when I clearly stated it’s based on comparison of living organisms and their different photoreceptors).
    Oh, well, that’s the media these days. You do the best you can…

  3. I haven’t seen the Stephen Meyer’s stuff. It doesn’t look to me like Nat Geo gave a lot of space for replies to Luskin…

  4. Instead of merely lamenting, you might wonder why Nat Geo gave some significant space to those arguments. Supposedly, they have all been “demolished” long ago. But now we see this science-based organization has given this evolutionary critique a fair hearing. It avoided the standard snide comments and manipulation and just gave a view of both sides.
    I wouldn’t consider a geologist like Mr. Prothero to be much of an expert in microbiology or cosmology either, so perhaps that was unfair. But his responses only confirmed my view on why Nat Geo gave the DI such sympathetic coverage. For example, the notion that the fine-tuning of the universe (admitted by several prominent, non-creationist/ID scientists) is the result of a “lack of imagination” suggests that his imagination should be considered a source of data. This is especially convenient in the multiverse conjectures since one can postulate an infinite number of them in order to “prove” that fine-tuning was inevitable. This, supposedly, “settles” the discussion.
    Even in an area where Mr. Prothero possesses more competence, as with the Cambrian fossils, I wouldn’t say that his response was convincing.
    It may help to resort to the standard anti-ID approach and simply refer to anyone who disagrees with you as “liars” — although given the increased attention that ID researchers are getting in mainstream media these days, I wouldn’t say that it will be the most succesful way to build crediblity either.

  5. And yet I am somewhat familiar with the arguments proposed by the Id proponents and other creationists. Prothero’s characterization of Luskin’s whale argument is accurate. Luskin knows nothing about the evolution of whales and is trying to portray himself as some kind of expert on the subject – yet a simple literature search reveals that Luskin doesn’t know what he is talking about. Since you mention the fine tuning argument, I have to say that until we find other worlds, in other solar systems, with other life the idea of fine tuning is untestable. You might also look into just what the subject of paleontology covers – hint “microevolution” is one subject covered by the field, hence Prothero would know quite a bit about it. Your answers makes my point for me. Creationists and ID types do not engage the subject of evolution with any intent to actually understand the subject, rather they just skim the surface looking for wiords that, like Satan, they can twist to their own purposes.

  6. I didn’t realize that creationist trolls were on this website! But I’ll clarify the points myself: I am a paleontologist, with advanced degrees in both geology and biology, extensive training in microbiology, astronomy, classics, cosmology, and I can read the Bible in both Greek and Hebrew (which few creationists can, or they wouldn’t be literalists). This Nat Geo interview was extremely shortened so the answers are somewhat garbled, but I answer these questions at length in my 2007 book, “Evolution: what the fossils say and why it matters.” I’m AMAZED that any ID cretinist mentions the Cambrian “explosion”, because it’s a very “slow fuse” as abundantly documented in my book. And the cretinists have a lot of gall to even mention whale evolution, since none of the ID gang have any relevant training in paleontology, and the documentation of whale evolution in the fossil record is now one of the best we have. If “creationbydesign” actually cared about the truth, he would pick up my book or Dawkins’ or Shubin’s or Coyne’s book and actually learn some real science, and wrestle with the real data, rather than the distortions coming out of the Disco Tute…

  7. “creationbydesign” never defends his/her original comments – more of a drive by troll really.

  8. Mr, Prothero might be interested to know that people do not need to be “on a website” to read and respond to comments on WordPress blogs. There’s this thing called “the internet” and it’s quite a lot different than the world of academic publishing where one can communicate soley with one’s own adoring fans.
    Yes, I’m interested in the “abundant” documentation of the pre-Cambrian fossil evidence. I’ll imagine that it takes up an entire page in his book. It’s interesting that that you don’t miss an opportunity to sell additional copies of the same. But I find it even more interesting that my remarks on your cosmological opinions were ignored entirely.
    Perhaps it’s best to take afarensis’ view that anyone who disagrees with your opinion is a “troll”. Or you could simply call them “liars”. Let’s see how successful that approach will be in the future. We saw a new majority in the U.K. now supporting the teaching of Intelligent Design alongside evolution for the first time ever this year. So — keep it up. You’re doing a great job!

  9. I think you are very uninformed on the Cambrian “explosion” – it takes up more than one page in most paleontology books. Additionally, there is an abundant literature on the subject as well. I would suggest that you genuinely explore the literature rather than quotemine whatever you think fits a creationist story. If you did, you might find that there was no Cambrian explosion rather diversification of body forms and such was well underway before the Cambrian. I called you a troll because up until now you have never tried to defend comments you make.

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