What Darwinist Bullying Looks Like, and What It Doesn't - Evolution News & Views

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What Darwinist Bullying Looks Like, and What It Doesn't

I find this very telling. For anyone who doubts that bullying is a favored tactic among Darwin defenders, go look at a discussion sparked by Casey Luskin's article here, "Phylogenetic Conflicts Turn Ant Genus into 'Motley Assortment of Unrelated Species.'" Casey was commenting on a post that appeared at Myrmecos, a blog about "insects, science, and photography." The subject was news that a very common tropical ant genus, Pachycondyla, "turns out to be a motley assortment of unrelated species." Casey argued that the news confirmed a general observation relevant to the question of common descent:

This is yet another example of how morphology, DNA, and even biogeography can lead to wildly different ideas about phylogenetic trees, showing that the methods of phylogenetic reconstruction -- used to bolster common descent -- often yield results at variance with key pieces of evidence.

He wasn't saying that this by itself blows common descent out of the water, or anything like that, just that it contributes another item in a long list that, taken together, casts suspicion on a key assumption of Darwinian theory. In the comments under the original post at Myrmecos, someone pointed out that Pachycondyla was always understood to be an artificial construct -- something that would have been evident from reading Casey's original article since he quotes Myrmecos to that effect.

Yet this prompted an outburst in the thread from our old friend Nick Matzke, late of the National Center for Science Education, now a biology grad student at UC Berkeley. The thread is long and I want to save you the trouble and aggravation of wading through Matzke's bile. In the end, it comes down to this. Nick spews personal abuse at Casey, claiming that Casey didn't know and should have known that Pachycondyla was a construct. (But Casey did know.)

Matzke then demands that Casey pass a series of insulting tests of evolutionary knowledge before he, Nick, will agree to interact with Casey on the issue. Casey, also in the thread, calmly replies that he's not going to submit to such ridiculous and demeaning treatment, but instead was simply interested in placing some serious scientific questions before the ant experts on that thread. Casey then asks if anyone can clear up how the ants of Pachycondyla were gathered into such a hodgepodge of a genus in the first place.

Now an entomologist, James C. Trager, enters the conversation. He briefly says he doesn't care for Discovery Institute's "agenda" either but proceeds to give a rational, informative, respectful explanation of how such an assortment came to be gathered under the one genus heading. It turns out that just as Casey suggested, the ants grouped within Pachycondyla shared some important morphological similarities -- similarities that are put in a different light by the genetic data, which yield a contrary evolutionary tree.

If you'll notice, Matzke says nothing on the substance of the matter other than to reel off a bunch of abstract topical headings:

Hi Casey -- to even have to have a reasonable discussion about this -- e.g. what I would expect when grading a student's essay question in a phylogenetics course, for instance -- you would have to hit most or all of these topics:

evolutionary systematics

phylogenetic systematics

shared ancestral characters
shared derived characters

Hennig

phylogenetic signal

...and apply them to this specific situation, indicating that you understood the basics of what was going on in the professional scientific discussion.

When speaking to the public about such a topic, I would expect not only the above, but some introduction for the general reader about what the above terms mean and how the professional scientists are understanding what is going on using these concepts.

He goes on and on. I'll spare you the juvenile name-calling that accompanies this. There's no argument, no substance, no evidence, no enlightenment, just bilious, angry condescension.

Compare that to James Trager's response:

I think Nick is fully justified in his statements about the agenda of the Discovery Institute.

I also think Casey's comment about lax use of terminology around relatedness is a worthy point.

However, I'll just try to answer Casey's latest question, which does touch closely on this blog post, and is a good question. Why were various ant species originally grouped within Pachycondyla? A full exposition of this topic would require a re-reading of the original description of the genus and much of the subsequent literature that assigned species to it, took them out, and put them back in. The simple way to think of it is covered in the following bullets...

And he goes on from there. The contrast is really striking.

What does it matter? Who is Nick Matzke in the grand scheme of things, or even in the not-very-grand-at-all scheme? My simple point is that there are a variety of ways to respond to someone you disagree with. You can heap on the abuse (Matzke). Or you can equably try to shed light (Trager). As Casey rightly observes in the thread, Matzke's style, extremely common among Darwin activists, is all about trying to win by intimidation.

Admittedly, this isn't the serious problem that bullying like that in the Eric Hedin case is. (By the way, did you sign the petition for Ball State University's Dr. Hedin? Please do now.) But you see how the culture of Darwinism works, and most clearly by way of contrast when you hear from someone like Trager who rejects ID yet talks substance instead of trash. Because in many ways Darwinism is a culture more than it is science per se.


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