Explore Evolution The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism

Fossil Succession

John Timmer repeatedly attacks EE for allegedly trying to “divide and conquer” evolution because it discusses the different lines of scientific evidence (i.e. fossil, anatomical, molecular) regarding common descent in separate sections. Timmer’s criticism reveals either his gross ignorance of how contemporary biology texts cover evolution, or that he’s using a blatant double standard.  EE was written to complement the coverage of evolution in standard biology textbooks, and so it follows the approach used by most biology textbooks, which divide the evidence for common descent into separate sections dealing with fossils, comparative anatomy, molecular biology, embryology, and biogeography. (See for example, Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell, 2003, pp. 260-263; Mader, 2007, pp. 224-227; Raven & Johnson, 2005, pp. 460-466.)

If Timmer wants to argue for a different way of presenting the evidence for evolution, fine. But he should acknowledge up front that most biology textbooks—not just Explore Evolution—fail to follow his preferences. Attacking EE simply because it follows the approach adopted by most biology textbooks is unreasonable.

The same can be said for Timmer’s criticism of EE for only discussing the fossil bird Archaeopteryxwhen covering the origin of flight. Timmer complains that “[n]one of the other fossils on either side of the transition to flight are deemed worthy of mention.” Disregarding the fact that Timmer himself fails to name any of these allegedly “worthy” transitional fossils in his critique, it must be noted that most high school textbooks (which EE is supposed to complement) also do not mention bird fossils beyond Archaeopteryx when discussing the evolution of flight. Miller & Levine’s 2008 edition of Biology has an entire section titled “Evolution of Birds,” but the only fossil species named is Archaeopteryx. Miller & Levine’s Biology asserts that “new fossils of ancient birds are being found all the time,” but much like Timmer, the textbook gives no names or specific examples of what those fossil species are. 

So once again, Timmer holds Explore Evolution to a standard that he’s not willing to apply to other biology textbooks.

References Cited

Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece, Lawrence G. Mitchell, and Martha R. Taylor, Biology: Concepts and Connections, Benjamin Cummings, 4th Ed., 2003.

Holt Science & Technology, Life Science: California Edition, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 2001.

Sylvia S. Mader, Essentials of Biology, McGraw Hill, 2007.

Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph Levine, Biology, Prentice Hall, 2008.

Peter H. Raven, George B. Johnson, Jonathan B. Losos, Susan R. Singer, Biology, McGraw Hill, 7th Ed., 2005.

Timmer, John. A biologist reviews an evolution textbook from the ID camp. September 24, 2008.

Malcolm Gordon and the Origin of Tetrapods

John Timmer accuses Explore Evolution of what he calls the “find a Ph.D.” approach: “if you look hard enough, you can find someone with a PhD who will say anything.” In this instance, Timmer disparages the minority viewpoint of UCLA biologist Malcolm Gordon (a tenured professor, actually), who has argued that the tetrapods may have evolved polyphyletically (i.e., more than once). It’s the textbook catechism again: why bother with citing some lone dissenter like Gordon? Timmer counts noses, and the sum determines what is worthy of attention. Claim that the scientists cited in EE pale in numbers to those who support the catechismal view, and voilá, case closed. There is no controversy and we can all go home. This is science by census. But Read More ›

The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism