February 25, 2008

Babu Ranganathan Fuming About Fossilized Bat Ancestor

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote an entry for this blog about Onychonycteris finneyi, an animal that lived approximately 52,000,000 years ago and is clearly from a lineage ancestral to modern bats. I concluded with the following prediction:

I'm waiting, of course, for the inevitable statement of denial from a Creationist group. Something like, "It's not an intermediate form because it had wings, so it's just another bat!" Someone out there has gotta do it, after all. Must keep those gaps open to give the creator/intelligent designer someplace to live.
I'm happy to report this morning that my hypothesis was adequately predictive, as confirmed by none other than Babu Ranganathan in his latest bizarre screed, appearing as usual in the Creationist-run Seoul Times of Korea. He comes so close to what I wrote at one point, in fact, that some readers may conclude that I must have written his column myself. While I can't guarantee that Ranganathan didn't take a cue from my article, I promise that I don't do his writing for him. Here's some of what that babbling baboon Babu had to say:
Fossil Doesn't Support Bat Evolution!

Author Babu Ranganathan contemplates how to best tell his next lieHere we go again! Recently evolutionists have discovered a fossil of a bat which which they claim indicates that bats learned to fly before they developed the ability of echolocation (i.e. sonar ability).

The fossil they claim is found in rock strata two million years older than the previously thought oldest bat fossil. Some argue that this particular fossil shows no evidence of having sonar ability, but they believed it was able to fly so they have concluded that this fossil is some transitional form.
Babu is, of course, leaving out a lot of information here, which is pretty much par for the course for Creationist liars who take for granted that their audience are idiots. In the article I wrote about O. finneyi, I give a list of several (though not all) of the traits demonstrating an intermediate position for this organism. Among these are wing topology and forelimb-to-hindlimb length ratio. This isn't a question of "believing" the animal could fly; it possesses traits that demonstrate that it was capable of powered flight (e.g., a keeled breastbone) and, moreover, allow a determination of the manner in which it flew. It can be said with confidence, for example, that it wasn't a very good flyer and spent a good deal of its airborne time gliding. That's not convenient for Ranganathan's position, however, so he lies by omission and deprives his readers of the full facts, counting on their only looking at sources he points them to. Note that nowhere in his article does Ranganathan ever tell his readers where to find the original work on this fossil, to get the full story and decide for themselves. For all of his moaning about presenting full information, it's certainly not something you will ever see this baboon do in one of his banal, dishonest screeds.
The fact is that this fossil bat is complete. There is nothing it lacks even from what modern bats possess. What about bat echolocation (sonar ability)? Not even all living bats today possess echolation, some do and some don't. And even the assumption that this newly discovered fossil bat did not possess echolocation is an assumption. Just because the fossil bat appeared to possess a small cochlea does not necessarily mean it did not possess echolocation. Small does not always mean less advanced. Even we humans have produced ever more smaller computer chips, which are more advanced than the bigger ones! ...
Again, the baboon leads off with a lie; O. finneyi has a number of traits we don't see in modern bats, including a wing structure that isn't seen in any bats present in the world day. It has extra claws, it has a different shape, and it has a different ratio to the hindlimbs. The bones in the skull are quite different, too. Of course the fossil itself is complete; does Ranganathan also think that when demographers say that an average family has 2.5 children that there are mothers giving birth only to the left sides of offspring out there? We wouldn't expect to see bats without heads flying about at any point in evolutionary time, either. Bats that don't possess echolocation today, such a flying foxes, are diurnal and so possess other traits that aren't present in nocturnal bats, all of which use echolocation. Moreover, the very few bats that don't possess echolocation also aren't insectivores; O. finneyi was, and it was likely not a night hunter. Furthermore, the cochlea plays a pivotal role in all animals that possess echolocation, whether we're talking about bats or dolphins. Without special adaptations of the cochlea in some manner, echolocation isn't possible. In the case of every bat capable of echolocation today, that capability is reliant upon enlargement of the cochlea along with some other accompanying traits, none of which are seen in O. finneyi.

Making the statement that the cochlea is smaller but somehow more "advanced" and that it can be compared to a manufactured microchip does nothing but show how little Ranganathan understands about the system of which he speaks. There's nothing to suggest that O. finneyi's cochlea had any unique structures that would have enabled it to be useful for echolocation, and we certainly don't see such unique arrangements in any of today's bats. Ranganathan is just making unsupported statements, making up yet another story that, while convenient for his misguided argument, have no basis whatsoever in reality.
Millions of people are taught in schools and textbooks all over the world that the fossil record furnishes scientific proof of evolution. But, where are there fossils of half-evolved dinosaurs or other creatures?

The fossil record contains fossils of only complete and fully-formed species. There are no fossils of partially-evolved species to indicate that a gradual process of evolution ever occurred...
This is true once one redefines what "partially-evolved" means in a sort of front-loading argument. In Ranganathan's strange world of pseudoscience, the only acceptable evidence for evolution in the fossil record would occur if we could somehow demonstrate that ancestral species had a goal from the outset and knew what their descendants would look like. This is a requirement only of Creationist baboons, though. Evolutionary biology doesn't require it. We can only say that a trait is "partially-evolved" (a term that would only be used colloquially; there's no such thing as a partial trait for reasons I'll explain momentarily) when we look at a primitive trait in comparison to a derived one. In other words, it's a relative term, not an absolute as Ranganathan demands. This is just a baboon-constructed strawman; he's made up his own definitions for "trait" and "evolution" and then proceeds to disprove the meanings he has himself dreamed up.
...all of the fossils, with their fancy scientific names, that have been used to support human evolution have eventually been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not both human and non-human...
Of course no human ancestor is both human and non-human; those are contradictory terms. Either a fossil organism is or isn't human; it can't be both at the same time by definition. It may possess some number of traits that are the same ones found in humans and based on the number of character states the organism has in common with humans one might say that it is more or less human-like, but whether that organism has 50% or 75% of the same characters, it isn't human unless we're looking specifically at a Homo sapiens. Ranganathan here has added more evidence that he hasn't a clue what he's complaining about.
Even if evolution takes millions and millions of years, we should still be able to see some stages of its process. But, we simply don't observe any partially-evolved fish, frogs, lizards, birds, dogs, cats among us. Every species of plant and animal is complete and fully-formed...
By this, again, Ranaganathan is saying that he expects to see halves of frogs leaping about, dogs that have no legs, etc. We do, of course, see numerous organisms in the fossil record (including O. finneyi) that possess some traits that are like those of modern animals and some that are like other extinct species or even like those we see in organisms that are descended from common ancestors. That we don't see any extinct species among us today is, again, a matter of definition. If it was "among us," it wouldn't be an extinct organism. Any given species is fully-formed because it's impossible to have a species that isn't fully-formed, but that doesn't make one species with a complete set of characters the same as another species with a complete set of characters. That Ranganathan even comes up with nonsense like this shows us that he not only has no concept of what the words "trait" and "species" mean in the sense that they're used in biology, but that he's getting pretty desperate, too.
A lizard with half-evolved legs and wings can't run or fly away from its predators. How would it survive? Why would it be preserved by natural selection? Imagine such a species surviving in such a miserable state over many millions of years waiting for fully-formed wings to evolve!
"Half-evolved" is meaningless; every character state is fully evolved. There's no such thing as "half-evolved legs;" there are legs that have characters that are different from other legs, but they are themselves still fully-evolved. Ranganathan is trying to conjure up some image of lizards with half-legs. But here's the interesting thing; there are lizards in the world today with no legs, and they survive just fine. There are also snakes that have vestigial legs, such as pythons and boas, and they survive in the wild. Again, Ranganathan isn't going to let facts and accuracy get in the way of convincing ignorant people to abandon any attempt to educate themselves. For this reason alone, Ranganathan is the lowest snake of them all.
Some evolutionists cite the fossil of an ancient bird known to have claws as an example of a transitional link. However, there are two species of birds living today in South America that have claws on their wings, but even evolutionists today do not claim that these birds are transitional links from a reptilian ancestry. These claws are complete, as everything else on the birds...
The baboon is making reference here to a bird called the Hoatzin, a South American ratite-like bird in which a pair of claws is present on the wing of chicks. We don't claim that they're transitional because there's no evidence that the species itself is a reptile that possesses bird-like traits, and the transition in characters from reptile-ancestor to bird-ancestor has already happened. The claws, by the way, are not permanent; they disappear as the bird matures. To the point, then: what would an incomplete claw be? Either something is or is not a claw; it may have certain proportions, a distinctive shape, but a claw is a claw. It's impossible for there to be an incomplete one. Ranganathan goes on with this ridiculous line of reasoning in the next excerpt as well.
Recently it was thought they had discovered fossils of dinosaurs with feathers until they found out that the so-called feathers were really scales which only had the appearance of feathers. Scientists theorize the scales took upon a feather-like appreance during some brief stage of decomposition before being fossilized. Even if they were feathers, this still wouldn't be any kind of evidence to support macro-evolution unless they can show a series of fossils having part-scale/part-feather structures as evidence that the scales had really evolved into feathers...
Um, no, this is just made-up. If something has characters common to both feathers and scales, then it is an example of evolution from scale to feather. This baboon is trying to say that because paleontologists have discovered something that fils in a gap in the fossil record, they've now created a new gap on either side of the old one. The criteria that Ranganathan is trying to set up here can never be satisfied by anything that could ever be found because no matter how many transitional stages we find between two characterss, we would always have to find two more to satisfy this insane requirement. The only way that this could ever be met would be if every organism that ever lived had been fossilized and subsequently discovered. I don't mean representative fossils from every species, either; I mean literally every single thing that had ever lived. We know that doesn't happen and we wouldn't expect that it would happen. Again, Ranganathan is just exploiting the ignorance of his readers to generate support for his anti-reason crusade. For what Ranganathan is saying about traits to be true, we would have to live in some alternate universe where extinctions never occurred and character states could never be discretely apportioned.

Why is this? Simply put, a character state can never be "partial." Even when we're talking about quantitative characters, either a state exists or it doesn't. You can't have half of a character state. Ranganathan has used claws as an example, so I'll use it, too.

To begin with, we have to define what we mean by "claw" in order to say anything useful about it. I'll use a simple definition here: a claw is an accessory structure at the tip of a vertebrate's digit composed of a protein and supplied by at least one blood vessel (a nail, by contrast, doesn't contain blood vessels and we must distinguish between the two characters in order to say something about either one). We can now look at the variety of this character called "claw" and look at some of the character states in which we find the character itself.

For example, the character "claw" can contain a number of different shapes. It could be curved or straight, for example. "Curved" and "straight" are each a character state. It might possess or lack pigmentation, so we assign the states "pigmented" or "non-pigmented." It might have a blunt or sharp tip. It might be supplied with two or four blood vessels. It might be retractable or non-retractable. Each of these choices represents two distinct character states.

Now we can look at all of the claws in some group of organisms (taxa) that all possess the character. We find one taxon that has curved, sharp, retractable, non-pigmented claws (most cats) and we find another that has curved, sharp, non-pigmented, non-retractable claws (cheetahs). We find a third that has straight, pigmented, sharp, non-retractable claws (for purposes of this example, bears). All three taxa have claws, although the claws are different. Based upon the states present in the character that all three taxa share, we can arrange them in a sort of diagram (a phylogenetic tree). Because the claws of cheetahs have more in common than with "most cats" than they do with those of bears (they share more character states), we say that cheetahs are more closely related to most cats than they are to bears, meaning that the taxa "cheetah" and "most cats" have a more recent common ancestor than either of the two taxa have with bears. At no point do we have "partially evolved" claws, just a character called "claw" that can have a number of different states. When we have a larger number of characters, each possibly present in a number of different states, what we then have are a number of different lines of evidence that will either support or contradict the phylogeny we constructed based on the single character.

At no point is there something that's "partly a claw." If it doesn't have a blood vessel, it's no longer a claw but a nail. Based on our definition, either something is or is not a claw. Now, we could look at claws that have gradually lost that blood vessel in a progression, if we find any, and so perhaps see how claws changed into nails, but the characters themselves are absolute. A claw isn't a partially-evolved nail; the structure meets the criteria for one or the other character. There's nothing partial about this, except if we already have the progression in front of us; then we can make a relative statement and say that some particular claw, or series of claws, is more like a nail than some other examples of the same character with a different set of traits. We never have half of a claw or half of a nail.

Ranaganathan lacks even a basic operative understanding of how this works. He's just making up stories, like a child who doesn't understand where lightning comes from and so thinks that angels are at war with one another. It's nothing but blather.
...the problem for evolutionists is that all the traits which they cite are complete and fully-formed. And evolutionists are not consistent. The duck-billed platypus, for example, has traits belonging to both mammals and birds but even evolutionists won't go so far as to claim that the duck-billed platypus is a transitional link between birds and mammals!
Well, yeah... because the platypus doesn't have any traits its shares with birds. The platypus egg and the platypus bill are not like those we see in birds; they're more like characters found in reptiles. The platypus also has characters found in mammals, such as fur and milk production. We thus say that the platypus is a descendant of a lineage that arose during some transition from an ancestor that feel somewhere along the line between reptiles and mammals. The platypus itself isn't transitional, because as far as well know the species didn't evolve into placental mammals. One of its ancestors, however, may have been common to both modern monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and placental mammals — perhaps. Does Ranganathan ever know what he's talking about?
In fact, it is precisely because of these problems that more and more modern evolutionists are adopting a new theory known as Punctuated Equilibrium which says that plant and animal species evolved suddenly from one kind to another and that is why we don't see evidence of partially-evolved species in the fossil record. Of course, we have to accept their word on blind faith because there is no way to prove or disprove what they are saying. These evolutionists claim that something like massive bombardment of radiation resulted in mega mutations in species which produced "instantaneous" changes from one life form to another...
Again, the baboon is making up stories; his understanding of punctuated equilibrium would appear to come entirely from comic books. What punctuated equilibrium actually says is that evolution generally progresses very slowly, but during certain crises (sudden environmental changes that can include everything from diseases to volcanic eruptions that block out the sun), large-scale extinctions of some taxa occur that open up previously occupied niches. Populations of other species, particularly generalists with large degrees of allelic diversity, will then adapt in rapid radiations to fill those niches, generating new species. This is a rather typical Creationist canard, of course. Punctuated equilibrium hypotheses are not contradictions of classical evolutionary theory but an addition to them that agrees with what we find happening in particular circumstances. Ranganathan might be very good company for telling exciting stories around a campfire, but he surely doesn't know anything about biology.
The evidence from genetics supports only the possibility for microevolution (or horizontal) evolution within biological "kinds" such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc., but not macroevolution (or vertical) evolution which would involve variations across biological "kinds"), especially from simpler kinds to more complex ones (i.e. from fish to human). Even if a new species develops but there are no new genes or new traits, but only new variations of already existing genes and traits, then there still is no macro-evolution...

Variations across biological kinds such as humans evolving from ape-like creatures and apes, in turn, evolving from dog-like creatures and so on, as Darwinian evolutionary theory teaches, are not genetically possible. Although the chemicals to make entirely new genes exist in all varieties of plant and animal kinds, the DNA or genetic program that exists in each plant or animal kind will only direct those chemicals into making more of the same genes or variations of the same genes but not entirely new genes...
This is such utter nonsense that I only include it to demonstrate the extremes to which Ranganathan is willing to go in order to get people to believe the lies he's telling. What the heck are "the chemicals to make new genes," anyhow? The only chemical needed to make new genes is good old deoxyribonucleic acid. A "new gene" just means that an old one gets copied twice during replication, is reproduced in subsequent generations, and because there are two copies of the same gene now present, one of them is under relaxed selection because it isn't absolutely necessary for the organism possessing two copies to survive. That gene under relaxed selection can take on some new function because it's free to change; repair mechanisms don't have to do a very good job of "fixing" it and the organism will still survive. It might become a new functional gene, it might become a functionless pseudogene, it might become a controller that doesn't code for a product but acts as a binding site for an enzyme that's needed for a nearby gene to be transcribed more efficiently... it could have any number of fates. There's nothing here that precludes small changes that add up to very large ones given sufficient time. Note that the duplicated gene itself is a new trait, which Ranganathan misses entirely because he doesn't understand that "trait" can refer to both morphology (phenotype) and molecular characteristics (e.g., genotype). He doesn't understand much of what he blathers about at all, it would seem. Hardly surprising, but for him to try to speak with authority on the subject demonstrates nothing more than a very large ego and very little integrity. This distinction between micro- and macro-evolution is one that only exists in his head. It's a matter of scale generated by additions, not some absolute measurement.
The common belief among evolutionists is that random mutations in the genetic code produced by random environmental forces such as radiation, over time, will produce entirely new genetic sequences or genes for entirely new traits which natural selection can act upon resulting in entirely new biological kinds or forms of life . Evolutionists consider mutations to be a form of natural genetic engineering.
The baboon is certainly hung up on radiation, isn't he? I think it's because it's the only source of mutations that he still remembers from the two or three introductory biology classes he took many years ago. So, what is an "entirely new genetic sequence," then? Is the sequence ATTAGCA entirely different from ATTTAGCA? Think about it for a moment.

Yes, they are entirely different if we look at what will be produced from them. The first one will produce a polypeptide three amino acids long when translated. The second one will only produce a single amino acid, because that extra thymine inserted in the fourth position creates a frame-shift resulting in a stop codon. Now what if ATTAGCA gets changed to ATCAGCA; are these two entirely different sequences? From the point of view of a product, probably not; the change in the first triplet happens in the third codon and, due to something called the degeneracy of codons, the same amino acid translated from ATT, isoleucine is translated from ATC.

Nor is an environmental change or radiation required for this to happen; mistakes sometimes occur in code copying during replication that have nothing at all to do with the environment. In fact, such errors are probably more common than mutations generated by bursts of radiation... unless, of course, you're Magneto or the Incredible Hulk, I suppose. The stuff about "natural genetic engineering" is pure nonsense; there's no engineering involved. Mutations in nature are random; I'd hate to think there was anyone engineering anything at all but merely making random changes. Engineering, as far as I know, is quite a deliberate process.
However, the very nature of mutations precludes such a possibility. Mutations are accidental changes in the sequential structure of the genetic code caused by various random environmental forces such as radiation and toxic chemicals...
Comic-book baboon strikes again. Some mutations are caused by environmental factors, some by replicative errors because polymerases aren't perfect. Ranganathan is trying for a bit of dramatic license here, I suppose.
Almost all true mutations are harmful, which is what one would normally expect from accidents. Even if a good mutation occurred for every good one there will be thousands of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species...
Not even close. The vast majority of mutations are neither harmful nor beneficial, and even most deleterious mutations turn out to be very mildly so. About as many mutations are extremely harmful as are extremely beneficial; aside from this tiny proportion, the rest fall somewhere in the middle. In order for a mutation to have any effect at all, it has to meet a number of specific requirements. Does the mutation code for a different product? If it does, does this occur in a location that matters to the functioning of the product (e.g., an active site in an enzyme)? Does the mutation even occur in a coding region? Vast stretches of DNA don't actually code for anything, after all, and those are free to mutate and mutate and mutate without ever doing anything in terms of organismal fitness. In fact, when we look at molecular characters to reconstruct evolutionary history, we often use both coding and non-coding regions to fill in the picture precisely because conserved coding regions aren't informative enough on their own due to natural selection, whereas non-coding regions can contain so much variation between taxa that we can't use them alone to connect the dots, either. The combination of both sorts of sequences gives us useful information, however. One commonly-used sequence, the rDNA internally transcribe spacer (ITS) is practically in every molecular analysis these days — because it can mutate without causing species to become extinct!
Just because the laws of science can explain how life and the universe operate and work doesn't mean there is no Maker. Would it be rational to believe that there's no designer behind airplanes because the laws of science can explain how airplanes operate and work?..
The first sentence is true; there could be a "maker." There could also be a giant chicken living on Triton that sings arias every day at 3:45 PM Greenwich mean time and has a fondness for burritos. We don't have any evidence for the existence of either one, though. Perhaps Ranganathan will go into a laboratory some day and provide some? Just one scrap of evidence? Because until there's evidence for something, it's not part of science. End of story right there; if someone wants to include supernatural causation, they're going to have to show how it affects natural phenomena. If natural phenomena are being so influenced, then that fact can be demonstrated. If they aren't, then whether or not a "maker" exists is entirely immaterial to science, which studies natural phenomena such as biology. Whether the "maker" doesn't exist at all or exists but doesn't do anything to living things doesn't matter, either; we don't need to include the study of a "maker" who doesn't do anything to affect the diversification of living things over time in evolutionary biology anymore than we have to study the influence of licorice-flavored candy in it. Neither would be germane to the topic at hand.

The airplane bit is simply category error. We know that airplanes are designed because there are people who make their living designing them. We don't have to look for evidence that airplanes are designed because we already have it. We don't have any evidence that living things are designed or that they're anything like airplanes, for that matter. On the other hand, after Ranganathan's latest column we now have additional evidence that if you lock a baboon in a room with a typewriter for a sufficient amount of time, he'll produce a big pile of something hot, smelly and brown. Perhaps that can be Ranganathan's contribution to science — though I don't know that anybody doubted it in the first place.

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