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Winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2004 Science Journalism Award

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Carl Zimmer Carl Zimmer is the author of several popular science books and writes frequently for the New York Times, as well as for magazines including The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Science, Newsweek, Popular Science, and Discover, where he is a contributing editor. Carl's books include Soul Made Flesh,, Parasite Rex and Evolution: The Triumph of An Idea. His latest book is Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins. Please send newsworthy items or feedback to blog-at-carlzimmer.com.
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."From the Mouths of Lizards Spew Clues to the Origin of Snake Venom "
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The Loom
December 29, 2004
Ms. Schlafly, You Receive an FEmail This EntryPrint This Entry
Posted by Carl Zimmer
Phyllis Schlafly has suddenly become interested in evolution! She has written the most staggering display of buffoonery on the subject that I've read in a long time. She can't even tell the difference between Darwin and Lamarck--seriously. At least Steve Reuland at Panda's Thumb can dismantle this ignorant nonsense while retaining his sense of humor.

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COMMENTS
Michael Buratovich on December 30, 2004 02:46 PM writes...

Dear Carl,

Yes the Schlafly article was egregious. It is horrific when someone criticizes what scientists think about evolution and then gets it spectacularly wrong. Her comment about whales and bears as a case in point. No one believes that whales evolved from bears anymore and the only reference I can find to it is Darwin's first edition of "Origin of Species." A perusal of further editions of Darwin's book failed to produce this speculation, which causes me to suspect that he deleted it. What about all the recent fossil animals intermediate between moden whales and ancient ungulates that have been unearthed and published in mainline journals in the last 25 years? Why doesn't she mention those? Would Ms. Schlafly like us to dismiss such finds in schools and pretend that they do not exist?

The giraffe comments as well betray a unique sense of misinformation. She seems to have merged Lamarkian and Darwinian evolution into the same vein. What textbook makes this argument for the evolution of the giraffe? If there is such a book, then it should be taken off the market and its author sacked.

Finally, I am so tired of this sawhorse about Haeckel's embryos. When I took high school Biology twenty years ago, our textbook had pictures of Haeckel's embryos, but it told us that the drawings were exaggerated. There is no trade secret or conspiracy here. Gould's book "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" did a masterful job of addressing the issue. Yes Haeckel's drawings were fudged, but the problem is being addressed. Biology textbooks are not using Haeckel's drawings anymore and to some degree, the issue has been largely addressed. When the smoke clears, the simple facts remain - vertebrate development entails several conserved morphogenetic events (lateral plate mesoderm development for example) and stages (gastrula, neurula and so on). At the molecular level, the common mechanisms that are used for lateral inhibition and induction and so on show staggering similarities, even to the point that fish genes work in frogs and visa-versa. No amount of politicking can explain that away.

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Steve Russell on December 30, 2004 06:23 PM writes...

"[L]ike an acid, evolution corrodes this inborn appreciation of beauty and falsely trains children to view themselves as mere animals no more worthy than dogs or cats." Sheesh. Who is this no-nothing to judge the worthiness of my cats? One thing evolution teaches is that the "lower" animals are the products of just as long an evolutionary process as we are. In this case, I can safely say that my cats--well, okay, probably only the female--know more about evolutionary theory than Ms. Schlafly is ever likely to learn.

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Double_W on December 30, 2004 09:39 PM writes...

Uh, who is this person? I take it she is a newspaper columnist, but this is the first time I've ever heard of her. Given she writes for Townhall.com -- a web site for the farthest right of the right -- I'm not very concerned about what she has too say: She's preaching to the choir.

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Heather on December 31, 2004 03:24 AM writes...

I'm reminded of this Jack Chick comic, Big Daddy. It spouts the same apologetics standbys as Ms. Schlafly's article, along with some young-earth/old-earth struggles, and this fascinating interchange:

Creationist Student: Sir, What is the binding force of the atom?
Professor: It's gluons!
C.S.: Wrong, sir! Gluons are a made-up dream.

It's painful to see Ms. Schlafly claim that only through creationism (rather than knowledge) can one truly appreciate "the striking beauty of the colored pattern on the giraffes."

Heather 'Apple-Eater' Yager

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riverrat on December 31, 2004 04:13 PM writes...

It's too bad that Double_W does not appreciate the danger posed by Schafley. She has been a powerful political Her successes, and those of her allies in the religious right, have warped the politics of this country almost beyond belief. This religious-based group wants to impose a theocracy on the United States.
It would be good if we all knew a lot more about Ms. Schafley, and that we took her organizing successes to heart and did some organizing of our own.

Permalink to Comment
Barry Sylva on January 1, 2005 01:57 AM writes...

Don't feel too bad everyone. We too (Australia) have outbreaks of similar irrationality from time to time.
However, logic and commonsense usually prevail, and I don't think most academics, or "lay" persons like myself, bother arguing with these people any longer.Our churches stay well away from the dialogue too. Better I think, although difficult at times, to give them the same freedom of belief we desire for ourselves.I guess I am evolving with age into something that is new to me - trying not to get angry, to my own detriment. But I still love reading the arguments !!
Regards to All, Barry Sylva, NSW, Australia

Permalink to Comment
Danny on January 3, 2005 06:48 AM writes...

As I understand it, Ken Ham is Australian, as is his Answers in Genesis organization, which seems to be the leading YEC group in the US. :p

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John Wilkins on January 3, 2005 06:48 PM writes...

Yes, Darwin dropped the bears to whales comment in (I think) the second and subsequent editions of the Origin because the suggestion was considered absurd by his contemporaries. But note that Darwin did not say whales evolved from bears, but only that the baleen whales could have evolved from a mammal that strained insects as it swam and that the same processes could evolve a bear to "something as monstrous as a whale". In fact, Darwin was wrong - whales evolved baleen after they moved to a fully aquatic lifestyle.

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Clifford Dubery on January 4, 2005 06:47 AM writes...

I ahev spent some time studying Gould's tome "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" and a number of the more popular collections of essays, Dawkins as well, I must say you are on teh reading list, but not read at this time. I have followed the US Creation/Evolution debate with interest and found Schafly's commentary to be so ignorant as a near neighbour to me John Wilkins. I posted some comments to my site, and will continue as things develop over the coming time.

Keep up your good work.

Permalink to Comment
Ed Darrell on January 7, 2005 04:49 PM writes...

I believe that Darwin commented, after a report of a bear (grizzly? black?) observed in North America swimming in a pond with its mouth open to scoop up bugs or something, that one might begin to believe bears could evolve to an aquatic existence, similar to the existence of whales. He did not suggest, I'm certain, that whales evolved from bears.

Yes, he dropped the remark from later editions -- but is it so far off? Consider the polar bear, whose existence was probably known but not well understood at the time. Some of them spend 50% of their time in the water, with special adaptations for swimming and against the cold.

Darwin was closer to right when he was wrong than the average creationist on his best day.

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