Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Question about Creationism I Don't Really Want Answered

I paused while in the Northwest Building today to admire the Ichthyosaurus skeleton hanging over the stairway (at least, that is what I assume it is -- couldn't find any identifying legend) Orca skeleton hanging over the stairway. [Fixed 3 Feb 2013. Thanks to my informant!]

The reason I spent a bit of time looking at it on this particular occasion was because I wanted to find the rib I broke (first rib, left side) and where I broke it (in the back, just below the shoulder blade). I also cracked the "transverse process"in between that rib and the first thoracic vertebra. Looking at my friend here, I was picturing what was happening when the fracture was moving and causing such pain.

It would have made more sense to look at a human skeleton, but I hadn't bumped into one. I did look at some 3-D computer-animated illustrations, but this was much more lifelike. Different numbers of vertebrae and so on,  but the "design" is all the same. The first few ribs wrap around and are attached to the sternum, the others are floating free at their distal ends, the vertebrae are graduated in size but change little in layout, and so on. And the ribs don't look that strong on this fellow; I bet his could get broken pretty easily just like mine, even though falling is not a hazard if you are in the water all the time.

When Creationists look at something like this, don't they think the Creator was displaying a notable lack of imagination to create all these different creatures simultaneously and from scratch using the same basic design all the time? Even giving us humans a tailbone just like the Ichthyosaur has.

You'd just think with infinite capacity a little more imagination could have been used for all these allegedly unrelated species.

Please don't comment with any explanations of how I don't understand what Creationists really think, or theological explanations of how this thing isn't an actual skeleton at all, just a hoax or a divine trick. I don't want to know. I just want to know how any rational being can look at that and avoid seeing the family resemblance, because it sure screams out at me.


  1. There used to be some information up about the whale skeletons hanging over the stairwell, but I guess it got moved sometime recently. If you look carefully at the lower skeleton (the one not pictured here), you can actually see where two of its ribs on the left side were broken, so you have something else in common.

    There's a great little exhibit on this (similarities in bone structure across species) in the mammal hall in the natural history museum.

  2. Sure I can see the family resemblance. And as a recovering software engineer, I could argue that God showed us the first practical demonstration of reuse in elements of design. I think I even heard once jokingly argued that what He had done in all the non-gene sequence DNA was write comments. Like

    // Added extra 'wisdom' teeth. Must remember
    // to add extra room to jaw later


    /* struct g_spot */

    I also think there's room for a more nuanced view of creationism. Did God simply take what he had done already to a new level with man? I don't know. Is the creation story simply the only way He could explain evolution to folks who didn't Ph.D.'s from Harvard and Yale?

    I think there's room for some mystery. Evolution is, after all, only a scientific theory. Has science devolved in to fact by marketing fiat? Should a theory have exclusive access to children's minds?

    I don't think so.

    1. But it was surely a terrible hack to take that spine and just stand it upright when making the bipedal version, leaving me and lots of other people my age with back pain. Intelligent design my eye.

    2. Harry, I don't have an answer for why your back is bad and mine is great. At 37 I started doing squats in the gym and at 52 I still do 400 pounds at a time and I have no joint or back pain anywhere. So I'm not just walking upright, I'm stressing my back and hips and knees and feeling no ill effect. So I think it would be categorically inaccurate to stress, as you are, that human backs are poorly designed. Somehow, yours is poorly designed or poorly used, but you alone do not a category make. I'll ask an evangelical anatomist whom I know what he thinks of spine & rib design and report back (ha!) to you. Quick question: if backs have evolved, why haven't they evolved with the very much greater differentiation that you think would have been more appropriate? Why would mammals doing very different things day to day still be birthed looking very similar in several respects? (Two eyes, one mouth, two ears, fore limbs, hind limbs, naughty bits, etc?) Wouldn't these features benefit from extreme design make-overs? And yet the relative similarities in features beg questions of "why?" of The Great Evolver's wisdom. Though I realize that Gould would say that asking "why" of The Great Evolver would be a categorical mistake. On the other hand, if there's a creator, similarity in design (similarity vs. carbon-copy) makes a bit more sense or is at least understandable.

    3. This just in, unedited:

      Your friend Harry makes two valid points.

      1.) The family resemblance is undeniably there
      2.) An upright vertebrae is vulnerable and gravity exerts ill effects on the whole of the human frame.

      The logical fallacy I see in the conversation is the assumption that evolution, and intelligent deign for that matter, aims to overcome vulnerability.

      Our book reads that in eternity future a king will reign as a lamb that was slain, not an invulnerable super-being.

      The fork in the road is not evolution vs. creation/ID as I see it, but what it means to be human.


      Bill Pearson, Ph.D.
      Asst. Professor, Cellular Biology & Anatomy
      Medical College of Georgia
      Georgia Regents University

    4. Dave,

      The speed of evolution is a legitimate scientific question, which in fact is well studied (also the pace, etc.). So your question of "why" certain transitions have happened but not others at certain time scales is perfectly amenable to scientific inquiry.

      Your last sentence is just silly, however. The simplest answer to any scientific question is to posit divine magic as the explanation. All questions are then settled. Theists have been doing that since man was at the center of the universe, losing ground at every step of our understanding our real place. But as long as there are unanswered scientific questions, they will keep doing it, since in fact they are not extrapolating the existence of god from the data, but simply invoking the name of a god they already somehow "knew" exists wherever they think the unanswered question may be.

      The trick in human knowledge of the world is to make sense of the world by invoking the laws of the universe--and of course updating those laws as human understanding expands.