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Dr. PZ Educates, Elucidates, and Eradicates

Chick EmbryoI have a mounting (no pun intended) pile of things I want to blog about. I actually got up early this morning to check for Chapter Four of A Birthday Feast (my tortuous erotic story birthday gift from Molly and Andale), but when I found it as yet unposted, I thought I’d drop by AtBC to see what’s been going on.

On the bathroom wall I found a short note from Steve Story with a link to Pharyngula regarding an article wherein Dr. PZ destroys yet another strawman argument from Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute.

This is an amazing and fascinating article on embryology. It is well written and easy for even me to understand, and Dr. PZ does an unspeakably wonderful job of educating along the way to demolishing Wells’ nonsense. Thus, my other stuff was immediately relegated to the back burner in favor of this post.

If you don’t read another biology related article this month, read this one. It really is that good.

With apologies to Dr. PZ, I’m going to use his entire first section as a teaser, in the hopes that you will be absolutely compelled to go to Pharyngula to read the rest.

The story of Haeckel’s embryos is different in an important way from that of the other chapters in Jonathan Wells’ book. As the other authors show, Wells has distorted ideas that are fundamentally true in order to make his point: all his rhetoric to the contrary, Archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil, peppered moths and Darwin’s finches do tell us significant things about evolution, four-winged flies do tell us significant things about developmental pathways, and so forth. In those parts of the book, Wells has to try and cover up a truth by misconstruing and misrepresenting it.

In the case of Haeckel, though, I have to begin by admitting that Wells has got the core of the story right. Haeckel was wrong. His theory was invalid, some of his drawings were faked, and he willfully over-interpreted the data to prop up a false thesis. Furthermore, he was influential, both in the sciences and the popular press; his theory still gets echoed in the latter today. Wells is also correct in criticizing textbook authors for perpetuating Haeckel’s infamous diagram without commenting on its inaccuracies or the way it was misused to support a falsified theory.

Unfortunately, what Wells tries to do in this chapter is to take this invalid, discredited theory and tar modern (and even not so modern) evolutionary biology with it. The biogenetic law is not Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, however. It is not part of any modern evolutionary theory. Wells is carrying out a bait-and-switch here, marshalling the evidence and citations that properly demolish the Haeckelian dogma, and then claiming that this is part of “our best evidence for Darwin’s theory.”

A big ol’ peek above our garters to Dr. PZ for the article, and two for Steve Story for pointing us there.

Filed under: Biology, Blogs In Our MonkeySphere, Education, Fundies, More Formal Blogs, Religion, Science

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