Submitted by Daniel R. Hummer as a candidate submission for the TalkOrigins Archive:
The following is a correspondence that took place between myself and creationist Josh Greenberger between Nov. 4 and Nov. 7, 2007. Mr. Greenberger has written books and articles on evolution, creation and other topics, including an anti-evolution book, “Who Let the Apes Out?”. He maintains a website, http://wholettheapesout.com/mainline.php, that promotes his book and makes a copy of it available for free (I would imagine this is the only way he is able to get people to read the ramblings he comes up with). I stumbled across this site one day while browsing the web, and for unknown reasons decided to take a closer look. Within the long page of drivel, I found this gem of a paragraph:
“But archaeologists have worn out many shovels trying to uncover evidence supporting evolution. At last count, they had enough bones to make friends with every dog in Chicago and enough fossils to open a mail-order fossil business. But no evidence. No series of fossils or sets of bones show unmistakable intermediate species. If one species evolved into another, "linking" species would have to have existed in profuse quantities at various points in earth's history. But profuse quantities of missing links which could be termed "indisputable evidence" have never been found.”
Needless to say, anyone who is even remotely familiar with biology, geology, or paleontology knows that this is a load of garbage. I have never had a problem with people providing their opinions, viewpoints, and interpretations, but this paragraph clearly contains blatant lies. The lie about a “lack of transition fossils” is one that I see often from creationists, but in this instance I became, for the first time, somewhat upset that this lie has been so consistently and aggressively promoted by the entire creationist community. I decided to point out the error to him, simply to see how he would respond. At first, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed total ignorance on his part:
“The website promoting your book, http://wholettheapesout.com/mainline.php,
contains numerous factual errors. For instance, you claim that no
"transitional forms" have been found by scientists, when in fact they
number in the thousands. There are 7 alone just between reptiles and
mammals: Procynosuchus, Thrinaxodon, Cynognathus, Diademodon,
Probelesodon, Probainognathus, and Kayentatherium. I would strongly
encourage you to research basic evolutionary biology before trying to sell a book that makes these claims. Just trying to help!”
Admittedly, perhaps “thousands” is an exaggeration… I am not a paleontologist and I can well imagine that the number of documented transitional fossils may be in the hundreds. Regardless, my overall point stands, which is that claiming there is no evidence for transitional forms in the fossil record cannot be viewed as anything but a bald-faced lie. Mr. Greenberger responded within about a day, and the weaseling began immediately:
“Thanks for your input. But I don't know of any profuse quantities of transitional forms. If you know where they're being kept or displayed please do let me know. Thank you.”
Note that Greenberger has changed his story: On his website, he claims that there is “no evidence” and that there are no “unmistakable intermediate species.” Now, it seems that he is simply unaware of ‘profuse quantities!’ Given the abundance of transitional forms in the fossil record, one wonders exactly how Mr. Greenberger defines ‘profuse quantities.’ At this point it is obvious that he himself knows, on some level, that he is being disingenuous. I felt as though I were talking to a kindergartner trying to escape punishment by saying that he “nudged” Susie on the playground rather than knocking her down. In any case, I decided to politely oblige his request and was able to provide a great deal of information for him with only ten minutes on Google (versus how long it must have taken him, I wondered to myself, to construct an entire book of this nonsense):
“The ones that I mentioned, along with an explanation of the slow transition they display between reptile characteristics and mammal characteristics, can be found at the first link. The second one has a nice chart of the evolution and diversification of different species of trilobites, a creature that was around for a long time during earth's history. The transitional forms are shown with arrows between them. The last one gives many more examples. The references at the bottom of the page list the papers that describe the original fossil finds.
One would think Mr. Greenberger would be very grateful for the time I took to do his homework for him and fill in the enormous gaps in his knowledge. Instead, the weaseling escalated another couple notches:
“So far I see a repeat of what I already know. Three's [sic] a serious error in the logic behind concluding evolutionary theory from the fossil record. I can't get into it in this quick note, but I'll probably describe it in future writing. In a word, you've added nothing to my understanding of evolution or anything that disputes when I've said. But thank you anyway,”
Note that Mr. Greenberger has changed his story a second time. Now, he claims he is aware of these fossils, but disagrees with their interpretation. How could anyone have a problem with that? Finding alternative interpretations is part of science, right? I’m just the mean ol’ skeptic who’s picking on his new theory.
Perhaps Mr. Greenberger was hoping I would forget my original reason for contacting him and get drawn into a mini-debate about the particulars of paleontology. Instead, I took him to task. Claiming that transition fossils do not exist is very different from disagreeing with their interpretation. One is honest science, the other is lying. If he had posted information about these transitional forms on his website and then explained and defended his interpretation, I would have no problem whatsoever. But rather than do this, he denies their existence altogether and deliberately misleads people about the nature of the evidence. I attempted to explain this to him:
“I beg to differ. On your webpage you state ‘No series of fossils or sets of bones show unmistakable intermediate species.’ This is false. The roughly 20 transitional forms I cited in the previous e-mail are examples. The ones on the reptile-mammal webpage, for instance, are intermediate species with a clear mixture of reptilian and mammalian
traits. The individual traits are identified and tallied on the website for each creature.
If your claim is that these transitional forms do not represent evolutionary trends as paleontologists believe they do, and you believe that the evolution of species is not a valid interpretation of the intermediate forms, then that's fine. I would be happy to hear your arguments against this interpretation, and listen to any alternative interpretation that you have to offer in your writings. But that's not what you claim. You say that "archaeologists have worn out many shovels" trying to find transitional fossils that would fit into their theory without finding a single one, when the truth is that they have found many. Again, no one is under any obligation to agree with an evolutionary interpretation of these intermediate species. Science is about considering many explanations, and finding the best explanation for all available data. But it seems to me that saying these forms have been searched for but never found is pretty misleading.”
I felt I had been far more tactful than he deserved, especially by referring to his statements as “misleading” rather than as the outright lies they are. In his next response, Greenberger decides to be very blunt about his weaseling:
“I did not read this. Whatever your view is, post it, publish it or whatever. Thank you.”
Wow! Greenberger may just as well have said “Talk to the hand.” Clearly, he wants a free pass on his lie by insinuating that I am simply another scientist with a “different view” than him, and that I should do as he did and publish my “views”. This seems to be a typical creationist tactic: there are no facts, just interpretations. Lies are not really lies, just different interpretations of truth! How cruel of me to pester his busy mind with something as inane as facts.
I wondered to myself if he had truly taken the easy way out and refused to read my response, or if he did read it but realized that a full retreat was the only way to save face. Finding no need to continue being cordial, I confronted Greenberger head on:
What I wrote below is NOT "my view". Had you read it you would have known that. Since you don't want to read my explanation, I will summarize it for you: I caught you in a lie, and you are consciously choosing to ignore it.
If that's the tactics you use in making your arguments (i.e. lying to people and then ignoring them when they call you on it), you will not last long in the publishing world.”
I was anxious to see whether he would be able to top the weaseling he had already pulled off, but alas, there was no response. His firm declaration of immunity from reality was the last I heard from him. As amusing as it was to watch a creationist squirm in the mere presence of real information, the incident was a sobering reminder of something we too often put in the back of our minds: There is a sizeable community of creationists out there who are not just doing sloppy science, but are aggressively, knowingly, and shamelessly promoting lies and myths as though they are true. They are aware that they’re being deceitful, but refuse to back down even when confronted with the facts. What’s worse is that there are an even larger number who eat it up with a spoon because it’s exactly what they want to hear. I think the incident highlights the nature of the creationist culture, and underscores the importance of fervently defending the teaching of science in public schools. Moreover, we need to be diligent in exposing these instances of outright fraud and deceit when we encounter them. If we fail in this duty, we risk creating a public that is even more susceptible to this campaign of misinformation than it already is.