Not Qualified to Comment

Not Qualified to Comment September 19, 2014

The image above came to my attention via the blog God of Evolution.

The sign really does help make an important point about scientific matters.

If you not only aren't sufficiently informed about biology to know that evolution does not claim that humans descended from babboons or any other species currently in existence, but you also don't grasp the difference between ancestors and descendants, then you are not qualified to comment on such a question.

I wonder, however, how many people who read this sign will recognize this, and will seek scientific information elsewhere. You need to actually know a language well, in order to tell whether someone else is speaking it well. And you need to know something about science to spot when someone is offering you pseudoscience.

And that's the big danger in the time we live in. If you start your process of gathering information by turning to charlatans, you may never realize that you have chosen deceivers as your authorities.

And of course the theology and Biblical interpretation reflected in the words on the sign is every bit as bad as the science and the word choice. Does this person not think that God made baboons? Does he or she not think that the descendants of entities created by God, through whatever process, are still themselves creations of God?

That religious voices may not be qualified to comment on matters of science or wording should be no surprise. But when they spout religious nonsense, it may not surprise anyone either, but it definitely should disappoint.


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  • What’s startling to me is that the sign doesn’t even make sense on its face. If you believe that man is the special creation of God, then you also believe that baboons are a special creation of God. He made everything, by hand, in seven days. Us and the baboons inclusive.

    • Bethany

      Similarly, I am my grandmother’s descendant and my grandmother is my ancestor, but I doubt the people who made that sign would claim that implies that neither me nor my grandmother were God’s creations.

      • TomS

        This is something which has long bothered me about anti-evolution.

        No one (since the 18th century’s Preformationism) found the reality of reproduction (by natural means, the proper subject of science, and even involving chance events) a threat to one’s special relation with one’s Provident Creator and Redeemer.

        Why, when it involves an abstraction (or collective, however one describes a species) long ago, should it be worrisome?

  • I dunno. The kids sure act like baboons sometimes.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Hey! Why insult the baboons? Many baboons are wonderful people.

      • MattB

        Baboons have pink butts…must be from all those spankings:)

    • TomS

      “… We now come to a numerous tribe, that seem to make approaches even to humanity; that bear an awkward resemblance to the human form, and discover the same faint efforts at intellectual sagacity.

      “Animals of the MONKEY class are furnished with hands instead of paws; their ears, eyes, eye-lids, lips, and breasts, are like those of mankind; their internal conformation also bears some distant likeness; and the

      whole offers a picture that may mortify the pride of such as make their persons the principal objects of their admiration.”

      John Wesley, Survey of the Wisdom of God (see Wikiquote)

  • Jonathan Bernier

    It actually took me a couple read-throughs to notice the improper use of “ancestor,” so focused was I on the other absurdities. It’s a like a good movie: rewards repeated viewing.

  • Mark Erickson

    Evolution does not claim we cam from baboons or any species currently in existence? What DOES it say we came from? A species that no longer exists, is not represented by any known fossils, and nobody has an idea what it looked like? And evolutionists have the nerve to say Bible believers have faith without evidence?

    • Excuse me? Not represented by any known fossils? Here’s a good summary of the fossil evidence, presented by a Christian:

      Further, the fossil record is by far not the only evidence. Living species demonstrate the gradation of change over time; and the genetic evidence correlates quite well with the anatomical evidence, showing related genetic markers for related species, a fact which only evolution explains.

      The fact is, the theory of evolution is supported by more evidence than you could read in your lifetime. And that’s why virtually all scientists support the theory of evolution. Excuse us if we take their word over yours.

    • Mark

      Here is a good beginning source to see the wealth of evidence for the evolution of humans in the fossil record:

      This overwhelming evidence is backed up by the vast evidence of evolution in all species, including the recent evolutionary changes of current species, and the evidence of the genetic science. Genetics studies show relations between species that correlate quite well with anatomical taxonomy; a fact that can only be explained by the theory of evolution.

      • TomS

        As good, important, and interesting as is the fossil record, there is a lot more to the evidence for evolution. It’s easy to search Wikipedia.

        But I’d just like to hear from anyone who as an account for the variety of life which does not involve common descent. What happened, when and where, why and how that – to take one detail among a vast amount – humans have eyes which are typical of vertebrates, rather than eyes like insects or eyes like octopuses.

        • Even Discovery Institute IDiots, like Michael Behe, concede common descent; according to Behe’s account, one would have to posit a God who simply popped in trillions of tiny “irreducibly complex” miracles into the evolutionary stew from time to time.

          You’re left with pure creationists, whose account is very simple. God created each “type” of animal individually by special creation, including anatomical features and genetic markers that would fool humans into thinking they were related.

          • TomS

            Spencer wrote a brief essay in 1852 (yes, even before On the Origin of Species) commenting how (what we would come to call) “creationists” did not offer a description of what they thought did happen: The Development Hypothesis:


            I don’t know whether it is logically possible to have the sudden appearance of things as they are now, rather than “development”, existence from eternity or in cycles – other than some version of Omphalos :


            That lack of alternatives would explain why anti-evolutionists are reluctant to describe what they thought happened.

          • TomS

            My apologies: I mistakenly entered “https” instead of “http” in the url. Once again, correctly:


          • Jonathan Bernier

            This is something often overlooked: Darwin did not create evolution. Lamarck already produced a fully-elaborated theory of evolution in 1809. But it didn’t work, because his mechanism for evolutionary change wasn’t particularly compelling. Darwin’s breakthrough was to craft a theory that made good sense, namely natural selection. And it changed everything.

          • TomS

            Yes, but remember that random-variation-and-natural-selection was not really understood and appreciated until the Modern Synthesis, about 1940. Even Darwin backed off a bit in the later editions of On the Origin of Species.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Fair point.

          • arcseconds

            Kant’s Critique of Judgement, published in 1803, has an appendix where he discusses briefly a kind of nascent evolutionary theory. I found it quite striking (particularly as throughout the rest of the book I had been going “but what about evolution? it’s a pity you didn’t know about evolution!”), but he’s sort of self-deprecating about it. He says something like “surely everyone who’s considered the similarities between species has suspected that…”

            While I’m not sure I believe that ‘surely everyone’ had considered the matter, there’s no doubt the idea was ‘in the air’, so to speak.

          • TomS

            I would like to read Kant’s discussion of this, but the Appendix is rather long – can you help me to find this?
            Kant is famous for having said, in paraphrase, that there would never be a Newton for a blade of grass (section 75).

          • arcseconds

            It’s in § 80.

            The agreement of so many genera of animals in a certain common schema, which appears to be fundamental not only in the structure of their bones but also in the disposition of their remaining parts — so that with an admirable simplicity of original outline, a great variety of species has been produced by the shortening of one member and the lengthening of another, the involution of this part and the evolution of that — allows a ray of hope, however faint, to penetrate into our minds, that here something may be accomplished by the aid of the principle of the mechanism of nature (without which there can be no natural science in general). This analogy of forms, which with all their differences seem to have been produced according to a common original type, strengthens our suspicions of an actual relationship between them in their production from a common parent, through the gradual approximation of one animal-genus to another — from those in which the principle of purposes seems to be best authenticated, i.e. from man, down to the polype, and again from this down to mosses and lichens, and finally to the lowest stage of nature noticeable by us, viz. to crude matter. And so the whole Technic of nature, which is so incomprehensible to us in organised beings that we believe ourselves compelled to think a different principle for it, seems to be derived from matter and its powers according to mechanical laws (like those by which it works in the formation of crystals).

            Here it is permissible for the archaeologist of nature to derive from the surviving traces of its oldest revolutions, according to all its mechanism known or supposed by him, that great family of creatures (for so we must represent them if the said thoroughgoing relationship is to have any ground). He can suppose the bosom of mother earth, as she passed out of her chaotic state (like a great animal), to have given birth in the beginning to creatures of less purposive form, that these again gave birth to others which formed themselves with greater adaptation to their place of birth and their relations to each other; until this womb becoming torpid and ossified, limited its births to definite species not further modifiable, and the manifoldness remained as it was at the end of the operation of that fruitful formative power. — Only he must still in the end ascribe to this universal mother an organisation purposive in respect of all these creatures; otherwise it would not be possible to think the possibility of the purposive form of the products of the animal and vegetable kingdoms.He has then only pushed further back the ground of explanation and cannot pretend to have made the development of those two kingdoms independent of the condition of final causes.

            Even as concerns the variation to which certain individuals of organised genera are accidentally subjected, if we find that the character so changed is hereditary and is taken up into the generative power, then we cannot pertinently judge the variation to be anything else than an occasional development of purposive capacities originally present in the species with a view to the preservation of the race. For in the complete inner purposiveness of an organised being, the generation of its like is closely bound up with the condition of taking nothing up into the generative power which does not belong, in such a system of purposes, to one of its undeveloped original capacities. Indeed, if we depart from this principle, we cannot know with certainty whether several parts of the form which is now apparent in a species have not a contingent and unpurposive origin; and the principle of Teleology, to judge nothing in an organised being as unpurposive which maintains it in its propagation, would be very unreliable in its application and would be valid solely for the original stock (of which we have no further knowledge).

            Given that Critique of the Power of Judgement is in a major part dedicated to explaining how ascribing purposes to nature is both possible and necessary, the fact that he has considered a (nascent) evolutionary theory, which appears to have in outline almost everything we’d expect. There’s certainly heritability, and even a dim inkling of random variation there.

            He’s not too confident of the possibility of this, and thinks there’s something it cannot explain: where does the life come from originally. There are other bits where he’s vaguely dismissive of the possibility of developing an evolutionary theory: he doesn’t think we’ll ever have the requisite data, and thinks it’s all too complex. So he still thinks teleology is indispensable to biology, even though he’s fairly clear it’s something that we bring to it.

            It’s a bit clearer to me looking at this again that it seems that he’s at least in part responding to speculations proffered by others (this is clearer in other scattered remarks) but it still seems to me (not knowing the exact background) that there’s a distinct possibility that the above sketch represents largely his own thought.

            (We know that Kant independently proposed galaxies and the nebular formation of the solar system, so we already know that his capacity for scientific speculation is remarkable.)

          • TomS

            Thank you.

            That is a keeper.

            I am reminded of the far less thought out speculation by Hume:

            “If the universe bears a greater likeness to animal bodies and to vegetables, than to the works of human art, it is more probable that its cause resembles the cause of the former than that of the latter, and its origin ought rather to be ascribed to generation or vegetation, than to reason or design.” Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part 7

          • arcseconds

            As far as the Newton of the blade of grass comment goes, well, Kant was, in retrospect, too pessimistic about the possibility of what we’d now call evolutionary biology and molecular biology. And he’s a bit keen on this pessimism, because it allows just enough room for him to take teleology seriously as a subjective idea.

            However, he’s still kind of right about this. Newton’s model of the solar system describes the motions of the planets near perfectly, and from the state of the system at any point in time the state of the system at any future time or any past time can be determined, in principle. In practice, this is not possible, but it does work out for very long periods of time. We can say that the solar system is very nearly completely comprehensible.

            Whereas grass, and even more so, the evolution of grass, is not so tractable. It’s just too complex, and involves too many variables that we will never know enough about.

            (Sean Garrigan actually sees this as an objection to evolutionary theory. It seems that if a complete model isn’t specifiable, somehow the whole theory has to be thrown out.)

            And teleology still hasn’t been excised from biology. We now know why it looks purposeful, but we still ask ‘what purpose does this structure have?’. And I reckon when we’re seeing organisms qua organisms, rather than as heaps of atoms, then teleology is still an important and part of the conception. Particularly when we attribute conscious behaviour to them.

            So maybe Critique of the Power of Judgement should be required reading in biology 🙂

          • arcseconds

            Actually, I’m not sure we do know why it looks purposeful.

            We have a general causal story of why it is the way it is, which is solid science, but I’m not sure it’s entirely clear why it is we’re so inclined to attribute purposes to it. I suppose it might just be some kind of vestigial anthropomorphizing of nature, but we used to do that with hurricanes, too, but most of us aren’t even remotely inclined to see hurricanes as purposeful these days.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            My understanding is that Charles Darwin’s grandfather was an avid evolutionist, who even anticipated the idea of natural selection. And Alfred Russell Wallace was working on the idea of natural selection in complete parallel with Darwin. As you say, it was in the air.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      That’s just silliness. We *do* have fossils of species from which modern humans probably descended. Homo habilis and Homo erectus, anyone? Unless something has changed dramatically in the ten years since I completed my undergraduate degree in anthropology, these are thought to be ancestral to modern Homo sapiens.

      Of course, as always, I am willing to stand corrected by someone more qualified and more current on the matter than I. But I’m not convinced that would be you, Mr. Erickson. And given your apparent and appalling lack of knowledge on the matter I would refer you back to the title of this post.

      • arcseconds

        In general, evolutionary biology tends to avoid saying “this species definitely descended from that species” these days. With the patchiness of the fossil record, the chances are good that the direct ancestor was never preserved, and in any case, it’s not really possible to tell the difference between a real direct ancestor and a closely related ‘great aunt’ species. Normally they try to say things like “these species share a common ancestor which probably looked a lot like this particular ancient species”.

        Homo is fairly recent, and has fairly good fossil attestation, and has had a lot of effort spent on it. So maybe they’re more certain in this case.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          Fair enough. I’m almost completely clueless about evolution and paleontology outside the specific case of human evolution, and even then my knowledge is really limited to an undergraduate degree in anthropology completed ten years ago. So I certainly claim no expertise in the matter. That said, I suspect that my almost non-existent training in the study of evolution far exceeds that of most critics of evolution, and that sort of hubris really bugs me.

  • Tim

    Another funny thing about this sign is that the confusion displayed in it reminds me of Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy; the bit about Zaphod being his own grandfather. His response to the question of how this happened was priceless: It involved an accident with some contraceptives and a time machine…

    • TomS

      There was a novelty song from the 1940s or so, “I’m My Own Grandpa”, and you can read, more than anyone could conceivably be interested in, about the song, it’s connection to reality, etc.

      • I remember listening to that song on an old 78 when I was a kid!