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About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Donald R. Prothero reviews Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer (HarperCollins, 2013). Read Prothero’s full bio after the article.

Stephen Meyer’s Fumbling Bumbling Amateur Cambrian Follies

a book review by Donald R. Prothero

“In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,
but a fool flaunts his folly.”

—Proverbs 13:16

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself
to be a fool.”

—William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a well-known phenomenon in psychology first named in 1998, but it has been recognized since before the Bible and Shakespeare. In a nutshell, it is (as Bertrand Russell put it) ”The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” There is also another well-known psychological phenomenon: motivated reasoning. Our brains have many blind spots in them that allow us to reconcile the real world with the world as we want it to be, and reduce the clash of cognitive dissonance. The most familiar of these is confirmation bias, where we see only what we want to see, and ignore or forget anything that doesn’t fit our preferred world-view. When this bias emerges in argument, it takes the form of cherry-picking: finding a few facts out of context that seem to support what we want to believe, and ignoring everything else that contradicts what we are trying to promote.

The entire literature of creationism (and of its recent offspring, “intelligent design” creationism) works entirely on that principle: they don’t like any science that disagrees with their view of religion, so they pick tiny bits out of context that seem to support what they want to believe, and cherry-pick individual cases which fits their bias. In their writings, they are legendary for “quote-mining”: taking a quote out of context to mean the exact opposite of what the author clearly intended (sometimes unintentionally, but often deliberately and maliciously). They either cannot understand the scientific meaning of many fields from genetics to paleontology to geochronology, or their bias filters out all but tiny bits of a research subject that seems to comfort them, and they ignore all the rest.

Another common tactic of creationists is credential mongering. They love to flaunt their Ph.D.’s on their book covers, giving the uninitiated the impression that they are all-purpose experts in every topic. As anyone who has earned a Ph.D. knows, the opposite is true: the doctoral degree forces you to focus on one narrow research problem for a long time, so you tend to lose your breadth of training in other sciences. Nevertheless, they flaunt their doctorates in hydrology or biochemistry, then talk about paleontology or geochronology, subjects they have zero qualification to discuss. Their Ph.D. is only relevant in the field where they have specialized training. It’s comparable to asking a Ph.D. to fix your car or write a symphony—they may be smart, but they don’t have the appropriate specialized training to do a competent job based on their Ph.D. alone.

Stephen Meyer’s first demonstration of these biases was his atrociously incompetent book Signature in the Cell (2009, HarperOne), which was universally lambasted by molecular biologists as an amateurish effort by someone with no firsthand training or research experience in molecular biology. (Meyer’s Ph.D. is in history of science, and his undergrad degree is in geophysics, which give him absolutely no background to talk about molecular evolution). Undaunted by this debacle, Meyer now blunders into another field in which he has no research experience or advanced training: my own profession, paleontology. I can now report that he’s just as incompetent in my field as he was in molecular biology. Almost every page of this book is riddled by errors of fact or interpretation that could only result from someone writing in a subject way over his head, abetted by the creationist tendency to pluck facts out of context and get their meaning completely backwards. But as one of the few people in the entire creationist movement who has actually taken a few geology classes (but apparently no paleontology classes), he is their “expert” in this area, and is happy to mislead the creationist audience that knows no science at all with his slick but completely false understanding of the subject.

Let’s take the central subject of the book: the “Cambrian explosion”, or the apparently rapid diversification of life during the Cambrian Period, starting about 545 million years (m.y.) ago. When Darwin wrote about it in 1859, it was indeed a puzzle, since so little was known about the fossil record then. But as paleontologists have worked hard on the topic and learned a lot since about 1945 (as I discuss in detail in my 2007 book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters). As a result, we now know that the “explosion” took place over an 80 m.y. time frame. Paleontologists are gradually abandoning the misleading and outdated term “Cambrian explosion” for a more accurate one, “Cambrian slow fuse” or “Cambrian diversification.” The entire diversification of life is now known to have gone through a number of distinct steps, from the first fossils of simple bacterial life 3.5 billion years old, to the first multicellular animals 700 m.y. ago (the Ediacara fauna), to the first evidence of skeletonized fossils (tiny fragments of small shells, nicknamed the “little shellies”) at the beginning of the Cambrian, 545 m.y. ago (the Nemakit-Daldynian and Tommotian stages of the Cambrian), to the third stage of the Cambrian (Atdabanian, 530 m.y. ago), when you find the first fossils of the larger animals with hard shells, such as trilobites.

Figure 1: Timescale of the Cambrian diversification event, showing the gradual and stepwise increase in diversity through the first three stages of the Early Cambrian. Meyer's book completely ignores the existence of the first two stages (Nemakit-Daldynian and Tommotian Stages), and falsely asserts that all Cambrian forms abruptly arose in the third stage of the Cambrian (Atdabanian) stage, some 15 million years after the true beginning of the Cambrian.

Figure 1: (Click image to download a printable PDF.)
Timescale of the Cambrian diversification event, showing the gradual and stepwise increase in diversity through the first three stages of the Early Cambrian. Meyer’s book completely ignores the existence of the first two stages (Nemakit-Daldynian and Tommotian Stages), and falsely asserts that all Cambrian forms abruptly arose in the third stage of the Cambrian (Atdabanian) stage, some 15 million years after the true beginning of the Cambrian.

Does Meyer reflect this modern understanding of the subject? No! His figures (e.g., Figs. 2.5, 2.6, 3.8) portray the “explosion” as if it happened all at once, showing that he has paid no attention to the past 70 years of discoveries. He dismisses the Ediacara fauna as not clearly related to living phyla (a point that is still debated among paleontologists), but its very existence is fatal to the creationist falsehood that multicellular animals appeared all at once in the fossil record with no predecessors. Even more damning, Meyer completely ignores the existence of the first two stages of the Cambrian (nowhere are they even mentioned in the book) and talks about the Atdabanian stage as if it were the entire Cambrian all by itself. His misleading figures (e.g., Fig. 2.5, 2.6, 3.8) imply that there were no modern phyla in existence until the trilobites diversified in the Atdabanian. That’s a flat out lie. Even a casual glance at any modern diagram of life’s diversification (Figure 1) demonstrates that probable arthropods, cnidarians, and echinoderms are present in the Ediacara fauna, mollusks and sponges are well documented from the Nemakit-Daldynian Stage, and brachiopods and archaeocyathids appear in the Tommotian Stage—all millions of years before Meyer’s incorrectly defined “Cambrian explosion” in the Atdabanian. The phyla that he lists in Fig. 2.6 as “explosively” appearing in the Atdabanian stages all actually appeared much earlier—or they are soft-bodied phyla from the Chinese Chengjiang fauna, whose first appearance artificially inflates the count. Meyer deliberately and dishonestly distorts the story by implying that these soft-bodied animals appeared all at once, when he knows that this is an artifact of preservation. It’s just an accident that there are no extraordinary soft-bodied faunas preserved before Chengjiang, so we simply have no fossils demonstrating their true first appearance, which occurred much earlier based on molecular evidence.

Meyer’s distorted and false view of conflating the entire Early Cambrian (545–520 m.y. ago) as consisting of only the third stage of the Early Cambrian (Atdabanian, 530–525 m.y. ago) creates a fundamental lie that falsifies everything else he says in the ensuing chapters. He even attacks me (p. 73) by claiming that during our 2009 debate, it was I who was improperly redefining the Cambrian! Even a cursory glance at any recent paleontology book on the topic, or even the Wikipedia site for “Cambrian explosion”, shows that it is Meyer who has cherry-picked and distorted the record, completely ignoring the 15 million years of the first two stages of the Cambrian because their existence shoots down his entire false interpretation of the fossil record. Sorry, Steve, but you don’t get to contradict every paleontologist in the world, ignore the evidence from the first two stages of the Cambrian, and redefine the Early Cambrian as the Atdabanian Stage just to fit your fairy tale!

Even if we grant the premise that a lot of phyla appear in the Atdabanian (solely because there are no soft-bodied faunas older than Chengjiang in the earliest Cambrian), Meyer claims the 5–6 million years of the Atdabanian are too fast for evolution to produce all the phyla of animals. Wrong again! Lieberman (2003) showed that rates of evolution during the “Cambrian explosion” are typical of any adaptive radiation in life’s history, whether you look at the Paleocene diversification of the mammals after the non-avian dinosaurs vanished, or even the diversification of humans from their common ancestor with apes 6 m.y. ago. As distinguished Harvard paleontologist Andrew Knoll put it in his 2003 book, Life on a Young Planet:

Was there really a Cambrian Explosion? Some have treated the issue as semantic—anything that plays out over tens of millions of years cannot be “explosive,” and if the Cambrian animals didn’t “explode,” perhaps they did nothing at all out of the ordinary. Cambrian evolution was certainly not cartoonishly fast … Do we need to posit some unique but poorly understood evolutionary process to explain the emergence of modern animals? I don’t think so. The Cambrian Period contains plenty of time to accomplish what the Proterozoic didn’t without invoking processes unknown to population geneticists—20 million years is a long time for organisms that produce a new generation every year or two. (Knoll, 2003, p. 193)

The mistakes and deliberate misunderstandings and misinterpretations go on and on, page after page. Meyer takes the normal scientific debates about the early conflicts about the molecular vs. morphological trees of life as evidence scientists know nothing, completely ignoring the recent consensus between these data sets. Like all creationists, he completely misinterprets the Eldredge and Gould punctuated equilibrium model and claims that they are arguing that evolution doesn’t occur—when both Gould and Eldredge have clearly explained many times (which he never cites) why their ideas are compatible with Neo-Darwinism and not any kind of support for any form of creationism. He repeats many of the other classic creationist myths, all long debunked, including the post hoc argument from probability (you can’t make the argument that something is unlikely after the fact). He wastes a full chapter on the empty concept of “information” as the ID creationists define it. He butchers the subject of systematic biology, using the normal debate between competing hypotheses to argue that scientists can’t make up their minds—when that is the ordinary way in which scientific questions are argued until consensus has been reached. He confuses crown-groups with stem-groups, botches the arguments about recognition of ancestors in the fossil record, and can’t tell a cladogram from a family tree. He blunders through the fields of epigenetics and evo-devo and genetic drift as if they completely falsified Neo-Darwinism, rather than as scientists view them—as supplements to our understanding of it. (Even if they did somehow shoot down some aspects of Neo-Darwinism, they are providing additional possible mechanisms for evolution, something he supposedly does not believe in!). In short, he runs the full gamut of topics in modern evolutionary biology, managing to distort or confuse every one of them, and only demonstrating that he is completely incapable of understanding these topics.

In several places in the book, he shows his pictures of the Cambrian sections in China, or talks in the final chapter about visiting the Burgess Shale in Canada (a Middle Cambrian locality, millions of years after the “Cambrian explosion” was long over), as if to establish his street-cred that he at least got away from his office and computer once in a while. Visiting these famous places like a tourist doesn’t qualify you to write a guidebook of the complexity of the fossils that were recovered there. If he had actually done the hard work of learning about paleontology and doing the research in the field himself (as real scientists have), we might take him seriously. As it is, this book only demonstrates that Meyer can completely misunderstand, misinterpret and misread subjects like paleontology just as badly as he botched his interpretation of molecular biology. (For a good account by real paleontologists who know what they’re doing, see the excellent recent book by Valentine and Erwin, 2013, which gives an accurate view of the “Cambrian diversification”).

Finally, one might wonder: what’s all the fuss about the “Cambrian explosion”? Why should it matter whether evolution was fast or slow during the third stage of the Cambrian? Some scientists might find this puzzling, but you must understand the minds of creationists. They operate by a “god of the gaps” argument: anything that is currently not easily explained by science is automatically attributed to supernatural causes. Even though ID creationists say that this supernatural designer could be any deity or even extraterrestrials, it is well documented that they are thinking of the Judeo-Christian god when they point to the complexity and “design” of life. They argue that if scientists haven’t completely explained every possible event of the Early Cambrian, science has failed and we must consider supernatural causes.

Of course, this is a lie. For one thing, Meyer’s description of the “Cambrian explosion” is distorted and false, since he deliberately ignores the events of the first two stages of the Cambrian. Secondly, this “god of the gaps” approach is guaranteed to fail, because scientists have explained most of the events of the Early Cambrian and find nothing out of the ordinary that defies scientific explanation. Only a few details remain to be worked out. As our fossil record of that time interval improves and we understand it even better, there will be nothing left for the creationists to point to that might require supernatural intervention. This is a losing strategy for them in every possible way.

In short, Meyer has shown that his first disastrous book was not a fluke: he is capable of going into any field in which he has no training or research experience and botching it just as badly as he did molecular biology. As I’ve written before, if you are a complete amateur and don’t understand a subject, don’t demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect by writing a book about it and proving your ignorance to everyone else! Some people with creationist leanings or little understanding of paleontology might find this long-winded, confusingly written book convincing, but anyone with a decent background in paleontology can easily see through his distortions and deliberate misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Even though persists in listing this book in their “Paleontology” subsection, I’ve seen a number of bookstores already which have it properly placed in their “Religion” section—or even more appropriately, in “Fiction.” END

About the Author

DR. DONALD R. PROTHERO was Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 32 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and five trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the President and Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC). His website is: Check out Donald Prothero’s page at Shop Skeptic.



  1. Bob Pease says:

    My experience indicates that Evolution is hardly ever worth discussing.

    Posting for five or six years in Talk Origins as several different gadfly personae as well as some real-life confrontations ,
    I can pretty much confirm Dr. Prothero’s assertion that folks who want to discuss evolution fall pretty much into two distinct categories :

    People who have a straw man version to offer
    “How come is they still monkeys?”,

    and folks who “Believe” in Evolution without understanding even the rudiments .

    The process of debunking Meyer’s book seems to me like preaching to the Choir about Beethoven when they really want to sing
    “Trust and Obey”


    • Bryanderthal says:

      In case you’re concerned that your anecdotal evidence will be dismissed, here are some statistical data to back you up, Bob:

      Since 1982, Gallup has directed a poll about the acceptance of evolution. The first poll showed that 47% of people accepted evolution while 44% were YECs and 9% had no opinion. The last poll, May of 2012, showed the same 47% while 2% shifted from “no opinion” to YEC.

      The battle seems to be swaying only between theistic evolution (or, evolutionary creationism) and non-theistic evolution with 38% and 9% of the 1982 poll, respectively, and 32% and 15% of the 2012 poll.

      These numbers seem to indicate a win over the ID crowd while losing to the YECs. Another way to read the numbers; for 53% of people from 1982 to 2012, thinking has been really fucking hard.

      • Bob Pease says:

        The SBC-type folks who are the most outspoken are not the major body of believers.

        You can’t be taught to think at all if the teachers are “Teaching the test”
        to kids who can’t read the questions.
        Unfortunately the “TEST” scores are very strongly correlated to the median family
        Check out “Greatschool” ratings for example,
        residence price, which is really a measure of the De Facto social Apartheid in US


  2. gary causer says:

    I believe this you believe that….yawn….If science can’t explain itself to the masses it will always be perceived to be elitists.

    All to often, the debate appears to be competing priesthoods trying to make a living.

    Other than selling books and keeping paychecks a coming why bother we these useless debates?

    • Bob Pease says:

      As in my previous comment, the “education” of all but the elite has collapsed.
      Science is Science and it can’t be “preached” (nor understood) by the “general” public


    • Steven Sullivan says:

      The stupidity of your reply depresses me. That it probably represents the view of many depresses me even more.

      Some things can’t be explained ‘simply’, where ‘simply’ means, ‘no thought required’.

    • Sean says:

      If you polled everyone, you’ll probably find that every topic is “useless.” Believing that it is a useless is tantamount to throwing in the towel and letting those with extreme convictions roll over science and have ID replace evolution in school curriculum. They will not stop because science and reason say differently, they see themselves as divinely inspired and will righteously inflict their views upon young impressionable minds.

      What if we let fundamental beliefs dictate how our courts conduct business? Should we let some Christian extremist judge decide that a kid who stole a candy bar should have his/her hand cut off, or a teenager who looks at another in lust should have his/her eye gouged out? We should decide that taking a stand against extreme behavior – on either side, mind you – is the right course of action. If we let Christian fundamentalism rule over us, then women will no longer be allowed to choose to keep a child or abort. That’s already been decided.

      Will we win every battle, trump every argument, change every mind and seize the day? No. Some school district will vote to teach ID, not every person is open to reason. And too many merely troll these forums and talks to bash secular, satanic, hell-bound disbelievers like us. But we can’t just turn our backs and walk away.

      This may not be your fight, but you better find something to fight for, or people will one day gleefully burn science books, godless novels, and disbelievers. When like-minded people take power and wield it to “fix” the world, our baser nature comes out and all sorts of behavior suddenly becomes justified for “the good of society.”

  3. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Thank you, “Dr Don” for that wonderful reviw/debunking…

    Way back when I was a grad student I encountered the term ‘Intelligent Design’ (note the lack of ‘Theory’ in it) – it was presented to me as a point of view that the natural processes were part of the creation … god created the universe with these properties, fine-tunings and processes with the descent of man in mind. It was kind of a ‘Neo Watchmaker God’ concept. I thought that it was a great way for religious folks to reconcile their faith with what we’ve learned about Nature. [People can quibble over whether god carefully (and subtlety) crafted our Universe with the anthropic-principle so we’d arise with two arms & two legs or whether he didn’t care about our physiology since his concern is spiritual and moral – but those are fine points.] This wasn’t a theory as much as a philosophical POV.

    Then I started paying attention to what the purveyors of ID where saying – They shoehorned god into places where he didn’t belong – or even need to be. Why should an all-knowing, all-mighty god, hand-craft a flagellum? Doesn’t the creator of the universe have better things to do with his time than micro-manage his creation? (When I brew, I don’t manufacture every ethanol molecule individually – I put the yeast in the wort under the right conditions and let nature take its course. Am I smarter than god? Oh noes!)

    The history of religion has an endless stream of very clever men rationalizing their views of an incomprehensible god – ID has a few dozen not-so clever men resorting to pissing-contest tactics to advance the idea that their god can’t build anything that works by itself. The ID camp’s biggest failing is not their ignorance (which is a considerable failing) it is their lack of imagination!

  4. another point of view says:

    I have only one comment and that is to refute that understanding will be so complete that there will be nothing left to dispute. We may be intelligent animals, but we are not gods. We may keep getting closer and closer to the truth, but there will probably always be gaps.

    • Bob Pease says:

      I would suggest “Godel Escher and Bach” as the classic exponent of the
      intrinsic inadequacies of Language.

    • Sean says:

      I hope the search for knowledge is endless. It only reveals the incredible beauty and majesty of the universe.

  5. Sean says:

    The evolution/creation debate aside, I think the most profound part of the article is how people cherry-pick, misquote/take out of context, and credential bash. Sadly this is not limited to idiots and pseudoscience. Being human, we are all subject to these and more (bias confirmation, pride, etc.). The trick is to be on the guard against it, not only in others, but ourselves as well.

  6. Qu Quine says:

    Thank you, Dr. Prothero, for that excellent review. I expect to reference sections of it in my discussions with “persons of faith” as I have done re sections of your superlative book on the fossil record.

  7. Thomas Wamm says:

    I suspect the primary reason to write any book in support of Intelligent Design or Creationism is to make money from a large audience of people who want to read that kind of stuff. The books don’t have to be accurate, they just have to say what the believers want to read. I presume Meyer got positive feedback from earlier book(s), so was encouraged to write more of the same.

  8. Roy Niles says:

    I’d like to see someone with this rag review James A Shapiro’s book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century. But it’s not an easy target so of course they never will.

  9. Rev Billy says:

    Seven Billion brains and all are biased in their own way.
    Knowledge is “relative” and always depends on one’s life experience.
    Once a Creationist or ID’er or “Believer”, they can never become an open-minded person who is willing to consider that people who do science could possibly be right about anything. But the “Believers” do like the wonderful technological things that science has brought! The only thing that really ever changes is the date.

  10. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    I checked this page again and read the comments. It seems to me that we in the Science Ed biz need to convey one crucial thing to the general population: There is a difference between science and natural phenomena. Natural phenomena are the things that nature does and science is what we do to understand nature.

    It doesn’t matter what we humans do – natural phenomena are natural phenomena.

    The issue of science vs religion is a separate issue than evolution vs ID – even in the kindest of all light, ID vs evolution are two competing ‘theories’ to explain diversity of species. Science vs religion is basically asking “Which is the better way to understand what is going on around us: Watching & thinking carefully or praying about it?”

  11. P K Narayanan(Dr) says:

    Evolution – What Next After Humans:

    There is Earth. There is life on Earth. There are innumerable living organisms on the earth. There are reptiles, birds, animals, monkeys and humans on the earth.

    Creationists claim that the earth and all the living organisms on the earth are given birth by an omnipotent power called god. Science does not recognize the creationist theories. Leaving aside the belief of creationism, scientists are of one voice that different species comprising the living organisms have evolved through natural selection and genetic mutation. Basing the theory of evolution, scientists are perplexed as to who or what would be the next specie after the humans in the ladder of evolution. That question continues to be an intriguing parody: From monkeys came the humans, – that was Evolution.

    What would, then, be the next specie after the humans? What would be the size of that specie to be evolved after the humans? How would that specie look like?

    It is true that humans did not replace monkeys in the process of evolution. Monkeys still continue to exist with all their biological features. Humans also survive with all that is of humans. It confirms that evolution does not replace one specie over the other. The latter would be an advanced transformation over the former.

    The question what next after the homo sapiens in the path of evolution, has raised a certain level of controversy:

    We know that the forces of evolution basically are natural selection and genetic mutation. These processes take place in environs where the species exist. The context demands that the fittest of the existing specie gets advanced for its survival in the environs. The parody over what next after humans has arisen in the back ground of the ‘environs.’

    Human race has advanced to such an extent where humans change the environs rather than environs changing the humans. A section of the scientists therefore, came up with the suggestion that there would be no further evolution after humans because genetic mutation that creates traits and causes natural selection for survival in the changed environs, does not relate to the present where humans are concerned. Steve Johns, head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environments, University College, London, and Chris Stringer, research leader at National History Museum, London were among the scientists who strongly opined that there would be no further evolution after human.

    However the fact remains that the very principle of evolution still remains. Genetic experts like John Wilkins of University of Melbourne, argue that evolution is ‘non-stop’ process and the process will continue as genes do not stay in one place for infinite period of time.

    Even among homogenous population, randomness and mutation will have to happen and new species will have to evolve. May be, this will happen after millions of trillions of years in the depth of time, if by that time, earth and the organisms still survive to exist. Such being the situation, no guess work would be feasible even to imagine the shape, calibre, size and look of the specie to be evolved after the humans.

    There could be no time frame for the researchers to come up with reliable evidence for the truth. Let us be cool: Better not to bother about a situation that may or may not arise even after trillions of years in the depth of time. No specie shall evolve after the humans, in the next hundreds of generations, to degrade or to overtake the humans.

  12. Bob Pease says:

    1. the singular of species is species
    2. Your article is incoherent

  13. doug says:

    in all these comments i have not found mention of punctuated equilibium (punk-ek), which is, as far as i know, a scientific fact…. and as far as i know, nobody really knows what happened during these relatively ‘brief’ periods of proliferation… it leaves a lot of room for speculation and absurd conclusions… how brief is brief?? what new species ‘suddenly’ appeared??? followed then longer periods of specie selection and extinction… the punk-ek aspect should be an interesting source of new facts…. is any PHD candidate doing research???

  14. awc says:

    This article could have been summed up with the term Dunning-kruger effect in action.

    Let’s see being a critical thinker I understand the problem with the god of the gaps approach and can even recognize it when I see it however, am not an expert in the field of discussion so certainly cannot debunk the flaws with opposing facts. I may not even recognize that it is not a fact however, presented as one. Analogous to I know when my car is broke does not mean I can fix it or explain what is wrong with it.

    You are not going to convince evolution haters that their logic is flawed or even that their facts are erred by arguing a specific topic (evolution vs creation). The larger challenge is how do you get 40+% of the population to think critically enough to see through the baloney even if they do not understand the subjects in depth. Since they are currently willing to brush off conflicting facts as either trivial or even not true.

    Teaching critical thinking is the start. Once someone begins to think critically they will at least recognize baloney for what it is.

    Critiquing the flaws in the book is a good technical exercise. It is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees though.

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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