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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

AIG attacks dinosaur find- Sort of

Well, it was bound to happen. Anytime evolution is in the news, Answers in Genesis is there to attack the news. So, it is with the find of Albertaceratops earlier this week.. Answers in Genesis criticism is the usual superficial 'but it's still a dinosaur' claptrap. Here's what I don't get about AIG. They call themselves scientists, they think that young earth creationism is good science, but they don't do any science themselves. In fact, it's apparent that they read an associated press report, decided that it was invalid on the basis of what was reported and case is closed. Dr. David Menton gives us his critical view of the find:

And what is Dr. Menton’s conclusion about this dinosaur and other similar claims? He states: “The evidence for evolution always looks much worse when examined critically and in detail.”
However, there is nothing in the Answers in Genesis article that even hints that Menton bothered to read the literature on the topic. Menton reacted to a news piece. In fact, the AIG article tells us how it was determined that Albertaceratops was found to be an intermediate:

This newly uncovered dinosaur, Albertaceratops nesmoi, had horns about three–feet long (located right above its eyebrows). In the evolutionists’ timeline, dinosaurs that were 12 million years older than this one had larger horns, and the ones that followed had smaller horns. Hence, evolutionists say, this creature represents a middle step.

So, what have they really found? Well, this is a dinosaur that is in the same family of already-discovered dinosaurs, yet possesses a difference in thickness and size of its horns. But because of the pre-supposed evolutionary dates involving millions of years, this latest find is considered to be an intermediate in an evolutionary sequence.

As a comparison, we would ask: what would evolutionists say about today’s many cattle varieties with their different horn lengths and thicknesses if they were to be found as fossils in the ground, but which they dated to be millions of years apart?

Instead, the reason that this dinosaur is thought to be an intermediate is based on a cladistic analysis of multiple features and not simply the horns. Menton did not bother to read the article or even investigate the claim in more detail. The cladogram from the paper is shown below.

The paper describes the analysis in the following manner (snippet only to give a flavor of the fact that it was not simply the horns that placed Albertaceratops in the evolutionary sequence.

The analysis presented here supports the monophyly of the Ceratopsidae (node 2) based on two unambiguous characters—351 and 361 (superscripts indicate character states [0–4] as indicated in the character description), but the monophyly of the clade is also well supported by numerous characters excluded from this analysis (e.g., Sereno, 2000). The Centrosaurinae (node 4) is supported by eight characters (Fig. 12), only one of which is ambiguous (131), and the Chasmosaurinae (node 10) is supported by nine characters (Fig. 12), of which three (111, 190, and 280) are ambiguous.

The basal neoceratopsid Zuniceratops is the sister taxon of the Ceratopsidae, supporting the assertion of Wolfe and Kirkland (1998) that was published without phylogenetic analysis.

The Centrosaurinae was first proposed by Lambe (1915) and was rediagnosed by Lehman (1990). Of the eight characters supporting this clade (Fig. 12) only one (presence of the jugal infratemporal flange) is shared with the Chasmosaurine. Albertaceratops is determined to be the least derived centrosaur and is defined by four ambiguous characters (91, 300, 312, and 322), and one unambiguous character (102), the shape of the adult nasal ornamentation. The length (but not the shape) of the nasal ornamentation is shared with Achelousaurus, and orientation of the spike at locus 3 is shared with Pachyrhinosaurus.

So the analysis was far more detailed than simply comparing horn sizes of antecedent dinosaurs and those that came after. Basically, a number of features are compared and a 'tree' is constructed based on those features. The closer the branches, the more closely related are the dinosaurs. In fact, a good read of the paper explains in detail how robust the phylogenetic analysis really was (and this is another reason I know Menton did not read the paper). Anyway, I guess 'Science' at Answers in Genesis means 'react to any news report and deny, deny, deny. I wonder if AIG was founded in the Nixon era? Hmm.


Joe Meert



At 9:24 AM, Blogger Brett said...

I stopped reading their "criticism" with the paragraph that began If we start with the Bible... The depths at which their 'comprehension deficit disorder' will fall never ceases to amaze me.


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