2013 Mother Jones article on why humans find evolution hard to accept

MotherJones.com brought us a ‘think-piece’ back in 2013
about the creationists battle with evolution on the occasion of a book publication (see below). Article author, Chris Mooney, summarized, “Our brains are a stunning product of evolution; and yet ironically, they may naturally pre-dispose us against its acceptance.” The title of the article (click to view) is “7 reasons why it’s easier for humans to believe in God than evolution.”

To that I will add:
sometimes evolutionists find it hard to accept new ideas from other evolutionists. And this, too, is human nature, yet another product of natural selection. And yes, I’m pointing my fin-turned-finger at you, Vertebrate Palaeontology Researcher in Residence, Darren Naish, who will someday champion ReptileEvolution.com.

Book author Robert N. McCaulety explains,
“I don’t think there’s any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken.” McCauley is director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book ‘Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.’

Much ‘natural’ thinking common to young children
must be overcome with science. Mooney reports, “4 and 5 year old children tend to opine that clouds are ‘for raining’ and that the purpose of lions is ‘to go in the zoo.'” In similar fashion, some people think you have to get a PhD to contribute to paleontology. Not so.

Here are the seven reasons cited by McCauley and listed by Mooney,
why humans find it easier to believe in God than evolution, along with their antidotes:

  1. Essentialism. ‘Kinds’ are not kinds forever. Often one thing evolves over time or it may go extinct.
  2. Teleology. Things do not exist for ‘a purpose’.
  3. Agency detection. Living things are not ‘designed’ by a designer.
  4. Dualism. Minds/Souls are not separate from brains. Brains, like other parts, evolved over time and various niches, often convergently.
  5. Vast time scales. These can be difficult to comprehend. Geology is not intuitive, but must be learned, like the sun-centered solar system.
  6. Tribalism. In the wrong hands this can be detrimental. For entrenched leaders, heretics who propose new ideas that upset traditions must be opposed en masse. See “Why the world has to ignore ReptileEvolution.com” by Darren Naish 2012.
  7. The need for certainty. This should not be based on fear, especially fear of death. If hypotheses fail during a test, they must be considered invalid, even if being taught by a priest or a professor and even if it appears in holy texts or university-level textbooks. Outsiders often have the advantage over insiders, who have to follow protocol and tradition, or likewise fear the wrath of their mentors and peers.

Imagine what is going through the minds of paleontology students 
(whether enrolled or not) when Wikipedia, Facebook, Nature and Science are telling them one thing, and someone not affiliated with a museum of university is showing them errors and omissions in published images, cladograms and hypotheses. This is Dr. Naish’s nightmare… until he wakes up and runs his own phylogenetic analyses to see for himself what is and what isn’t. That’s always step one in paleontology.

The MotherJones article states, 
“First, this doesn’t mean science and religion are fundamentally incompatible.” Yeah, they are incompatible by definition. The former demands evidence. The latter denies/ suppresses evidence and relies on intuitive and traditional myths. On second thought, maybe, just maybe… paleo departments really are more like religions than they might care to admit.

The MotherJones article also states, 
“it doesn’t automatically follow that religion is the direct result of evolution by natural selection.” Yeah, it does automatically follow. Religion binds parties together for a common cause. Sometimes that common cause is to suppress, slander and libel individual heretics for the sake of continuing a traditional existence into the next and following generations. Even if all that heretic does is to invite testing with an expanded taxon list. See where that gets you here.

 

This month: 8 years of PterosaurHeresies and ReptileEvolution.com

PterosaurHeresies.Wordpress.com
has been the daily blogpost for additions and changes to ReptileEvolution.com, a growing, illustrated, and sometimes animated online study of vertebrate morphology and interrelationships. This month marks eight years online.

At the core
of this ongoing published (but not peer-reviewed study) is the large reptile tree (LRT, 1540 taxa) and it’s two branching subsets: the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 238 taxa) and the therapsid skull tree (TST, 69 taxa). With every new taxon these three studies become more inclusive, more comprehensive, and better able to nest all included taxa because nearly all possible candidates are tested. The complete gamut is sampled.

Figure 1. Bat embryo wing shape compared to Pterodactylus. Note the ability to fold (relax) the wings until they virtually disappear in both cases. Also note the origin of bat wings paralleling those of pterosaur wings in that during embryology the bat wing also has a narrow chord that more deeply develops long after birth.

Figure 1. Bat embryo wing shape compared to Pterodactylus. Note the ability to fold (relax) the wings until they virtually disappear in both cases. Also note the origin of bat wings paralleling those of pterosaur wings in that during embryology the bat wing also has a narrow chord that more deeply develops long after birth.

Except for a few very incomplete and deletable taxa,
all three trees are fully resolved with high Bootstrap scores (when scored as smaller subsets due to computer limitations). No other comprehensive studies make that claim.

All taxa are illustrated,
often with colors identifying skull bones, overlays and animations—so pertinent data is shown ask if in vivo. No other comprehensive studies provide such a large percentage of reconstructions.

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

Against current paradigms
the three cladograms employ relatively few multi-state characters, too few according to the experts. Plenty enough, however, according to the full resolution results of the LRT. This is an example of one small fact ruining a widely accepted hypothesis.

Similar to every other paleontologist on the planet,
I knew literally nothing about every added taxon. That means no expertise or academic bias was brought to bear on the initial observations. I did not trust previously published cladograms and matrices, as most other paleontologists do. They too often add their taxon to an trusted, untested tree topology, and too often to the ruin of their results.

Figure 2. Eusauropleura to scale with ancestral and descendant taxa including Eucritta, Utegenia, Silvanerpeton and Gephyrostegus, the last common ancestor of all reptiles.

Figure 1. Eusauropleura to scale with ancestral and descendant taxa including Eucritta, Utegenia, Silvanerpeton and Gephyrostegus, the last common ancestor of all reptiles.

Over the last eight years
I have learned about and conveyed to you fresh insights about birds, fish and everything in between. No doubt, tens of thousands of scoring and illustrative errors occurred along the way. I know this because I have made that many corrections over the last eight years… some new ones just yesterday. So, it’s a continuing process. Those who have attempted to dissuade readership several years ago have watched from the sidelines as paradigm-busting discoveries were announced month after month over the past eight years. Several of those discoveries were discovered again years later by academics, confirming the validity of the LRT. I will let you know the first time one of those professors acknowledges the citation omission.

Figure 1. Animation of the mandible of the multituberculate Kryptobaatar showing the sliding of the jaw joint producing separate biting and grinding actions, just like rodents, their closest relatives in the LRT.

Figure 1. Animation of the mandible of the multituberculate Kryptobaatar showing the sliding of the jaw joint producing separate biting and grinding actions, just like rodents, their closest relatives in the LRT.

Published studies
lacking pertinent taxa were criticized. Artists were celebrated. Misidentified bones in reptiles like Yi qi and Ambopteryx where re-identified (see below). Traditions were ignored. Authority was challenged. Data was celebrated.

Figure 1. Ambopteryx nests midway and is phylogenetically midway between the larger Yi and the smaller Scansoriopteryx. None of these taxa have an extra long bone in the arm.

Figure 1. Ambopteryx nests midway and is phylogenetically midway between the larger Yi and the smaller Scansoriopteryx. None of these taxa have an extra long bone in the arm.

First post: July 12, 2011.
The Dinosaur Heresies (Bakker 1986) opened chapter one with the statement, “I remember the first time the thought struck me! ‘There’s something very wrong with our dinosaurs.” In turn, by convergence, I opened with this blogpost with the statement, There is also something very wrong with our pterosaurs. Examining and correcting those errors is the reason for this blog.” Little did I realize there was also something wrong with birds, fish, turtles and many of the major vertebrate clades, almost always due to taxon exclusion. 

Since that first post,
the growing online LRT, LPT and TST have recovered novel interrelationships in bats, whales, mammals, reptiles, creodonts, turtles, snakes, pterosaurs, dinosaurs, archosaurs, archosauriforms, diapsids, anapsids, mesosaurs, synapsids, birds, pre-birds, fish, and dozens more. Use the keyword box to search for your favorites.

Figure 2. Another gap is filled by nesting E. wuyongae between Bunostegos and Elginia at the base of hard shell turtles in the LRT.

Figure 2. Another gap is filled by nesting E. wuyongae between Bunostegos and Elginia at the base of hard shell turtles in the LRT.

Thank you for your readership,
your questions, your comments, your interest in this subject. I have learned so much over the last eight years. Discoveries are fun. I hope this 8-year-long ongoing presentation leads to more focused studies in a data-driven, validated phylogenetic context. And I hope it leads to the rejection of old, invalidated traditions, most of which continue to hang on without evidence, like tail-dragging dinosaurs.

Unfavorable mention on a Joe Rogan podcast two years ago

About two years ago
paleontologist, Trevor Valle, appeared on a Joe Rogan podcast (link here and below) entitled “Paleontologist Trevor Valle Debunks ‘Dinosaurs Never Existed’ Conspiracy.” Between 4:30 and 6:30 minutes into the podcast Valle said several things about me and this webpage that are not true. See below.

The following is a copy of the email
I sent to Trevor Valle. Another copy went into the comments section of the Joe Rogan podcast about 8pm CDT, September 9, 2018. Evidently there’s a jungle of misunderstanding out there that needs to be trimmed back.


Hi Dr. Valle:

I just saw your YouTube video on the Joe Rogan podcast.

You said a few things about me (I am David Peters) that are not true.

1. “He’s a jackass.” We’ve never met.

2. “All reptiles are mammals.” Actually just the opposite. All mammals are reptiles (= amniotes, under the new tetrapod family tree that minimizes taxon exclusion, see below). I hope you just had a memory lapse and misspoke and that you did check the site out first and not just rely on hear-say.

3. “All of these clades should be in this…and all of this crap” The new tetrapod family tree has a magnitude more included taxa than any prior study. Some taxa not previously tested together now nest together. Since this is science, anyone can duplicate the study using a similar list of taxa/specimens and their own list of character traits. I encourage everyone interested to do so. Note: DNA studies are widely known not to duplicate trait studies, and the new tetrapod family tree is similar to other trait studies in that regard. Here, birds still nest with birds, snakes with snakes, etc. So there are broad areas of agreement with past studies. Importantly, every branch of the tree shows a gradual accumulation of traits that appears to mirror actual evolutionary pathways. Some do break paradigms and traditions. Also note, whenever taxa have been tested together later by other workers, as in Chilesaurus, Diandongosuchus, Lagerpeton and others, their results confirm the earlier results recovered here.

4. “He wholesale copied from a colleague of mine, posted it, which is a violation of copyright, because he’s attempting to supersede that work by importing his own ideas to it.” Not sure which blogpost is the focus of your interest here, but I commonly copy and criticize pertinent parts of publications in order to help spread the news and, whenever necessary, to show errors and omissions. In science this is the process for arguing a new hypothesis. Copyright laws are not violated when arguing scientific validity. Whether it’s ‘confirmation’ or ‘refutation’ this is all legal, standard and how could we ever do without it? All work is cited. Often links are made to the original sites.

5. “He will refuse any critical comments to be posted on his WordPress site.” Actually just the opposite. I rarely get feedback, but it’s all there to be viewed over the last 7 years. I do edit emotionally charged words (cussing) from reader replies and I edit out ad hominem attacks as they are inappropriate for a scientific discussion.

Moreover, I make changes all the time whenever new data comes in, because, like anybody, I make mistakes, too. Nearly every one of the 1284 included taxa was new to me when I first studied it. Any scientist would say the same thing.

Trevor, since the cladogram is the core of the study, I encourage you to look at the site and tell me which taxa should not nest together and where they should nest instead. I would hate to think that you simply listened to an opinion without checking out the facts.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to shed light on false paradigms. I have been published in Nature, Science, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Ichnos, Historical Biology and other peer-reviewed academic publications, so despite lacking a PhD, I have made contributions to the literature and continue to do so.

A large gamut analysis of the tetrapod family tree has been long sought by the paleo community. Now that it is available online, apparently that’s not what they really wanted all along.

Best regards, and let’s have lunch sometime.

David Peters
www.ReptileEvolution.com/reptile-tree.htm
www.PterosaurHeresies.Wordpress.com

 

Four years of Pterosaur Heresies

I overlooked the anniversary
On July 12, 2011 the Pterosaur Heresies was first published online to support the website ReptileEvolution.com with news and reviews. At that time the large reptile tree included 238 taxa. Four years and 1440 posts later that number has grown to 586 taxa with greater resolution between sisters due to their greater number and reduced distance.

The tree topology
from back then is largely the same now with a diphyletic Reptilia arising from gephyrostegids, but now Gephyrostegus bohemicus nests as the basalmost reptile, the one that laid the first amniotic eggs and the last common ancestor of all known reptiles. It has no traditional amniote skeletal traits.

There were several other accomplishments
along the way, most gained by having a large gamut cladogram of reptile interrelationships to check smaller, more focused, more traditional published reports. Several myths were busted (but most of those will never die among traditional paleontologists). Several enigmas were resolved. Several mistakes were corrected, both in here and out there.

Thank you for your interest in this site.
While most of the enigmas and mysteries have been verifiably resolved, there are always new ones that pop up occasionally.

NOT a new Zhenyuanopterus: XHPM1088

Very, very close, but no cigar.

And not a juvenile either.
A new paper by Teng et al. (2014) reports on a small partial Zhenyuanopterus (XHPM1088, Fig. 1) that does quite fit the morphology of the holotype. No worries. They said it was a juvenile with some odd sorts of allometry going on.

I hate to say it, but we can blame Chris Bennett for this bit of wishful thinking as his 1995 and 1996 papers on Solnhofen pterosaurs opened the doors to letting almost any small specimen become the juvenile of any somewhat similar, but much larger specimen based on the false notion of allometry during ontogeny. Several specimens falsify that little fantasy, including all the embryos now known.

Phylogenetic analysis would have put a stop to such nonsense, but no analysis was undertaken, either in 1995, 1996 or 2014.

Figure 1. XHPM1088 in situ. Only the posterior half is preserved here.

Figure 1. XHPM1088 (mistakenly referred to Zhenyuanopterus) in situ. Only the posterior half is preserved here.

Here’s the problem
The new specimen has a relatively long and robust tail (15 caudals) and a more robust forelimb than hindlimb, plus a Yixian Formation (Early Cretaceous) locality. These facts identified this pterosaur as Zhenyuanopterus to its authors. With identical length ratios between the humerus and femur, Teng et al. thought growth was isometric in these bones, but not others. The scapula has an odd sort of shape otherwise found only in Zhenyuanopterus. However the coracoid was not the same shape or size ratio (Fig. 1). They thought the length of the coracoid would slow dramatically during growth compared to other bones, not realizing that taxa just outside of Zhenyuanopterus (i.e. Boreopoterus, Arthurdactylus, Fig. 2) had a similar long, straight coracoid. They also blamed the coracoid length problem on the holotype of Zhenyuanopterus, saying it was not well-preserved and giving it a longer redicted length based on XHPM1008. That’s not good Science, especially when the coracoids are well preserved and articulated in the holotype.

Unfortunately
Teng et al. thought one of the unique characters of Zhenyuanopterus was its small feet, but the reality is ALL ornithocheirids (more derived than the JZMP embryo) had tiny feet.

Figure 2. The partial pterosaur XHPM1088 to scale with Boreopterus and Zhenyuanopterus and also scaled up to a similar humerus length with Zhenyuanopterus.  Note the coracoids don't match. This is one of the few pterosaurs in which the tibia is shorter than the femur. Boreopterus is similar in this regard.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. The partial pterosaur XHPM1088 to scale with Boreopterus and Zhenyuanopterus and also scaled up to a similar humerus length with Zhenyuanopterus. Note the coracoids don’t match. This is one of the few pterosaurs in which the tibia is shorter than the femur. Boreopterus is similar in this regard.

A beautiful illustration of Zhenyuanopterus is included in the paper (Fig. 3) sadly flawed by bat-like, deep chord wing membranes and an odd sort of hanging posture for a pterosaur, especially one with such small feet. Some traditions are very hard to kill.

Zhenyuanopterus-illustration

Figure 3. Zhenyuanopterus illustration by Zhao Chuang, a very talented artist. Sadly the wing membranes are wrong and the hanging posture is unlikely based on the tiny feet.

I encourage pterosaur workers
to start putting bones together in reconstructions, then adding new taxa to good phylogenetic analyses before assigning a juvenile status to a small pterosaur that doesn’t match a large one. Here’s a new genus that Teng et al. could have named, but didn’t.

Reference
Teng F-F, Lü J-C, Wei X-F, Hsiao Y-F and Pittman, M 2014. New Material of Zhenyuanopterus (Pterosauria) from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of Western Liaoning. Acta Geologica Sinica (English) 88(1):1-5.

Short hiatus – hdd crash

Apologies to faithful followers of the Pterosaur Heresies.

Over the weekend while trying to download Maverick (the latest OS from Apple) I had a hard drive crash. All files were backed up. So the inconvenience will only last 3-5 business days.

I’m at the public library at the moment.

This is a good time to send in requests, by the way. If you have any phylogenetic mysteries you want some discussion about (please keep it in the range of basal reptiles (avoid higher mammals and higher dinosaurs, please, as these have been adequately covered in the literature).

Thank you for your patience.

Some interesting reports are “in the hopper.”

BTW
For followers of the Dinosaur Mailing List, they are also experiencing computer problems, according to Mary Kirkaldy (per. comm).

Pterosaur Heresies is about 2 years old now

And, despite all the evidence I try to cram into this blog, it’s still reviled and dismissed by several professional paleontologists. Something odd about that… Providing testable answers to long standing mysteries is evidently not to be encouraged! You would think at least a few of them would say, “Hey, that’s a different idea. Let’s run the big Kahuna through a test or two!” Instead the strange bedfellows are defended. That’s the paradigm.

I’m still hoping that someone will add some suggested taxa to their phylogenetic analyses to see if they can confirm the results of the large reptile and large pterosaur trees.  So far there have been no testers.

I wish someone would go take a studied look at Cosesaurus and remap the thing again (as detailed as here or Ellenberger 1993) to see what they come up with. Same with Longisquama and Sharovipteryx. Considering their importance, it’s at least worth a try.

Or does confirming anything in the heresies come at some professional cost?

I have been vindicated by the discovery of bipedal pterosaur tracks and Kellner’s confirmation of the pteroid articulation on the radiale (Peters 2009). Nice to see.

The taxon lists keep growing in both studies. Reptiles have surpassed 340. Pterosaurs are past 220.

Google has been very good to the site and its figures.

The number of visitors and page views holds steady between 8000 and 11000 view a month. Unique visitors are a third of those numbers. More readers are subscribed now than ever before. The subject matter is a niche within a niche, so I’m happy to have the steady readers I do.

I’ve tried to keep up a steady stream of posts, one per day, seven days a week. So far, so good, keeping to that average as we’re up to some 740 posts now. There have been times when I thought I was out of subject matter, but then a fresh truckload comes in and I can do a week’s worth. Even so, the pace will undoubtedly slow down as most of the best subjects have been posted already and Witton’s new book only brought up old subjects to be repeated. Even so, it also gave me an opportunity to take a fresh look at lizard tendons.

The process of discovery is the driving force. It’s a wonderful reward to be able to see something with fresh vision and understand how it works. It’s almost as fun to disassemble bad hypotheses and show why they don’t work. Keep those cards and letters coming!

I will always wonder how certain workers have been able to promote bad ideas and how the next generation gloms onto them. I’ve only seen one scientist back down off a claim: Kevin Padian, at the sight of the Crayssac tracks admitted that certain pterosaurs were indeed quadrupeds. So, it can happen, but it takes a landslide.

Thank you for your thoughts and thank you for your loyal readership whether you’re interested in what I have to write or whether you’re just waiting for me to slip up so you can reprimand me.

It’s been an interesting and rewarding two years.

I’ll see some of you at SVP in L.A toward the end of October. My abstract will be a poster.