Monday, January 10, 2005

While I was Away

Phyllis Schlafly weighed in with this standard bit of creationist insanity. It's a standard cut-and-paste job. One short excerpt should suffice to give you the flavor:

Many textbooks feature pictures of giraffes stretching their necks to feed high off of trees, but genetics and observed feeding habits disprove that as a basis for evolution of their long necks. Moreover, the striking beauty of the colored pattern on the giraffes illustrates that design, not merely usefulness, is what animates our world.

Had Schlafly read the commentary that accompanies those giraffe pictures, she would have noticed that they are there solely as an illustration of the now refuted notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In other words, they are there for their historical significance. There hasn't been a textbook in a hundred years that's presented “prolonged stretching” as the evolutionary mechanism behind the long neck of the giraffe. Usually such pictures appear for the purpose of contrasting Lamarck's ideas about evolution with Darwin's ideas.

Actually, as Stephen Jay Gould once pointed out, a better argument against those pictures is that Lamack actually said very little about giraffes, and that his evolutionary theory was more sophisticated than the caricature often presented in modern textbooks. But that's a subject for a different day.

Normally this is the point where I would accuse the writer of deliberately lying. In this case, however, I suspect Schlaffly genuinely doesn't know any better. She knows she finds evolution objectionable on religious grounds, and that is enough.

As for the beautiful color of the giraffe indicating design and not natural selection, I would simply point out that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Does the incredible ugliness of the common slug indicate that it was not designed by God? And does she have any basis for saying that the coloration of the giraffe does not serve some adaptive purpose?