17 September 2007

"And your horse now would make him an ass"

Well, first of all, I wanted to get "My kingdom for a horse" into the title, but I couldn't think of anything that made any sense. The title instead comes from this nifty exchange, which I found by searching for the relevant term in the Oxford Shakespeare:

Sir Toby Belch. He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come from my niece, and that she is in love with him.
Maria. My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek. And your horse now would make him an ass.
Maria. Ass, I doubt not.
Sir Andrew. O! ’twill be admirable.
-- Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III, The Oxford Shakespeare
Horse evolution has been ricocheting through the blogosphere recently, because the author of Laelaps (who claims to be an individual human being; I'm still skeptical) has posted an excellent review of the history of the paleontology of the horse. I'm just as interested, however, in his followup article on creationist work on the subject. The author ably dismantles the largely propagandistic work of Jonathan Wells and AIG's Jonathan Sarfati, among others. Then he ends by noting a relative silence on the subject of horse evolution among anti-evolution partisans:
To be entirely honest, I was rather surprised by the overall paucity of creationist literature as pertaining to horse evolution. Given its prominence in textbooks and museums (and even though many books and institutions still present such evolution incorrectly) I would have expected at least a semi-rigorous creationist explanation for horses, but they seem content to merely criticize the work of Marsh and Huxley, praising Richard Owen for not associating the European Hyrcaotherium with living horses. Even in the one book (Icons of Evolution) that specifically targets horse evolution, the phylogeny is only a set up in order to allow Wells to attack Darwin and Dawkins, hinting that orthogenesis should still be considered as being a good hypothesis for evolution.
I have two comments. First, I'm not surprised to find that bodies of strong evidence for common descent are poorly covered by anti-evolution writers. In fact, I'd like to do some research on the coverage of particular topics by opponents of evolution. Do you think you can learn about pseudogenes at discovery.org? Or read a detailed analysis of natural selection in guppies at Answers In Genesis? It would be interesting to quantitate their verbiage.

But second, I'd like to add a couple of additional creationist commentaries to the mix. One is by Keith Miller, of Kansas State University, who is the same kind of creationist as I am: an evolutionary creationist. (The full expression of my position would be something like "old-earth-descent-with-modification-selection-acting-on-variation creationist," but that's too long to type.) His article "Taxonomy, Transtional Forms, and the Fossil Record" has been a fixture on the ASA website for ten years. It includes a superb overview of the horse evolution story. If you've heard that horse evolution is a fib, and you want to hear the other side from a Christian, read Miller's paper. (Then read all the rest of his papers, and the book he edited, and anything he recommends.)

The other creationist work on horses comes from the Real Thing, a young-earth creationist, and a scientist more worthy of the title than many of evolution's most boisterous apologists. He's Todd Wood, from Bryan College, president of the BSG, which describes itself as "an affiliation of biologists and other researchers dedicated to developing a young-age creation model of biological origins." I'll mention these folks occasionally, and comment on their work at length some other time. For now, I just want to note the integrity of their work and their approach. (Todd and I appeared together in a symposium at Calvin last year, and I think he enjoyed his visit as much as I enjoyed meeting him.)

Todd and his coworkers have addressed the horse evolution story with sophistication and integrity that is wholly undetectable in the work of the Jonathans mentioned above. In fact, they've used some interesting statistical tools to examine the relationship between fossil age and changes in form. Their work confirms the pattern inferred by evolutionary biologists, though of course they interpret it somewhat differently. (This isn't sarcasm; these folks believe in evolution, big time. They think it happens FAST. And you know, sometimes it does.) And these neocreationists (their chosen descriptor) aren't afraid to reflect on how things are going and how their ideas can interact with mainstream science. (Check out their About page; these are not your parents' creationists.) I think they're wrong, because I don't believe that biblical Christianity commits me to a young earth. But some of these neocreationists do science (unlike some of the best-known science bloggers), they do it well, and they seem to love it. Hear hear!

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