Upchucky award runner-up and Disco. ‘Tute staffer Casey Luskin is upset. Last fall, we were on a panel together, and I mocked his defense of the neo-creationist “orchard model” described in Explore Evolution as claiming that life “poofed” into existence. In the course of one of Casey’s regularly scheduled bouts of logorrhea, he decides to respond to this claim:
I presented some of this information discussed below at the St. Thomas conference last fall, and NCSE staff member Josh Rosenau repeatedly alleged that I was making a âpoofâ hypothesis for the origin of monkeys.
No. That is not what I was arguing at all.
The NCSE made a specific argument for common descent based upon the âcontinuityâ and âconsistencyâ between biogeography and evolution. The evidence presented below refutes their assertion.
This argument is no âpoofâ hypothesis for the origin of monkeys. In fact, if the only alternative to common descent is, in the words of Josh Rosenau, the âpoofâ hypothesis, then that says more about common descent being an unscientific hypothesis than anything else.
Fortunately for Mr. Rosenau and the NCSE, there are alternatives to common descent apart from the âpoofâ hypothesis. Common descent is testable, and in my view it fails the test presented below. Explore Evolution presents a scientifically testable alternative to common descent, the orchard model. The NCSE dismisses it as a âcreationistâ argument, but as will be seen below, only the hardened Darwinian faithful will buy such quips, dismissals, and refusals to seriously engage this argument.
First, Explore Evolution offers no testable models. It does toss out a preference for a model of life’s history as an orchard rather than a single tree, but never states where those trees are supposed to separate. Without that specificity, the claim strikes me as untestable. One could evaluate the likelihood of a specific claimed orchard, but the notion that an unspecified orchard is inherently testable makes no sense.
Second, and more significantly, the “orchard” is a “poof” model. Casey’s specific argument (to the extent he has one) is that South American monkeys are not actually descended by common ancestry from the same genealogy as other primates. In short, that they were poofed into existence, fully formed, in South America, while quite similar species existed in Africa, evolving in the manner revealed by fossils, molecules, and anatomy.
The same pattern of fossils, molecules, and anatomy says that South American monkeys are related to the rest of the primates. It’s true that we don’t have a complete understanding of how they got from Africa to South America, but (contrary to what Casey suggests) rafting across the southern Atlantic at the time in question really isn’t that problematic. Mangroves form giant interlinked root structures, and big storms drive massive chunks of forest away. A single pregnant monkey on such a raft is all that’s required for successful colonization. And monkeys are social, so you probably wouldn’t have just one in a tree. And the raft itself would be full of food (vegetation, insects, fruit), and hollow branches to take shelter in.
No, it’s not a high-probability event. Most such rafts would sink mid-ocean. But it only takes one to succeed. South America drifted for millions of years in what George Gaylord Simpson calls “splendid isolation,” with a fascinating fauna. That isolation seems to have left the fauna at a competitive disadvantage when exposed to the fauna of North America after the Isthmus of Panama closed, and it is likely that African monkeys would have had a similar competitive advantage upon arrival 50 million years ago.
At the time in question, the Atlantic was narrower than it is now, and sea levels lower than they are today, further narrowing the ocean. Then as now, a current ran from equatorial Africa to equatorial South America, which would push material from Africa to South America.
I understand that Casey finds this scenario unlikely, but it has the advantage of not needlessly calling for monkeys to have been poofed into South America in the process of planting a new tree of life in Oligocene South America. For an orchard model to be realistic, there has to be some mechanism in place that could explain multiple origins of life at the necessary point in time and capable of generating the sorts of life we actually see. Scientists do consider whether unicellular life has multiple origins over 3.5 billion years ago, trying to sort out the ways in which interchange of genetic material in that early period might have interwoven the early shoots of those many trees into a single tree, a process called anastomosis. Calling for the simultaneous origins of unicellular life early in earth’s history is not unreasonable, as conditions must have existed at the time which were capable of giving rise to life at least once. The notion of a multicellular organism appearing fully formed in the midst of an existing fauna defies belief.
As to Casey’s rejection of the “creationist” label for his favored “orchard” model, I refer him to the work of Kurt Wise, a young earth creationist who introduced the “orchard” to the world in 1990, at the Second International Conference on Creationism. In the figure below, from his 1990 paper “Baraminology: A Young-Earth Creation Biosystematic Method,” Wise illustrates his preferred “orchard model.” In the text, he explains:
Some modern creationists are suggesting a metaphor of their own â a metaphor which is planted between the Evolutionary Tree and the Creationist Lawn. The new metaphor may be described as the “Neo-creationist Orchard” (see figure 1C). In this metaphor, life is specially created (as fruit trees are specially planted) and polyphyletic (i.e. each tree has a separate trunk and root system). There are also discontinuities between the major groups (trees are spaced so that branches do not overlap and could not and never did anastomose) and there are constraints to change (a given tree is limited to a particular size and branching style according to its type). In these ways, the Neo-creationist Orchard is similar to the Creationist Lawn. They differ, though, in that the Neo-creationist Orchard allows change, including speciation, within each created group (each tree branches off of the main stem). Permitting this type of change (variously called by creationists ‘diversification’, ‘variation’, ‘horizontal evolution’, and ‘microevolution’) in different amounts in different groups allows the creation model to accommodate microevolutionary evidences (e.g. changing allelic rations, genetic recombination, speciation, etc.).
While the notion of multiple acts of creation yielding multiple trees is not novel to Wise’s work, his use of the term “orchard” is new. In a 1996 article for Harper’s, Jack Hitt quotes Wise explaining the idea more simply: “I intend to replace the evolutionary tree with the creationist orchard,” Wise said, “separately created, separately planted by God.”
That’s “poof.” It’s the orchard. The illustration is nearly identical to that used in Explore Evolution to illustrate the “orchard”. Search the evolutionary literature all you like, you will not find any papers advocating such a model, in which platyrrhine monkeys (among others) are magically poofed into existence in South America. For Casey to suggest that his beloved “orchard model” is anything but “poof,” he needs to do offer an explanation for platyrrhine monkeys.
Alas, rather than offering to explain his orchard model, Casey closes by assuring us “The next three installments [of his blog series] will explain how the sea monkey hypothesis refutes the NCSEâs biogeography objections to Explore Evolution.” In other words, rather than defending his own ideas, he’ll spend the time attacking other people. I don’t think much of the strategy, but maybe Casey will take the advice of his fellow creationists instead. So here’s Kurt Wise from Hitt’s article:
“My idea is not to attack evolution,” he said. “My goal is to develop a theory that explains the data of the universe better than conventional theory but is consistent with Scripture.” His major beef with other creationists, he explained, is that they only take pleasure in picking at the weaknesses of evolution. “It’s a small person who is focused on attacking a theory. By the time I finished at Harvard, I realized I could destroy macroevolutionary theory at will.” â¦
“I don’t want to challenge evolution,” he said, his voice echoing in the dark stone chamber. “I intend to replace it.”
Wise’s ideas have no currency, in no small part because they add nothing to our knowledge, and where they can be tested, they are wrong. His goal of replacing “everything after, oh, about 3200 B.C.” is ludicrous, but no less ludicrous than the Disco. ‘Tute’s goal of “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies,” and ultimately “to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” The problem is, 12 years later, Disco. has nothing new to offer, no mechanism, no process, just flawed and failed attempts at challenging evolution. As the communications director of their creationist branch explains today,
we do not favor mandating the teaching of intelligent design â as is so often misreported â but rather that we think when evolution is taught teachers should present both the evidence the supports Darwinian evolution as well as some of the evidence that challenges it.
Where once the mighty ‘Tute sought the “integration of design theory into public school science curricula,” all they want now is for teachers to spend time criticizing evolution.