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Austrian Darwinist Relies on Questionable Authorities in His Inaccurate Attacks on Explore Evolution

Casey Luskin

The Darwinists are clearly not happy about the supplemental textbook Explore Evolution (EE), and given their showing thus far, they’re getting increasingly desperate to find ways to attack it. The latest review attacking EE was published in the journal Evolution and Development by Brian Metscher, a biologist in Austria. Employing what ID historian and rhetorician Thomas Woodward calls the “sledgehammer” approach, Metscher makes the grand sweeping conclusion that “[e]very talking point in the book has been dealt with already.” Metscher doesn’t specify precisely what those “talking points” are, but if EE is so wrong, surely Metscher can give us a scholarly refutation of the book. Instead Metscher cites to TalkOrigins and an internet Darwinist named Lenny Flank, who offers some interesting advice for those defending evolution. Metscher cites a long screed by Flank attacking EE which offers, among other things, the following critique of the textbook:

Just got my first look at the tome today. I can sum up my feelings in one word:
BWA HA HA HA HA HA AH AH A !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In other Darwinist blogs (not cited by Metscher), Flank has suggested that one way to defend evolution is to find certain religious “fundamentalists,” and then “round them all up and shoot them.” Flank elaborates on his strategy, stating, “I love fundies. I really do. Every time they shoot themselves in the head, it saves ME the trouble.”

Elsewhere, when defending evolution, Flank urges evolutionists to avoid discussing scientific issues: “Don’t focus on the science… scientists arguing over science is a recipe for boredom.” Flank continues, “This isn’t a science symposium. Don’t treat it as one…This fight is a political fight.” Instead, Flank recommends attacking ID proponents “from every possible direction… don’t give them an instant’s rest”; they should be smeared as “extremists” and “religious zealots” who are advocating “fundamentalist Christian theocracy.”

Unfortunately, Metscher seems to have adopted the same rhetorical style modeled by Flank. In his review, Metscher calls EE a “pestilence” that is “159 glossy pages of color-illustrated creationist nostalgia.” (Compare that statement to Metscher’s authority Lenny Flank, who similarly writes that EE, “consists of nothing but the same old crap that creationist/IDers have been putting out for forty years.” See here for a refutation of the Metscher/Flank false and fallacious correlation-equals-creationist-causation argument.) According to Metscher, the textbook is both “pathetic” and an “insidious threat to education.” At one point, Metscher charges EE with “abusing actual scientific results,” even complaining that EE invokes “that irritating homology-is-circular thing.” Metscher’s likewise scholarly conclusion? EE “resembles not so much a Trojan horse as an email virus, or the introduction of sterile males into an insect population.” To answer the question you’re thinking right now, the answer is, Yes, this review apparently did meet the standards for publication in a Darwinist scientific journal.

Despite his own questionable citation sources, Metscher attacks the references in Explore Evolution, complaining that the textbook cites a paper in Bioessays to bolster its claim that complex systems like the four-chambered heart must have arisen “as complete systems.” Metscher complains that the paper cited doesn’t specifically mention heart evolution, but in fact this article’s general conclusion about morphological evolution endorses the precise point being made in EE: “it is unlikely that morphological evolution can be seen as the accumulation of small morphological variation of trait values as described by some neo-Darwinian research.” (Isaac Salazar-Ciudad, “On the origins of morphological disparity and its diverse developmental bases,” BioEssays, Vol. 28:1112–1122, (2006).) Thus, the conclusion of this paper is actually far stronger and broader than the narrow point for which EE cites it, and EE seems fully justified in citing this paper to justify suspicions that complex biological features in animals (like the four-chambered heart) are not amenable to Darwinian modes of evolution. Given the discussions above, perhaps Metscher should start scrutinizing his own citations before he attacks those of others.

Another highly amusing part of the review is the fact that its author — a theoretical biologist in Austria — is instructing his fellow biologists about how Explore Evolution will be treated under American constitutional law. Here, his analysis is less grim, for Metscher offers his own legal opinion that, since “[e]verything about this book is designed to avoid the legal obstacles,” therefore “[t]his book is less likely … to be snagged by the Establishment Clause.” Alternatively, one might observe that since this textbook focuses solely on science, it poses no foreseeable constitutional problems for usage in state schools. Leave it to a Darwinist biologist to spin constitutionality — a strength — into a defect.

It’s also amusing that Metscher’s conclusion about EE‘s apparent constitutionality is contradicted by his citation to Lenny Flank, where Flank offers the learned legal opinion that EE “it certainly doesn’t look like this book will stand a snowball’s chance in hell, once it gets to court,” further declaring that “[i]f this book ever goes to trial, I want a front rwo [sic] seat.”

Despite EE‘s grounding in the mainstream scientific literature, part of Metscher’s conspiracy theory, of course, is that the book is a front for creationism. He thus charges that Explore Evolution is guilty of “omitting time scales.” Yet Explore Evolution plainly observes that trilobite fossils are found in “in rock layers covering a period of about 300 million years.” (pp. 16-17) Regarding the Cambrian explosion, the book observes that “about 530 million years ago, more than half of the major animal groups (called phyla) appear suddenly in the fossil record.” (p. 22) In fact, page 18 of EE is a full-page diagram of the entire geological timescale, with all of the standard geological ages included, and of course no criticism of the timescale whatsoever. To put it charitably, one cannot help but doubt if Metscher spent as much time reading EE as he spent reading Lenny Flank.

Demonstrating that the paranoid style isn’t just limited to American politics, Austrian biologist Brian Metscher has adopted Lenny Flank’s advice on avoiding discussing the science and painting his intellectual opponents as extremists who are conspiring to skirt the law. I suspect that Metscher’s outlandish rhetoric in his attack on EE would make Lenny Flank proud. Let’s just hope that Metscher doesn’t decide to adopt Flank’s militant recommendations for defending evolution.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Brian MetscherExplore Evolution