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I Cannot Tell a Taradiddle: Karl Giberson Replies, Feebly, on the Myth of Human "Tails"


Much gratitude is owed to Colby College historian of science Joseph D. Martin for his candid defense of lying in the context of public discussions of science. Dr. Martin’s post at H-Net introduced me to the term "taradiddle," meaning a petty lie. That a historian would consider justifying such a thing is a fantastic admission.

I suspect it’s what many on the other side of the science and culture debates think, the diehard advocates of materialism and the whitewashers of religion’s role in the history of science; but they aren’t reckless enough to say it in public.

Casey brought all this to our attention. Dr. Martin with others in his field was pondering whether it’s fine for the new Cosmos series on TV to apply a "touch of taradiddle" in support of "scientific authority." In other words, to lie for the sake of shoring up public trust in the views that Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson champions. Martin observes, "For the record, I myself am still very much on the fence about this issue." He’s on the fence about whether it’s OK to lie to advance a particular view of science! Amazing.

The word "taradiddle" is wonderful in itself. It sounds so silly and innocent, like a cute little bird you might see hopping around your backyard. You can imagine the producers of Cosmos assuring themselves, "What harm is there? It’s just a touch of taradiddle."

When the Truth Is Found to Be Taradiddles

That brings me to Karl Giberson, to whom I’ve been tweeting our challenges to his use of supposed human "tails" as evidence for our common descent from a tailed ancestor. Dr. Giberson, I know, would not tell a taradiddle. He wouldn’t fib over and over, aware that it was a fib and brushing off corrections.

In a debate with Stephen Meyer and an article for The Daily Beast, Giberson offered a picture of a baby with what looks like a pig’s tail. The photo comes from an article for an old humor magazine, Cracked. It doesn’t look like the medical images you’ll see if you Google "human tail" — which I don’t recommend, since they’re quite upsetting.

Giberson assured his audience that on occasion "babies are born with perfectly formed, even functional tails." That idea has now been thoroughly debunked by Casey Luskin in a series here at ENV, which pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor, with his ample clinical experience of removing such lesions, commented on earlier.

At one point as we were publishing Casey’s series, Giberson tweeted in reply to his being denounced by some creationist website. I responded in turn:

Later, referring to the post I had sent him, he said:


In that tweet he cites an article to back up his claim on "tails." The article, in Nature Education, actually includes just two paragraphs about tails. That’s an improvement on his previous submission from a defunct humor magazine. But how does it stack up against the avalanche of medical literature that Casey Luskin describes? Of course, it doesn’t at all.

Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You No Taradiddles

Giberson needs to clear up the record of his statements on "tails." In Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne writes about tails as apparent "true atavisms." Coyne too should correct the record, but he is notoriously resistant to confronting scientific evidence that disturbs his favored evolutionary story.

Giberson, on the other hand, has broken with some of his own religious fellow believers over what he presents as matters of intellectual and scientific integrity. He’s got a reputation for scruples to uphold. I would like to see him respond in detail to Casey Luskin.

It may suit Giberson’s rhetorical needs to cast those who disagree with him as "anti-evolutionists" and advocates of "pseudo-science," who threaten him with hellfire. At ENV, our only concern is to urge Dr. Giberson to withdraw a lame proof of his Darwinian view, one that, since Darwin himself proposed it, has been buried by counterevidence.

There may be other good arguments for Darwinism, but the myth of human "tails" isn’t one.

I’m on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.

Photo source: Wikipedia.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



Continuing SeriesThe Myth of Human Tails