Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Khalid Elmekki and “Questioning Evolution” Redux

Questioning evolution

It is fascinating how creationists, despite having had their errors explained to them in exquisite detail, continue to insist that their trivial misunderstandings of biology threatens to undermine evolution. If they were really interested in learning more about the world that science shows us, a simple Google search would reveal their errors. Instead, they prefer to wallow in their own ignorance.

One such example is Khalid Elmekki. Elmekki and his false claims about evolution has been refuted previously on this website after he make a video where he tried to lay out some of the reasons for why he rejected evolutionary biology. He later removed the video, presumably because of the backlash to some of the more embarrassing statements he made. Elmekki has also a number of other questionable videos on his Youtube channel where he claims that the U.S is a communist regime and promotes Illuminati conspiracy theories and so on.

Recently, Elmekki put up a re-make video were he attempts to discuss some of the “problems” that he sees with modern evolutionary. Elmekki has stopped using some of the most ludicrous arguments that could be seen in his previous video on the subject. He no longer states that he rejects evolution because it feels disgusting. He has also left out a lot of the material about phylogeny and systematics, such as the claim that birds evolved from pterodactyls. Unfortunately, a lot of creationist claims remain: such as the “if we evolved from apes…” and the feeble attempt to connect Charles Darwin to racism and ethnic cleansing. Despite denying that he is a creationist, Elmekki also throws in a couple of classic creationist falsehoods that he did not talk about before such as the equivocation of the theory concept and the denial of scientific evidence. Interestingly, he even produces some home-made arguments, such as claiming that cicadas are almost extinct because they have a long life-cycle and that humans and other apes cannot share a common ancestor because there are no non-human apes listed in human genealogies. For what it is worth, at least Elmekki tries to be original.

Playing the martyr card

Elmekki starts off with a classic denialist debate tactic know as playing the martyr card. Instead of addressing the substantial criticisms he got against his claims, he goes on a minute-long tirade about how his critics called him ignorant. The problem here, of course, is that his critics did not call him ignorant with the purpose of putting him down or calling him names. Rather, his critics called him ignorant because the arguments he used was ignorant. Although one should strive to be as cordial as possible and restrict the rebuttals to the arguments themselves, sometimes one has to speak honestly and openly about these issues and that may involve calling an ignorant person ignorant. It is not nice and it is not pretty, but sometimes it is the easiest way to explain precisely how far someone is from that which is reasonable. From such a perspective, being called ignorant is a factual statement without any intentional malice. For instance, I personally do not know much about knee surgery, so that means that I am very ignorant when it comes to the topic of knee arthroplasty.

Humans and other apes share a common ancestor

Elmekki regurgitates the classic creationist trope concerning the phylogenetic relationship between humans apes. When creationists use the term ape, they refer to non-human apes. In modern systematic, an ape is essentially a large primate without a tail so this category includes humans, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan and gibbons. Now, modern evolutionary biology does not state that contemporary humans evolved from any of the other contemporary apes. Rather, it states that all apes, human and non-human ones, all share a common ancestor in the past. Think bushy tree, not ladder.

Contemporary non-avian reptiles and mammals did not evolve from dinosaurs

The next assertion by Elmekki is that (non-avian) reptiles and mammals evolved from dinosaurs. However, this is not the case. Most dinosaurs went extinct during the end of the Cretaceous and the only living descendants of dinosaurs are birds. Indeed, according to modern cladistics, birds are dinosaurs for this very reason. However, mammals and non-avian reptiles are not descendants of birds. Rather, they related by common ancestry. Birds and non-avian dinosaurs share the most recent common ancestor and this group is closer related to other non-avian reptiles than mammals. The reason why Elmekki brings this up is to argue that if X evolved from Y, then Y should no longer exist. As we saw, evolution is more like Y and X shares a common ancestor. Tree, not a ladder.

Elephants did not evolve from woolly mammoths

Elmekki continues along the same lines with elephants. He falsely claims that elephants evolved from woolly mammoths, yet phylogenetic analysis of woolly mammoth mitochondrial DNA indicate that they are more closely related to the Asian elephants than the African ones (Rogaev et. al, 2006). So woolly mammoths and Asian elephants share a common ancestor with each other and then that group shares a common ancestor with African elephants. Again, this talk about elephants is just a way for Elmekki to attempt to back up his misleading argument about the evolutionary relationship between apes and humans.

Modern humans still evolving, but no speciation due to lack of isolation / low genetic variation

In his discussion about recent human evolution, Elmekki claims that humans are not evolving. This is incorrect, since there have been recent positive selection for a number of genes related to lactase persistence (ability to digest milk as an adult), digestion of alcohol, tooth enamel, detoxification of poisonous plant material, immune system function, jaw muscle fibers, tolerance to heat and cold and so on (Laland et. al, 2010).

He also adds that humans are currently not evolving into a new species. However, geographical isolation is often needed for speciation to occur. Humans population have not been geographically isolated for very long and any isolation is being negated by global travel and exploration. In addition, there was a recent genetic bottleneck event were the size of the entire human species was down to maybe 10 000 individuals due to the Toba supervulcanic eruption around 70 000 years ago. This means that present day human genetic variation is very small, which is another barrier to speciation. Finally, speciation among large animals takes time. We are not talking 100 or 1000 years, but much longer.

“Why don’t we go have kids with apes?”

Yes, I kid you not, Elmekki actually asks this rhetorical question! The answer, of course is that humans do not attempt to have sex with non-human apes because inter-species mating generally do not produce any viable offspring (so that behavior is not selected for), it is considered animal abuse by most enlightened humans and most people have a general aversion to it. Furthermore, humans and other non-human apes differ in the number of chromosomes (there is extensive evidence for primate chromosome fusions in humans, see XX), so this would most likely make the segregation of chromosomes fail and not produce a viable zygote.

“Why don’t we see apes in our genealogies?”

If humans are related to non-human apes, how come they are not in our genealogies? The answer, of course, is that written language only goes back a couple of thousands of years, whereas the split between humans and our closest relative the chimpanzee occurred around 6 million years ago. However, once we look at molecular data, we can construct phylogenies (essentially advanced species genealogies based on e. g. DNA sequence), we do find non-human apes as our closest relatives.

Difficulties with nested hierarchies

Throughout his video, Elmekki seems to have a lot of difficulty grasping the concept of nest hierarchies. He keeps referring to “if humans and apes are one and the same” and “if humans and primates are one and the same”. This is a bad way of looking at evolutionary relatedness. Instead, a more appropriate way to look at taxonomic groups is to consider them like those nested Russian dolls. Different species of snakes (the smallest dolls) are placed in the larger category (“doll”) of snake, which together with other similar creatures is place into the category of reptiles, which is placed in an even larger category of amniotes, which are placed in tetrapods, which are placed in vertebrates, which are placed in multicellular animals, which are place in eukaryotes. Although I intentionally skipped a couple of taxonomic levels, the general message should be clear. Nested hierarchies and trees, not one-level categories and ladders.

Cicadas are not “somewhat extinct”

Suddenly, Elmekki blurt out that he thinks that Cicadas are “somewhat” extinct because they only reproduce once every 15 years. However, this is error stacked upon error. First, only a certain group of cicadas (called periodical cicadas) have these very long periods between reproduction and it is typically a prime number such as 13 or 17. This prevents mating between individuals from groups that have different cycles and also prevents predators from evolving generation times that divides the cicada generation time (i.e. if it had been 15, then predators could evolve generation times of 5 years) to exploit the cicada massive reproduction events.

Evolution is a well-supported explanation to the origin of biological diversity

Elmekki, although denying the creationist label, appeals to one of the most common creationist errors in existence: the equivocation of the term “theory”. In everyday life, “theory” means a crazy idea you came up with last night while you were stoned (essentially a synonym for hypothesis). However, in science, it has a different, more formal, meaning. A scientific theory is, according to the National Academies of Science, “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses” (National Research Council, 1998, p. 5). Therefore, to say that evolution is “only a theory” in an effort to undermine it makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, even the young-earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis has told its followers not to use this argument.

Evidence for common ancestry between humans and non-human apes

Elmekki claim that there is no evidence for common ancestry between humans and non-human apes. So how does he explain the fact that humans have a chromosomal fusion between two primate chromosomes (Hillier et. al, 2005)? That humans and other apes have the same disabling mutation in L-gulonolactone oxidase which makes it impossible to synthesize vitamin C? That even creationists have a hard time separating “fully ape” from “fully human” hominin fossils?

Self-control is greatly enhanced by culture

Elmekki puts forward human self-control as an argument against the notion that “humans evolved from apes”. However, this objection evaporates when we understand that the relationship is one of common ancestry. There is no contradiction in saying that one branch evolved a higher or better feature X than the other. Furthermore, self-control, like intelligence, is greatly enhanced by culture.

The false association between Darwin and racism

In his final gambit, Elmekki performs a guilty by association fallacy by trying to link Darwin to racism. Darwin did not know about genetics and the term “race” in the subtitle of On the Origin of Species referred to variety, not human ethnic groups. In fact, Darwin did not discuss human evolution in On the Origin of Species (that had to wait until the Descent of Man).

Curiously, Elmekki claims that he agrees with “survival of the fittest”, apparently not noticing that the term originated with Herbert Spencer and cannot be found in the first edition of On the Origin of Species. Thus, it is ironic that Elmekki encourages his critics to read Darwin, despite the fact that he himself only has a weak and cursory understanding of modern evolutionary biology.

References

Hillier, L. W., Graves, T. A., Fulton, R. S., Fulton, L. A., Pepin, K. H., Minx, P., . . . Wilson, R. K. (2005). Generation and annotation of the DNA sequences of human chromosomes 2 and 4. Nature, 434(7034), 724-731.

Laland, K. N., Odling-Smee, J., & Myles, S. (2010). How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together. Nat Rev Genet, 11(2), 137-148.

National Research Council. (1998). Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Rogaev, E. I., Moliaka, Y. K., Malyarchuk, B. A., Kondrashov, F. A., Derenko, M. V., Chumakov, I., & Grigorenko, A. P. (2006). Complete Mitochondrial Genome and Phylogeny of Pleistocene Mammoth Mammuthus primigenius. PLoS Biol, 4(3), e73.

4 responses to “Khalid Elmekki and “Questioning Evolution” Redux

  1. Anonymous December 24, 2013 at 07:25

    I’m not cyberbullying you in the least. There is something called freedom of speech, you need to accept the fact that not everyone will have the same beliefs or opinions as you do. Seems as though you have nothing to do with your life except for slandering people. Showing your cowardice to the whole world is exactly what you’re doing. Where are those videos now?

    • Emil Karlsson December 24, 2013 at 12:03

      You do not seem to understand that evolution is a well-supported scientific explanation and not an “opinion” or “belief”.

      If you think that making arguments with references to the scientific literature is the same as “slandering people” or “showing cowardice to the whole world” and if you interpret almost every argument as a personal attack, then you are going to find it extremely difficult to interact with other humans in a serious academic context.

      Freedom of speech is the right to not have your speech suppressed by the government. However, it is not a right to stand unopposed and promote pseudoscience. Contrary to your view, standing up to pseudoscientific nonsense is an act of courage, not of cowardice. Instead of playing the martyr card, try to actually respond to the arguments instead of acting offended. Otherwise, I doubt this is a website you are going to find useful.

      It seems that this video has also been taken down. Hopefully, the video maker followed my advice and used a search engine to learn more about evolution, realized how flawed his assertions were and retracted them. Somehow I doubt it, but hope is the last to die.

  2. shelldigger December 25, 2013 at 23:21

    I think you pegged it. Ignorance. Willful, or due to a lack of a decent education is the question. Ignorance is not always a life sentence, but in some cases it turns out that way…

    Talk about so many avenues of just not getting it, he even pulled a free speech fallacy on you in the comments?

    This person may not claim to be a creationist, but he has maxed out the canards creationists tend to use. Wonder why that is? I got a nickel that bets his education comes in the form of daily visits to AIG, and Sunday school on the weekends.

    • Emil Karlsson December 26, 2013 at 01:59

      Yeah, the passive-aggressive behavior seems to be a defense mechanism.

      In the previous video he said that the notion that humans evolved was disgusting (i.e. he talks about self-control and Darwin’s usage of the “race” word), so he probably just did a Google search for arguments against evolution and left his confirmation bias run unchecked. That could explain why he used some of the most common creationist canards.

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