Cornelius G. Hunter, Thylacines, Wolves, and Images

On the bulletin board, I posted the following text snippet:

Then there was the ID conference in San Francisco where Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, the “expert” involved in the antievolution shenanigans in Roseville, CA, presented the wolf and thylacine as identical twins separated at birth argument. His visual aid, handily printed in the proceedings, consisted of two images side-by-side. On one side, you had the usual painting of two thylacines in color. On the other, you had the same painting, mirrored horizontally, and desaturated. Yep, you just could not tell the difference between the wolves on one side and the thylacines on the other. Uncanny, even.

At least, none of the ID attendees cottoned on. It wasn’t until I pointed out the problem to Paul Nelson that the ID community had notice of it.

Hunter has responded there to accuse me of not addressing the science.

It is strange that evolutionists never get around to addressing the scientific issue. Wesley Elsberry appears to be denying convergence, but that can’t be true. If he has an explanation for convergence then let’s hear it. If not, then admit it. Here is the question for evolutionists: How is it that similarities such as the pentadactyl pattern are such powerful evidence for evolution, in light of equala and greater levels of similarity in distant species, such as dsplayed in the marsupial and placental mouse?

We know that functional constraints can influence adaptation. Rapid movement in fluids leads to a fusiform body shape, separately evolved in fish, reptiles, and mammals. This sort of convergence is not a problem, because we already have a good explanation for it. Hunter has claimed that instances of convergence exist that cannot be explained in such a fashion, and has used the example of thylacines (the “marsupial wolf”) and wolves (a placental mammal) to advance this notion. Hunter is screwed two ways: first, his example doesn’t withstand scrutiny (more on that later) and second, Hunter utilized a pair of images that was not what he represented them to be to falsely bolster his argument.

cgh thylacine

While the reproduction is pretty poor, it is still obvious that the two images are in fact one image, copied, flopped left to right, and desaturated. The image labeled “wolf” is, in fact, simply the thylacine picture again.

A bit of background… back in 1999, DI CSC Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells excoriated textbooks that used staged photographs of peppered moths to illustrate crypsis. Here is an earlier statement from Wells:

“BUT EVERYONE, INCLUDING MAJERUS, HAS KNOWN SINCE THE 1980’S THAT PEPPERED MOTHS DO NOT REST ON TREE TRUNKS IN THE WILD. This means that every time those staged photographs have been knowingly re-published since the 1980’s constitutes a case of deliberate scientific fraud. Michael Majerus is being dishonest, and textbook-writers are lying to biology students. The behavior of these people is downright scandalous.”

“Fraud is fraud. It’s time to tell it like it is.”

It turns out that Wells was wrong, and peppered moths do rest on tree trunks a substantial proportion of the time (about 25% according to data from Majerus). But all that was a distraction in any case from the point being illustrated by those photos: melanic-form moths blend in better on backgrounds darkened by pollution, and normal peppered moths blend in better on unpolluted backgrounds. Staged photos don’t put that point into doubt.

Fast forward to 2002 and the IDEA Conference held in San Francisco. Cornelius G. Hunter gave two presentations there; the one of interest to use was his One Long Argument” presentation. Within that, the image shown above was part of several pairs (see it here).

Hunter’s false use of images was not noted by the ID advocates in attendance. I later informed Paul Nelson of the problem when we talked at the 2002 Fourth World Skeptics Conference. Nelson said that he would look into it. I don’t know what might have happened behind the scenes, but so far as I recall, I heard no more about the issue.

So back up to the present… I mentioned this in a thread where the use of the thylacine/wolf comparison had come up. Hunter pops up, ignores the issue about his misuse of imagery, an abuse far worse than anything complained about by Wells in “Icons of Evolution”, and tries to limit discussion to the ‘convergence problem’ in particular.

OK, I think that I have documented the image abuse by Hunter sufficiently, so now I will dispose of the thylacine/wolf comparison as being any sort of problem for evolutionary biology. I will rely here upon testimony prepared for the Kitzmiller case by paleontologist Professor Kevin Padian of the University of California at Berkeley; the PDFs I link here come from his materials for use in the courtroom.

Of Pandas and People claims a problem with thylacines and wolves

Photos of dog, thylacine, and wolf

A nice visual contradiction of the idea from OPAP that the wolf looks more like the thylacine than a dog.

Comparison of dog and wolf skull features

These match up nicely.

Comparison of wolf and thylacine skull features

These do not match nicely.

More comparison of dog and wolf skull features

More congruence.

More comparison of wolf and thylacine skull features

More differences.

Comparison of wolf and thylacine skull features

Still more differences.

Mandibles of dog, wolf, and thylacine

Visual confirmation that dogs and wolves cluster together, and the thylacine is odd predator out.

Comparison of kangaroo and thylacine skull features

Now, there is something that does look like a thylacine!

Comparison of opossum and thylacine skull features

And another thing that looks like a thylacine!

Comparison of kangaroo, opossum, and thylacine skull features

More similarities to thylacines.

More comparison of kangaroo, opossum, and thylacine skull features

And still more.

Comparison of kangaroo, opossum, and thylacine skull mandibles

Even the jaws look similar.

Molecular phylogeny papers

Shared features between marsupials and thylacines

The list does go on.

When one looks at the situation in more detail, one finds that the supposed convergence of thylacines and wolves has been vastly exaggerated. The features shared among placental mammals and those shared among marsupials show that this is certainly not an instance of any difficulty for evolutionary biology. And certainly scientists have addressed the issue; Prof. Padian showed up to give testimony in 2005. Where was Hunter then, when the Thomas More Law Center could have used him? Oh, wait, then while Hunter was on the stand and under oath, either Eric Rothschild or Stephen Harvey would have been asking him to explain just how, exactly, one could end up using the same image to label as both “Tasmanian Wolf” and “Wolf”, and I don’t think that they would have taken, “You’re not discussing the scientific issue!” as a digression.

Thanks to Nick Matzke for providing the fast scans of the relevant IDEA Conference Proceedings pages and discussion on the wolf/thylacine comparison.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

12 thoughts on “Cornelius G. Hunter, Thylacines, Wolves, and Images

  • 2007/01/26 at 9:23 pm

    Hard to believe this guy has a PhD! Thanks for taking the time to take us through this point by point.

  • 2007/01/26 at 9:43 pm

    I get a bunch of 404 errors when I click on the links…

  • 2007/01/26 at 11:02 pm

    re. the broken links, the subdirectory /cgh/ is missing from the path on all but the first two links (until the links are fixed, you can find the documents by manually adding /cgh/ after /images/ in the URLs).

  • 2007/01/27 at 4:51 am

    I wonder why Hunter did not use just one of the pictures to clame that the two species are so similar that they can not be distingished.

  • 2007/01/27 at 10:24 am

    It is strange that evolutionists never get around to addressing…

    It is strange the Hunter never gets around to addressing the charge about his using two copies of the same image.

  • 2007/01/27 at 1:19 pm

    Beautiful job.
    Every time they through out the ‘problem for evolution’ or ‘science can’t explain’ cards someone comes along with the left bower and takes the trick.
    It just goes to show that they never let a fact stand in the way of an opinion.

  • 2007/01/27 at 2:26 pm

    I did some google image searching for the thylacine image(s) that Hunter used in his presentation. I think I may have found them.

    The image on the left can be viewed here:

    The one on the right can be viewed here:

    Interestingly, the version of the image that Hunter labeled as a “wolf” clearly has the scientific name “THYLACINUS CYNOCEPHALUS” at the bottom along with some other writing that I could not decipher. The version of the image that Hunter labeled as a “Tasmanian wolf” has apparently been cropped to remove the writing.

    In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that Hunter did include an accurate comparison of the thylacine and wolf in the image immediately below the one in question. You can see a clearer view of that image here:

  • 2007/01/27 at 4:08 pm

    I did not copy one image, reverse it, and desaturate it (why wouldn’t I have done that with the others?).

    Both wolf images were straight off the web, and in my hasty collection of marsupial and placental examples I accidentally got a marsupial wolf graphic confused as a placental.

    Sure; it was accidentally the same image, flipped and saturation-modified. Are we really expected to believe that?

    This is a lose-lose proposition for Hunter. If he admits that he should have been able to tell the images apart, he weakens his argument that the wolf and thylacine are nearly indistinguishable.

  • 2007/01/27 at 8:50 pm


    Thanks. I had wondered where that variant might have come from.

  • 2008/03/14 at 8:11 pm

    Not hardly. The slide discusses homoplasy and does not advocate that thylacine and wolf share a niche because they were specially created that way.

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