Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Archive for June, 2010

YECs on Fossils and the “Evolutionary Timeline”

Because Young-Earth Creationists are so defensive of their model that requires the earth to be between 6,000 to 10,000 years old, they are always out to discredit the scientific date of the earth with anything they can fish out. They feel that if their interpretation of the Bible is wrong -to hell with other legitimate interpretations,- then their whole world will fall apart. This leads many YECs to make many bogus arguments for a young earth like  the decay of the magnetic field, the recession of the moon, etc, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada…. Then, another favorite tactic they use is to point out a fossil find and claim it is “out-of-place,” and that therefore the timeline is all wrong, and therefore their model of a 6,000 year old universe has to be right. I see this particular argument used more by Brian Thomas who is employed by the Insitute for Creation Research than anywhere else.

One of my favorite examples of  Thomas’s use of the “fossil out-of-place” argument is  from an article entitled “Fossil Footprints Trample Evolutions Timeline.” — It talks about arthropod trace-fossil foot prints which were found in Pre-Cambrian strata in Nevada. Thomas presented this find as if it were a blow to the Evolutionary theory because it would require some reevaluation of determining when arthropods appeared. It never occurred to them that this find actually hurts Creationism more than it could ever hurt the present theory of Evolution. More precisely, this discovery hurts the favorite Creationist argument about the so-called Cambrian”explosion” because it shows that complex, animal life was around 30 million years before.

There are several other examples that the Institute cites, and I’ll address some of them here just to show how they 1) show ignorance of the person making the claim, and 2) how are completely irrelevant to the topic of the “evolutionary timeline.” Further reading of ICR claims on the subject will show any informed person how the Institute takes certain scientific discoveries and takes them out of context to try to refute Evolutionary theory.

  1. One claim that the Thomas makes is that a  newly discovered amber trapped spider web too old for the timeline. A news article he cites of this fossil find, in fact, shows that spider webs had evolved long before it was first thought, however when one does more research on spider evolution, the apparent “harm” done to the timeline really doesn’t exist. This fossilized web’s age is estimated at 140 million years, while  the evolution of spiders is thought to have started some 400 million years ago. That gives the web about 260 million years to evolve, so there is no harm done here.
  2. Another claim that he made is that the T-Rex body structure evolved 60 million years “too early.” This claim is based on a newly discovered relative of the tyrannosaurs now called Raptorex. I seriously cannot help but see the irrelevance of this fossil to debunking the so-called “timeline.” It never crosses Thomas’ mind that rather than hurting the current theory of evolution, this helps it by aiding the construction of a phylogeny of the tyrannosaurs.
  3. Claims of human artifacts, such as evidence of boats and jewelry, are used to say that we have always been the same species. We now know that Homo neandertalensis had fassion sense, but nobody disputes this, so it is irrelevant. Also, multiple mtDNA tests show they are not the same species as Homo sapiens, despite the YEC model’s insistence. And the evidence that Homo erectus was a mariner is really not news since we knew that for over a decade (at least since 1998). Hence, this is also irrelevant.
  4. Another apparent contradiction of the timeline is the discovery of fossil ambers dating to the Carboniferous which lasted from 355 to 300 million years ago, though the first flowering plants known to the fossil record appear during the Cretaceous (125 million years ago). The Brian Thomas criticizes the scientist who discovered them of  evolutionary bias because he said this doesn’t necessarily mean that flowering plants appeared so early, but that it shows that aspects of them were starting to make an appearance. But at the same time, he doesn’t provide any credible evidence to the contrary, so they affectively fail to show how the timeline was falsified.

The only thing some of the examples above show is a slight reevaluation of  some of the current scientific understandings., but that’s all. On the other hand, some of the examples don’t affect out understandings at all. This kind of makes me wonder if the employees at ICR sees any unexpected scientific find as an inherent refutation of Evolutionary theory as we know it.

As I see it, ICR has a very odd definition of an “out-of-place” fossil. In one post entitled Cambrian Fossils Found in the Wrong Place,” it is argued that since soft-bodied creatures were thought to be stem ancestors to the Cambrian fauna were found in some of the same layers, one could not have evolved into the other because  the argument for evolution  “relies on the absence of these creatures in higher layers to support the assumption that they ‘diverged’ into ‘later’ life forms.” –This reminds me of the argument “If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes.”  Even if  a certain animal evolved into another species, there is no reason to assume that evolutionary ecenario “relies” on the absence of the mother species.

So really, not a single one of the examples given of “out-of-place” fossils given by the Institute refute any of  the important aspects of Evolution, and any revision that is made from them, so far, is only minor. Any fossil that actually refutes our scientific understanding should be unexplainable, like fossil rabbits in the Cambrian, and so far, the Young-Earthers have failed.


Darwin’s Dilemma: My Take on the Discovery Institute’s Claims

I know it’s several months late, but I just got through watching a film done by the Discovery institute, on the Cambrian “explosion,” called “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion.” There are a few details that should be addressed about it. But, before I go into any kind of detail, yes, it should be pointed out that this is mostly the same kind of Creationist bull that I thought it would be, just a bit more sophisticated than the usual Creationist arguments made about the Cambrian radiation.

At first, typical of Creationist claims, Jonathan Wells makes the well-worn claim about life forms before and during the Cambrian. He compares the entire 3.8 to 4 billion years of life to a twenty-four hour day saying that for the first 21 hours, there were only unicellular life forms, and then the Cambrian life forms came into existence on the scale of a two minutes. This is an attempt to make the Cambrian radiation appear “sudden” A few minutes later, Wells then says something on the lines of that it could have happened over night which is complete bogus because it lasted at least 10 to 25 million years. Though there are higher estimates that go as high as 35 million years or more. The film says that fossil evidence shows that those estimates are too high, but it doesn’t give convincing details.

The film, however does mention the existence of other life forms, like the Ediacaran fauna which existed before the Cambrian, as well as fossil embryos. . . . Oh, about the fossil embryos, the film uses them to address the idea that pre-Cambrian fossils are not preserved because they were too soft. It is pointed out that these embryos were from soft-bodied organisms, and that they existed tens of millions of years before the Cambrian. From that, it is reasoned that if the appeal to pre-Cambrian organisms being too soft for preservation cannot be used. As the film argues this, the Discovery Institute seems to have missed a major implication of fossil embryos several millions of years before the Cambrian “explosion.” Think about it: Those embryos had to have come from precursor ancestors, and that would therefore show that the Darwinian prediction of the existence of simpler pre-Cambrian life. It shows, therefore, that such organisms did in fact exist, but that they were rarely ever fossilized. Fossilization is already a rare enough occurence without the organisms being much softer than is accustomed. But, another detail the DI seems to have missed: I do not remember any scientist ever saying that soft-bodied, pre-Cambrian fossils could never be preserved. They can be, it’s just much more of a novelty. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Discovery Institute is attacking a strawman.

Something I find exceptionally interesting is the interest that the film takes in fossils from southern China. All along, citing these fossils as evidence for their conclusion, I’m left to wonder why other fossils from China are ignored. In pre-Cambrian deposits dating from the Doushantou Formation, evidence of animal life in the form of adult Cnidirians was found. Among the finds were fossilized embryos and larvae tat resembled Anthrozoans. Not to mention, there s also evidence of cnidirian body plans with anthozoan affinity. An implication of this find is that  stem groups of bilaterians were also present between 25 to 45 million years before the Cambrian “explosion.” — Then, also there is more recent evidence from the same formation that complex, bilatarians existed between 40 to 55 million years before the Cambrian. — These fossil finds I cited were made in the first half of the last decade, between 2002, and 2005. These finds alone would show that the Cambrian “explosion” was likely less explosive. In contrast, the film Darwin’s Dilemma was released in September, 2009. Why didn’t the Discovery Institute include these fossil finds? Because of ignorance or bias? You make the call. — I go into more detail in my previous post entitled “The Truth on the Cambrian ‘explosion.’

Between scenes, the Discovery Institute indulges in the usual Creationist quote mining from well-known scientists about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna in the fossil record, but prominently Stephen Gould. Personally, I found that somewhat disrespectful since he is dead with his statements still being hijacked. Then also, they use a very selective quote from Richard Dawkins about the Cambrian’s abruptness in which he says, “It’s as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” You just have to realize that Dawkins is an Atheist and a major anti-Creationist to realize that he ultimately was not endorsing that view.  Besides, as he proposes a little later that “it might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize,” a view which the film goes out of its way to attempt refuting.  — The Quotes from Charles Darwin can be dismissed since they are 151 years out of date, and do not reflect the research accomplished since he published his theory.

A final claim made is on genetic information, and questioning whether or not Darwinian mechanisms can produce it. After deciding that it cannot, they resort to their typical “designer did it” cop-out. They try to rationalize their logic by saying that information is the product of intelligence, yada, yada . . . .  I’m not going to even bother to refute the typical argument from ignorance.

Basically, the film really doesn’t address anything that hasn’t been debunked before, it just seems to be a bit more sophisticated, and a bit more informative than other pieces of Creationist propaganda, but that’s probably because it admits to the existence of some fossils from before the Cambrian. I guess from that, it is the “best” Intelligent Design film I’ve ever seen, but that isn’t saying much. Mostly, the only real thing this film has going for it is its graphics, though I have seen better. I guess one of its goals is to dazzle the uninformed layperson with its computer graphics?  Who can tell? The Discovery Institute may accept the scientific age of the earth, but other than that, they aren’t much better than ICR.

References:
Precambrian Animal Life: Probable Developmental and Adult Cnidarian Forms from Southwest China, by Jun-Yuan Chena, Paola , Feng Gaoa, Stephen Q. Dornbos, Chia-Wei Lid, David J. Bottjer and Eric H. Davidson. From Science Direct, and Developmental Biology.
The Early Evolution of Animals by David J. Bottjer, from Scientific American.

Recommended Reading:
Transitional Forms and the Evolution of Phyla, by Glenn R. Morton, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Cambrian Explosion, from SkepticWiki


Evolution, Mutation and Misconceptions

A common objection to the Evolutionary model is the idea that Mutations are a driving force for change. It is seen all over Creationist literature that mutations destroy information, and never add anything, or have any benefits. — For example, the Muslim Creationist Harun Yahya claims,

The direct effect of mutations is harmful. The changes effected by mutations can only be like those experienced by people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl: that is, death, disability, and sickness. […] Not surprisingly, no useful mutation has been so far observed. All mutations have proved to be harmful. (The Evolution Deceit, page 55)

A few months ago, while I was debating with a creationist, I found myself having to correct a major misunderstanding he had. He repeated an argument  about Natural Selection, saying that Natural Selection is not the same as Evolution because it produces nothing new. It just “selects'” — As soon as he said this, I remembered hearing the same thing from a Kent Hovind debate. 

As soon as he said that, I quickly corrected him. Nobody says that Natural Selection “creates” anything new. When I took History of Life in Biology, that was one of the things I was taught: “Natural Selection doesn’t create new traits.” Mutations create new traits, and natural selection then determines if the new trait is favorable or good enough for a living organism to survive in a certain enviroment.  — He then interrupted saying, “Mutations are always harmful!” When I corrected him on that, he then said, “Well, cancer is a mutation! . . So, you’re telling me that if we get a whole population with cancer — “ At that, I kept repeating myself that wasn’t what I was saying and told him to stop attacking a strawman.

 He then defied me to name one beneficial mutation, just one. At that, I gave the (probably over cited) anti-bacterial resistance. He then said that didn’t count because the bacteria didn’t pass on the newly acquired resistence to its descendants, and the new traits have to be heritable. — But Creationists who make that claim are demonstrably wrong. The fact is that newly resistant bacteria do pass on their newly acquired resistance to new generations. I also pointed out the evolution of the HIV virus -the “ultimate evolver”- which didn’t seem to  make even the slightest dent, as if I expected it to.

One often cited case of a beneficial mutation is the sickle-cell anemia. Kent Hovind, in a debate with Michael Shermer, mocked this example by comparing it to being beneficial in the sence of cutting off your feet so you do not get athlete’s foot. — But it’s not so simple. Kent Hovind apparently is ignorant of the qualifiers that determine whether or not the sickle-cell mutation is beneficial or not. If the mutation is in the heterozygous state, then the mutation is detrimental causing disease and early death. However, if the mutation is heterozygous, then that causes its carriers to be resistent to infection and malaria.

One really famous example of a beneficial mutation is the CCR5-Delta 32. This mutation occurs in chromosome three in the human genome. Individuals that carry this particular mutation are resistent to the HIV virus. The heterozygous variant of this mutation is able to slow down the progression of the HIV virus while the homozygous version of the mutation causes immunity to the virus. — It is obvious that the claim made by Harun Yahya in his writings is wrong. There are several examples of beneficial mutations. It has even gotten to the point that some Creationists now admit that they in fact exist, but they then try to put qualifiers on it.

Anyway, now that Creationists have accepted that mutations can be beneficial, they now changed tactics in order to salvage their ever evolving creation model. — One creationist from CMI, while talking about the CCR5-Delta 32, tries to work his way out by saying,

However, it clashes irreconcilably with the evolutionary view that the accumulation of mutations over time brings about upward evolution (increasing functional complexity).

 . . . And then later, he then cites a paper from Nature which mentions a downside to this particular mutation. The implication he seems to be trying to give is that because it can be associated with primary sclerosing cholangitis, then therefore it cannot be count as evidence. — Creationists make similar claims about antibiotic resistence of bacteria, saying that these mutations lead to a “loss of function.”

What these excuses show is a lack of understanding of how Evolution works with mutations. As I have already pointed out in a previous post, evolution doesn’t necessarily lead to increased complexity, though it may. But there is no pre-ordained goal. All that matters is if the change is heritable, and if it is, then that works as evolutionary change. — Also, no one has ever said that mutations that lead to evolutionary change cannot have a downside. There will always be a downside. What matters is if the variation is beneficial or good enough to survive in a certain environment. In an enviroment where there is plenty of AIDS, the CCR5-Delta 32 mutation would be beneficial. Natural Selection will favor those particular individuals that carry it.

Finally, there is Gene Duplication. I know that Creationists would love to pounce on this example and say “It’s just duplicated information.” — I wonder if these same Creationists would be interested in the fact that over 97% of human genes are duplicates. Anyway, gene duplication offers raw material for Evolution and mutation, though it is true that high rates of duplication often lead to high rates of gene loss also, (a fact that would be useless for Creationists to hijack for reasons mentioned above.) What happens is, a gene gets duplicated, and then the duplicate copy has no selection pressures, so it is now free to evolve and mutate on its own, though the gene doesn’t always survive.  

I’m sure that Creationists would love to object to new function ever being derived from duplicated genes, but the fact is that it does happen. A good example is the Eosinophil Cationic Protein (or the ECP) which is toxic to bacteria by making their cell mambranes porus. Also, it is useful in the management of Asthma, despite it’s limitations. — Then there is the Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin (the EDN) which helps to prevent viral infections, though it’s accumulation in the intestine is associated with tissue loss.

Furthermore, observations in the genomes of bacteria only aid the conclusion that gene duplication is a viable mechanism for Evolutionary change, as the divergence of duplicated enzymes seems to have been a main contributor -though not no only one-  to the causation of new species of bacterium.

One need not be a geneticist to research the claims of anti-evolutionists to come to the realization that almost everything they claim about mutations is spurious. Even though it is true that most mutations are harmful, it is also true that in certain environments some can be quite beneficial in which cases natural selection will favor them. Some gene duplicates also show neofunction completely debunking the idea that nothing new arises from mutation.

References:
Evolution and Disease, from ChemHeritage.org
Genetics Demystified, page 151. By Edward Willett
Beneficial Mutation, by Ningthoujam Sandhyarani. From Buzzle.com
Beneficial Mutations, from SkepticWiki.
Examples of Beneficial Mutations in Humans, from The Evolution Evidence Page.
Almost all human genes resulted from ancient duplication, by Roy J. Britten, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Gene Duplication and Evolution of Gene Function, from Evolution and Developement Group.
Evolution by Gene Duplication, by Jianzhi Zhang, from TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution. Also see Positive Darwinian Selection after gene duplication in primate ribonuclease genes, by Jianzhi Zhang, Helene F. Rosenberg, and Masatoshi Nei, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Eosinophil cationic protein: Is it useful in asthma? A systematic review, by Gerald C.-H. Koha, Lynette P.-C. Shekb, Daniel Y.-T. Gohb, Hugo Van Beverb, David S.-Q. Koha.
Eosinophil Derived Beurotoxin (EDN)
Evolution by leaps: gene duplication in bacteria, by Margrethe H Serres, Alastair RW Kerr, Thomas J McCormack, and Monica Riley. From Biology Direct.


YEC Obsession on the Grand Canyon

Flood Geology — one of the biggest irrationalities in Young-Earth Creationism. In order to rationalize the evidence the geological record that the Earth is older than 6,000 years, they say that Noah’s flood it responsible.  This argument was used by Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In her book, Patriarchs and Prophets, she attempts to minimize the science of geology claiming that “apart from Bible history, geology can prove nothing.” In chapter nine entitled “The Literal Week,” she then goes on to say,  

In the days of Noah, men, animals, and trees, many times larger than now exist, were buried and thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood. God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history; but men, with their vain reasoning, fall into the same error as did the people before the flood. (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 112)  

I was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist – and still am officially a member, so it pains me to say that Ellen White was wrong, but . . . Ellen White was wrong. There’s no two ways about it.  

Her anti-science arguments based on her “visions from God” have continued to infect the Christian community. I’m pretty sure that most YECs are unaware that they are indirectly embracing Ellen White, since many of them consider her a “false prophet.” — As an SDA, I can freely admit that our “prophetess” was at best wrong, and at worse dishonest. Afterall, my faith is in God, not in her.  

I can, however, understand that she felt that Geologists were misguided and being led astray because of her particular, literalistic, understanding of the Bible. It is my contention that the world-wide-flood is based on a misreading of the Bible, and is therefore unbiblical. I don’t see the need to debunk her here because I already give more details in my post entitled “The Global Deluge – Is it Unbiblical.” Also, see Mark Isaak’s “Problems with a Global Flood” for Geological, Ecological and Biological evidence against the universal deluge.  

But, back to the point of this post…  

Young Earth Creationists have some sort of obsession with the Grand Canyon, apparently because they feel that it gives evidence for the flood of Noah. — Eric Hovind, Kent Hovind’s son, in a Creation Minute video mentions that the Colorado river enters the canyon at 2,800 feet above sea-level, and that it exits at 1,800 feet above sea-level, and that the top of the canyon is 7,000 feet above sea-level. Then he asks if the water from the river flowed uphill  to form it, or if it was the result of a flood. Furthermore, on Kent Hovind’s website, it is claimed,  

In contrast to all other rivers, we do not find a delta (a place where washed-out mud is deposited). This alone makes the evolutionist interpretation impossible.  

First, I’ll deal with Eric’s Creation Minute. No scientist would make the absurd assertion that water flows uphill, so he is attacking a strawman. But he obviously did not do any independent research on the formation of the Grand Canyon. No doubt he would simply call them “evolutionist lies” like daddy Hovind does. — The answer is plate tectonics. The Colorado Plateau started out flat as the river flowed. Tectonic uplift pushed upwards causing the river to continually cut into the ground eroding it away to the canyon we have today.  

Next, it isn’t true that there is no delta. All you have to do is do an internet search, and you’ll find the images of it really easily For example, the one below:  

Colorado River Delta

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the Hovinds haven’t done their homework, although it is possible that they didn’t and just assumed that they were right, and therefore saw no need to investigate any further than Creationist propaganda. Anything’s possible, I guess. . .  But still, one doesn’t need to be an expert Geologist to be able to take their claims apart.

Next is the common YEC claim made about rapidly forming canyons. Mount St. Helens is commonly cited because of a rapidly formed canyon that the 1980 erpution formed. Apparently if a canyon can be carved quickly, then the Grand Canyon could have been as well. — Also, on a YEC blog I frequently comment on, the same one I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael (the blogger) which has still been ignored, a very similar argument is being repeated. Except, Michael is using a more recent example to argue his point. — His post entitled “Rapid Canyon Formation is Finally Admitted” alone shows his misunderstanding of how Geologists view the matter.  

In his post, he cited a recent Science Daily article which talks about a newly formed canyon in central Texas. He then says,  

This is another reason why a one-party closed system that formulates ideas on research based on an old time frame gets falsified more often than just on scientific advancements. Creation scientists with many years of research field experience and PHDs were way ahead of this discovery made by secular scientists with their PHDs. It’s funny how the secular scientists act like it’s so new, again they are afraid that it will turn the public more away from evolution and their funding dollars. Let’s rejoice! It’s a great day for creationism!  

For the record, I am tired of YECs confusing Geology with Evolution. But more importantly, this doesn’t even come close to refuting evolutionary theory, much less the geological principle of uniformity. Michael has shown over and over again that he understands neither.  

We know that the Grand Canyon couldn’t have been formed in a single event in only recent history for one basic reason: It doesn’t have the features it would have if it had been carved in a short, year long event such as Noah’s flood. The Grand Canyon has  U-turns in it which is consistent with the formation of the canyon taking a long period of time, and inconsistent with a rapid event as seen below,  

Grand Canyon: Notice the U-Turn!

In contrast, the newly formed Texas canyon mentioned in Michael’s post has completely different characteristics. The photo in the original Science Daily article show the water’s path as an essentially more straight line and no meandering,  

Texas Canyon Formation: Notice the Essentially Straighter Path!

The path of the water flowing from the reservoir has a much straighter path. It is not meandering like the Colorado river in the case of the Grand Canyon. Therefore this cannot be used as evidence that the latter formation was also the result of rapid formation.  

The last issue I have with Michael, as well as other YECs. And that is their understanding of the Geological principle of uniformity. This principle is often summed up as “The present is the key to the past.” — When Creationists hear this, they assume that Geologists necessarily believe that all accumulation of geologic layers – and canyons – had to have taken millions of years. Hence, the Creationists mistakenly think that since Scientists think the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be carved, that therefore they think that all canyons had to have been carved in long periods of time. This is not the case.  

What uniformitarianism means is this: We see disasters happen today, therefore we know they happened in the past; We see floods happen today, therefore they happened in the past; Also, we see some canyons form rapidly today, and therefore some formed rapidly in the past as well. But also, we see slow processes in action today, and therefore slow processes happened in the past as well.  Nobody ever denied that rapid formation can occur, but it is denied when all the evidence is inconsistent with rapid formation.– And the Grand Canyon, is an example that is only consistent long processes.  

Even the Science Daily article affectively debunks Michael’s perception that uniformitarianism denies a rapid formation. Interestingly enough, though he quotes the article extensively, he somehow missed a very relevant section. In it is this detail,  

Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years.  

Such is not always the case, however. “We know that some big canyons have been cut by large catastrophic flood events during Earth’s history,” Lamb says. (My emphasis)
.  

Hmmmm, wouldn’t this take away from the title of Michael’s post that “rapid formation is finally being admitted”? — Well, it certainly refutes the idea that Creation science has in anyway been vindicated.  

This begs the question: Why did Michael leave this out? I guess it’s possible he only read what was convenient for him, or he would no longer have a strawman to knock down. Or maybe he has bad reading comprehension. Who knows? — I pointed out most of these points in my comments on Michael’s blog, and so far, he completely ignored them. I think it’s either because he knows he cannot refute them, or he is willfully ignorant. You make the call.  

References:
How was the Grand Canyon Formed, from Buzzle.com 
The Formation of the Grand Canyon, from Grand Canyon Explorer
The Grand Canyon and Creation Science, From Answers in Creation
Grand Canyon Formed over Millions of Years, by by Dr. Jeff Zweerink,  from Reasons to Believe.
CH581: Carving the Grand Canyon, by Mark Isaak, from Talk.Origins.
Geology of the Grand Canyon area, from Wikipedia.
Creationist Grand Canyon Argument


A New Challenge to a Creationist

Lately, I have been commenting on  a Creationist blog, defending Evolutionary theory from Creationist distortions. Of course, one may wonder why I would take the time, and endure the headache of defending the fact of Evolution when arguing with Creationists is often a futile crusade. Well, I guess my reasons are that 1) somebody has to do it, and 2) I’m a glutton for punishment. I like to argue my case.

For the last few months, Eelco, who often comments on the Creationist blog has been issuing a few questions to Michael (the Creationist blogger) who has completely ignored them. In fact, Michael rarely ever — if even ever — engages in discussion with anyone who disagrees with him. The questions Eelco asks Michael on every post are,

(1) Blog readership numbers ?

(2) Your qualifications to discuss any scientific subject, in response to the challenge to Olorin.

(3) A substantive review of Signature in the Cell, promised for August 2009.

(4) outstanding question from Upson Downes on mitochondrial Eve.

Sounds fair enough, no? — Olorin, who Eelco mentions in number two was another frequent commenter who always took Michael to task, and who seems to now been blocked from posting comments anymore.  Personally, I am waiting for Michael to answer Eelco, but I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Olorin was banned from posting on the blog temporarily. He now has been unblocked, I imagine because of preasure that Michael has been feeling about banning him in the first place.

But now I have my own separate challenge to Michael. I refuted Irreducible complexity in my comments on his blog, and I never have gotten him to respond to me. All he did was respond to a fellow Creationist by quoting the long-refuted Michael Behe, and then he attacked the Science Talk.Origins website saying,

Talking origins is out dated piece of bias and will continue to be outdated while we learn more about nature like the FLAGELLUM.

Just pointing out, Michael couldn’t even get the name of the website right — He called it “Talking origins.” It’s Talk Origins. But I digress…

Realizing that he completely ignored EVERYTHING I said, and every argument made against Irreducible Complexity, all he does is attack a science website, and then pull out the obvious “We’re learning more about the flagellum!!” — Well, no dip!! And for some reason, he wants to treat any new discovery about the flagellum as bad for Evolution, and therefore good for Creationism, which he has no basis for.

Well, anyway, I responded to him saying,

The only bias Talk.Origins has is in favor of real scientific research.

I already showed in an earlier comment that flagellum is NOT irreducible. . . Earlier, I pointed out,

An Important fact that ANYONE here has yet to mention is that the flagellum IS NOT EVEN IRREDUCIBLE. — In 1988, G. Kuwajima was able to remove ONE-THIRD of the 497 amino acids from the flagellum, AND IT STILL WORKED PERFECTLY!!!!! . . . Also, we know that the L and the P-rings can be taken away from the flagellum, and it will STILL work. . . .

Michael, if you want to cry “BIAS!!!” then you should do so ONLY AFTER refute this fact that I pointed out.

From now on, i will be issuing a similar challenge to you that Eelco has issued to you, and one you have FAILED to take on. . . except it will be awaiting your refutation of the facts I pointed out about the REDUCIBILITY of the flagellum.

That’s my challenge to him. Will he take me up on it? I’m not holding my breath. Probably like a good Creationist, he will just pretend that it isn’t there, like he does with Eelco’s challenge.


The Truth on the Cambrian “Explosion”

The fifty-three million year period known as the Cambrian is important to the fields of geology and biology because that was when many major groups of kinds of creatures with hard parts and shells, appear in the fossil record. This has been called the “age of trilobites” which were marine arthropods. — During this period of time, there was a unique episode in the history of  life, an apparent evolutionary radiation in which life seems to “explode” in the fossil record. Complex marine animals with hard, preservable parts appear over a rapid span of time in the geological record. This event has been called the Cambrian “explosion.”

At the time Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859, the fossils in the Cambrian were the oldest known ancient life, and paleontology and research in the fossil record hadn’t advanced as much as it has recently. — Darwin himself commented on it saying,

To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer. . . . Nevertheless, the difficulty of assigning any good reason for the absence of vast piles of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian system is very great, and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.

Darwin’s statement, that the lack of fossils before the Cambrian, could be used as “a valid argument” against his theory has struck a chord with critics of Evolutionary theory into the present. In fact, it is hard to find many Intelligent Design and Creationist publications that do not talk about the apparent lack of fossil life before the Cambrian, using it as a “refutation” of Darwinian Evolution — “Darwinism,” as they call it.  The apparent radiation of life that occurred called the Cambrian “explosion” is what they appeal to saying that this was the fauna in this strata appeared “all of a sudden, with no evolutionary ancestors.”

If it could be shown that animal species, in fact, appeared without any kinds of evolutionary ancestors, then Evolutionary Theory would be in trouble. That is a fact. However, if the scientific literature were to show that these fauna had viable ancestors, then there is no problem for the scientific consensus.

First of all, it should be pointed out that the Cambrian “explosion” was only explosive in geologic terms. It is usually estimated to have lasted between 10 to 25 million years —- which is a far cry from the impression that Intelligent Design proponents attempt to give when they say that phyla appear “all of a sudden.” Though rapid in geologic terms, it is hardly rapid on the time scale, and it is not far-fetched to allow plenty of evolution within that time period. It would appear that Antievolutionists are confused by the usage of the word “explosion.”

The claim that phyla appeared “all of a sudden with no viable ancestors” would also be damaging . . . if it were true. But it is not. There is sufficient evidence for animal life before the Cambrian explosion:

  • Complete fossil embryos pre-dating the Cambrian “explosion” by 10 million years were discovered in 2006, and show that animal complexity was already starting to bloom. Fossil embryos are a rare enough find without them being complete.
  • There are plausible pre-Cambrian ancestors for trilobites. For example, there are the Spriggina floundersi, the so-called “Soft-bodied trilobite,” as well as Parvancorina. — Parvancorina is classified, interestingly enough in the Kingdom Animalia, and was possibly even an arthropod. — Also, to make matters worse, there are many transitions between trilobites which are extremely diverse and themselves indicate plenty of Evolution, not just during the 300 million years of their existence, but also during the Cambrian period.
  • Even if non of the examples listed in the last example above were not arthropods or ancestral to trilobites, there is still proof that arthropods did in fact exist before the Cambrian period. Arthropod trace fossils have been found in Nevada in strata dating to 30 million years before the Cambrian, proving that there were animals with legs much earlier than once thought. — Amusingly, some Creationists have attempted to use this one example to refute the Evolution timeline not realizing that this find did more harm to the Creationist argument of the Cambrian “explosion.”
  • There is new fossil evidence of bilateral animals which was recovered from the Doushantuo Formation in China dating from between 40 and 55 million years before the Cambrian. The specimen, called Vernanimalcula, had features like a mouth, a gut, an anus as well as surface pits. This would itself show the Cambrian was not the starting point for complex life.
  • Newly discovered “chemical fossils” have demonstrated evidence that Sponges, as the first Animal life, had already existed around 635 million years ago, or between 90 to 100 million years before the Cambrian “explosion.”
  • The Cambrian “explosion” just doesn’t stand up to the genetic evidence. Molecular clocks indicate a more ancient starting point from between 800 million to 1.2 billion years. This indicates that the fossil record has plenty of gaps, though genetics seems to compensate for what is lacking to a certain extent.

Another detail to consider is that it is plausible that, even though speciation seemingly did pick up during the radiation, it is may in fact not be anything special when compared to other similar radiations that occurred. — Using trilobites as a statistical basis, Bruce S. Lieberman concluded that “speciation rates among olenellid trilobites in the Cambrian radiation were not unusually high.”  He then also said that if these results can be extended to other groups, then special rules aren’t necessary to explain the Cambrian “explosion.”  — This, in my opinion, falsifies the Creationist impression of  rapid and sudden appearance.

Since it is widely agreed by biologists that the Cambrian “explosion” was a real event, there remains the problem of  attempting to explain what caused it, and these explanations are controversial in the scientific community. Plenty of them have to do with environmental changes such as “Snowball Earth”, and also some have proposed that an increase in levels in oxygen in the atmosphere allowing big-bodied animals to thrive. This second proposal could fail assuming that the big-bodied Ediacaran fauna (existing 30 million years before the Cambrian) are in fact animals. One model indicates it -as well as other radiations- may have “changes in the pattern of gene regulation.” On the other hand, indications show that Hox and other developmental control genes were already in existence before the radiation, though genomic repattering during the early Cambrian which involved some key genes and regulators.

But then again, there are scientists that are starting to question whether or not it was even a real event based pre-Cambrian fossil evidence as well as genetics, a lot of which is given above. Naturally, if this is the case, then there is no need to explain it, much less resort to the supernatural.

Any objective look at the Scientific evidence shows that the so-called Cambrian “explosion” cannot be used as evidence for a “creation event” because of its suddenness.  As a matter of fact, some of the fossil finds would seem to muffle the “explosiveness”  since it is now clear that complex life existed at least around 40 to 55 million years before. The implications of this is that there are possible evolutionary ancestors to the Cambrian multicellular life.  — Antievolutionists should update their claims if they want to retain any credibility.

References:
The Cambrian Period: An Explosion of Life, from fossils-facts-and-finds.com
Trilobites, from C&J Fossils.
Frequently Asked Questions About Evolution, from PBS.org.
Embryo Fossils Reveal Animal Complexity 10 Million Years Before Cambrian Explosion, from Physorg.org
Origins of Trilobites by S.M. Gon III. From Trilobites.info.
Earliest Footprints Ever Found, from RESEARCH.
Signs point to sponges as earliest animal life, from MIT News.
Evolutionary Trends in Trilobites, by S.M. Gon III, From Trilibites.info.
Small Bilaterian Fossils from 40 to 55 Million Years Before the Cambrian, by Jun-Yuan Chen, David J. Bottjer, Paola Oliveri, Stephen Q. Dornbos, Feng Gao, Seth Ruffins, Huimei Chi, Chia-Wei Li, and Eric H. Davidson. From Science. Also, see The Early Evolution of Animals by David J. Bottjer, from Scientific American.
Molecular Clocks Do Not Support the Cambrian Explosion, by Jaime E. Blair and S. Blair Hedges, from Oxford Journals.– Also see Testing the Cambrian explosion hypothesis by using a molecular dating technique, by Lindell Bromham, Andrew Rambaut, Richard Fortey, Alan Cooper, and David Penny. From the Proceedings at the National Academy of Sciences.
Taking the Pulse of the Cambrian Radiation, by Bruce S. Lieberman From  Integrative and Comparative Biology
Explaining the Cambrian “Explosion” of Animals, by Charles R. Marshall, from Annual Reviews.
Adaptive walks in a gene network model of morphogenesis: insights into the Cambrian explosion, by Solé RV, Fernández P,  and Kauffman SA. From the International Journal of Developmental Biology.
Fossils, molecules and embryos: new perspectives on the Cambrian Explosion, by James W. Valentine, David Jablonski and Douglas H. Erwin.
Plant and Animal Evolution.

Recommended Reading:
Transitional Forms and the Evolution of Phyla, by Glenn R. Morton, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
The Precambrian to Cambrian Fossil Record and Transitional Forms, by Keith Miller, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Re:Cambrian Explosion, by Keith Miller, from the American Scientific Affiliation.