Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Fossils

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.

Advertisements

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


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.


Evolution, Theory and Falsifiability

A while ago, I was reading a book entitled The Reluctant Mr. Darwin which gives details about the time that Darwin was developing his theory of Evolution. I was developing an interest in Darwin the man rather than just his theory of natural selection which was why I got the book in the first place. What happened was, a member of a certain church saw the book, and we got into a short discussion. After our really short discussion about Darwin and Evolution, he said to me “It’s a theory,” putting plenty of stress on “theory.” A lot of Creationists love to use the “Evolution is a theory” argument, apparently, because that semantics technicality gives them a justification to reject it all together.

The argument that evolution is just a theory is made on ignorance of the scientific method, or methodological naturalism. This is made up of several steps such as 1) observation, 2) hypothesis, 3) testing, 4) revision, and 5) theory. — Notice that hypothesis and theory are two separate steps in the scientific method. They layperson uses the two terms interchangeably. Not so in the scientific community.

Some of the mentioned steps of the scientific method are self-explanatory, but it works like this: A hypothesis is used to explain a certain observation in nature. The hypothesis is used to make a prediction, that is, if the hypothesis predicts that X should happen, and it does, then it has support. However, you need to keep testing the hypothesis against other predictions that it makes, and if it does not pass them, then it needs to be revised. On the other hand, if it passes every test given, then it becomes a theory. — To a scientist, a theory is well supported by the evidence. It is not just a hair-brained idea that was just dreamed up. Indeed, scientific “theories” are described “proven hypothesis” and are more like scientific laws.

From this, to say that evolution is “just a theory,” Creationists are unwittingly saying Evolution is well substantiated and tested. Evolution, therefore, is only a “proven hypothesis,” it is only as useful as a scientific law. When Creationists argue along these lines, they are crossing definitions of the same term which is really not a valid line of argument. Indeed, pulling out the “it’s only a theory” card is nothing more than semantics.

Casey Luskin, who is a well-know Intelligent Design proponent at the Discovery Institute in an essay he wrote on the subject recommends against resorting to calling evolution a theory because it can imply to Evolutionists that the Creationist/ID proponent cannot cite evidence against it. — He then points out,

The “evolution is just a theory” line can come off as if the speaker really thinks “evolution is just a guess, so I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.” In fact, neo-Darwinian evolution as a whole is not merely a guess and most Darwinian scientists will provide reasons why they think it is the best explanation for the diversification of life.

I agree very little with Casey Luskin, but he cannot be more right in this case. When this argument is used, the implication is since evolution is a theory, there is an excuse to simply dismiss it purely our of convenience. — “It’s convenient for me, therefore I will reject it. It’s a theory, not a fact.” — Under this logic, we could dismiss other scientific theories such as germ theory, plate tectonics, the big bang, general relativity, and also gravitation. All of these are theories, and yet they have been verified by the data against observations that very well could have falsified them. — And that’s part of science right there. In order to become a theory, the proposal has to make prediction that can be falsified if it’s wrong. If later observations go against the proposal, then it has been falsified. If not, it has been verified, and it moves into becoming a scientific theory.

One of the most obvious predictions that Evolution makes is that ancient life forms in the fossil record have to show some change and transformation from certain species to others. So intermediate features between ancient fossilized creatures and modern living animals have to be discovered to verify this particular prediction. — And it so happens that fossils that seem to fit this description, in fact, exist. There are intermediate fossils between land mammals and whales, transitions between fish and tetrapods, as well as intermediate forms between ape-like creatures and modern humans.

Another prediction that is made is genetic similarity between species. And no, I don’t mean the 95 to 98% DNA similarity between humans and chimps, though there is that to. I’m talking about shared plagiarized molecular mistakes shared between different species. — Shared plagiarized errors in genetics imply a common source (or ancestor) for differing species, much like shared copying mistakes between different publications indicate that the more recent writer copied from the other.

Considering that Evolution has been tested by these predictions, and even others, common descent is just as much a legitimate part of science as any other scientific theory. And this is despite the claim made by some creationists that evolution doesn’t even meet the standard of a respectable hypothesis. In fact, there is a lot more evidence for evolution than what I have mentioned here. — The fact that there were discoveries that could have been able to falsify evolution, and that it has been verified, shows that it is more than just a hypothesis.

References:
Scientific Laws, Hypotheses, and Theories. From Wilstar.com
Is “Evolution” a “Theory” or “Fact,” or Is This Just a Trivial Game of Semantics?, by Casey Luskin, Discovery Institute.
The Origin of Whales and the Power of Independent Evidence by Raymond Sutera. From the Talk.Origins Archive, and The National Center for Science Education.
Recent Findings: Fishes With Legs, from Devonian Times.
Human Ancestory: Species, from archaeologyinfo.com. — Also see Prominent Hominid Fossils from the Talk.Origins Archive.
Divergence between samples of chimpanzee and human DNA sequences is 5%, counting indels, by Roy J. Britten. From The Proceedings at the National Academy of Sciences.
Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics, by Edward E. Max, M.D., Ph.D. from the Talk.Origins Archive, and Creation/Evolution
Is Evolution a “Fact” of Science?, by Wayne Jackson, M.A., from Apologetics Press.
29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent, by Douglas Theobald, Ph.D. From the Talk.Origins Archive.