Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Religion

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.


Debates Between Scientists and Creationists

Scientists have overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that Evolution is not only a theory, but also a fact. So considering that, how is it that Creationists seem to win the debates? — Of course, a Creationist may simply assume that the Creationist wins because the Evolutionist is wrong. But a better look at the subject shows that this isn’t the case at all. There are several reasons Creationists seem to carry the day, and none of them have anything to do with being on the right side. And there are several reasons why Scientists are reluctant to debate with Creationists, and it isn’t because they are on the “wrong” side either.

If you have studied Evolution and know the scientific method, then you will know how Evolution works — I hope, at least. Therefore, I would also hope that you would also be able to pick out arguments made by Creationists that are totally absurd, though they may seem reasonable to the lay person. I see this happen a lot in Kent Hovind debates. — I just watched one, and I found myself getting a headache when he made an illustration about the “evolution of silverware.” Knowing what was coming, I simply fast forwarded through that. In another video I saw, he debated  Ben Waggoner from the University of Central Arkansas who, although he undoubtedly knew his stuff, was not prepared for the beating he received.  — In fact, the only hostile audience that he had that I know about was when he spoke at Berkley University in which several students called him out.

A major important reason why Creationists seem to win debates is that they seem to usually debate in front of friendly audiences. In other words, most people in the audience have already decided that Evolutionary theory is false, and the reason they are there is to see the “lost” evolutionist get trounced by their champion. — Donald  Prothero, a leading professor of Geology, described a time when he accepted a challenge to debate Duane Gish. In the end, during the questions and answers segment, he received several irrelevant and offensive questions such as “Are you going to hell?” or “Are you a sexual pervert?” The audience was not interested in the evidence, but only in seeing the Evolutionist get defeated. Ultimately, he decided not to debate Gish again since it was a waste of time.

Another reason is that Creationists tend to dominate the debate. They have better debating skills than most Scientists because they have more practice at it. Scientists are usually busy with research, so they don’t have as much time to go out and debate. — Creationists also tend to shoot out too much drivel in only a few seconds which is very difficult to refute as quickly as it gets said. And due to the formats and time limits of these debates, the poor scientist is not free to give an adequate answer.

Creationists shoot out arguments like “Life could not have originated by chance,” and “the big bang is false.” — The bull of Creationists using these arguments is that they are not part of Evolutionary theory, even though Creationists don’t seem to see the difference between Biology and Cosmology.  These arguments are made to leave the impression that the Evolutionist has no basis for his acceptance of Biological Evolution, and that the theory of evolution is therefore nonsense or “stupid,” as Kent Hovind puts it. — Were I to debate a Creationist who brings these two subjects up, I would simply say “I am here to defend Evolution, not the Big Bang, and not Abiogenesis.”

On the occasions that I do talk with Creationists, I usually run into arguments made against strawman versions of evolution rather than the recognized theory at all. One of them is the idea that evolution “must” lead to increasing complexity, and that the Uniformitarian principle (of Geology, not of evolutionary biology) means that accumulation of all geologic layers was all done slowly with no exception. These arguments are common in the Young Earth Creationist community in particular, however they are based on false premises. Evolutionary theory does not make the prediction that everything has to become more complex, and the principle of uniformitarianism (which is Geology, not evolution) does not dictate that all layers took long periods of time to form.

There is also the fact that it is near impossible to give enough information about how evolution works in just one day. There are reasons why evolution related classes such as Biology and Physical Anthropology take whole semesters. It takes whole semesters to teach the basics of these classes. So the playing field for debates is hardly even at all.

Then there is the fact that Creationists tend to move the goal posts on the scientists. — Kent Hovind’s $250,000 challenge is a great example of this. His challenge pretty much says that even if we could produce evolution, abiogenesis, and the big bang in the lab, it still wouldn’t count because we would still have to prove God had nothing to do with it. Considering that I am a Christian, and therefore believe in God, I see this as ludicrous. The requirements are so unreasonable, it is no wonder not many (if any) scientist has even bothered with this challenge. –Also when given antibacterial resistence as an example, he simply said that no matter what, that bacteria would still not be immune to a sledge-hammer, as if Evolutionary theory makes any such prediction.

Then when it comes to the fossil record, he says “Fossils can’t be used as evidence for evolution because you can’t prove they had any kids.” In other words, no evidence is good enough. Also, it demonstrates he has no understanding about why and how fossils are used. Nobody is saying that a particular fossil is our ancestor, but that it has traits we would expect of what a potential ancestor would have. Hovind was positioning himself in a way that he could be able to dismiss any and all evidence for that abominable theory that he despises so that he wouldn’t have to truly deal with it.

The final reason why Scientists don’t debate with Creationists is they just don’t think it’s worth it. — Richard Dawkins, for example, refused to debate with the Muslim Creationist Harun Yahya when he was challenged saying he didn’t want to give him status.  — Also, Kenneth Miller, another top scientist described a time when he accepted a Creationist challenge and asked Steven Gould for help,

I called Steve up and then I explained to him that I was preparing for a debate with a scientific creationist. And I asked him if he could help me out with a couple of arguments. And to my amazement, he stopped me short. And he said, `Ken, I’d like to remain your friend. I’d like to be on good terms with you, but I don’t think it’s wise to debate these guys. I don’t think it’s appropriate to give them a platform for their misguided and misleading views. And if you’re going to debate this fellow, I won’t help you, I won’t provide any assistance, and I won’t even talk with you.’

The truth is, Scientists don’t want to debate Creationists simply because they don’t want to give Creationists status where status is not due. It is not because they are “wrong” and have no evidence to support their claims. It is that the playing field is hardly level which, by the way, also doesn’t make for a good debating forum when you have a whole audience that is intellectually hostile to the scientist.  — Also, another reason why they may not want to debate with them is because it may create the impression that Evolutionary theory is controversal in the scientific community.

References:
29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent, by Douglas L. Theobald, Ph.D. From the Talk.Origins Archive
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, pages 46 and 47, by Donald R. Prothero.
Kent Hovind’s $250,000 Offer, by John Pieret, From the Talk.Origins Archive
Scientists Hesitant to Debate Intelligent Design, from National Public Radio.


Devoluton and an Evolutionary “Ladder”

When I first began reading Creationist arguments, I ran across the claim that humans as well as all other species were deteriorating. — One well known Creation Scientist I read claimed that the first humans lived for several hundreds of years and were therefore superior to all humans alive today. And based on that reasoning, he claimed that we were “devolving,” not evolving — devolving since the time of Noah’s flood. My reading of Creationist and Intelligent Design lit is that for evolution to be true, everything has to lead to an improvement.

Joseph Mastropaolo, a Creation “scientist,” for example, talks about medical disabilities and harmful mutations saying that this argues against evolutionary theory. He says that if evolution were true, then there should be less mutations less disease.

From the medical literature, the evidence suggesting evolution is zero and the evidence suggesting the exact opposite, devolution, is more than 15,400. Obviously, evolution is the exact opposite of reality.

Just as a side note, Mastropaolo’s insistence that evolutionary theory makes the prediction that there should be less disease fails to take into account that the viruses and bacteria that are responsible for sickness and disabilities evolve as well, so the persistance of disease is perfectly consistent with evolution. — Also, he says,

If evolution is true, then we should observe a decrease in human mutations, medically designated human genetic disorders, over time according to one definition of evolution, change over time, and another definition, natural selection. [ . . . ] The actual data show that genetic disorders doubled every 13 years through the sixties, seventies and eighties. In the nineties, genetic disorders doubled in about half the time, every seven years.

How ’bout that? I guess for evolution to be true, harmful mutations and genetic defects should become less frequent as time goes on. This is quite an over-simplistic understanding of how evolution works. — I think I’m being too generous by even describing his description of the process as an “understanding” because that’s not how evolution works at all. It doesn’t ensure against more disabilities in the future, and it certainly never claimed to guarantee that the occurence of detrimental mutations would be reduced in the future.

Such claims and insinuations are common in Creationists literature. Their perception is that there is a certain requirement that there there is a dictated direction from the simple to the complex, and that anything that seemingly goes in the opposite “direction” is a refutation of evolutionary theory. — The idea of “devolution” is based on the common misconception that evolution is directionary, that is, that increasing complexity is a necessary outcome for evolutionary change. The truth is that evolution doesn’t dictate any such trend. It has no pre-ordained direction.

The idea of a “ladder” of progression was proposed by several, but notably by the French naturalist Jean Baptist de Lamarck who believed that the simplest life forms were on the bottom while the most complex forms (i.e., humans) were on the top. Charles Darwin, however, did not subscribe to Lamark’s ideas, considering them unreliable. In fact, by the time Darwin had appeared on the scene, the idea of a chain was losing it’s support, but Darwin was the one that ultimately demolished it. — He envisioned a tree with the branches dividing, and so on, though modern evolutionary theory is shown as more of a “bush.”

Rather than just adding, evolution often reduces as well. Tapeworms lose their guts, cavefish lose their eyes, and humans lose their appendix. The ancestors of these particular species had fully functioning versions of these particular organs, though the modern counterparts are either semi-functional or non functional. There is no reason why apparently “simple” creatures cannot have evolved from more complex ancestors, and there is reason why this would happen: If you don’t use it, you tend to lose it.

The claim that devolution occurs rather than evolution shows that Creationists either do not understand evolution, or they feel the need to redefine it so they can make it look like a pseudo-scientific absurdity. The reality is that ‘devolution’ is not a legitimate biological term. So far, I haven’t been able to find it in any science textbook. The only people who use the term tend to be just laypeople or Creationists.

As a final observation, talk about “devolution” and an evolutionary “ladder” actually causes a fundamental contradiction of another common Creationist fallacy: The claim that Darwinian Evolution is based on pure chance. If evolutionary theory dictates that organisms absolutely have to become more complex, then how could evolution be based on pure coincidence? Logically, you cannot accept both ideas. Though to be honest, Evolution isn’t based on pure chance: Though mutations are random occurences, Natural Selection is the exact opposite of chance.

The fact of the matter is, the concept of an “Evolutionary ladder” is an oxymoron. It has no place in modern biology, so if you hear anyone  using such a term, you can be sure that person doesn’t understand evolutionary theory.

References:
Age of the Earth, Medical Science, Adam, Eve, Even, and the Flood, by Joseph Mastropaolo
Jean Baptist de Lamarck
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrate of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution, page 74. By David Quammen.
Getting the Monkey off Darwin’s Back: Four Common Myths About Evolution, by Charles Sullivan and Cameron Mcpherson Smith. From the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Evolution myths: Natural selection leads to ever greater complexity by Michael Le Page. From New Scientist.
Evolution Theory Overview, from FossilMuseum.Net


The Birth of an Evolutionist

Having been raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, I grew up hearing the theory of Darwinian Evolution often scorned as an atheistic  rationality against God. I was raised to believe that the earth was no more than 6,000 years old and that therefore “we didn’t come monkeys.” In fact, the SDA church is the source for the modern YEC movement. Young Earth Creationism was a requirement for me when I was baptized into the church and officially became a member.

As I went to private schools run by the church, we were often indoctrinated into Creationism. I remember in my sixth grade science book, the flood of Noah was used as an explanation for geological formation, and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, and that humans were individually created separately from apes. — Ironically, the same textbooks classified humans as primates along with monkeys and apes. — However, despite all the Creationist indoctrination i was put through,  little by little, I began losing faith in a Young Earth.

I began using common sence to determine that the earth and universe was much older than 6,000. It was basically all because of starlight and light speed. I reasoned that if light took millions of years to reach us here on earth, then the universe had to be older. — However, I still didn’t consider Carbon-14 and other dating methods because I was taught all my life that they were inaccurate. I then revised the belief in the creation week into long ages much like progressive creationists though I had no idea progressive creationists existed. I then also concluded that the flood of Noah was a local event because it was the only explanation that seemed to make sense. Certainly this would be acceptable, wouldn’t it?

A recently as the summer of 2008, I had stayed away from evolution thinking that there was no reason to accept it, or rather “to believe” in it. Finally, in all my ignorance of evolutionary theory, I left a comment on a blog that talked about Evolution being “both theory and fact.” — I ignorantly commented that Evolution was only a hypothesis, and nothing more, but that I accepted an old earth. This then drew other comments calling me ignorant . . . and I was.  I had no real response.

I then decided to look up what scientists said about Evolution. I was then troubled by all the support that it enjoyed in the scientific community. The fossil and genetic evidence I ran across bothered me, and the YEC apologetics I found online didn’t give me any comfort. The most convincing Creationist I read online was Harun Yahya, but I think that was only because he was not a YEC. He accepts the old age of the earth. As a result, I took more comfort in his works than I did from organizations like Answers in Genesis and the Insitute for Creation Research, though this isn’t to say I never read up on them.

In short, I did everything possible to avoid accepting that Evolution could possibly be true for the next full year. After all, I thought that if Evolution were true, then that would inherently mean that God was not our creator. I began reading Micheal Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and Harun Yahya’s The Evolution Deceit, and used the arguments in those books against Evolution. I then was countered by even better arguments against those given in those particular books.

By July of 2009, I was finally losing what little faith in Creationism I still had. Though in the early part of that month, I was still an Old-Earth Creationist, my comments about Evolution became less and less dogmatic. I finally made statements like “I am a Creationist, but Evolution may in fact be true.” — What finally got rid of any doubt of harmonizing God and Evolution was a short three video series I randomly found on YouTube which beautifully ( and it can be watched by clicking here.) For at least a couple of days after this, I considered the points made, and I finally decided to do more investigation about the topic. By investigation, I mean unbiased with no preconceptions. This research fully convinced me that Evolution was indeed a scientific fact, and that God was fully in harmony with Science.

— An Evolutionist was born.