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Thoughtful science writer: “No fossil is buried with its birth certificate.”

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No fossil is buried with its birth certificate. That, and the scarcity of fossils, means that it is effectively impossible to link fossils into chains of cause and effect in any valid way.

According to Henry Gee, we call new fossil discoveries missing links

as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices.

He concludes:

To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story—amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.” – Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (New York: The Free Press, 1999), pp. 32, 113-117.

People shouting that “Evolution is fact, fact, FACT!”* do not make this problem go away.

“Evolution” is not a fact anyway, it is an abstraction. And what is the exact series of events of which it is an abstraction? There is where we need the scientist.

Shouting “fact, fact, FACT!” is best consigned to lobbyists and politicians, the way things naturally find their level.

*Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies, (Addison-Wesley, 1982) 1983, Third Printing, p.58. Emphasis Ruse’s.

24 Replies to “Thoughtful science writer: “No fossil is buried with its birth certificate.”

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Evolution is a fact. Even young earth creationists accept that evolution is a fact.

  2. 2
    jerry says:

    Evolution is a fact.

    No sense disputing that. Of course one then has to define just what one means by the term “evolution.” There are definitely progressions in the fossil record as organisms get more complex over time.

    We start with one celled organisms about 600 mya and then slowly organisms appear which are not only multi-cellular but exhibiting more than one cell type. I believe it is thought that the Cambrian fauna had between 30-40 cell types. Today humans have 210+ cell types.

    By the way I recommend Gee’s book. In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life. It is always good to know just what evolutionary biologist and paleontologists claim in their writings.

    http://www.amazon.com/Search-D.....038;sr=1-3

    He also has a new book that VJ Torley should read, The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution I haven’t read it but it is on the same topic that Dr. Torley has just posted.

    http://www.amazon.com/Accident.....038;sr=1-1

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    The evolution of the horse-drawn carriages of centuries past to the modern day automobiles is also a fact. But was it Darwinian evolution? Methinks not. It was intelligent design evolution.

  4. 4
    nightlight says:

    @3 — Phenomenon of evolution occurs in technologies, cultures, sciences, arts, languages, fashions,… Interestingly, in linguistic they date and reconstruct the relations between languages using the same kind of distance based techniques as those for dating and classifying species in biology (based on genetic distances).

    Any phenomenon of biological evolution that neo-Darwinists tout as the proof of their presumed “random mutation” as the source of evolutionary novelty has close analogues in all those other instances of evolution. Yet, in all those other instances of evolution where we understand the how novelty arises, it is always a result of intelligent activity (i.e. computation via some anticipatory optimization algorithm).

    The existence of biological evolution is in fact a stronger indicator of underlying intelligent design than its results (such as irreducible complexity, CSI) since it is a lot harder to design a system that is not only complex but that also improves or becomes more complex under challenges. The difference is analogous to that between shooting static target to shooting moving target — the latter requires much more skilled sharpshooter than the former.

    Therefore ID should embrace evolution as its trump card pointing toward intelligent agency, rather than fight it, as some, such as Cornelius Hunter, routinely do. When I asked C.H. why does he do that, he defended that he is in fact challenging only the neo-Darwinian evolution (RM+NS), yet he always uses the generic term “evolution” as the target of his critiques.

    I think this kind of conflation of different concepts of evolution, along with the other one of “conscious agency” with “intelligent process” (i.e. anticipatory computational process) is why Discovery Institute’s version of ID is disqualifying itself as a scientific hypothesis, doomed to remain treated as a philosophical/theological thesis.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    conflation of different concepts of evolution

    There are official definitions of evolution used by evolutionary biologists but they are so trivial as to mean nothing.

    From Wikipedia

    Evolution is the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.

    As I said it is meaningless as a useful definition but it certainly does happen and thus, qualifies as a fact. Then there is this meaningless definition which is also a fact

    http://biology.unm.edu/ccounci.....PopGen.htm

    evolution is changes in population allele frequencies over time.

    Then there is this also from Wikipedia but also meaningless and also a fact.

    Evolution is the process of change in all forms of life over generations

    Lots of meaningless facts. Definitions are a problem with having a meaningful discussion especially in evolution. Words or terms are used with lots of very different meanings as if they mean the same thing. That is the nature of blogs.

  6. 6
    wd400 says:

    There is nothing here to rankled an evolutionary biologist. No sensible palaeontologist claims their fossils for anesctor-descentant chains (indeed, this one of the reasons evolutionary biologists generally dislike the term missing link, and those “march of progress” diagrams that represent evolution in popular culutre).

    Of course, fossils can still be transitinoal without being ancestral to modern groups or other fossils.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    wd400:

    No sensible palaeontologist claims their fossils for anesctor-descentant chains

    That doesn’t keep them from making their way into textbooks though. Makes you wonder who serves on those advisory boards.

    Of course, fossils can still be transitinoal without being ancestral to modern groups or other fossils.

    What is the difference between a transitional fossil and an intermediate fossil?

    fossils can still be transitinoal without being ancestral to modern groups or other fossils.

    A non-transitional transitional. Brilliant! How does that work?

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    No fossil is buried with its birth certificate. Therefore, evolution is not a fact.

    Seriously?

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    jerry:

    As I said it is meaningless as a useful definition but it certainly does happen and thus, qualifies as a fact.

    Well, I think it’s a lot easier to say ‘evolution’ than it is to say “the changes in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations,” don’t you? So I find it useful. It’s also not a meaningless term, as it succinctly identifies a phenomenon we all consider to be a fact and thus gives us something to serve as an explanandum.

    Problems of course arise when people confuse or conflate the explanandum with the explanans. “Evolution did it,” as an example. Evolution as explanandum is a fact. Evolution as cause isn’t even coherent.

    It’s like saying a change in the weather caused a change in the weather. No kidding.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    I am going to insist that I be buried with my birth certificate, just in case.

  11. 11
    lifepsy says:

    wd400,

    There is nothing here to rankled an evolutionary biologist. No sensible palaeontologist claims their fossils for anesctor-descentant chains

    No, even worse. Evolutionists claim the ancestor-descendent chains of *groups*… e.g. “some kind of bird evolved from some kind of dinosaur. FACT!”

    And so doing, safely immerse themselves in Evo-StoryLand and insulate themselves from any degree of falsifiability. Even if a descendent fossil happens to show up before its ancestor (as we recently saw with tetrapods), well that is just convergent evolution on another branch of the tree.

    What a joke.

  12. 12
    Sebestyen says:

    No fossil is buried with its birth certificate. Therefore, evolution is not a fact.

    I think what OP meant was that stating “evolution is fact” doesn’t make the fossil record compelling evidence for evolution and I have to agree with that.
    I always regarded the fossil record as circumstantial evidence at the utmost. It’s interesting to see that at least one evolutionary biologist seems to think similar…

    Sebestyen

  13. 13
    selvaRajan says:

    I think this post is going to find its way to many ‘Darwinist’ blogs and they are going to have a field day with it.

  14. 14
    wd400 says:

    You have it wrong, Lifespy, it’s that all birds descend from (and in fact are) therapod dinosaurs. That’s very well established, and does’t involve any “story telling”.

    The rest of your comment is stuck thinking about evolution as a chain. In fact, evolution creates trees, reconstructing those trees helps understand the process (and is why birds are dinosaurs if “dinosaurs” means anything)

  15. 15
    littlejohn says:

    Nightlight #4

    Agreed. IMO, ID needs to demonstrate that evolution is ‘THE evidence’ of their theory. As you have pointed out, new evidence is beginning to reveal the fact that evolution is simply a means to an end (to fill the earth with life).

    It also seems that CSI is a dead end for ID, because without the tangible presence or objective identity of the designer, it will probably never be possible to definitively identify the source of CSI.

  16. 16
    Sebestyen says:

    …it’s that all birds descend from (and in fact are) therapod dinosaurs. That’s very well established, and does’t involve any “story telling”.

    Just because something is “established” doesn’t mean it’s a fact. First of all, it is by no means undisputed that therapod dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds. Some scientists prefer a “common ancestor” approach and new and old evidence suggests that this is not necessarily less likely. Theropod hand to bird wing evolution (three digit problem), differences in the respiratory system, certain fossil findings (“protoavis”) to name a few…

    Secondly, there’s the same problem that applies to the whole “evidence from the fossil record”: It hinges solely on morphological similarities (differences) albeit the fact that these don’t necessarily imply genetic similarities (differences), much less common descent.

    Sebestyen

  17. 17
    bornagain77 says:

    wd400 claims,,

    You have it wrong, Lifespy, it’s that all birds descend from (and in fact are) therapod dinosaurs. That’s very well established, and does’t involve any “story telling”.

    And yet the fact of the matter is that it is nothing but storytelling based on highly speculative evidence:

    The Archaeoraptor Fraud of National Geographic Magazine (In 1999)
    Excerpt: “A model of the undisputed dinosaur Deinonychus and illustrations of baby tyrannosaurs are shown clad in feathers, all of which is simply imaginary and has no place outside of science fiction. The idea of feathered dinosaurs and the theropod origin of birds is being actively promulgated by a cadre of zealous scientists acting in concert with certain editors at Nature and National Geographic who themselves have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith. Truth and careful scientific weighing of evidence have been among the first casualties in their program, which is now fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age—the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion.” –
    Storrs Olson – curator of birds at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History
    http://www.bible.ca/tracks/arc.....n-bird.htm

    How Birds Evolved by Incorrigible Storytelling – September 30, 2013
    Excerpt: Aside from beginning with the Kipling-style title, Shurkin wrote a completely fact-free story, relying on nothing but imagination: in short, “The arms got longer, the legs got shorter, and they were flying.” –
    http://crev.info/2013/09/how-b.....rytelling/

    Bird Evolution vs. The Actual Fossil Evidence – video and notes
    http://vimeo.com/30926629

    Jerry Coyne’s Chapter on the Fossil Record Fails to Show “Why Evolution is True” – Jonathan M. – December 4, 2012
    Excerpt: The implication, the researchers said, is that birds almost certainly did not descend from theropod dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurus or allosaurus. The findings add to a growing body of evidence in the past two decades that challenge some of the most widely held beliefs about animal evolution.
    “For one thing, birds are found earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have descended from,” Ruben said. “That’s a pretty serious problem, and there are other inconsistencies with the bird-from-dinosaur theories.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....67021.html

    But if this is truly ‘very well established’ in wd400’s book then perhaps he would not mind presenting the falsification criteria for Darwinism so that we may see for ourselves?

    “It is our contention that if ‘random’ is given a serious and crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness postulate is highly implausible and that an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws—physical, physico-chemical, and biological.”
    Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory,” Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, editors Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan, June 1967, p. 109.

    “nobody to date has yet found a demarcation criterion according to which Darwin can be described as scientific” – Imre Lakatos (November 9, 1922 – February 2, 1974) a philosopher of mathematics and science, , quote as stated in 1973 LSE Scientific Method Lecture

  18. 18
    bevets says:

    The intervals of time that separate fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent. ~ Henry Gee

    New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries ‘missing links’, as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices. In reality, the physical record of human evolution is more modest. Each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps. ~ Henry Gee

  19. 19
    Upright BiPed says:

    The existence of biological evolution is in fact a stronger indicator of underlying intelligent design than its results (such as irreducible complexity, CSI)

    You have this entirely backwards. Irreducible complexity and CSI are not the result of evolution, they are the material requirements that must be instantiated into a physical system in order for evolution to occur. You can’t have cellular organization without a system of specified information, and you can’t have specified information without an irreducibly complex semiotic system.

    The evidence supporting these two facts is so unambiguous that only the wholly uninformed, or the irrational partisan, even attempt to disagree.

  20. 20
    lifepsy says:

    wd400,

    You have it wrong, Lifespy, it’s that all birds descend from (and in fact are) therapod dinosaurs. That’s very well established, and does’t involve any “story telling”.

    You corrected nothing of what I said with your equivocation, and yes dino-bird evolution is established primarily by storytelling, whether you want to admit it or not.

  21. 21
    Upright BiPed says:

    It also seems that CSI is a dead end for ID, because without the tangible presence or objective identity of the designer, it will probably never be possible to definitively identify the source of CSI.

    Nonsense.

    Being unable to identify the source of any given instance of CSI doesn’t magically mean that inanimate matter can suddenly embed CSI within a semiotic system and start producing functional effects from it.

  22. 22
    jerry says:

    Birds have a very sophisticated and complicated oxygen transport system. Almost as if it was designed for the muscles needed for flight. Why and how would dinosaurs ever have such a system which would take millions of small transitions to reach. Forget about how or why it could develop for dinosaurs, how did it ever develop for birds or for any organism? We are talking about one of the most complex novelties in evolution that exists. It is a potential poster child for ID.

    Maybe we could have a dispassionate discussion of bird evolution but I doubt that is possible. By the way the Grants say it takes 20-30 million years for one new bird species to appear. Doesn’t seem as there is enough time to develop the variety of birds we see let alone the complicated anatomy of flight. I am surprised the Grants did not take a lot of hits for that statement.

    But we are getting away from the conclusions of Gee’s book and Gee is a hard core natural evolutionist but his book is honest in its assessment. He probably took a lot of flak for that so maybe his new book on humans it trying to make amends. I haven’t read it, just the reviews, but it appears to say humans are just another animal. Nothing special.

    Oh it must be a hard life to be an honest Darwinist.

  23. 23
    littlejohn says:

    Upright Biped #21

    I am just pointing out that for the present time, it is not possible to resolve the question of whether CSI is ordinary chemistry and physics, or extraordinary C & P.

    On the other hand, we can definitely demonstrate that the effects of evolutionary processes are dominated by design principles, of which specified information is a underlying principle player.

    It also seems to be an ID tactic to avoid invoking the designer directly, so perhaps better success could be achieved by exploiting the observable and testable evidences of evolutionary design directly. No reason to invoke the intangible.

    This approach could prove to be effective since the doctors of evolution have already established that evolutionary biology is not about the source, or origins of evolution, but the evidence consist of evolutionary patterns, and effects, etc.

    As they say, it just happens, but in reality, it just so happens to be designed.

  24. 24
    Robert Byers says:

    AMEN, AMEN, AMEN.
    Amazing comment from a evolutionary biologist.
    ID/YEC should not let them steal our great criticism as to why evolution is not a scientific theory.
    There is NO biological scientific evidence for the conclusions of evolutionism.
    AMEN. The fossil record, by any one, has no biological evidence in it for descent. Even if it DID show descent. its just data points of killed life in a moment.
    Drawing connections has always been founded on geology and anatomy presumptions.
    Seeing descent is not evident in frozen points in time.
    Evolutionists have believed it did because of logical flaws in their methodology.
    This GEE guy is saying its circumstantial best as posters here said.
    NOT scientific biological evidence.
    If evolution is wrong then there COULDN’t be scientific biological evidence.
    finally one of them understands there ain;’t in the fossil record.
    Its a illusion of reasoning and a illusion period.
    I predict GEE admittance will become standard comment if creationists hold them to it.
    ID folks and YEC need all take not of this too.
    there you go.
    AThe latest best seller by ID thinker using the fossil record right away gets them to reject the fossil records status for evidence.
    I’m not sure the GEE comment is in descent from the book. Just separate data points.
    this subject should be done to death by good guys everywhere.
    REmember that group NCSE in its bumper sticker campaign saying THE FOSSILS SAY SO” to prove evolution??
    15 years and its over I think.

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