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Another victory for science, another defeat for neo-Darwinism


In case you all have been having too much fun at UncommonDescent, don’t forget www.idthefuture.com. It has been having some stellar contributions of late.

Davidson and Erwin: Neo Darwinism Doesn’t Work for the Cambrian Explosion

Davidson smiled, somewhat ruefully, and said, “Well, I’m not sure, but I know that standard single-base-pair mutations won’t do it” — meaning, as he later explained to me, the textbook neo-Darwinism every college biology student learns. He was more blunt with the science writer Fred Heeren, who was covering the now-notorious conference we were attending. “Neo-Darwinism is dead,” he said in an interview.

An account of that notorious conference can be found at
Challenging Fossil of a Little Fish

The debate over Haikouella casts Western scientists in the unlikely role of defending themselves against charges of ideological blindness from scientists in communist China.

Rather than Charles Darwin’s familiar notion of “survival of the fittest,” Chen believes scientists should focus on something that better explains why life evolved beyond bacteria. “Bacteria are very successful,” Chen notes. In fact, complex life is less capable of making adaptations.

“Evolution is facing an extremely harsh challenge,” declared the Communist Party’s Guang Ming Daily last December in describing the fossils in southern China. “In the beginning, Darwinian evolution was a scientific theory …. In fact, evolution eventually changed into a religion.”

“Neo-Darwinism is dead,” said Eric Davidson, a geneticist and textbook writer at the California Institute of Technology.

But most Westerners at Chen’s conference came to praise Darwin, not to bury him. The idea that neo-Darwinism is missing something fundamental about evolution is as scandalous to Americans as it is basic to the Chinese.

This is too funny: “The debate over Haikouella casts Western scientists in the unlikely role of defending themselves against charges of ideological blindness from scientists in communist China.” 🙂

Thanks for your comments on the rebirth of life at Mount St. Helens. I am intrigued by this. What we need is more and better science, not more ideology from either side in the debate. I continue to believe that science is the best hope for finding the answers. http://johnumana.blogspot.com/ jumanabeth
KhoiSanX wrote: "Fish that used to thrive there before the May 18, 1980 eruption are back again! How could that possibly have occurred? Did the National Park Service add the fish? Spontaneous evolution? What?”" It is entirely possible (plausible) that a neighboring 'species' of fish moved into the area formerly filled by the other 'species', and, because of environmental effects of that area--whether it be the soil, minerals, vegetation, droppings from birds, temperature, or a combination of all of the above--the fish 'species' that is introduced into the former area of Mt. St. Helens develops differently embryologically, and simply now takes on a new appearance--i.e., what looked like the 'old species'. What does this mean? It means that what the taxonimists thought were 'two' (or more) species, were, in fact, just 'one' species, but in different, let us say, 'varietal' forms. There was a story recently about a bird (woodpecker?) that was thought extinct, and yet, when the tree it was associated with made a comeback, then lo, and behold, that 'extinct' bird came back. Is there some chemical in the bark of the tree that affects pathways and leads to certain colorations and plumage not otherwise found? PaV

No, not flying fish.

Teleportation then. I think I saw this on a Star Trek episode where they rescued the whales. Beam me up, Scotty. -ds jumanabeth

"I saw a documentary recently on PBS relating to the rebirth of life on Mount St. Helens. Fish that used to thrive there before the May 18, 1980 eruption are back again! How could that possibly have occurred? Did the National Park Service add the fish? Spontaneous evolution? What?"

John Umana


Were they flying fish? -ds KhoiSanX
Pages and pages deleted. Use a link. -ds


John Umana
Washington, D.C.


You all seem to be reading things into the paper which are not there. What the paper argues is that there is a reason why a basic bodyplans, once established, do not change in radical ways. This explains why evolution in multi-celluar life is fundamentally so conservative in terms of basic bodyplan (even the rare exceptions where a modern species lacks a defining feature of a parent taxa, like dolphins, still betray all the basic structures of the feature they came to lack).

What the paper does not argue is that there is no way these bodyplans could have evolved in the first place. In short, the paper purports to explain, _in terms of evolutionary process_ why bodyplans were once so diverse and flexible (i.e. it was this was before evolution had forced this or that line to commit to particular undoable directions), and now are so stable, at least among the more complex creatures.

Claiming that it supports design is unwarranted, and indeed a little backwards. Were we discussing the design process, then there is no particular reason to expect a hypothetical designer to be bound by the sorts of constraints that evolution faces: there is no, non ad hoc reason why a designer wouldn't be able to radically alter bodyplans. But instead, we observe life to be bound by the constraints we expect from an evolutionary mechanism of development: lots of flexibility when the structure of cell layers and organs is quite simple, and a loss of flexibility as these features become more set in their ways and their interoperability.

(i.e. it was this was before evolution had forced this or that line to commit to particular undoable directions

You mean like a stem cell, once it commits to being a neuron, can't turn back into a stem cell again? Nothing in evolutionary biology makes sense except in the light of phylogenetic stem cells. :-) -ds

there is no particular reason to expect a hypothetical designer

You know a lot about the designer of life, do you? Is that knowledge gained from science? I mean we only claim to be able to detect design but here you're able to tell us all about the designer. That's very advanced. Can you tell us what he likes for breakfast and what his favorite color is too? What you argued here is warned about in the moderation notes - it's essentially the "bad design means no design" argument. -ds

More quotes by Boston Globe's Fred Heeren, "But all this newfound clarity only adds to the larger problem, framed succinctly by Holland of Scripps Institution: “Where the hell are you going to get an animal like that?” In his view, Haikouella’s high level of development makes it more difficult to explain the evolutionary steps that produced it." Indeed. "Today, paleontologists still lack viable ancestors for the Cambrian’s forty or more animal phyla. Most researchers explain this by assuming that Precambrian animals were simply too small or too soft to leave a fossil record, or that conditions were unfavorable to fossilization." Keyword, "assuming.... too small or too soft" Mr Heeren points out that Darwin '...expected future generations to find them'. We know admissions to the contrary have been made even by famous paleontolgist such as Gould. But an even more interesting quotes by the Chinese, "In fact, the pair had failed to find any recognizable body plans showing steps along the way toward the complex Cambrian animals with their legs, antennae, eyes and other features." This has been true since Darwin. But, why is is particulary significant at this geological site? Lets see.... "What they had actually proved was that Chinese phosphate is fully capable of preserving whatever animals may have lived there in Precambrian times." Scientist making reasonable observations. "Because they found sponges and sponge embryos in abundance, researchers are no longer so confident that Precambrian animals were too soft or too small to be preserved." Another reasonable observation. “I think this is a major mystery in paleontology,” said Chen. “Before the Cambrian, we should see a number of steps: differentiation of cells, differentiation of tissue, of dorsal and ventral, right and left. But we don’t have strong evidence for any of these.” Yet another reasonable scientific-minded observation. From a man who speaks in two languages quite fluently one letter based, another symbol and pictorially based. Which leads to another interesting observation and leading conclusions.... "Taiwanese biologist Li was also direct: “No evolution theory can explain these kinds of phenomena.”" Which in turns leads to a startling admission, "But conferences such as the one in Chengjiang may be changing some views. One of the symposium organizers, paleontologist David Bottjer of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said he disagrees with the idea of rapid evolution, but he conceded, “The Cambrian Explosion is going to tell us something different about evolution, in the sense that it’s not the same story that we have always been taught.”" Key sentence Ding, Ding, Ding, "... its not the same story that we have always been taught" David Bottjer is just now coming to the same conclusion that Gould did years ago and thus why punctuated evolution came into being at trying to explain the observational truths facing them. Dr. Davison, does your view square with this or is it different? I read your site some time ago prior to seeing you here. I don't remember how you viewed the Cambrian periord. Would like to know your views. Michaels7
Barrett1 I believe macroevolution is undeniable because I am a scientist, not a mystic. All creatures except the original ones have had organic ancestors. The notion of the de novo production of a higher organism is unthinkable for me. If others choose to consider such possibilities all I can say is good for them. In few words - man is a primate and the last one to appear. As I have never had my challenged answered, I am also convinced he is the last mammal to appear. My model for evolution has always been ontogeny. "Neither in the one nor in the other is their room for chance." Leo Berg, Nomogenesis, page 134 I really don't know what more I can say. John Davison
"We think that change in them is prohibited on pain of developmental catastrophe..." In other words, these "Kernels" are Irreducibly Complex - change one and the organism will not develop, let alone survive. New body plans could not have evolved per Darwinian means. Davison is right. Behe is right. Dembski is right. Is anyone really surprised? dougmoran
Is this why Time magazine's worried that America's flunking science education? The lack of critical thinking in the classroom is certainly conducive to that. The irony is shocking; that a strongly theistic country's scientists are busy flaunting their dogmatic Darwinism, whereas the scientists in an atheistic regime are allowed to question the foundation of atheism. jasonng
Just to point out, Davidson's paper makes essentially the same points as Meyer's paper on the origin of biological complexity, with the exception of (a) it is more specific, restricted, and technical, and (b) it does not explicitly mention Intelligent Design. Instead, it only mentions designs which sprang into being which are unchangeable :) johnnyb
The IDTheFuture.com post is FANTASTIC, as well as the paper it links to (it's only $10 to order online, or you can copy it from your local library for free). You can get a lot of Davidson's old stuff off of pubmed for free, which has a lot of the same content, but not as concise. When is Paul Nelson's book going to come out? I'm eagerly awaiting it. If anyone knows how to get an advanced copy, please email johnnyb@eskimo.com. johnnyb
John Davison, could you explain why you feel macro-evolution is undeniable? I have read some of you stuff, but could you give us a concise (internet thread type) explanation? Can you describe a mechanism? Is it the fossil record? What makes you so certain that macro evolution has occurred (but is now finished, as you say). Thanks. Barrett1
Which Davidson was that, Eric Davidson? It sure wasn't this John A. Davison even though I agree with it entirely. John Davison
Scordova Please do not in any way ally me with Denton, Behe or anyone else. I am a free spirit with a new hypothesis. My allies are all dead with the possible exception of DaveScot and Phillip Engle and I am sure we also have many differences. I doubt very much if I would have any substantial differences with Leo Berg, Richard B. Goldschmidt, Otto Schindewolf, Robert Broom, Pierre Grasse or William Bateson because I have erected my entire hypothesis on the basis of their solid contributions, not a Darwimp in the lot. John Davison
It usually depends on : 1. who you ask 2. the context of the discussion Evolution usually refers to change over time, and is often distinguished from the idea of special creation because of the idea of some form of common descent. However, even creationists believe in some limited change over time, so they accept limited amounts of evolution, but reject common descent. If the answer is still vague, well, that's because the term itself is very pliable. But if you think of common descent from a single ancestor versus special creation, then you're close to what most people think when the use the term evolution. Darwinism is the belief that natural selection acting on random mutation (RMNS) is the mechanism for evolution. It so dominated evolutionary theory, the two had almost become synonymous. It would be fair to say however, in the modern day, Darwinism does not completely equal evolution. Neo-Darwinism is the modern version of Darwinian evolutionary theory: the synthesis of Mendelian genetics and Darwinism. There are several who believe in common descent but disagree with Neo-Darwinism. They will often bash neo-Darwinism, and then proclaim themselves to be true Darwinists (I suppose they do so in part to keep the faithful from labeling them heretics). If one is a creationist, then one accepts intelligent design, and thus would automatically be an IDist as well. The converse however is definitely not true (Michael Behe, Michael Denton, John Davison consider themselves evolutionists, but not in the Darwinian sense). scordova

You beat me to it, Sal! I was gonna post this one. Exciting times. :)


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