Intelligent Design

The Sad Case of the Darwinian Fundamentalist

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In the 20th century, a powerful confluence of evidence emerged that essentially eviscerated the creative power of Darwinian mechanisms. This is not hard to figure out.

The most “simple” cell is a marvel of functionally integrated information-processing technology. Those who propose that the Darwinian mechanisms of random errors filtered by natural selection explain all of life are living in an era gone by, a time when it was thought that the foundation of life was chemistry, physics, time, and chance.

The fossil record is a grand and ever-persistent testimony that Darwin was wrong about gradualism. Simple logic, trivial combinatoric mathematical analysis, and the monstrous problems presented by the likelihood of functional, naturally-selectable intermediates, present overwhelming evidence that Darwinian mechanisms are on their deathbed in terms of their explanatory power for anything but the utterly trivial.

In a sense I feel sorry for Darwinian fundamentalists. It must be depressing to realize that one has wasted his life defending a transparently ephemeral goal that has little to do with reality, nothing to do with real scientific investigation, and that has nothing whatsoever to recommend itself besides philosophical nihilism.

56 Replies to “The Sad Case of the Darwinian Fundamentalist

  1. 1
    Barry Arrington says:

    Gil, stop it with the tiptoing around your point. Please tell us what you really think. 😉

  2. 2
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    I believe that arguments from improbability, even when suped up with “detachable patterns,” are on their deathbed. The reason is, purely and simply, that it is meaningless to speak of the objective probability that the universe should unfold in space and time as it has. We cannot say that Darwinian evolution is probable or improbable.

    What is remarkable about living systems, from my perspective, is that they are all intelligent systems. In contrast, a watch found on the heath is not an intelligent system, in any reasonable sense of the term. I think we need to drop the unsuccessful program of attempting to infer intelligent creation of information of some special type and move to emphasizing that intelligent systems are spawned only by other intelligent systems. This would force us to address directly a fundamental question that ID theorists have long evaded answering: What constitutes intelligence?

  3. 3
    Lenoxus says:

    The fossil record is a grand and ever-persistent testimony that Darwin was wrong about gradualism.

    Poor Darwinists; all those fossils of organisms giving birth to utterly different organisms…

  4. 4
    GilDodgen says:

    Barry,

    That was my attempt at subtlety.

    Gil

  5. 5
    Paul Giem says:

    Lenoxus (#3),

    Poor Darwinists; all those fossils of organisms giving birth to utterly different organisms…

    You mean like the algae that gave birth to trilobites without obvious intermediates? 🙂 (Ditto for starfish, clams, etc.) Even chordates don’t seem to have a series of fossils leading up to them.

  6. 6
    StuartHarris says:

    The Darwinian Fundamentalist, led by it’s chief fool Doctor Dawkins, has a pickle-pussed, deterministic view from the cozy triumphalist Victorian age of science where such uncomfortable discoveries like information theory, the quantum world, Gödel’s Theorem, Von Neumann, Alan Turing, the computer we call the “cell”, and a full exploration of the record of life didn’t exist.

    The Darwinian Fundamentalist essentially believes in a revamped version of the old theory of spontaneous generation wherein life springs miraculously from inanimate matter. Never mind probability, math and evidence: just wave your hands, throw some putrid rags, fecal matter, and rotting fruit together and out pop maggots, bugs and vast computational automata from nowhere.

  7. 7
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    Gil,

    What does it mean to say that life has a foundation, and what is the foundation of life?

    BTW, the Darwinian fundamentalists may feel sorry for cogs in the American military-industrial complex. Those who consider that the almost continual warring of the United States since the turn of the Twentieth Century has constituted the absence of peace may view devotion to making little contributions to warfighting technology as a tad nihilistic.

    Simple logic, trivial combinatoric mathematical analysis, and the monstrous problems presented by the likelihood of functional, naturally-selectable intermediates, present overwhelming evidence that Darwinian mechanisms are on their deathbed in terms of their explanatory power for anything but the utterly trivial.

    I think you do ID a disservice with verbiage like this. Where is the simple logic? the trivial combinatorial analysis? I am an ID proponent who has taught combinatorics, and I can’t produce them. What is it that you know and I do not? As for likelihood of intermediate forms, is this just something you feel in the seat of your pants? I have no idea how to go about calculating the probability of such things. Please enlighten me. Otherwise, let’s stick to the truth of where we have gotten in the development of a theory of intelligent design, and stop the posturing.

    As I have said elsewhere, we ID proponents must be exemplary in our conduct if we hope to gain credibility in intellectual circles.

  8. 8
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    StuartHarris @ 6,

    Random, according to Gil, and deterministic, according to you. Can we get our act together here? In fact, Darwin was no probabilist. The randomness of mutations is an aspect of the Twentieth Century synthesis, not Victorian science. These days, evolutionists do not insist that all variation in reproduction is random, or even neutral with respect to fitness.

    I “do” computers for a living, and I cannot imagine why you would regard a cell as a computer. If you absolutely must go with a metaphor to make the cell more “intelligenty-designy,” then try saying that the cell is a robot. I say that there is something extraordinary in the intelligence of a cellular robot, not the mere fact that it processes information.

  9. 9
    StuartHarris says:

    Oatmeal @ 8,

    You say, “Random, according to Gil, and deterministic, according to you. Can we get our act together here?”

    Yes we can. Reality and all causality is a three act play:

    1. Chance (randomness)

    2. Necessity (determenism)
    3. Design (teleology)

    I accept all three as real. Perhaps you tend to ignore the third act as being part of reality.

    The statement that you “do” computers might just be as relevant as the fact that I “do” automobiles when I drive my car.

    Please study Gödel, Von Neumann, Turing, and others to understand what the cell and life is. It’s came about from all three acts listed above.

  10. 10
    Upright BiPed says:

    Oatmeal,

    “what is the foundation of life?”

    Okay I’ll bite. Here is a possibility:

    The foundation of life (from a purely empirical viewpoint) is information.

    Information imposes function upon matter to become living tissue. The primary quality of information which is evident (and reliable) is that of functional organization.

    Information gains its existence by virtue of communication. That communication may be from one object to another or from my fingertips to my brain.

    A rock may contain a certain number of atoms arranged in a certain way, but it contains no information until I sense it, and it is communicated to me.

    So the constituents of reality are matter, energy, time, and information. Of those, the first three are necessary but not sufficient for life. The fourth is necessary.

    The question is, from where does information come?

  11. 11
    Cabal says:

    GD,

    The fossil record is a grand and ever-persistent testimony that Darwin was wrong about gradualism.

    Darwin, Origins (all editions after the third):

    the periods during which species have been undergoing modification, though very long as measured by years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which these same species remained without undergoing any change.

    Still going strong.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    Cabal:

    And the evolutionary miracles all happen off-stage.

    So, we don’t observe them . . .

    GEM of TKI

  13. 13
    djmullen says:

    Upright BiPed @ 10:

    “The question is, from where does information come?”

    From mutations. Then natural selection tests the mutations against the environment by trying to make a living with the new DNA. If it works better than the old, it’s kept, if not it’s discarded.

  14. 14
    Joseph says:

    Oatmeal Stout:

    What constitutes intelligence?

    Anything that can create counterflow.

  15. 15
    Borne says:

    Oatmeal Stout :

    I think you do ID a disservice with verbiage like this. Where is the simple logic? the trivial combinatorial analysis? I am an ID proponent who has taught combinatorics, and I can’t produce them. What is it that you know and I do not?

    Come on oat, you start by claiming Gil does a disservice and then you ask what he knows that you don’t in a way that seems to imply he really doesn’t.

    You really should read up on this.

    Probabilistic principles are a vital part of analysis of biological systems.
    Combinatorics are just as evident.
    I’m rather astounded that you don’t see why, where and how?

    Any engineer studying the E. coli flagellum can easily see that all such principles have to apply. It’s a motor in every sense of the term and no motor can ever work unless couplings, mechanical stresses, rpm, material strength etc etc are all of the appropriate measures.
    Steve Petermann posted on this over at telicthoughts – here’s an excerpt:

    First we have a passive pore that starts things off. Since this is the base of the eventual flagellum one has to ask is the pore the right size that the whip of the flagellum can provide the locomotion we see? If it is too small the resulting whip will not be able to handle the stresses from torsion and coupling. If it is too big the whip will be too bulky to be driven in any effective way by the motor. Then we add the secretion system. Is the pore the right size and of the right protein type for the existing secretion system? If not there will be no coupling of the two and no progress.

    Ok now we have a selective pore and an secretion system but does it secrete proteins that will be right for the whip? The whip has to have the right protein shape. In engineering the components of a flexible whip have to be designed to mesh correctly such that there is just the right combination of coupling, flexibility, and rigidity. They also have to be the right material. If they are too soft there will be galling. If they are too hard fatigue cracks will set in and destroy the whip. The same goes for clearances between parts. This is a goldie-locks situation. Things have to be just right or it won’t work.

    Next we have to add the motor. Let’s assume we’re very lucky that a motor will fit and couple with what we have so far. However, the motor has to have the rpm and torque to drive the whip just right. If it doesn’t have enough torque we won’t get what we see. If the rpm is too fast the whip will destroy itself because of the hydrodynamic forces applied to it by the fluid. Then it and all the other components have to be sized just right to reverse or the torsional forces on the whip will rip it apart. Remember the diameter, materials, meshing of parts, etc. in this Darwinian scenario have no idea what will be required later.

    It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize why probabilities, statistical mechanics, combinatorics etc, are a necessary part of the whole analysis of the Darwinian mechanism’s ability to produce any structurally sound machine that works.

  16. 16
    alan says:

    Oatmeal Stout: Samuel Smith – my absolute fav! In this case I feel we are communicating quite intelligently.

  17. 17
    GilDodgen says:

    Where is the simple logic? the trivial combinatorial analysis?

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....selection/

  18. 18
    yakky d says:

    Gil,

    From your linked post:

    What is the probability of arriving at our Hello World program by random mutation and natural selection?

    One criticism of this example is that it singles the “Hello World” program as a long-term goal of evolution, which is unrealistic. Shouldn’t you be considering the chances of programs with other functions evolving as well?

  19. 19
    Cabal says:

    Cabal:

    And the evolutionary miracles all happen off-stage.

    So, we don’t observe them . . .

    GEM of TKI

    You observe ID miracles on-stage?

    BTW, evo ‘miracles’ have indeed been observed on-stage so to speak; in the laboratory, that is.

  20. 20
    William J. Murray says:

    Cabal asks: You observe ID miracles on-stage?

    Yes. We generally don’t view them as miracles, because we’re so used to seeing them.

    For example, note the miracle of FSCI being played out in this thread by the precise arrangement of letters formed by pixels arranges on varous screens as various intellects design responses; more FSCI has here been generated than can be accounted for by any combination of chance & known forces of nature (natural laws, chemical self-organization, etc).

    In fact, the FSCI you are witnessing being generated falls outside of the known probability range of many universes combined, even if all the elementary particles of those universes were pixels on screens randomly forming in accordance with the laws of nature.

    What miracle of evolution have you witnessed in a lab? The random (supposedly) mutation of a fortunate gene or two in tens of thousand of generations of bacteria?

  21. 21
    Borne says:

    Miracles?

    When trying to explain the world on a strictly materialistic basis one finds oneself in strange paradoxes:
    “If the ‘natural’ means that which can be paralleled, that which can be explained by reference to other events, then Nature herself as a whole is not natural. If a miracle means that which must simply be accepted, the unanswerable actuality which gives no account of itself but simply is, then the universe is one great miracle”
    – CS Lewis: God in the Dock

  22. 22
    Borne says:

    Miracles?

    “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” –A. Einstein

  23. 23
    Borne says:

    Anyone who thinks a random mutation or two, as visualized in a lab, is a miracle has a very inadequate definition of miracle.

  24. 24
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    StuartHarris @ 9:

    Physical chances have a habit of vanishing as we improve our understanding of nature. There is no way to establish that chances are definitely real. It may be that events merely seem random in an incompletely understood universe that is in fact deterministic. Even quantum mechanics has been modeled in terms of deterministic machines.

    As a personal matter, I have no choice but to see myself as an agent, but as an epistemological matter, there is no way to establish definitely that my actions are not determined.

    Claims that we can “prove” the evolutionists wrong on their own turf are ill founded. There is no way to do science without initial assumptions, and it is the present assumptions of science that “prove” ID wrong. We face a social problem of persuading a great many intellectuals of the value of assuming their own agency in science.

    I emphasize, there is no way to prove the reality of agency. It is something one chooses to accept on the basis of experience.

    Please study Gödel, Von Neumann, Turing, and others to understand what the cell and life is.

    Incompleteness theorems, mathematical realism, putative proof of the existence of God in modal logic, computer architecture, self-replicating systems, cellular automata, the Turing machine, Turing-computable numbers, the Turing-Church thesis, the Turing test, morphogenesis, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, … You’re going to have to connect some dots before we continue talking about these guys.

  25. 25
    DATCG says:

    The obligatory Darwinist comment:

    /*insert on */

    but, but, but… Tiktaalik “transition” fossil makes Darwinist graualism true…

    /*insert off */

  26. 26
    DATCG says:

    I emphasize, there is no way to prove the reality of agency. It is something one chooses to accept on the basis of experience.

    So you are a robot spewing forth pre-determined babble?

    Then why should anyone listen to you?

  27. 27
    DATCG says:

    The previous post addressed to Oatmeal Snort.

  28. 28
    Lenoxus says:

    Paul Giem (3):

    Even chordates don’t seem to have a series of fossils leading up to them.

    This Wikipedia section, in examining that very question, lists various fossils for which experts debate which ones should be considered chordates, which ones hemichordates, etc.

    Now, if you like, you can interpret all that disagreement as a Problem for evolution — the evolutionists can’t even agree what goes where! Or, you can see that that’s exactly the way things would be if those fossils were in fact intermediates. (Likewise, one can take every hominid fossil and say “this is a man, that’s a ape”, and indeed, a fair amount of debate goes into the categorizing — but only on the assumption that categorizing needs to happen at all. Thanks to the diversifying of the tree of life, it can be very tricky to say what “is” a chordate and what isn’t.)

    In order to argue that the fossil record indicates de novo appearence, you have to argue that the fossil record is nearly complete — not only with respect to all the fossils in the ground, but with respect to all the species that have ever lived. To argue evidence of absence from absence of evidence is strange, as well as counter to the constant trend of discovery that has given us Archeopteryx, Australopithecus, Ambulocetus, Tiktaalik, etc. Why should we expect to never find trilobite precursors? Are trilobites irreducibly complex?

    (Meanwhile, we have yet to see any ID scientist work out some numbers for front-loaded saltation, or whatever the alternative to gradualism is supposed to be.)

  29. 29
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    Upright @ 10:

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking. This could and should lead to a lengthy discussion, but I have to say up front that I don’t have the time. Briefly…

    The foundation of life (from a purely empirical viewpoint) is information.

    I worry about drifting into a new vitalism. In the early Nineteenth Century, about the time of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the “foundation,” or vital essence, of life was electricity. We should think long and hard before placing information in an analogous role.

    Information gains its existence by virtue of communication. That communication may be from one object to another or from my fingertips to my brain.

    I’m glad to see you agree that there’s more to information than taking the logarithm of a probability. But what you’ve described is a relation on material objects, and it’s not clear that we should grant physical existence to the abstract relation. Philosophers are debating the validity of the “information is physical” slogan, you know.

    Again, I suggest focusing on the intelligence of life, rather than the information processing — not to say that the two are unrelated.

  30. 30
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    Borne @ 15:

    Produce the analysis. Merely pointing out the applicability of certain bodies of knowledge, as Gil has, is vacuous.

    ID proponents are repeatedly embarrassed by claims that anyone knowledgeable should be able to fill in the gaps in the arguments. The foremost examples are in Dembski’s No Free Lunch. Dembski has not managed to pull the CSI fat out of the fire, and instead has moved on to active information. This would not have happened if he had abided by scholarly conventions. First, you obtain the rigorous proofs, and then you provide glosses of the arguments for general readers.

    There is a simple reason that Dembski never came through with the CSI of the flagellum. It’s really, REALLY hard to do.

    Buck up and accept some tough love. If we want ID theory to be accepted as legitimate scholarship, we must insist that ID theorists be exemplary in their behavior. Dembski and Marks are doing quite well, by the way, apart from tagging Dawkins with an algorithm he never wrote.

  31. 31
    Borne says:

    Oatmeal:

    Produce the analysis. Merely pointing out the applicability of certain bodies of knowledge, as Gil has, is vacuous.

    I hope you’re kidding. Do you really think this is a place for producing a detailed analysis that should be submitted to peer review?

    Moreover, calling the glaringly obvious, ‘vacuous’, is vacuous.

    The actual probability of RM + NS assembling a flagellum for example is about 1/10^52. Of course, that is with the assumption that the parts already exist and need merely to be assembled.

    Its easy enough to get a good estimate. The E. coli flagellum, for ex., has approx. 40 protein parts that must be assembled in the correct order to function. Do the math. Its a simple factorial formula.

    One can certainly appreciate your desire to see more details.

    But do you really need such detail for knowing that winning a 40/40 lottery where you have to get the whole sequence in correct order, by chance, is virtually impossible? No.

    It gets worse. Multiply that 1st P (probability) by the P for getting the structural requirements correct, the P of randomly creating the correctly shaped and sized parts.
    Then, add to this the fact that nature isn’t even trying to make a flagellum (let alone DNA) and you don’t need to be a pro statistician to know it will never happen in any amount of time.

  32. 32
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    DATCG @ 26, 27:

    UD at its worst. “I refute it thus” contention with name-calling for good measure.

  33. 33
    Cabal says:

    WJM,

    Cabal asks: You observe ID miracles on-stage?

    Yes. We generally don’t view them as miracles, because we’re so used to seeing them.

    What? I was of course referring to the past miracles of ID, you know like creating bacterial flagellum and such. As a response to KF’s

    And the evolutionary miracles all happen off-stage.

    We are talking about the past; you know when nobody was around to observe what happened; like the ID assumption that the little green men from Sirius, or our father in Heaven were busy making flagella and other goodies like zillions of insects. Quite an achievement.

    So how was it really back then?

    WRT miracles, the everyday world is full of them. That’s the way it is, and few signs of the men from Sirius at work here.

  34. 34
    Blue Lotus says:

    Bourne

    the P of randomly creating the correctly shaped and sized parts

    What is it you are doing where you are measuring P?
    I understand how such could be measured on a dice.
    I understand how you could measure it in a lottery.

    But what process or object is it that you are doing, observing or whatever when you speak of the probability of randomly creating the correctly shaped and sized parts?

    What exactly is happening that generates this probability you have?

    The actual probability of RM + NS assembling a flagellum for example is about 1/10^52. Of course, that is with the assumption that the parts already exist and need merely to be assembled.

    I presume those parts have been randomly created by the process I’ve been asking about?

    Could you tell me exactly what RM + NS is doing when you speak of it “assembling a flagellum”? What physical entities and processes are in operation as RM + NS tries to assemble this flagellum from the component parts scattered (are they scattered? Or stacked in piles of like types?) around?

    What is it that you visualize in your mind when you speak of RM + NS “assembling a flagellum”?

  35. 35
    Blue Lotus says:

    Bourne

    Do you really think this is a place for producing a detailed analysis that should be submitted to peer review?

    Kariosfocus has already written more words on FSCI then would ever be needed if he were to attempt to publish it in a peer reviewed journal and defend it for several rounds of changes.

    Yet he refuses to do so.

    No, the place for producing a detailed analysis that should be submitted to peer review is

    http://www.researchintelligentdesign.org

    or

    http://www.iscid.org/

  36. 36
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    Borne @ 31:

    Multiply that 1st P (probability) by the P for getting the structural requirements correct, the P of randomly creating the correctly shaped and sized parts.

    No evolutionist would offer a model of this form. When you use the word “correct,” you’re making the flagellum that has arisen in nature into something that had to arise in nature — i.e., a predefined target.

    As I said above, I believe that the argument from improbability is on its deathbed. The IDist starts by saying to the evolutionist, “Give me a detailed probabilistic model of the evolution of such-and-such feature.” If the evolutionist should be sufficiently daft to believe he has the knowledge of ancient events to provide such a model, the IDist uses the model to show that the probability of evolution is so low that it is effectively impossible. As we know, the evolutionists generally do not provide probabilistic models, and the IDists have to play the roles of both adversaries in an adversarial argument.

    What happens next does not get much airtime. The IDist proceeds to reject materialistic evolution in favor of intelligent design of the feature. This is a leap in “logic.” Rejecting the best extant model is not equivalent to rejecting the possibility of materialistic explanation. Furthermore, the logic of inferring intelligent, telic causation, and not some other form of immaterial causation, is shaky.

    There is also an unsatisfactory asymmetry in the argument. Suppose that the evolutionist turns things around and says, “What, then, is the probability of intelligent causation of the feature?” The ID theorist responds, “That question is meaningless for me, because I am not limited to your materialistic mechanics. Intelligence changes probabilities. First there is a block of marble, and then Michelangelo produces a statue of David.” The evolutionist can be forgiven, I think, for inquiring into the probability that Michelangelo would carve the form of a species living on a planet in another galaxy. To hold the evolutionist to probabilistic modeling, and then to deny that the IDist should have anything to say about the probability that an intelligence can achieve some end, is not a fair game.

    As I said above, there is no probability of the universe being as it is. That is where arguments from improbability ultimately fail. We need to look directly at the intelligence of biological systems, and stop trying to infer intelligent design by rejecting probabilistic models.

  37. 37
    magnan says:

    Oatmeal Stout (36): “No evolutionist would offer a model of this form. When you use the word “correct,” you’re making the flagellum that has arisen in nature into something that had to arise in nature — i.e., a predefined target.”

    This is the usual argument to get around the statistical problem, that evolution didn’t have to produce any particular result, just something, anything. This ignores the biological engineering facts. Once a new, complex evolutionary development has begun, the number of options available drastically reduces because of the engineering constraints of the biological system with its environment. There is a target. Not just any complicated subsystem, but one particular one. Once the first proto-whales existed, there was only one optimal set of solutions to allow improved adaptation to ocean life. From that point on, for instance, biological sonar was the best solution for target detection, with all its complicated intertwined changes especially neurological.

  38. 38
    Oatmeal Stout says:

    magnan,

    This is the usual argument to get around the statistical problem, that evolution didn’t have to produce any particular result, just something, anything.

    In an adversarial argument, you have to accept your adversary’s model or show that it is logically inconsistent. There is nothing illogical in the claim that evolution cobbles together “solutions” opportunistically and without foresight. It is very difficult for you formally to assign probabilities to particular evolutionary events you intuitively deem improbable when evolutionists say that evolution could have taken many courses, and thus the problem is yours, not your adversary’s.

    No matter the fabulous efficiency of the flagellar motor, the flagellum is fabulously inefficient as a propulsion system. Spinning a long whip really fast is not a good way to get around, and human engineers are not seeking to develop artifacts with flagellar propulsion. Not only did evolution not have to produce the flagellum, but the Designer did not either. This is one of those cases where ID proponents are reduced to suggesting that the Designer was playful, or that the Designer was reusing components, or that the Designer was planning on reusing components.

    The unimaginable pathways undirected evolution might have taken is a huge problem for arguments from improbability. To require that evolutionists nail down a target for you is essentially to require that they abandon their theory. And you cannot nail down a target without misconstruing their theory.

    To avoid repeating myself, I’ll say now that the argument from improbability is DEAD. Let’s get on with the wake, quaff some oatmeal stout, sleep it off, and proceed with alternative approaches to saying what intelligence has to do with life.

  39. 39
    Learned Hand says:

    Once the first proto-whales existed, there was only one optimal set of solutions to allow improved adaptation to ocean life.

    And yet there are many types of organisms, even many types of whales, exhibiting a spectrum of adaptations to ocean life.

  40. 40
    Paul Giem says:

    Lenoxus (#28),

    I notice that you did not give any intermediates between algae (or is it edicaran fauna, or flora, or whatever?) and trilobites, my most important example. All you could do was to say,

    Why should we expect to never find trilobite precursors? Are trilobites irreducibly complex?

    I assume that if you had known of intermediates, you would have referenced them. The same is true for starfish, clams, etc.

    You may have noticed my carefully worded comments on chordates, as you quoted them. Chordates seem to be the one phylum where one can make a (IMO weak) case for the existence of ancestors, or at least an ancestor. But a series is clearly going beyond the evidence. As your Wikipedia reference notes,

    The evolutionary relationships between the chordate groups and between chordates as a whole and their closest deuterostome relatives have been debated since 1890. Studies based on anatomical, embryological, and paleontological data have produced different “family trees”. Some closely linked chordates and hemichordates, but that idea is now rejected.[3]

    That is to say, hemichordates are not now viewed as ancestral to chordates, and nobody has any persuasive (to other evolutionists) idea of what the ancestor of chordates actually was.

    The article goes on to note that “chordates have left a poor fossil record”, which doesn’t sound very persuasive regarding their supposed evolution. The article goes on to say that

    attempts have been made to calculate the key dates in their evolution by molecular phylogenetics techniques, in other words by analysing biochemical differences, mainly in RNA. One such study suggested that deuterostomes arose before 900 million years ago and the earliest chordates around 896 million years ago.[32] However molecular estimates of dates often disagree with each other and with the fossil record,[32]

    The article suggests that one needs to be careful with the estimate, so the assumption that chordates existed for 354 million years before the Cambrian explosion has to be taken with a grain of salt. But supposing that it was less than half that, or roughly 150 million years, it does seem like one might find occasionally fossilized a few precursors. Yet the only one that the article can come up with is

    Pikaia, discovered much earlier but from the Mid Cambrian Burgess Shale, is also regarded as a primitive chordate.[28]

    First, Pikaia is apparently an actual chordate, not an intermediate, according to the article, and second, it is found in the Burgess Shale, later than the Cambrian explosion. Furthermore, apparently true fish can be found in the Chenjiang formation some 10 million years earlier than the Burgess Shale. It is hard to make Pikaia into an ancestor of chordates when it is found later than vertebrates.

    I took you to be sarcastic when you said (#3),

    Poor Darwinists; all those fossils of organisms giving birth to utterly different organisms…

    But as far as the Cambrian explosion was concerned, you were quite accurate, at least as far as the extant fossil evidence is concerned. It does give one pause.

    The final dodge that one might make is that there are multiple lineages leading up to chordates, and this makes it difficult to choose one. One might call this mosaic evolution (as in pieces from different animals fitted in, not as in coming from Moses). And you seem to attempt this:

    Now, if you like, you can interpret all that disagreement as a Problem for evolution — the evolutionists can’t even agree what goes where! Or, you can see that that’s exactly the way things would be if those fossils were in fact intermediates.

    But this requires a very strange form of evolution. For the standard way is to say that all sexual animals had a mother and a father, and asexual animals had a mother (or predecessor). The only way that mosaic evolution will work is if, say, a starfish crossed with a tunicate to produce a chordate. (If you don’t like that example, pick your own from the supposed mosaic ancestors of chordates.) There can be branches from the tree, but unless some kind of crossing took place, there must be a trunk. And yet we have essentially no fossil evidence of that trunk. Why should I buy that trunk without evidence? Especially since the lack of a trunk is duplicated by trilobites, starfish, clams, etc.? On the basis of Archaeopteryx, which is later than some true birds, and may well be a bird itself?

    Look, if you want to believe that the fossil record is grossly incomplete (“In order to argue that the fossil record indicates de novo appearence, you have to argue that the fossil record is nearly complete”), go ahead. But I don’t see any reason to exercise faith that multiple lineages just somehow never got recorded, or that we just haven’t looked in the right places yet, just so I can avoid the implication of an intelligent designer. You can have your faith; I’ll stick to the evidence, thank you.

  41. 41
    Blue Lotus says:

    Paul Giem

    just so I can avoid the implication of an intelligent designer. You can have your faith; I’ll stick to the evidence, thank you.

    So, you have faith in something that you have no evidence for except the absence of fossil evidence for a smooth transition between one species and another?

    And this is the foundation your “faith” rests upon?

    I have to wonder how the absence of a given thing automatically leads to the presense of another.

    Tell me, Paul Giem, what is it about the lack of fossils precisely that leads you to believe in a in an “intelligent desiger” rather then “the spagetti monster”. There is exactly the same amount of evidence pointing to each – none!.

    You can have your faith; I’ll stick to the evidence, thank you.

    The sad thing is I believe you believe that. That there is no evidence for evolution and that there is evidence for ID. Yet in fact it’s quite the opposite, whatever you say.

    So, by all means believe in your god/intelligent designer. But remember that you’ll be an object of ridicule if you claim that the fossil evidence supports ID and does not support evolution.

    While it might be a debatable point if the fossil evidence indeed supports evolution (it does) what is not debatable and is obvious to all is that the lack of evidence (the supposed lack of transitional fossils) provides no support whatsoever for ID.

    Paul Giem, do you have any positive evidence for ID or a designer that is not based upon the lack of something to do with Evolution? Can you make your case without referening to evolutions supposed failings?

    It’s been said 1000 times but evolution being falsified would not automatically provde support for ID, yet you act as if all you have to do is pick holes in Darwinism for ID to win. It’s not like that, as must have become obvious over the last, what, 150 years or so.

  42. 42
    Cabal says:

    40 protein parts that must be assembled in the correct order to function. Do the math. Its a simple factorial formula.

    Maybe for a junkyard tornado, but applicable to life? Aren’t you making some assumptions about how the process had to be, without any knowledge about how it may have been?

  43. 43
    Vladimir Krondan says:

    a transparently ephemeral goal that has little to do with reality, nothing to do with real scientific investigation, and that has nothing whatsoever to recommend itself

    That about sums up what you would find if you read through the early classics of evolutionism. It’s worth doing, by the way. You can see that it was without science back then, as it is now.

    Did you ever wonder why Darwinians go hysterical on you when you cite a book written more than a decade ago? “That’s old, haven’t you read any recent science?” is the usual sort of reply. There’s a good reason for this. They would like everyone to forget 99.9% of the rubbish published by evolutionists since 1859, because a lot of it is really embarrassing. The history of evolution literature is like a landscape littered with trainwrecks and smoldering craters.

    From Boelsche’s The Evolution of Man:

    “For we find the instructive law on the resemblances of the youthful forms to their ancestors gives us a very satisfactory clue to our original ancestor: the body of the human being in the mother’s womb is also, in its first stages, covered with thick woolly hair. Even the face is covered just as we see it to-day in the case of the adult gibbon, and only the inner surfaces of the hands and feet are left free. Evidently these free places were uncovered, even in the ancestor which this human embryo copies for a short time. This Esau-like covering of the human being does not disappear until immediately before birth, and in a few exceptional cases, this covering has even been retained during life. This is the origin of the renowned men with dog faces.”

    From Reid’s Principles of Heredity:

    “Reason for its evolution and maintenace needs only one process of Natural Selection. Natural Selection implies elimination of the unfittest. To be an effective cause of evolution it must be stringent. Many stringent processes of elimination, each the cause of a high rate of mortality, necessarily cause the extinction, not the evolution, of the species subjected to them. There is, therefore, a natual limit to the number of instincts that may be evolved at ome time in the species. Nature, then, by evolving memory and its corollary reason, has discovered a way out of the difficulty; and, by supplying that which is a substitute for an infinite number of instincts, has enabled animals to adapt themselves to the increasing complexity of their environments, and thus to achieve a higher evolution.”

    Thanks to the internet though, you can read some of that. Classic evolution literature is here to stay. Discover how little it had to do with reality and scientific investigation, and how it had everythng to do with ideology:

    Download some evolution classics!

    Download more evolution classics!

  44. 44
    Borne says:

    Oatmeal:

    No evolutionist would offer a model of this form.

    Of course not and no wonder! It always turns against them!

    When you use the word “correct,” you’re making the flagellum that has arisen in nature into something that had to arise in nature — i.e., a predefined target.

    No, this is a misinterpretation. When one says “correct” in such a context, one is referring to “correct” in relation to the laws of physics for structural requirements, and in relation to all other parts of the machine. Whatever parts blind nature has randomly made with no teleology, MUST fit the others it has made in the same way! Huge difference.

    …I believe that the argument from improbability is on its deathbed.

    Meyers Sig in the Cell suggests otherwise. The whole point is that statistical mechanics CANNOT be ruled out when dealing with any kind of machine, anywhere.

    This is a leap in “logic.”

    Not at all it is rather a logical conclusion.

    Furthermore, the logic of inferring intelligent, telic causation, and not some other form of immaterial causation, is shaky.

    No more than it would be for inferring ID if finding a series of cubes lined up on Mars with each bearing an engraved prime number. If that is shaky then ALL statistical probability uses are shaky.

    Suppose that the evolutionist turns things around and says, “What, then, is the probability of intelligent causation of the feature?”

    This is the easiest of all as it is always equal to 1-P(RM+NS makes flagellum).

    The bottom line is that you can’t eliminate the laws of statistical mechanics from the arguments in mechanical structures of bio systems any more than you can in any other.

    This is why Paul Davies, Fred Hoyle, David Berlinski and so many other scientists (IDist, atheist or agnostic alike) have all used the math to look at that chances of both OOL and NDE happening by pure luck + the laws of physics.

    This is also one reason why so many of the general public, without getting into math details, have never swallowed NDE.
    Everyone has an intuitive sense of probabilities and design. It looks designed? It works? Its sophisticated? Its coordinated? Then it probably is designed.

    I suggest you read Sig in the Cell and Stuart Pullens Intelligent Design or Evolution which is available for reading on line.

  45. 45
    Lenoxus says:

    Paul Giem (#40):

    But as far as the Cambrian explosion was concerned, you were quite accurate, at least as far as the extant fossil evidence is concerned. It does give one pause.

    Um, no, I’m not aware of any fossils of organisms literally producing utterly different organisms (the only way I would have been “quite accurate”). To assert that gaps actually imply saltation is to assert, in the absence of intermediate fossils, that a Pakicetus must have given birth to a baby Zeuglodon. (Of course, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the former is actually an ancestor of the latter, rather than a distant “uncle”.)

    Anyway, I certainly didn’t mean to imply a hypothesis of mosaic evolution based on the disputes over various fossil relationships. The existence of multiple possible “parents” is exactly what one should expect — there are always far more “aunt” and “uncle” species to any given species in the fossil record. If you have a problem with paleontologists being unable to say exactly what is ancestral to what, you’re missing the point.

    But I don’t see any reason to exercise faith that multiple lineages just somehow never got recorded, or that we just haven’t looked in the right places yet, just so I can avoid the implication of an intelligent designer.

    It’s not exactly faith if it’s the null hypothesis. Among other things, there still are a lot of places to look. Was the fossil record nearly complete in Darwin’s day? Or before the series of whale discoveries in Pakistan? Or before any other major find? As for the possibility that some lineages went unrecorded, well, that’s certainly a possibility. 🙁 But it reminds us to cherish everything we do find 🙂

  46. 46
    delmot says:

    Everyone has an intuitive sense of probabilities and design.

    You know that people in general are notoriously bad at understanding and estimating even simple probabilities, such as tossing a coin? The idea that anyone can have an accurate intuition about what is possible over billions years is absurd.

    Some simple probability posers that most people get wrong:

    The gambler’s fallacy
    The Monty Hall problem
    The birthday problem

  47. 47
    magnan says:

    Blue Lotus (#38): “The unimaginable pathways undirected evolution might have taken is a huge problem for arguments from improbability. To require that evolutionists nail down a target for you is essentially to require that they abandon their theory. And you cannot nail down a target without misconstruing their theory. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll say now that the argument from improbability is DEAD.”

    Really. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens, the unsubstantiated assertions and reports of its demise are sadly exaggerated. Not even going into FSCI and the actual separation of islands of functionality in genome space, please explain how the complex interdependent system of subsystems constituting the dolphin echolocation system is not the optimal solution for this environment, excluding all the “unimaginable pathways undirected evolution might have taken” (and thereby refuting the argument from improbability). Please explain how evolution could have taken so many other courses once this development began, and yet arrived at the optimal one from the engineering standpoint given the physics of the environment. Here’s a summary I posted a while ago:

    In the dolphin evolution example, the biological sonar system is just one of many different systems that had to be elaborated simultaneously by selection from random variation. These are just some of them, for just the sonar system:
    – Sound signal emitter to produce an optimal very short broadband pulse
    – Hearing mechanism, middle ear, cochlea, adaptations for aquatic life
    – Hearing perception acuity and frequency coverage matching echos received from produced sounds
    – Computation of distance and direction from echo delay and phase characteristics
    – Neural pattern recognition and processing including ability to extract features and classify the extracted features from modulations and amplitude of returned echos
    – Feedback processes to optimize the emitted signal and the return reception process for particular types of targets and distances.
    – Time variable receiver gain to greatly reduce hearing sensitivity during signal emission
    – Emitter power gain control to reduce power as range decreases
    – Emitted “click” rate control to increase rate as range shortens
    – Accompanying behavioral modifications to accommodate this in hunting, reproduction, etc.

    At the same time the same sort of processes had to be going on in a coordinated way to develop the other amazing features like underwater birth, deep diving adaptations, food gathering structures and behavioral strategies, etc. etc.

    The genetic coding for just one of these organic machinelike systems must contain at least the sort of amount of information as a design manual for a Boeing 747. The real problem of the entire animal is orders of magnitude greater, where an analogy would be trying to convert and modify an M1 battle tank into a submarine. The multitude of separate coding elements required by the organism to build and operate each evolving organ system must have changed in a coordinated parallel fashion with the others, where the phenotypical reproductive advantage of any one genetic change is partly a function of vast numbers of other genetic coding elements that are themselves changing at different rates. Any single gene modification would often require another or multiple particular different genetic modifications to happen simultaneously for there to be an adaptive advantage in the right direction, or even to avoid death.

    Blue Lotus (#38): “…the flagellum is fabulously inefficient as a propulsion system.”

    Take a look again and do a little research before making such a pronouncement. As in so many other cases (like the vertebrate eye) it turns out that the biological system is actually optimal for its function in its actual environment. In this case it has to do with the viscosity of water relative to such a small propulsive system. See Cell movements: from molecules to motility, By Dennis Bray, at http://books.google.com/books?.....utput=html .

  48. 48
    kairosfocus says:

    Footnote:

    Cf here, point 3, on the real issue: not debates over probability calculus — yeah, I know objectors love to assert or pretend that we cannot credibly calculate probabilities or at least get reasonable estimates — but functional complexity of an order that specifies a config space that turns any unintelligent search on the gamut of our observed cosmos into the next best thing to no search at all.

    For, at the 10^301 configs for just 1,000 bits of digital storage, we have more than 10^150 times the number of states the atoms of our observed universe will go through across their thermodynamically reasonable lifetime.

    And, observed life forms start well over 100 times that bit capacity just counting DNA storage.

    GEM of TKI

  49. 49
    Paul Giem says:

    Lenoxus (#45),

    It looks like we agree that mosaic evolution can be discarded as a good model. But you are still missing the point. The problem with the Cambrian fauna is not that there are multiple possible ancestors, or more properly multiple almost ancestors, but that there are, for practical purposes, none at all. So if one takes the fossil evidence straightforwardly, an alga, or perhaps an ediacaran fauna, gave birth to a baby trilobite, and another to a baby starfish, etc.

    Now, neither of us believes that this is actually how it happened (“I’m not aware of any fossils of organisms literally producing utterly different organisms”), but one certainly couldn’t dispute this kind of saltation using the fossil record alone, especially at the Cambrian-Precambrian boundary.

    “It’s not exactly faith if it’s the null hypothesis.” All I can say is, Wow!

  50. 50
    Paul Giem says:

    Blue Lotus (#41),

    So, you have faith in something that you have no evidence for except the absence of fossil evidence for a smooth transition between one species and another?

    No, there’s quite a bit of other evidence. The problem is that you (well, perhaps not you personally, but those who argue this way generally) refuse to recognize any of this evidence. If you were to say that “you have a good point there. I don’t think it outweighs all the other evidence, but at the present it does look like the extant evidence supports your position”, it would be easier to accept your argument. But the absolute stonewalling makes me strongly suspect that the opposition is ideological.

    Tell me, Paul Giem, what is it about the lack of fossils precisely that leads you to believe in a in an “intelligent desiger” rather then “the spagetti monster”. There is exactly the same amount of evidence pointing to each – none!.

    If this were all the evidence we have, I would agree with you mostly. We would still have this evidence, so it isn’t quite none, but in principle the flying spaghetti monster is simply another intelligent designer.

    You can have your faith; I’ll stick to the evidence, thank you.

    The sad thing is I believe you believe that. That there is no evidence for evolution and that there is evidence for ID. Yet in fact it’s quite the opposite, whatever you say.

    The evidence in this area supports intelligent design, whatever you say.

    So, by all means believe in your god/intelligent designer. But remember that you’ll be an object of ridicule if you claim that the fossil evidence supports ID and does not support evolution.

    What does ridicule have to do with it? Is ridicule a valid argument?

    Paul Giem, do you have any positive evidence for ID or a designer that is not based upon the lack of something to do with Evolution? Can you make your case without referening to evolutions supposed failings?

    When doing comparative theory analysis, one looks for areas where one theory explains a phenomenon and the other theory does not. What about this is hard?

    If you mean, does my theory make positive predictions that have been verified, then yes, but that will take some explaining. But before I explain, it would be helpful to know that my explanation will not automatically be discounted on ideological grounds. Pearls before swine, and all that. Do you, or do you not, admit that the absence of fossilized ancestors to the Cambrian fauna is a problem for classical evolutionary theory?

  51. 51
    Lenoxus says:

    Paul Giem:

    So if one takes the fossil evidence straightforwardly, an alga, or perhaps an ediacaran fauna, gave birth to a baby trilobite, and another to a baby starfish, etc.

    Well, if the fossil evidence were literally the only evidence available — if we didn’t even have observations of living things — that would be the case. However, when we combine our observations with the uniformitarian assumption, as well as the evidence that fossilization is rare, we come to the conclusion that the speciation events were gradual and not instantaneous. (There’s no real reason to look at the fossil record alone for this.)

  52. 52
    Paul Giem says:

    Lenoxus (#51),

    So if one takes the fossil evidence straightforwardly, an alga, or perhaps an ediacaran fauna, gave birth to a baby trilobite, and another to a baby starfish, etc.

    Well, if the fossil evidence were literally the only evidence available — if we didn’t even have observations of living things — that would be the case.

    That is exactly the point. The fossil evidence, on its face, is in fact evidence for some kind of saltation, especially with regard to the Cambrian fauna.

    You may remember that our original exchange started with your comment #3, I gather somewhat sarcastic,

    The fossil record is a grand and ever-persistent testimony that Darwin was wrong about gradualism.

    Poor Darwinists; all those fossils of organisms giving birth to utterly different organisms…

    I asked (#5),

    You mean like the algae that gave birth to trilobites without obvious intermediates? 🙂 (Ditto for starfish, clams, etc.) Even chordates don’t seem to have a series of fossils leading up to them.

    The standard line is that multiple intermediates have been found, and that we’re working on the rest. But as far as the Cambrian fauna are concerned, this picture is wrong, as you have now acknowledged.

    You go on to say,

    However, when we combine our observations with the uniformitarian assumption, as well as the evidence that fossilization is rare, we come to the conclusion that the speciation events were gradual and not instantaneous.

    Notice what is doing all the work. It’s not the fossil evidence (which points to saltation). It’s not the evidence that fossilization is rare (which could only tell us that we don’t know for sure, not point to a different reality). It is the “uniformitarian assumption”.

    Notice that this is an assumption. That is, it is not driven by the evidence, but rather assumed before the evidence is even considered (or at least in opposition to the evidence).

    Now, you may argue that the uniformitarian assumption has proven useful elsewhere, and is likely to prove useful here, and that is a fair argument. You may argue that the evidence is not very good; indeed, you have done so. What you can’t reasonably argue is that you are just following the evidence here, let alone the overwhelming evidence. The fact is that for the Cambrian fauna, you are imposing your assumption in spite of the evidence. I hope you don’t mind if I go with the actual physical evidence here.

    It would be interesting to know how your uniformitarian assumption differs from the denial of intelligent design. Would you be willing to explore this? Is the uniformitarian assumption simply the negation of any kind of intelligent intervention? Is Cornelius Hunter right, and mechanistic evolution is simply an antitheist assumption? If not, what is the difference?

    You say elsewhere, (comment #17)

    Another is that the rate of genetic drift has given us ways to calculate the amount of time between two species, and these have corresponded to what fossils have told us. If there were any saltation events, the molecular clock would be “cut short” and give us the wrong data. [emphasis mine]

    You might want to correct that. As far as the Cambrian is concerned, the fossils do not correspond to what the molecular clocks and the uniformitarian assumption would predict.

  53. 53
    Lenoxus says:

    I’m not going to go into much more detail on a subject I know little about (those Cambrian fossils). But I will respond to this:

    It would be interesting to know how your uniformitarian assumption differs from the denial of intelligent design. Would you be willing to explore this? Is the uniformitarian assumption simply the negation of any kind of intelligent intervention? Is Cornelius Hunter right, and mechanistic evolution is simply an antitheist assumption? If not, what is the difference?

    In and of itself, the uniformitarian assumption has absolutely nothing against ID or theism. All you need is evidence of present design. If we witnessed saltation, or any organisms appearing out of nothing, it would be reasonable to infer that such a phenomenon had also happened in the past, and we would need to adjust our theories accordingly.

    Earlier you said “Now, neither of us believes that this is actually how it happened”. Why don’t you? Isn’t it a possible effect that design could produce?

  54. 54
    camanintx says:

    Paul Giem, #50

    Do you, or do you not, admit that the absence of fossilized ancestors to the Cambrian fauna is a problem for classical evolutionary theory?

    The presence of precambrian fossils tells us this is not a problem for classical evolutionary theory.

  55. 55
    Paul Giem says:

    Lenoxus (#53),

    If we witnessed saltation, or any organisms appearing out of nothing, it would be reasonable to infer that such a phenomenon had also happened in the past, and we would need to adjust our theories accordingly.

    How did some yeast get the ability to produce human insulin, and glargine insulin, and tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), and retevase (two of those proteins are, as far as we know, not found in nature outside of human activity)? Was it through a mindless process that encouraged the growth of gradually more complex protein? Or was there intelligent interference with what otherwise unguided evolution would have produced?

    Now if humans have been demonstrated to produce whole new proteins in organisms, doesn’t that indicate saltation as far as individual proteins are concerned? Should we then “infer that such a process had also happened in the past”? And how should we “adjust our theories accordingly”? Or does “the uniformitarian assumption” actually rule out this possibility?

    Now, you could argue that while we can substantially change life, we can’t create it yet. But that carries two logical consequences. First, it carries the obligation to acknowledge ID the best explanation for the origin of life as soon as Craig Venter and company produce Mycoplasma venteri, or whatever they decide to call it. Most advocates of mechanistic evolution wouldn’t do that, which means that their definition of the uniformitarian assumption is different from the one you described above.

    The second logical consequence (apologies to ID advocates, but I don’t necessarily follow the party line here) is that you must either demonstrate or assume that all the accounts of bodily resurrection are somehow incorrect. That is, you must assume that stories like the assumption of Moses, Elijah and the widow’s son at Zarepath, Elisha and the boy at Shunem, Jesus and the widow’s son at Nain, Lazarus, Jesus himself, and Dorcas, are all either false or grossly exaggerated. For if any of them are true, then we know of a power that can produce living matter from non-living matter. By your definition of the uniformitarian assumption, we could then reasonably “infer that such a phenomenon had also happened in the past, and we would need to adjust our theories accordingly.”

    So while mere intelligent design might not be able (yet) to point to intelligence creating life out of non-life, traditional Christianity, and even traditional Judaism, could easily do so. Any reasonable application of “the uniformitarian assumption” must either reasonably demonstrate the falsity of these stories, or assume that they are false, or accept that a similar phenomenon may have happened in the remote past at the origin of life, whenever that was.

    I don’t know that one can reasonably demonstrate that all the stories are false. Assuming that they are all false seems to me to be making an antireligious assumption. And yet most of the vocal parts of the scientific community seem to reject the idea that a similar phenomenon happened in the past. So where, precisely, does the uniformitarian assumption come down on all this?

    Earlier you said “Now, neither of us believes that this is actually how it happened”. Why don’t you? Isn’t it a possible effect that design could produce?

    I don’t believe that an alga gave birth to a baby trilobite, etc. (the antecedent of “this”), because I believe that if an intelligence is capable of producing algae from inanimate material, and of producing trilobites from algae, there is nothing particular to prevent the intelligence from producing trilobites from inanimate material directly. Certainly the examples of resurrection, assuming they are accurate, suggest that (Some)one can go straight from dead material to humans without intermediates. But I couldn’t prove this from the fossil record, and wouldn’t try. And if I turned out to be wrong as to how it was done, I wouldn’t be particularly upset.

    Your first sentence deserves consideration:

    I’m not going to go into much more detail on a subject I know little about (those Cambrian fossils).

    When you first started commenting on this thread, one would not have gotten that impression. You are not alone. Many have commented on the fossil record with little consciousness of how badly the record, particularly in the Cambrian/Precambrian boundary, fits with either classical or neo-Darwinism. This is probably partly the result of the educational system, but possibly also the result of many of those commentators living in an echo chamber.

    Not that there haven’t been warnings. Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker, famously said,

    It is as though they [the Cambrian fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.

    Dawkins is sensitive about the use of this quote, so I will give the paragraph for context.

    Eldredge and Gould certainly would agree that some very important gaps really are due to imperfections in the fossil record. Very big gaps, too. For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say, this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists.

    I’m not sure that helps Dawkins’ cause. Yes, I know that he goes on to attempt to explain away the problem. But the point is that it is a problem. The easiest explanation would be simply to point to a series of fossils leading up to trilobites, or starfish, or something. But that is precisely what is not done. Just remember, if you are arguing again about the gradualistic evolution/ID debate, avoid the subject of the Cambrian explosion, or hope your opponent is uninformed (unless you wish to change sides 🙂 ).

  56. 56
    Paul Giem says:

    camanintx (#54),

    The presence of Precambrian fossils makes the problem worse, not better. The claim, as well outlined by Lenoxus, was that there were no fossil intermediates between edicaran fauna and, say, starfish, but that this fact was unimportant because of the uniformitarian assumption, and the poor state of the fossil record in the Precambrian. If we have a lot of good Precambrian fossils but still cannot find a line of precursors leading up to starfish, it makes it harder, not easier, to claim that the reason we cannot find the intermediates is because of the incomplete fossil record.

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