Tag Archives: Fossil

Stephen C. Meyer and Marcus Ross lecture on the Cambrian explosion

Access Research Network is a group that produces recordings  of lectures and debates related to intelligent design. I noticed that on their Youtube channel they are releasing some of their older lectures and debates for FREE. So I decided to write a summary of one that I really like on the Cambrian explosion. This lecture features Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Marcus Ross.

The lecture is about two hours. There are really nice slides with lots of illustrations to help you understand what the speakers are saying, even if you are not a scientist.

Here is a summary of the lecture from ARN:

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80-page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data. 

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

You can get a DVD of the lecture and other great lectures from Access Research Network. I recommend their origin of life lectures – I have watched the ones with Dean Kenyon and Charles Thaxton probably a dozen times each. Speaking as an engineer, you never get tired of seeing engineering principles applied to questions like the origin of life.

The Cambrian explosion lecture above is a great intermediate-level lecture and will prepare you to be able to understand Dr. Meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design“. The Michigan State University book that Dr. Meyer mentions is called “Darwin, Design and Public Education“. That book is one of the two good collections on intelligent design published by academic university presses, the other one being from Cambridge University Press, and titled “Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA“. If you think this lecture is above your level of understanding, then be sure and check out the shorter and more up-to-date DVD “Darwin’s Dilemma“.

520 million year old shrimp heart is more complex than those of today

First, the straight story on the scientific discovery, as reported in Bioscience Technology.

Excerpt:

520 million years ago, the first known animal heart was formed.

It was the heart of an ancient shrimp, and quite a heart it was. For it, and its vascular system, have been found to be more complex than that of modern shrimp, researchers reported in a recent Nature Communications. Its cardiovascular system was apparently one of evolution’s first templates for modern cardiovascular systems. Significant streamlining has occurred since.

The find comes on the heels of an equally important one by the same group: that of a stunningly intact nervous system from the same breed of primordial shrimp: Fuxianhuia protensa.

“This is only the second case of the description of a cardiovascular system in a Cambrian arthropod, the first one being that of the inch-long Marrella from Burgess Shale,” emailed Diego Garcia-Bellido of the University of Adelaide, who co-discovered that first arthropod while at the University of Cambridge. Garcia-Bellido was not involved in the new study. “This new finding of a cardiovascular system in a larger animal (Fuxianhuia is about two to three times as large, thus more detail), together with a fantastically preserved, and very complex, nervous system, unknown in Marrella, and the gut, make it probably the most complete arthropod internal anatomy known in the fossil record.”

The main conclusion drawn, said Garcia-Bellido: “The level of complexity of the Fuxianhuia was extremely high, considering that we are studying some of the oldest animals on Earth.”

Now, if you’re like me, you’re skeptical that soft tissues can be preserved in the fossil record, but:

Said the paleontologist via email: “As we know, most soft tissue of animals tends to decay away once the animals died, so often only the hard parts of animal body (bones, shells, teeth, etc.) are preserved in fossils. However, under very exceptional circumstances, soft tissue and anatomical organ system can also be preserved in fossils.”

Keep in mind that 520 mya is right after the Cambrian explosion that intelligent design people like me love to talk about. I mean you are going from single-celled life to complex organ types in a few million years. Fine if you are an ID proponent, but devastating if you are a Darwinian naturalist.

Cambrian Explosion
The Cambrian Explosion: the origin of phyla

If you are a naturalist, then you need the fossil record to go from simple to complex. The trouble is that all the simple to complex in that image is pure speculation at this point – and not for lack of trying, either.

You know, I am writing this on Saturday night, and in a happier world, this discovery would be discussed tomorrow in every Christian church in the land. This is the kind of data that Christians should be familiar with to check the presupposition of naturalism which is lethal to rational thought. If only we were more focused on truth than on signing and feelings in church. If only we were not so scared of traditional dating of fossils. Maybe then we would be getting somewhere in the culture wars.

Remembering “The Piltdown Man” – 100 years later

Have the Darwinian faithful ever been so optimistic about their theory that they stretched the evidence dishonestly? Well, yes, there have been instances of “hiding the decline” in the biological sciences.

Here’s one described in the Seattle Times: (H/T Evolution News)

Tuesday is the centennial of the grossest fraud of 20th-century science: Piltdown man. It is a case worth remembering.

On Dec. 18, 1912, amateur geologist Charles Dawson presented to the Geological Society of London a partial skull. It was purported to be a human ancestor 500,000 to 1 million years old, an age scientists now assign to Homo erectus. Dawson said he had found the fossils in a gravel pit near Piltdown Common, south of London.

Dawson had no scientific credentials, but his friend Arthur Smith Woodward did. Woodward was the keeper of the geological department at the British Museum. He had been at the dig and had seen the jawbone “fly out” of the ground under the blow of Dawson’s pick.

There was a problem with the jawbone. It was from an orangutan only a few hundred years old. It was fitted with two fossilized chimpanzee teeth, filed down to make them look more like human teeth. The cranium fragments were human, from the Middle Ages. All had been treated with an iron solution and acid to make them look older.

Scientists didn’t have many fossil skulls in 1912, but none of them looked like a human cranium with an ape jaw.

Several scientists, including one from the Smithsonian Institution, argued that the jaw and cranium did not match. It took 40 years for them to be proved right, and even longer for Dawson to be confirmed as the con man responsible.

The surprising thing is that this is not the only time that this has happened with Darwinists and global warmists.

New study of tar pits shows absence of evolutionary change

Doug Axe has a new post up about a new paper that challenges the Darwinian narrative. (H/T J Warner Wallace)

Full text:

The textbooks say that evolution happens most rapidly in response to environmental changes. You would think, then, that the cycling from glacial periods to warmer interglacial periods would be accompanied by significant changes in the species that survive the change.

Not so, according to a new paper by Donald Prothero and colleagues. After examining all the comon bird and mammal species preserved in the Rancho La Brea tar pits in California, the authors conclude:

the data show that birds and mammals at Rancho La Brea show complete stasis and were unresponsive to the major climate change that occurred at 20 ka, consistent with other studies of Pleistocene animals and plants. Most explanations for such stasis (stabilizing selection, canalization) fail in this setting where climate is changing. One possible explanation is that most large birds and mammals are very broadly adapted and relatively insensitive to changes in their environments, although even the small mammals of the Pleistocene show stasis during climate change, too.

I work at the other end of the size spectrum, on protein molecules rather than whole animals. It’s interesting that attempts to catch evolution in the act of doing the amazing things that the textbooks attribute to it seem to fail at both ends of the spectrum.

Interesting because Prothero has debated against ID – this man is not friendly to our view.

Nature publishes discovery of fossil with complex brain dated just after the Cambrian explosion

New fossil discovery shows advanced brain structures
New fossil discovery shows advanced brain structures

Casey Luskin writes about it at Uncommon Descent.

Excerpt:

Over at PhysOrg.com, there’s a study being reported highlighting a 520 million year old fossil arthropod with a highly-developed brain. So soon in evolutionary time, and an already developed brain??? (To go beside the very complex eye of the Trilobites)

Here’s what one scientist said:

“No one expected such an advanced brain would have evolved so early in the history of multicellular animals,” said Strausfeld, a Regents Professor in the UA department of neuroscience.

Sorry, Darwinists, but IDers would expect it.

Let’s keep track of the problems that this good scientific discovery creates for naturalists.

Problem #1: Darwinism does not support rapid change from single-celled organisms just before the Cambrian explosion to complex brains just after the Cambrian explosion. Darwinian evolution has to go gradually from simple to complex.

Now for some more:

And, to add insult to injury for our Darwinist brethren, here’s this confirmation of “genetic entropy” and Behe’s QRB “rule”:

“The shape [of the fossilized brain] matches that of a comparable sized modern malacostracan,” the authors write in Nature. They argue the fossil supports the hypothesis that branchiopod brains evolved from a previously complex to a more simple architecture instead of the other way around.

So, that’s another problem.

Problem #2: Darwinism does not support going from more complex to less complex organisms, in general. This is especially true for complex biological systems like brains. Darwnists must explain how complex brains can be built from simpler parts through a long sequence of likely mutations. 

And more:

Here’s how the article ends:

The fossil supports the idea that once a basic brain design had evolved, it changed little over time[Translation: ID is completely correct!!!], he explained. Instead, peripheral components such as the eyes, the antennae and other appendages, sensory organs, etc., underwent great diversification and specialized in different tasks but all plugged into the same basic circuitry. “It is remarkable how constant the ground pattern of the nervous system has remained for probably more than 550 million years,” Strausfeld added. “The basic organization of the computational circuitry that deals, say, with smelling, appears to be the same as the one that deals with vision, or mechanical sensation.”

Yet another problem.

Problem #3: Darwinism does not work if organisms are observed to remain changeless and static over time. Darwinism requires change over time from simple to complex. Backwards change or no change falsifies Darwinism.

Read the whole post.

It’s just another prediction of Darwinian orthodoxy falsified by experimental evidence published in the top scientific peer-reviewed journal. Will this cause Darwinians to revise their theory to fit the evidence? Not likely. Their motivations for clinging to naturalism, the religion that undergirds Darwinism, are entirely beyond correction by evidence.

I wonder what people like P.Z. Myers and Larry Moran do when their religion comes into conflict with scientific evidence? Do they bitterly cling to their mythology from the 19th century? Or do they adjust their worldview to be in line with the progress of science?

Let Richard Dawkins explain evolution and the role of evidence:

“My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” — p. 287, Blind Watchmaker” (1986)

Or Richard Lewontin:

“Our willingness to accept [naturalistic]  scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our own a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, not matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin in New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28)

Last month, we saw a peer-reviewed published paper that falsified the Darwinian predictions about junk DNA. Recently, the Darwnists were proven wrong again about vestigial organs. Before that, we had another discovery of oxygen on the early Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks naturalistic origin of life scenarios. Did these scientific discoveries stop the worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster by the Darwinian faithful? Of course not. And they don’t want to debate it with you, either.

Naturalists don’t want to have to explain why they are always believing things that are falsified by the progress of science. Naturalists fought the Big Bang tooth and nail, trying to save their eternal universe from the progress of science. Naturalists invented the now discredited oscillating model of the universe in order to “explain” the evidence for a cosmic beginning. Naturalists invented the unobservable, untestable multiverse to “explain” the cosmic fine-tuning. Unobservable aliens were posited in order to “explain” the origin of life so soon after the cooling of the Earth. Precursor fossils are invented without evidence in order to “explain” the Cambrian era explosion in biological complexity. And so on.

Evidence doesn’t matter to people who are motivated by naturalistic faith. Like belief in a flat-Earth, the delusion of naturalism is not accountable to scientific evidence. They believe what they want to believe. It’s not up for debate. For some people like Richard Dawkins, a prior lifestyle commitment makes theism (and the moral law!) an impossibility a priori. But rational people know that believing something just so that your actions are “justified” doesn’t make what you believe true.

Speaking of Richard Dawkins, if you haven’t seen the video of that coward being “Eastwooded” by William Lane Craig, here’s the link. Dr. Craig has obviously seen a lot of Clint Eastwood movies, and he manages to work in about a half-dozen Clint Eastwood lines into a careful philosophical and scientific refutation of Dawkins’ faith-based atheist delusions. I don’t mind if Dawkins wants to have his religious beliefs for comfort in the privacy of his home or church, but I don’t think that we should be making policy off of his subjective preferences. In the public square we need to be guided by public evidence – like the evidence from science.