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.


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.

Jonathan M. reviews Jerry Coyne’s pro-evolution book

Jonathan M. is breaking it down chapter by chapter at Evolution News. Chapter 2 is on fossils. In his response to chapter 2, he covers fish/amphibian evolution, bird/dinosaur evolution and whale evolution.

Here’s a snippet about the whale series:

The next transitional series alluded to by Coyne is the whale series. One of the most notable problems with the evolution of the whale is the extremely abrupt timescale over which it is supposed to have occurred. The sheer force of this conundrum is only properly appreciated when one considers the multiple feats of anatomical novelty, innovative engineering and genetic rewiring necessary to change a terrestrial mammal like Pakicetus into a fully aquatic whale. Indeed, evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg has argued that even many of the relatively minor changes are extremely unlikely to have occurred in the time-frame allowed. Consider the following small sample of necessary modifications:

  • Counter-current heat exchanger for intra-abdominal testes
  • Ball vertebra
  • Tail flukes and musculature
  • Blubber for temperature insulation
  • Ability to drink sea water (reorganization of kidney tissues)
  • Fetus in breech position (for labor underwater)
  • Nurse young underwater (modified mammae)
  • Forelimbs transformed into flippers
  • Reduction of hindlimbs
  • Reduction/loss of pelvis and sacral vertebrae
  • Reorganization of the musculature for the reproductive organs
  • Hydrodynamic properties of the skin
  • Special lung surfactants
  • Novel muscle systems for the blowhole
  • Modification of the teeth
  • Modification of the eye for underwater vision
  • Emergence and expansion of the mandibular fat pad with complex lipid distribution
  • Reorganization of skull bones and musculature
  • Modification of the ear bones
  • Decoupling of esophagus and trachea
  • Synthesis and metabolism of isovaleric acid (toxic to terrestrial mammals)
  • Emergence of blowhole musculature and their neurological control

According to Richard Sternberg’s calculations, and based on the equations of population genetics applied in a 2008 paper by Durrett and Schmidt in the Journal of Genetics, one may reasonably expect to see two coordinated mutations achieve fixation in the timeframe of around 43.3 million years. When one considers the magnitude of the engineering feat, such a scenario can only be ruled incredible. The problem is accentuated further when one considers that the majority of anatomical novelties unique to aquatic cetaceans (Pelagiceti) appeared during just a few million years — probably within 1-3 million years.

[…]More recently, however, a jawbone was discovered that belonged to a fully aquatic whale dating to 49 million years ago, only four million years afterPakicetus! This means that the first fully aquatic whales now date to around the time when walking whales (Ambulocetus) first appear. This substantially reduces the time window — to 4 or 5 million years, perhaps even less — that may be allotted to the Darwinian mechanism to accomplish truly radical engineering innovations and genetic rewiring. It also suggests that this fully aquatic whale existed before its previously presumed semi-aquatic archaeocetid ancestors.

If you missed chapter 1, it’s here. And chapter 3 is out soon.

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.