Tag Archives: Fossils

The Gospel Coalition interviews Stephen C. Meyer on the Cambrian explosion

A great introduction to the Cambrian explosion on The Gospel Coalition, of all places!

Here’s one question and answer that emphasizes that the progress of science is making the problem posed by the Cambrian fossils worse for Darwinists.

Have the last century of fossil discoveries resolved or aggravated Darwin’s doubt?

Fossil discoveries since Darwin’s time have only made the Cambrian explosion problem worse for his theory.

Darwin believed that the fossil record was woefully incomplete, and he predicted that the problem of abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian would be alleviated by future discoveries.

But the opposite happened. Scientists have combed the Precambrian strata for the alleged precursors to the Cambrian animals, and they haven’t found the direct evolutionary ancestors that Darwinian theory predicts. Instead, they have made new discoveries which confirmed that the Cambrian explosion was real event—and a worldwide one—and that the animal phyla really did appear abruptly.

The first major Cambrian-era fossil discovery after Darwin’s time took place over a hundred years ago now, in 1909, when Charles Doolittle Walcott (then the head of the Smithsonian Institution) discovered the Burgess Shale Cambrian deposit in the Canadian Rockies. This deposit showed many diverse soft and hard-bodied organisms which were preserved in exquisite detail. They all appeared in the Cambrian, with no clear evolutionary ancestors.

The question remained, however, whether the Burgess Shale Cambrian animals were a lucky isolated event, or evidence of a worldwide pattern. Over the next decades, additional discoveries of Cambrian animals were made in other parts of the world, including Russia, Greenland, and Australia.

But the most spectacular find of all took place in 1984, with the discovery of Cambrian fossils in Chengjiang, China. This deposit confirmed that the Cambrian explosion was a worldwide event, with many of the same creatures found in Canada being present in beautiful detail.

So as more and more fossils have been discovered, we’ve found the same pattern over and over around the world: diverse types of animals appear abruptly in the Cambrian, without clear evolutionary precursors. This has accentuated the “dilemma” that Darwin faced.

So the progress of science is making the problem worse for Darwinists. The more discoveries we make, the tougher the problem becomes for them, and the more the effect looks like the result of intelligent action. Kudos to the Gospel Coalition for posting on science, too.

I’ve already ordered my copy of Darwin’s Doubt at the reduced price. Have you? And don’t forget that Dr. Meyer’s first book, the ground-breaking Signature in the Cell, can also be obtained. That was the best book on intelligent design out there, but people who have read Darwin’s Doubt are telling me that it will be far better!

The undisputed best book on intelligent design now has a sequel

The very best book on intelligent design is Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell“, which discusses the knotty problem of the origin of life. And now, a new book by Dr. Meyer has been announced to tackle another huge problem: the fossil record.

Here is the description of the new book, entitled “Darwin’s Doubt”:

Darwin’s Origin of Species launched a revolution whose scientific, cultural and spiritual effects are still with us. Now a new revolution is on the horizon. On June 18, the HarperOne imprint of HarperCollins will publish Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer.

[…]Meyer begins with what Darwin himself regarded as a troubling enigma, a subject of doubt and even some scientific distress. It is a mystery from which subsequent generations of Darwinists have sought to distract the public’s attention. Some 530 million years ago, in the event called the Cambrian explosion, there sprang suddenly into existence the majority of animal body plans (phyla) that have existed on Earth. The shallow seas of the Cambrian period abruptly teemed with diverse, exotic animals.

Evolutionary biologists and paleontologists have struggled to explain this epic event. Dr. Meyer takes his readers on a journey through scientific history, starting with the discovery of the Burgess Shale by Charles Walcott in 1909. He shows how failed attempts to give a satisfying Darwinian explanation of the Cambrian explosion have opened the door to increasingly profound questions, posed by evolutionary biologists themselves, leading to a far greater mystery: the origin of the biological information necessary to build the animals of the Cambrian and all the living creatures that have existed on Earth.

I have already pre-ordered my copy!

Three reasons to read “Darwin’s Doubt”, the sequel to Signature in the Cell

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
“Darwin’s Doubt” by Stephen C. Meyer

If someone asked me to name the best intermediate to advanced book on intelligent design, I would name Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell“. This book even got a lot of positive comments from non-ID people, including the famous atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. So, it’s no surprise then that I am recommending that everyone pre-order Darwin’s Doubt, which is Stephen C. Meyer’s sequel to “Signature in the Cell“.

And Casey Luskin has penned four reasons why you should pre-order it:

1. Arguments for intelligent design in the Cambrian explosion have certainly been made before. But Darwin’s Doubt will be by far the most in-depth and mature development of those arguments to date, addressing in detail many ideas and rebuttals and theories advanced by evolutionary scientists, and showing why the theory of intelligent design best explains the explosion of biodiversity in the Cambrian animals.

2. When published, Darwin’s Doubt will be the single most up-to-date rebuttal to neo-Darwinian theory from the ID-paradigm. In this regard, one exciting element of Darwin’s Doubt is that Meyer reviews much of the peer-reviewed research that’s been published by the ID research community over the last few years, and highlights how ID proponents are doing relevant research answering key questions that show Darwinian evolution isn’t up to the task of generating new functional information.

3. As many ENV readers already know, we now live in a “post-Darwinian” world, where more and more evolutionary biologists are realizing that neo-Darwinism is failing, so they scramble to propose new materialistic evolutionary models to replace the modern synthesis. (These models include, or have included, self-organization, evo-devo, punc eq, neo-Lamarckism, natural genetic engineering, neutral evolution, and others.) In this regard, Darwin’s Doubt does something that’s never been done before: it surveys the landscape of these “post-neo-Darwinian evolutionary models,” and shows why they too fail as explanations for the origin of animal body plans and biological complexity.

I’ve pre-ordered mine!

If you think this book might be too difficult for you, then I recommend an introductory book like The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

New paper in Nature: Ediacaran fossils not ancestors of Cambrian fauna

Uncommon Descent reports on a new paper in the most prestigious peer-reviewed science journal.

Excerpt:

new paper has just been published in Nature by Gregory J. Retallack of the University of Oregon. The paper argues that the Ediacaran fauna are not ancestral to the animals which arose in the Cambrian explosion and that life existed on land 65 million years before previously thought. Retallack further argues that the iconic fossils of Dickinsonia and Springgina, which appear in the Precambrian Ediacaran assemblages, were not in fact animals at all. Rather they were, according to Retallack, lichens, soil structures and traces of slime moulds.

And they link to this post about the paper from Science Daily, which makes the significance of the discovery even clearer:

Ancient multicellular fossils long thought to be ancestors of early marine life are remnants of land-dwelling lichen or other microbial colonies, says University of Oregon scientist Gregory J. Retallack, who has been studying fossil soils of South Australia.

[…]”This discovery has implications for the tree of life, because it removes Ediacaran fossils from the ancestry of animals,” said Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontological collections at the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. His evidence, mostly gathered from a site in the Flinders Ranges, is presented in a paper placed online ahead of print by the journal Nature.

“These fossils have been a first-class scientific mystery,” he said. “They are the oldest large multicellular fossils. They lived immediately before the Cambrian evolutionary explosion that gave rise to familiar modern groups of animals.”

Retallack studied numerous Ediacaran fossils and determined that the diversity reflects a preference by the ancient organisms for “unfrozen, low salinity soils, rich in nutrients, like most terrestrial organisms.” Thus the fossils in Australia’s iconic red-rock ranges, he concludes, were landlubbers. In his closing paragraph, Retallack outlines implications for a variety of other Edicaran fossils, that could have been lichens, other microbial consortia, fungal fruiting bodies, slime molds, flanged pedestals of biological soil crusts, and even casts of needle ice.

Ediacaran fossils, he said, represent “an independent evolutionary radiation of life on land that preceded by at least 20 million years the Cambrian evolutionary explosion of animals in the sea.” Increased chemical weathering by large organisms on land may have been needed to fuel the demand of nutrient elements by Cambrian animals. Independent discoveries of Cambrian fossils comparable with Ediacaran ones is evidence, he said, that even in the Cambrian, more than 500 million years ago, life on land may have been larger and more complex than life in the sea.

Here’s a quick re-cap of the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1: (7:50)

Part 2: (3:25)

This explosion in biological complexity fits nicely with an intelligent designer . Intelligent agents make information by sequencing symbols into functional instructions. That’s what new body plans are. It’s like new software, and new software requires a software engineer.

The standard naturalist response to this problem of sudden origins of anaimal body plans used to be that the Cambrian explosion did have precursors. The precursors were thought to be the Ediacaran fossils. But that’s all been shot to Hell now, with this new paper in Nature. Ooops!

How well do Darwinists do in debates with skeptics?

UPDATE: Welcome Post-Darwinist readers! Thanks for the link Denyse!

I thought that I would introduce a couple of my favorite critics of Darwinian fundamentalism, Stephen C. Meyer and Jonathan Wells. Here they are debating with Michael Shermer. I like Michael Shermer for two reasons – fiscal conservatism and engagement with his opponents. I’ve seen him MC sessions at Christian conferences. So let’s give him a chance to make his case.

Biographies of our debaters

Michael Shermer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com), the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991).

Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.

Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward.

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he conducts research on the ecology of plant populations and the evolution of adaptations…. He received his doctorate in genetics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Ph.D. in philosophy of science at the University of Tennessee.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Let’s start with a short 15-minute debate between Michael Shermer and Stephen Meyer, moderated by Lee Strobel.

Meyer starts with these points:

  • the origin of the universe implies a Creator who exists outside of time, space and matter, because he created time, space and matter
  • the physical constants and ratios of physics must be fine-tuned in order to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the cell is filled with molecular machines that are identical to machines built by humans, such as rotary engines
  • the cell contains biological information in the DNA, and the origin of this information cannot be explained by evolution

Shermer makes these points:

  • we should never infer intelligent causes, we should keep searching for a materialistic explanation and say we don’t know until we find an explanation that allows me to continue to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist
  • who made the designer?
  • maybe the big bang will be overturned and then we can go back to the eternal universe that I want to be true in spite of the evidence
  • we can speculate (without any experimental evidence) about alternative theories of how the universe got here, unlike the standard big bang theory which is backed by multiple lines of scientific evidence

Then a dialog ensues:

Shermer: The design of life is sub-optimal – if God did it, it should be perfect, with no trade-offs between non-functional requirements, just like Wintery Knights’ software architecture designs and Java code are perfect

Meyer: There is no such thing as a perfect design. Software architects, like Wintery Knight, who have studied software design, will tell you that non-functional requirements must be traded-off against one another. (Source: Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University)

Shermer: Let me commit the ad hominem fallacy by attacking the motives of intelligent design proponents instead of dealing with their arguments and evidence.

Meyer: Two can play at that game, since evolutionists are atheists and secular humanists. But who cares? let’s stick to the arguments and evidence, ok?

Strobel: Meyer, are evolution and Christianity compatible?

Meyer: No, because evolution requires that the natural processes that create the diversity of life be random and unpredictable.

Shermer: Well, maybe the natural forces could be caused by the designer but in a totally undirected and undetectable way, so you Christians could have blind faith and we could run the public square.

Meyer: But Darwinism says and that no design is detectable in those processes, so they processes cannot be actually directed on Darwinism.

Shermer: But the designer could use natural selection and mutation.

Meyer: If so, then why did Darwin explicitly reject God having a role in these processes?

Shermer: I don’t believe in God because there isn’t enough evidence and it would require too many changes in my life. I like having autonomy from God and his moral demands. Also, we must always prefer material explanations, we can never infer that an intelligence played a role. I will only allow you to have two explanations of natural phenomena: 1) God didn’t do it, or 2) we don’t know.

Meyer: I like that you allow “we don’t know” as an explanation if we don’t know, because that is a rejection of dogmatic explanations that don’t fit the available evidence. But the arguments for design are based on what we do know, not what we don’t know – science gave us these arguments – and the progress of science has only strengthened them.

Conclusion

Well, I think it’s pretty clear who won, and who had the evidence! I like Michael Shermer, though, and I hope that he comes around to our point of view in time. At least he’s willing to debate, and he has a pretty moderate view compared to other Darwinian fundamentalists.

Other debates on Darwinism vs intelligent design

Michael Shermer debates Jonathan Wells at the pro-Darwinism Cato Institute (in 7 parts), MP3 audio is here.

Massimo Pigliucci debates Jonathan Wells for the pro-Darwinism PBS, downloadable video and audio.

John Lennox debates against Michael Shermer about the existence of God.

Further study

Here are posts on cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument. I’ll respond to hopeful, but unwarranted, speculations about quantum mechanics and chaotic inflationary models, which I will be blogging about later. I’ll blog about molecular machines in a future post.

An essay on the origin of biological information by Meyer is here and a debate between two software engineers on it is here. I’ll also mention Meyer’s forthcoming book Signature in the Cell. Don’t forget about the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala!

By the way, William Lane Craig has also debated Massimo Pigliucci on the topic “Does God Exist?”.

UPDATE: Did you see my post on why Darwinists don’t allow debates like this to happen in school classrooms?