Evolution News writes about one of the people who has endorsed “Darwin’s Doubt”, the new book by Stephen C. Meyer about the Cambrian era fossils and intelligent design.
Harvard geneticist George Church has said some fascinating things on the theme of intelligent design. He’s particularly interested, if I’m summarizing correctly, in the idea of biology as engineering. So is Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer. Which is why, having read some of his published remarks, we sent Dr. Church an advance copy of Darwin’s Doubt asking that he look in particular at the middle section of the book, “How to Build an Animal,” which deals precisely with the massive engineering problems facing Darwinian evolutionary theory.
We were grateful to get back this gracious comment, which appears on the dust jacket.
Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization — bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog — and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.
While very gratifying to have his warm wishes, it’s not shocking that Dr. Church would share them with us. Back in 2008 he participated in a recorded seminar, “Life: What a Concept!,” with Freeman Dyson, Robert Shapiro, J. Craig Venter, and others. He said:
As a scientific discipline, many people have casually dismissed Intelligent Design without carefully defining what they mean by intelligence or what they mean by design. Science and math have long histories of proving things, and not just accepting intuition — Fermat’s last theorem was not proven until it was proven. And I think we’re in a similar space with intelligent design.
The ribosome, both looking at the past and at the future, is a very significant structure — it’s the most complicated thing that is present in all organisms.Craig does comparative genomics, and you find that almost the only thing that’s in common across all organisms is the ribosome. And it’s recognizable; it’s highly conserved. So the question is, how did that thing come to be? And if I were to be an intelligent design defender, that’s what I would focus on; how did the ribosome come to be?
Is he an advocate of intelligent design like Stephen Meyer? No. Is he a very interesting, independent thinker, who has made some suggestive comments relevant to ID, about which one would like to have the opportunity to question him much further? Yes.
Dr. Church is not an advocate of intelligent design. But what’s striking is that unlike most people who don’t support ID, he thinks that they should be allowed to ask questions and should be allowed to make their case. And what’s more, if they make a good case, like Dr. Meyer does, then he thinks that people on the other side should consider that case respectfully. I wish more biologists would consider other views like that. Dr. Church is in the minority.
what evidence caused Darwin to doubt his own theory of evolution?
has the progress of science made the problem more, or less, problematic for naturalists?
why is the problem of the Cambrian explosion so significant in biology?
how many animal body plans are there in total?
how many animal body plans emerged suddenly in the Cambrian explosion?
If you haven’t yet read Meyer’s first book, “Signature in the Cell”, you should probably grab that one. It’s the best book on intelligent design that’s out right now. It talks about the origin of the first living cell, surveying all naturalistic explanations for it, and concluding that the best explanation – the one most consistent with what we know now – is intelligent design.
Darwin’s tree of life might be visible in DNA, if DNA didn’t conspire to scramble the signal.
Now that quite a few genomes have been published, a team from Australia and France went on a Darwin fishing trip in the gene pool. In the largest study of its kind to date, they examined microsatellite markers (tandem-repeated DNA motifs of 1-6 base pairs) that are widespread in eukaryotic genomes. If neo-Darwinism is correct, these non-coding stretches of DNA should reflect the tree of common ancestry by showing similar mutational patterns in related groups.
Well, they don’t. The paper by Meglecz, Neve, Biffin and Gardner in PLoS ONE is titled, “Breakdown of Phylogenetic Signal: A Survey of Microsatellite Densities in 454 Shotgun Sequences from 154 Non Model Eukaryote Species.” What went wrong?
As the title implies, the team checked 154 “non-model” species. Darwinian evolutionists tend to focus on the model species, like a particular roundworm, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and a species of watercress, because their genomes are complete and most researchers use them in experiments. Problem: they may or may not be representative:
Although information for model species is accumulating rapidly, it is insufficient due to a lack of species depth, thus intragroup variation is necessarily ignored. As such, apparent differences between groups may be overinflated and generalizations cannot be inferred until an analysis of the variation that exists within groupshas been conducted. In this study, we examined microsatellite coverage and motif patterns from 454 shotgun sequences of 154 Eukaryote species from eight distantly related phyla (Cnidaria, Arthropoda, Onychophora, Bryozoa, Mollusca, Echinodermata, Chordata and Streptophyta) to test if a consistent phylogenetic pattern emerges from the microsatellite composition of these species.
Sounds like a good test. After all, scientists shouldn’t generalize on overinflated signals, right? The team expected to find nicely behaved data interpolated between the model species. It wasn’t to be:
It is clear from our results that data from model species provide incomplete information regarding the existing microsatellite variability within the Eukaryotes. A very strong heterogeneity of microsatellite composition was found within most phyla, classes and even orders. Autocorrelation analyses indicated that while microsatellite contents of species within clades more recent than 200 Mya tend to be similar, the autocorrelation breaks down and becomes negative or non-significant with increasing divergence time. Therefore, the age of the taxon seems to be a primary factor in degrading the phylogenetic pattern present among related groups. The most recent classes or orders of Chordates still retain the pattern of their common ancestor. However, within older groups, such as classes of Arthropods, the phylogenetic pattern has been scrambled by the long independent evolution of the lineages.
There are two ways to interpret this anomaly. One is that microsatellites mutate too fast to maintain the phylogenetic signal. (This is known as a “post hoc rationalization.”)
The other is that Darwin was wrong. Data do not show a phylogenetic pattern; they show common design with some variation.
Read the rest here. I’m a skeptic on common ancestry, but not for religious reasons. I just don’t think that it’s compatible with the progress of science.
A recent article in Science begins by observing that the lack of evolutionary ancestors for the animal phyla that appear abruptly in the Cambrian explosion has been troubling to many evolutionary scientists:
Ever since Darwin there has been a disturbing void, both paleontological and psychological, at the base of the Phanerozoic eon. If his theory of gradualistic evolution be true, then surely the pre-Phanerozoic oceans must have swarmed with living animals — despite their conspicuous absence from the early fossil record.
(N. J. Butterfield, “Terminal Developments in Ediacaran Embryology,” Science, Vol. 334:1655-1656 (December 23, 2011).)
The articles goes on to explain that in 1998, tiny fossil animal embryos were reported that offered “palpable relief” to those evolutionary scientists worried about the lack of Precambrian ancestors.
However, new analyses of these microfossils now strongly suggest that they were not multicellular animals, and thus could not be Precambrian multicellular metazoa that have long been the holy grail for evolutionary paleontologists. Rather, they likely represent single-celled amoeba-like organisms.
[…]A Science Daily article on the study explains that many Darwinian scientists will be dismayed by the results of this study:
Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”
How did the investigators determine the nature of these ancient organisms? The fossils were exceptionally well preserved, such that, as the lead author on the paper stated, “the fossils are so amazing that even their nuclei have been preserved.” These allowed the authors to determine that these were in fact eukaryotic organisms, but not multicellular animals.
Casey goes on to answer the response by naturalists that “the fossil record is incomplete”.
I think it’s important, when deciding whether naturalistic evolution happened, to be aware of these problem areas. So often when discussing Darwinian evolution, people like journalists and philosophers and economists, etc. will just accept the theory because they trust in what experts tell them. There can be a lot of pressure in the university to not be seen as a dumb person, so that people will just go along with whatever their professor tells them to believe. And, that’s not necessarily a bad policy when time is short. However, that is taking evolution on blind faith. It’s a good thing, as we get older, to go back and revisit these things to see if they are really true.
For example, a really educated Darwinian should be able to finish a sentence like this: “People who doubt fully naturalistic evolution do so because of the following pieces of scientific evidence…” If you meet someone who cannot finish this statement, but who still espouses Darwinian evolution, then you know that you are dealing with someone who has jumped to the answer without really working through the problem by themselves. It can be very tempting, especially for artsy types, to just try to jump to the answer that all the smart people believe without really working through the problem. But that’s not a good way to decide what’s true. Everyone has to work through these problems themselves, and listening to the best people on both sides is the way to do that. People who question evolution nowadays don’t question that the universe is billions of years old or that scientific methods have to be used to answer scientific questions. By all means, let’s decide how we got here by appealing to science.
If you would like to see a nice hour-long video on the Cambrian explosion, then click here.
By the way, if you missed my previous post on the new discovery of oxygen in the early Earth’s environment, and the challenge it represents to naturalistic scenarios for the origin of life, then do check that out.
First, let’s re-cap the challenge to evolution from the phenomenon of the Cambrian explosion.
The newly released film “Darwin’s Dilemma” argues that the geologically abrupt appearance of the major groups of animals (the “phyla”) in the Cambrian Explosion posed a serious problem for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (as he himself knew), and that subsequent fossil discoveries—far from solving the problem—have made it worse.
Basically, all the major body plans we have today appear in the fossil record in a 2-3 million period about 543 million years ago. There are no precursors in the fossil record showing the gradual evolution of these major body plans.
Darwin expected to discover lots and lots of fossils leading up to the Cambrian explosion period that would show how all these phyla came into existence slowly over time. Unfortunately for the naturalistic evolutionists, the discoveries we’ve been making haven’t shown any hint of precursor fossils leading up the Cambrian explosion.
Since 1859, however, many Precambrian fossils have been found, including microfossils of single-celled bacteria in rocks more than three billion years old. In addition, multicellular Precambrian fossils have been found in the Ediacara Hills of Australia, though there is continuing debate over whether any—or how many—of the Ediacaran fossils were animals, or what relationship—if any—they had to the Cambrian phyla. In 1998, Cambridge University paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris (who is featured in the film “Darwin’s Dilemma”) wrote, “Apart from the few Ediacaran survivors… there seems to be a sharp demarcation between the strange world of Ediacaran life and the relatively familiar Cambrian fossils” (Crucible of Creation, 30).
But wait! Maybe we can’t find the precusor fossils required by Darwinism because they are too small or too soft to have survived for so long?
Since 1859, however, many Precambrian fossils have been found, including microfossils of single-celled bacteria in rocks more than three billion years old. In addition, multicellular Precambrian fossils have been found in the Ediacara Hills of Australia… In 1998, Cambridge University paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris… wrote, “Apart from the few Ediacaran survivors… there seems to be a sharp demarcation between the strange world of Ediacaran life and the relatively familiar Cambrian fossils” (Crucible of Creation, 30).
So there is now no shortage of Precambrian fossils. Not only do we have fossils of bacteria, but we also have many fossils of soft-bodied Multicellular organisms. “In the Ediacaran organisms there is no evidence for any skeletal hard parts,” wrote Conway Morris in 1998. “Ediacaran fossils look as if they were effectively soft-bodied” (Crucible of Creation, 28). The same is true of many of the organisms fossilized in the Cambrian explosion.
But wait! Scientists have discovered lots of exceptionally preserved microbes just before the Cambrian explosion. Don’t microbes count as precursors to the Cambrian explosion phyla?
Richard Callow and Martin Brasier reported in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of the Geological Society, London “a variety of exceptionally preserved microbes” from late Precambrian rocks in England that address “the paradox known as ‘“Darwin’s dilemma’.”
[…]Callow and Brasier didn’t solve Darwin’s dilemma. Instead, they put one more nail in the coffin of Darwin’s attempt to salvage his theory from it. The truth is that “exceptionally preserved microbes” from the late Precambrian actually deepen Darwin’s dilemma, because they suggest that if there had been ancestors to the Cambrian phyla they would have been preserved.
I am willing to believe in evolution. But in order to get me to believe it, I insist on seeing a fossil record that shows the gradual emergence of phyla, one or two at a time, over hundreds of millions of years. That is what Darwinism predicts. We now have a solid record of what came before the Cambrian explosion. So where are the precursors? Where is the record of gradual emergence? Where is my evidence?
A new peer-reviewed paper has been published that concludes that there is no material explanation for the massive amounts of information introduced during the Cambrian explosion, when all of the phyla came into being in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking, with no fossilized precursors.
Thus, elucidating the materialistic basis of the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself, and cannot be explained away by coupling extinction of intermediates with long stretches of geologic time, despite the contrary claims of some modern neo-Darwinists.
Once again, the progress of science brings light.
The DI post goes on to cite another passage from the paper:
Beginning some 555 million years ago the Earth’s biota changed in profound and fundamental ways, going from an essentially static system billions of years in existence to the one we find today, a dynamic and awesomely complex system whose origin seems to defy explanation. Part of the intrigue with the Cambrian explosion is that numerous animal phyla with very distinct body plans arrive on the scene in a geological blink of the eye, with little or no warning of what is to come in rocks that predate this interval of time. The abruptness of the transition between the ‘‘Precambrian’’ and the Cambrian was apparent right at the outset of our science with the publication of Murchison’s The Silurian System, a treatise that paradoxically set forth the research agenda for numerous paleontologists — in addition to serving as perennial fodder for creationists. The reasoning is simple — as explained on an intelligent-design t-shirt.
Fact: Forty phyla of complex animals suddenly appear in the fossil record, no forerunners, no transitional forms leading to them; ‘‘a major mystery,’’ a ‘‘challenge.’’ The Theory of Evolution – exploded again (idofcourse.com).
Although we would dispute the numbers, and aside from the last line, there is not much here that we would disagree with. Indeed, many of Darwin’s contemporaries shared these sentiments, and we assume — if Victorian fashion dictated — that they would have worn this same t-shirt with pride.
I linked before to a bunch of easy-to-understand videos that explain the Cambrian explosion. Here’s another peer-reviewed research paper on the Cambrian explosion written by Stephen C. Meyer, on the Cambrian explosion. This is the paper that got evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg fired by secular leftists. He has two earned Ph.Ds in biology. I would expect that the people who fired him had never seen the inside of a biology lab. That’s the way it goes – science (intelligent design) vs. religion (materialism).