Tag Archives: Richard Sternberg

Paul Chien interviewed on the Cambrian era fossils

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian era fossils: Theory versus Data

From Leadership University. (H/T The Poached Egg)

Excerpt:

Dr. Paul Chien, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco, recently accepted a unique invitation to travel to China to study fossils of the Cambrian era. What Chien found at the Chengjiang site, and what he has since learned about the Cambrian fauna, has changed the focus of his career. Today, Chien concentrates on further exploring and promoting the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion of life. Subsequently, Chien possesses the largest collection of Chinese Cambrian fossils in North America.

Chien attended Mere Creation, a conference last November sponsored by Christian Leadership, which was featured in the previous Real Issue. The following is an interview with Paul Chien.

RI: Dr. Chien, what is your interest in the evolution/creation debate?

Chien: Even before I became a Christian, I had doubts about evolution. During my college years I was really interested in finding answers, but I got very little help. For a while I lost interest because I thought, one way or the other, it wasn’t very important. But since I started teaching, many people ask me about that. In fact, I often speak at churches and youth groups and conferences, and I have been forced back to that question; it’s pretty much my hobby now.

RI: Until recently, you have focused on the effects of pollution on marine organisms. How then did you come to study the Cambrian “explosion of Life”?

Chien: In studying marine organisms, and mainly the invertebrate groups, I have a clear vision of the distinct characteristics of each phyla. The theory of evolution never [seemed to] apply well in my field of marine invertebrates. When the news broke concerning [the discovery of] an explosion of animal life, it really excited me because that [had been] my position for many years. Also, Phil Johnson’s chapter on fossils [Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1991] really ignited my interest in that area.

When an opportunity came up to talk with Chinese paleontologists and to visit them and the original site of fossil discovery, it became something I had to do. So last March I organized an international group to make a visit there.

RI: So is the Chengjiang site a primary site for the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: Yes, it’s the site of the first marine animal found in the early Cambrian times we don’t count micro-organisms as animals.

RI: Are there other places in the world where you find the same organisms?

Chien: In some ways there are similarities between the China site and the other famous site, the Burgess Shale fauna in Canada. But it turns out that the China site is much older, and the preservation of the specimens is much, much finer. Even nerves, internal organs and other details can be seen that are not present in fossils in any other place.

RI: And I suppose many of these are probably soft-tissue marine-type animals?

Chien: Yes, including jellyfish-like organisms. They can even see water ducts in the jellyfish. They are all marine. That part of western China was under a shallow sea at the time.

RI: As you became more interested in this and discovered more about it, did you find it really was an “explosion of life”?

Chien: Yes. A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during that period of time (including those in China, Canada, and elsewhere) adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

RI: What information is the public hearing or not hearing about the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: The general impression people get is that we began with micro-organisms, then came lowly animals that don’t amount to much, and then came the birds, mammals and man. Scientists were looking at a very small branch of the whole animal kingdom, and they saw more complexity and advanced features in that group. But it turns out that this concept does not apply to the entire spectrum of animals or to the appearance or creation of different groups. Take all the different body plans of roundworms, flatworms, coral, jellyfish and whatever all those appeared at the very first instant.

Most textbooks will show a live tree of evolution with the groups evolving through a long period of time. If you take that tree and chop off 99 percent of it, [what is left] is closer to reality; it’s the true beginning of every group of animals, all represented at the very beginning.

Since the Cambrian period, we have only die-off and no new groups coming about, ever. There’s only one little exception cited the group known as bryozoans, which are found in the fossil record a little later. However, most people think we just haven’t found it yet; that group was probably also present in the Cambrian explosion.

Also, the animal explosion caught people’s attention when the Chinese confirmed they found a genus now called Yunnanzoon that was present in the very beginning. This genus is considered a chordate, and the phylum Chordata includes fish, mammals and man. An evolutionist would say the ancestor of humans was present then. Looked at more objectively, you could say the most complex animal group, the chordates, were represented at the beginning, and they did not go through a slow gradual evolution to become a chordate.

Someone posted an interesting documentary on Youtube about the Cambrian explosion.

Leadership University  is run by CLM, and features solid scholarship on a wide range of issues, including science.

What is the best explanation for the Cambrian fossil record?

i found an interesting video that explores a mystery in the Cambrian fossil record.

Richard Dawkins explains the mystery in his famous book “The Blind Watchmaker”.

Excerpt:

“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.” (Dawkins, Richard [zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Blind Watchmaker,” [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.229)

He’s referring to prominent paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould.

Now let’s watch the video.

Part 1 of 2: (41 minutes)

Part 2 of 2: (33 minutes)

This documentary has a mix of scholars who accept the standard naturalistic explanation for the Cambrian explosion, and some who are skeptical of the standard explanation. The first three scholars in the list below are considered to be world-renown experts in the Cambrian era fossils.

List of scholars:

Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading evolutionary paleontologists. He is noted in particular for his contributions to the understanding of the Cambrian Explosion and the fossils found in the Burgess Shale. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (United Kingdom) in 1990, he also has been awarded the Walcott Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (United States). Dr. Conway Morris is author of the noted books The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals (1998) and Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003). His views about the extent as well as the limits of Neo-Darwinism can be found in his article “Darwin was right. Up to a point.”

James Valentine is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also affiliated with the Museum of Paleontology and the Center for Integrative Genomics. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the Cambrian Explosion, and is the author of numerous technical articles on the subject, as well as author of the books On the Origin of Phyla and Evolutionary Paleoecology of the Marine Biosphere, co-author of Evolution and Evolving, and editor of Phanerozoic Diversity Patterns: Profiles in Macroevolution.

Paul Chien is a Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of San Francisco. A marine biologist, Dr. Chien received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California at Irvine, and he was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Chien’s work has been published in over fifty technical journals, and he has spoken internationally, and on numerous occasions, from Brazil to mainland China—where he has also been involved in cooperative research programs. Dr. Chien has done research in the renowned fossil beds of Chengjiang, China.

Jonathan Wells is currently a Senior Research Biologist at the Discovery Institute. He holds 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. Dr. Wells has published articles in numerous journals, and he is author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong and The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and co-author of The Design of Life.

Richard Sternberg is a Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute and a Research Collaborator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He is an evolutionary biologist with interests in the relation between genes and morphological homologies, and the nature of genomic “information.” He holds a Ph.D. in Biology (Molecular Evolution) from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in Systems Science (Theoretical Biology) from Binghamton University. From 2001-2007, he served as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and from 2001-2007 he was a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Sternberg’s website can be visited here.

Douglas Axe is Director of Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After earning his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Axe held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. His work has been reviewed in Nature and featured in a number of books, magazines and newspaper articles, including Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, and Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer.

Paul Nelson is a philosopher of biology, specializing in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1998, and he is presently an Adjunct Professor in the M.A. Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He has published articles in such journals as Biology & Philosophy and Zygon and has contributed essays to numerous anthologies.

Stephen Meyer is Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. Formerly a geophysicist with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University as a Rotary International Scholar. From 1990-2002, he was on the faculty of Whitworth College. Dr. Meyer is author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, philosophical and other books and journals. His latest book is Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. His other books include Darwinism, Design and Public Education and Explore Evolution. Dr. Meyer’s website can be visited here.

If you like the video, you can buy the DVD here.

Related videos

How do proponents of Darwinian evolution respond to debate?

Here’s what happened at the recent public discussion on Darwinism and intelligent design at Southern Methodist University.

Excerpt:

The evening started with a screening of Darwin’s Dilemma:The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record for a standing room only crowd in the theater of the Hughes Trigg Student Center, and was rounded out by four presentations and a question and answer period with the speakers.

CSC’s Stephen Meyer moderated the discussion after the film which included four serious challenges to Darwinian evolution. The first speaker was evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, who presented the challenge of population genetics to Darwin’s Theory. He was followed by Biologic Institute’s Doug Axe, who spoke on the challenge of finding functional proteins, and CSC Fellow Paul Nelson, who explained why evolving animal body plans by random mutation and natural selection is probably impossible. CSC biologist Jonathan Wells concluded the short presentations by explaining the challenge of ontogenetic information. The evening closed with a robust 40 minutes of questions from the audience.

Is that crazy? Four scholars with Ph.Ds from Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, Cambridge, etc. – 6 Ph.Ds in all for FOUR speakers spoke. The four scholars presented information then had 40 minutes of unscripted public discussion with the audience.

Excerpt:

What do hox genes, gene duplication, evo-devo and ontogenetic information all have in common? They were among the subjects raised–in some detail–by audience members during the Q&A portion of 4 Nails in Darwin’s Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution event at SMU last night.

Wow. Public, unscripted discussion of biological science between two opposing points of view.

I’ll bet that open discussion of controversial theories happens all the time in public schools, right?

Not so much.

Excerpt:

I was treated to a –sadly– all too typical story in the aftermath of the great 4 Nails in Darwin’s Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution conference the other night at SMU. An SMU staffer told me about what happened to a student that wanted to let his friends know about the event.

Earlier this week the student asked his science professor if at the end of class he could make a quick announcement and the prof said no problem. At the end of the class the student stood up and very quickly announced the name of the event and that students could come and hear about some of the flaws in Darwin’s theory. At that point the professor put his hand on the student’s shoulder and said, in front of the whole class: “Hold on, if I’d known you were going to announce that I wouldn’t have let you stand up. There are NO flaws in Darwin’s theory!” The teacher continued to pontificate about how there simply are no flaws in Darwin’s theory and that any such claims are all myths.

Then yesterday I read the Nature blog about the new ID Centre that has just launched in the UK. There was a link to this story about the British Humanist Association which is lobbying for the government to grant what amounts to special status to Darwinian evolution in British schools. The ink has barely dried from the announcement and already British Darwinists are feverishly trying to stamp out any dissent.

Essentially, they want to put their hand on every British school student and tell them not to question Darwin’s theory.

Yeah, those secular humanists are as open-minded about dissent as Mao Zedong. He was a secular humanist, too.

Related posts

Four intelligent design experts will present at Dallas event on Thursday

I really don’t like the liberal Southern Methodist University, and their liberal Perkins Seminary (ultra-liberal), but this is good news.

Details:

4 Nails in Darwin’s Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution

  • Date: Sept. 23, 2010
  • Place: Southern Methodist University, Hughes-Trigg Ballroom
  • Time: 7:00-9:30 pm

Featuring a Free Screening of Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record

Plus Live Presentations and Q and A with:

More than a century ago, Charles Darwin thought he had explained away the evidence for intelligent design in biology. But now new evidence from molecular biology, genetics, and related fields are raising four important challenges to the claim that complex biological life is the result of an undirected process of natural selection acting on random mutations. Learn about these “4 nails in Darwin’s coffin” at this FREE event.

Bring your questions!

Sponsored by PULSE and Victory Campus Ministries, SMU
For more information, email sykes@smu.edu or call 214.528.7343 x110

Every single one of these guys is an expert on ID. Do not miss this if you are in the area.

And don’t forget the On Guard conference in Dallas that is happening in early November.

MUST-LISTEN: Audio of debate between Stephen Meyer and Peter Atkins

Justin Brierley has put together an amazingly high-quality debate. I made a rough transcript, so please see below for that.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

Details:

The documentary film “Expelled” is presented by US Actor Ben Stein and makes the case that scientists who question Darwinian orthodoxy and support Intelligent Design are being “expelled” from academia.

As the UK edition of the DVD is released we ask “Is freedom of thought at stake or is Intelligent Design out of bounds when it comes to biological science?”

Stephen C Meyer is co founder of the Discovery Institute in the USA and a major proponent of Intelligent Design.

Peter Atkins is Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University and an outspoken atheist.

They both feature in “Expelled” and join Justin to debate the pros and cons of Intelligent Design theory.

Mark Haville who is bringing the film to the UK also joins the discussion.

Meyer’s PhD is from Cambridge, and he has a wonderful new book called “Signature in the Cell”. He explains intelligent design for beginners here in his CNN editorial.

Other stuff

Learn more about intelligent design

My rough transcript of the Meyer-Atkins debate

Stephen Meyer:
– started researching on ID while doing his PhD at Cambridge
– the question is whether the information-bearing properties in DNA require a designer
– what cause is adequate to explain the digital code that in the simplest living cell
– alternative explanations like self-organization and RNA-first have failed
– so the best explanation for functional sequences of parts is an intelligent designer
– Darwinists have responded to this argument with insults and suppression of dissent

Peter Atkins:
– intelligent design is creationism
– there is no science at all in it
– information can emerge without an intelligent designer
– structures emerge spontaneously, no agent is needed to generate the structure
– information in DNA is also a structure

Stephen Meyer:
– structure and information are two different things
– many structures emerge spontaneously
– structure may be like the vortex that occurs when water goes down a drain

Peter Atkins:
– the vortex is information

Stephen Meyer:
– structures are different from functionally-specified digital information
– in DNA, there is a 4-digit alphabet that is used to create code sequences
– the thing to be explained is where do the functional sequences come from

Peter Atkins:
– information can grow without an agent
– the second law of thermodynamics
– the universe is falling into disorder
– but there are local abatements of chaos that create information
– evolution can cause the amount of information to grow

Stephen Meyer:
– that’s just an assertion
– I agree that energy flow through a system can produce spontaneous order
– but spontaneous order is not the same thing as information

Peter Atkins:
– spontaneous order is the same as information

Stephen Meyer:
– it’s not order that needs to be explained it’s specified complexity

Peter Atkins:
– what do you mean by specified complexity?

Stephen Meyer:
– the chemical bonds that connect to each letter do not determine the letter
– the chemical bonding sites will accept any letter as easily as any other
– any one of the 4 bases (letters) can attach at any place along the backbone

Peter Atkins:
– the selection of which letter comes next is determined by evolution

Stephen Meyer:
– that is just an assertion
– there is no physical process that sequences the letters to have a function

Peter Atkins:
– do you believe in evolution? YES OR NO!

Mark Haville:
– for him to answer the question you have to define the word
– do you mean macro or micro? biological or stellar? directed or undirected?

Peter Atkins:
– undirected molecules to man evolution by natural processes

Stephen Meyer:
– but even Dawkins doesn’t believe in evolution then
– you’re including the origin of life from non-living matter in evolution
– Dawkins says that there is no naturalistic explanation for that

Mark Haville:
– you need to define your terms

[They discuss of the movie Expelled and the case of Richard Sternberg]

Stephen Meyer:
– the problem is people don’t want to talk about the science
– they denounce dissent as unscientific
– they will not debate about whther natural causes can explain the information
– I want to talk about the science

Peter Atkins:
– ID people raise interesting questions for naturalists to work on
– but you want to tell us what the answer is (intelligence) before we begin
– you start from the idea that an intelligence was involved

Justin Brierley:
– but you start with the idea that natural mechanisms can explain everything!

Stephen Meyer:
– for Dr. Atkins, only explanations based on material processes are valid

Peter Atkins:
– that is correct

Stephen Meyer:
– but we think that the activities of mind can explain some effects
– e.g. – the best explanation of the Rosetta stone is a mind

Peter Atkins:
– but we naturalists think of minds as material as well

Stephen Meyer:
– that’s a materialist pre-supposition on your part
– we would have to have a debate about mind and body

Mark Haville:
– I think that the materialist position is socially dangerous
– the problem with naturalism is that it is an ideology
– the ideology pushes absurdities, e.g. – the universe came from nothing uncaused
– and naturalists exert power over others to force them to believe nonsense

Stephen Meyer:
– science progresses as the result of scientists disagreeing
– both sides agree to the facts
– the debate is about the interpretation of those facts
– and one side is being ruled out a priori based on the pre-supposition of materialism

Peter Atkins:
– why do you say that an intelligence is involved in DNA but not general relativity

Stephen Meyer:
– it is always logically possible that intelligence can be invlved in any effect
– the main thing is that explanations based on intelligence should not be ruled out

Peter Atkins:
= well you can’t appeal to any non-material process in expaining anything
– those are the rules

Moderator:
– what does intelligent design have to do with religion?

Stephen Meyer:
– creationism is about understanding the istory of life using the Bible
– intelligent design is about using the same method of inquiry as Darwin
– we know that information arises from intelligent causes
– humans create information all the time by using intelligence to sequence parts

Moderator:
– are intelligent design proponents disreputable?

Stephen Meyer:
– what’s disreputable is shutting down debate by setting arbitrary rules

Peter Atkins:
– we are both interested in the same questions

Moderator:
– why won’t you let Stephen publish his papers then?

Peter Atkins:
– because it breaks the pre-suppositions of naturalism and materialism

Stephen Meyer:
– you’re shutting down inquiry by using an arbitrary definition of science

Mark Haville:
– we need to define the word science
– science should be based on what we can observe empirically
– we can observe micro-evolution empirically
– but Darwinism goes beyond what is observable to postulate macro-evolution

Peter Atkins:
– but paleobiology is replete with evidence

Stephen Meyer:
– paleobiology uses a method of inference that I think is valid
– but intelligent design uses the same mode of reasoning which is also valid

Peter Atkins:
= you’re intellectually lazy
– we’re smart, we’re using our brains

Moderator:
– you’re saying that appeals to intelligent causes ends science?
– is ID the view that some things are too complex to be explained with naturalism?

Peter Atkins:
– yes, and to teach children that materialism is false is child abuse

Stephen Meyer:
– let’s drop the insults and the rhetoric and focus on the arguments
– the ID argument is not based on what we don’t know, it’s based on what we DO know
– first, we can ask what undirected natural processes can and cannot do
– second, we can ask what we know about intelligent causes from our own experience
– what we do know seems to me to require an intelligent agent as a cause

Peter Atkins:
– GOD! Do you mean God!? Do you mean God!?

Stephen Meyer:
– I personally mean God, but all that the arguments proves is a generic intelligent cause
– and I am using the same method of investigation that Darwin used to get there
– what we know from our experience is that a mind is needed to create information

Peter Atkins:
– NONSENSE! ABSOLUTE NONSENSE!

Stephen Meyer:
– in my book, I list 10 predictions made by ID, so it’s not a science-stopper
– furthermore, the enterprise of science began with th goal of understanding God
– consider the earliest scientists, people like James Boyler and Johannes Kepler

Peter Atkins:
– that was 300 years ago, we’ve moved on

Mark Haville:
– what about Max Planck then?

Stephen Meyer:
– how about James Clark Maxwell?

Mark Haville:
– we need to focus on the facts

Peter Atkins:
– what do you mean by the facts?

Mark Haville:
– well the fact is that Darwinism has no mechanism to produce new information

Peter Atkins:
– well copying errors introduces beneficial mutations

Stephen Meyer:
– let’s focus on where we get the first information from the simplest organism
– you can’t account for the first organism by appealing to copying errors
– to add functionality to a program, you need new lines codes from an intelligence
– once you have life, you can generate some new information
– but you can’t generate macro-evolution either

Peter Atkins:
– if we give you your explanation for teh origin of life, will you give this up

Stephen Meyer:
– of course! I’m a former theistic evolutionist
– but right now the evidence is not there for it
– we have to decide these questions based on what we see with our own eyes today

Peter Atkins:
– but I pre-suppose materialism as the starting point of all explanations
– you’re just intellectually lazy to abandon my pre-supposition

Stephen Meyer:
– why is it is less intellectually lazy to insist that materialism is true
– we are making plenty of predictions, and isn’t that what science is about?
– consider Junk DNA – you guys said it had no use
– now we know it has a use

Peter Atkins:
– naturalists were open to the idea that junk DNA might have a use before ID

Moderator:
– Dr. Meyer, what about the wall that locks out intelligence as an explanation?

Stephen Meyer:
– if these are interesting questions, then we should allow freedom of inquiry
– that’s how science advances

Peter Atkins:
– for all their science-talk really they are just saying God did it
– peope who don’t agree with me are not using their brains, like I do
– to give up on my pre-supposition of materialism is a denial of humanity

Mark Haville:
– there are important issues that are affected by our view of origins
– everyone who hasn’t seen Expelled movie should definitely see it