The previous post is available here.
Having ‘proved’ that fossils predating the Cambrian radiation are non-existent, and that all modern animal phyla appeared out of nowhere - in what the narrator describes as a “burst of creativity” - Darwin’s Dilemma the movie, then proceeds to ridicule Darwin the scientist. In their distorted reasoning, the creationist filmmakers think that if they can discredit a scientist that lived 150 years ago in Victorian England, somehow the audience will be convinced that the whole of modern science is erroneous. To initiate the strike against their biology bent Beelzebub, another carefully cropped quote is thrown to screen;
“Nothing distressed him more than the Cambrian explosion…” - Stephen J. Gould
For some unknown reason, creationists love Stephen Gould. Their infatuation may have something to do with a distorted view of Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium’ model; perhaps somehow the idea of a long stasis followed accelerated change translates to divine creation in the minds of simpletons? At any rate, Stephen Meyer or some other failed scientist from the Discovery Institute must have gotten this Gouldian morsel shorthand in a text message. They certainly didn’t get it from the page 238 of The Panda’s Thumb, the book in which Gould uses it to illustrate the lack of discrepancy between long past Darwinian predictions and modern paleontology.
It is certainly true that Darwin struggled with the lack of fossils predating the Cambrian radiation, speaking to intermediate fossils in Chapter 10 of the Origin of Species he wrote;
“Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory.”
Of course, as with the Richard Dawkins quote yesterday and the Gould quote above, Darwin is here using the presupposition of a question as a lead to his explanation. And although the film in question is in the habitat of mining only the presumptive portions of these literary tools, the authors’ answers usually follow. In the case of Darwin’s true dilemma alluded to in the Origin of Species quote, he explains later in chapter 10 that,
“The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record…. we continually overrate the perfection of the geological record, and falsely infer, because certain genera or families have not been found beneath a certain stage, that they did not exist before that stage. In all cases positive paleontological evidence may be implicitly trusted; negative evidence is worthless, as experience has so often shown…
Those who believe that the geological record is in any degree perfect, will undoubtedly at once reject my theory. For my part, following out Lyell's metaphor, I look at the geological record as a history of the world imperfectly kept and written in a changing dialect. Of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved, and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, more or less different in the successive chapters, may represent the forms of life, which are entombed in our consecutive formations, and which falsely appear to have been abruptly introduced. On this view the difficulties above discussed are greatly diminished or even disappear.”
Basically stated, what Darwin was implying was that, due to erosional processes, fossils are rare in the first place, and the oldest of all-the-fossils on Earth are rarer still. And he further predicts that despite these natural conditions, predecessor fossils are there and will be found as time proceeds and paleontological excavations are made. Darwin was right on-target with this prediction. In the 150 years since publication of the Origin of Species, numerous fossils have been unearthed, including those of the Ediacara biota, some from the Doushantuo formation and even the fascinating Markuelia fossil embryos – all predating the radiation vent! But, alas I guess these fine fossils don’t count… After all, as Paul Chien the head of the Discovery Institute’s paleontology section tells us in the film,
“to the paleontologist, the lack of intermediate fossils is well known.”
And Paul Chien should know, because he’s Chinese! As he later explains, “the Chinese community is honest about these problems and tries to explain them outside of Darwin.”
In addition to having an Asian heritage on his side, Paul Chien is a fellow of the Discovery Institute where he helps ‘spread the good word’ by translating Christian pseudo-science into the Chinese language. The worst part of Chien’s resume is that he’s also a biology professor at the University of San Francisco – tsk tsk San Fran.
Chien’s appearance marks a second transition point in the film’s diabolical plot. Leaving the fossils in the past, the modern sciences of evolutionary development and molecular genetics take center stage. In concert with this changeover is implementation of a new strategy – drawn the audience with science-ish jargon and convince them of life’s irreducible complexity. Leading this new front is Steven Meyer himself; holstered at his side is information theory. Brandishing this weapon he aims to shoot down “Neo-Darwinist storytelling” – by showing that modern genetics has nothing to do with evolution…
CONCLUDED - IN PART 4
Condon, D. (2005). U-Pb Ages from the Neoproterozoic Doushantuo Formation, China Science, 308 (5718), 95-98 DOI: 10.1126/science.1107765
Dong, X., Donoghue, P., Cunningham, J., Liu, J., & Cheng, H. (2005). The anatomy, affinity, and phylogenetic significance of Markuelia Evolution Development, 7 (5), 468-482 DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2005.05050.x
Morris, SC (1995). Ecology in deep time Trends in Ecology & Evolution , 10 (7), 290-294
Winter that wasn't
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