Forget the Cambrian Explosion—Here’s a SERIOUS Biodiversity Event

A few years ago, I attended a lecture by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute about his new book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.

He explains “Darwin’s doubt” in the Amazon summary:

When Charles Darwin finished The Origin of Species, he thought that he had explained every clue, but one. Though his theory could explain many facts, Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. During this event, the “Cambrian explosion,” many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock.

The Cambrian explosion was the appearance of almost all of the 35 or so present animal phyla (body plans) in the first 20 to 25 million years of the Cambrian period.

What did Darwin say?

In On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:

If [evolution is] true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Cambrian age to the present day; and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures. Here we encounter a formidable objection; for it seems doubtful whether the earth, in a fit state for the habitation of living creatures, has lasted long enough.

Darwin then notes that the best evidence available to him gives evolution 100–200 million years since the consolidation of the earth’s crust. In fact, today’s estimate is 4 billion years.

Would Darwin have still found a “formidable objection” if he had known that the earth was actually 20 to 40 times older than he thought? Perhaps Meyer is fairer in his book, but in the lecture, he did nothing to clarify the incorrect data that underlay Darwin’s conclusions.

Who cares?

More to the point, no biologist builds our understanding of evolution from what Darwin thought.

Contrast Darwin with Aristotle. Europe even through the Renaissance compared new developments with Aristotle to see if the great philosopher would have agreed. From 2000 years in the past, Aristotle could frown on revolutionary new ideas. Bertrand Russell said, “almost every serious intellectual advance has had to begin with an attack on some Aristotelian doctrine.”

But no biologist today cares if Darwin would approve of a new idea or not. Darwin did remarkable things for his time, but Darwin is relevant in the field History of Science, not Biology. Evolution deniers like Meyer point out where Darwin was wrong, but this is useful only in mesmerizing the public.

Is the Cambrian explosion that remarkable?

The Cambrian explosion might have been the result of a perfect storm of factors that opened the field to new innovative body plans: predators accelerated the evolution of hard body parts, a global ice age had just ended, the Hox genes that control body plans may have developed at this time, atmospheric oxygen may have been rising, and a newly transparent ocean could have triggered an arms race based on vision. We might also have underestimated the progress in the Precambrian because those animals were tiny or soft and didn’t leave much of a fossil record.

Let’s also be clear how limited the Cambrian explosion was. It’s a quick expansion in the body plans of animals. That’s it. While it happened quickly, it still took 20 million or more years, and there was little filling out of these phyla with individual species. There were no land animals at this stage, and our ancestors in the phylum Chordata would’ve been no more than primitive, tiny, eel-like fish at this time (see drawing above). Evolution would slowly push this phylum to produce bony fish (420 million years ago), amphibians (370 mya), reptiles (310 mya), dinosaurs (230 mya), mammals (225 mya), and birds (160 mya).

Plants also developed slowly. We find algae 1200 million years ago, photosynthetic plants 1000 mya, land plants 450 mya, flowering plants 200 mya, and grasses 40 mya. There was no explosion here.

Getting back to basics, the remarkable development of the eukaryotic cell (the kind that animals and plants have) from the more primitive prokaryotes such as bacteria happened 2700 mya.

In short, the Cambrian is impressive when we zoom in to just the major divisions in one kingdom, but it ignores most of evolution.

Great Ordovician Biodiversity Event (GOBE)

The Cambrian explosion looks at one feature in the vast expanse of evolution. Another that is at least as remarkable is the Great Ordovician Biodiversity Event. If the Cambrian created the display cases for the phyla, the GOBE filled them with species.

The Ordovician period followed the Cambrian, and it created far more genera (“genuses”) than its predecessor, as the graph below shows.

(The three kinds of fauna listed above aren’t important for this discussion.)

From the perspective of biodiversity, the Cambrian doesn’t look so innovative after all. The article that accompanies the graph states,

This boom was like nothing the world has seen since. The Ordovician is the only time in the history of animal life that huge numbers of new species appeared without a mass extinction to clear the decks beforehand.

Why does Meyer focus on the Cambrian?

Meyer must weave a simple story: evolution expects gradual change, but the Cambrian shows that change was sometimes explosive. Evolution can’t explain this, but Intelligent Design driven by a god can. And they all lived happily ever after.

But reality looks a lot more complicated than “And God said, ‘let there be many animal phyla,’ and it was so.” The Cambrian explosion is just one part of a big picture. It is separate from the very different explosive growth in the GOBE and the gradual evolution of plants and chordates.

Note also that Intelligent Design advocates didn’t uncover the Cambrian explosion. Biologists did. Since it hasn’t convinced them that evolution is wrong, how could it convince me?

See nature through the eyes of science, the only way we ever have learned about it.

See also: Movie Review: “Is Genesis History?”

Religion is like aspirin.
It’s okay to take a little to make yourself feel better,
but you shouldn’t take too much,
and you shouldn’t force people to take it who don’t want any.
— Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 01/13/14.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

 

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Herald Newman

    Intelligent design certainly doesn’t have an explanation for the Cambrian (although they like to claim that they do). ID doesn’t have an explanation for anything, because ID isn’t a scientific theory. It’s an entirely dishonest way to try an use a back-door to get people to believe in their God.

    The absurd part about this is that I’m not an atheist because I accept evolution, and disproving evolution would have no effect on my atheism. Disprove every theory in science, and I’d still be an atheist until you can demonstrate your God.

    People who push intelligent design aren’t offering anything except a comforting story and a big pack of pseudo-science.

    • Dannorth

      Actually ID was designed from the ground up to be as irrefutable as possible by not making any falsiable claims.

      It only states that there are things evolutionary theory cannot explain therefore a Creator (that is not named but might well be the Christian God).

      And when an explanation is supplied for something they claimed could not be explained naturalisticly they either claim that it doesn’t or discreetly move to something else.

      • Herald Newman

        ID was designed from the ground up to be as irrefutable as possible by not making any falsiable claims.

        Which is why it is both not science, and not an explanation for anything. It’s a simply the vacuous “god did it” without explicitly stating “god”. When you dig around on the main proponents you see that IDiots like Meyer appear frequently with evangelicals like John Ankerberg, or Lee Strobel. It’s all a facade for God when you really dig into it.

        • Greg G.

          It’s a simply the vacuous “god did it” without explicitly stating “god”.

          As if “godidit” wasn’t vacuous enough, they came up with a totally vacuous formulation.

        • TheNuszAbides

          but alien astronauts are a far more thought-provoking premise. (and i kind of get why ID orgz don’t harp on that ‘possibility’.)

        • Klapaucius

          Where did the “alien astronauts” come from? Were they intelligently designed, or did they (gasp) _evolve_?

        • TheNuszAbides

          i didn’t say the idea had exceptional explanatory power. and it’s far more entertaining than thought-provoking — and keep in mind that it doesn’t take any kind of leap to be more thought-provoking than ‘goddidit’.

        • Herald Newman

          It’s intelligently designed alien astronauts all the way down.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Christians seem to think that it’s a 2-horse race. Defeat the other horse, and they win by default–no need to even run the race. That seems to explain why they don’t feel any urgency to provide evidence of their own.

    • Rudy R

      Matt Dillahunty, skeptic and magician, demonstrates the nonsense of ID logic through a hypothetical card dealing. Are the odds different from dealing 13 cards of the same suit and 13 cards of different suits? No, there is no difference in the odds; they are the same. The probability is one in 635013559600 for both. If Matt were to deal 13 cards of the same suit, after it was shuffled, would you believe he did that intentionally through a card trick? Yes, probably. If Matt were to deal 13 cards of different suits, would you believe he did that intentionally through a card trick? No, probably not. In the first deal, Matt states he did not intentionally manipulate the cards and the probability was one in 635013559600. In the second deal, he did intentionally manipulate the cards to produce the exact outcome and the probability is 100%.
      What appears to look intelligently designed, is not proof that there was intelligent design. The first hand appeared to be intelligently designed, but it wasn’t, while the second appeared by chance, but it was intelligently designed.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Are the odds different from dealing 13 cards of the same suit and 13 cards of different suits?

        There are only 4 suits, so dealing 13 cards of different suits is impossible.
        QED

  • kraut2

    Evolution can’t explain this, but Intelligent Design driven by a god can

    a puny god indeed who needs 20 million years to design what he knew all along he would create…

    • TheNuszAbides

      but but but but He gave Life the Free Will^TM — we took that long to CHOOSE to evolve!

      /s/facepalm

    • James Chapman

      20 million? No, way longer than that. Genetic and fossil evidence suggests that simple living organisms existed at least 3.5 billion years ago. Thus, the Cambrian, which started about 540 million years ago, falls within the most recent 15% of life’s history. Clearly, God was an epic procrastinator.

  • MadScientist1023

    The Discovery Institute’s latest spiel is that the Cambrian Explosion couldn’t have happened because there are people who study “evolutionary informatics” whose models fail to explain the biodiversity that occurred. Rather than concluding their modeling methods are simply wrong, they conclude divine intervention.
    Actually, a lot of there “arguments” follow a similar pattern. A scientist makes a model that doesn’t explain anything, therefore God. It has to be the only branch of biology where finding nothing and having a garbage model is a good thing.

    • lupusposse

      Terming something as a branch of biology without naming or description would seem to be granting legitimacy where it is not due.
      We do not term fiction a branch of science (nor vice-versa) merely because the two are both nouns.

      The apparent Cambrian explosion is so called because it was a period in which mineralized skeletons appeared. There appears to have been a significant jump in available oxygen during the Ediacaran and in a cold period before. But I have a problem with digression at times, so let’s get to a closer look:
      Biostratigraphy is the term for defining known organism taxa and their place in time.

      The problem in interacting with those whose life strategy involves NOT asking questions, is that you are not really interacting, but merely attempting to communicate with some who either want you to be or become a member of the “elect”, or who want you not to exist.
      Since complex life is far older than those who choose to imagine their preferred parts of some texts written down within about 2500 years ago and more recently (the texts are of a small group of herders in the foothills around the Euphrates drainage, called in old Akkadian “hebiru”, a word meaning dusty or dirty travelers or nomads).
      The reason why some of European descent adhere to this text is complex, but political. It has to do with wars and empires, not to science or inquiry as an extension of the natural questing of neurally-based organisms to seek and find niches (population biologists would term a niche as an organism’s trophic place in a community of the entirety of organisms in a system).
      By adhering to a hierarchy, the religious support the humans of high social status, thereby gaining social status above those who do not so adhere.

      Free oxygen had to be sufficient for a diversity of animal sturctures to expand. The Ediacaran had about 8% atmospheric O2 , with some higher levels of CO2 than exist now. The Ediacaran biota did not have oxygen enough yet for animals to chase, form complex internal and skeletal masses, or complex behaviors. As one who has researched brains, cognition, and behavior, I’d bet that some of our complexity DID arise before the explosion, as non-neural cells also play a significant part in signaling.
      I came to this site because of long research and realization that organized religion is clearly a way to promote unquestioning obedience within brains long formed to learn and inquire. I see the phenomenon as quite similar to the devolution that occurred an many parasites, descended from more complex organisms. It has been clear since childhood that organized religions acted as parasites (explore the very specific targeting done by Toxoplasma gondii to find how a single-celled intracellular parasite can change the brains and behaviors of far more complex organisms to favor its survival), and although the persistence of organized religions even in the light of their promotion of confused and simplistic fictions, has horrified me since, these parasitical religious contniue.

      They continue due to their capacity to enlist advocates through false appeal to some of our best social emotions, while in fact merely creating ingroups – in this case subcultures thriving on the necessity of humans to avoid totally overwhelming their habitats. They do so through colonization, creating false coalitions with those already occupying a habitat or system. This fragments, stresses, and raises strife. Religion is just another invidious difference, not real, but offering a rally around which one or an ingroup can violently achieve social dominance.
      The reason it has been conflated with race, is precisely because it creates in- and out-groups. Because it is not always so visible as skin color, its adherents create memes, including one of afterdeath reward – even though neuroscience has conclusively shown that specific brain lesions/damage result in very specific erasure of sensory, motor, associative, or memory awareness.

      You cannot share morality or ethics toward life with any who do not believe that they are part of it.
      Cities, monstrous arid abiotic areas, already look like imagined “heavens” – only humans and their symbiotes exist there. Yet, they are not isolated, but utterly dependent upon hugely complex systems of life, almost all of which is beyond their comprehension.
      Three letter words are also instriuctive. Imagining a director is far easier than understanding complexity, emergence, (including the obvious biotic radiation into available niches that is evolution); the mortality that limits the oscillation of species into flexible ecosystems is terrifying to experience or imagine, even though it is basically the prime perfect motivator of individual survival. (we’d have to talk about risk behaviors, reproductive fitness, game theory, altruism, and delve deeply into both cognition and evolution, to describe why risk, memory salience, and other characteristics in social species, are part of our makeup. But for now, just think of risk and food-getting. Please don’t use the three-letter word in polite conversation!)

    • TheNuszAbides

      Rather than concluding their modeling methods are simply wrong, they conclude divine intervention.

      even when they glibly conclude only “design” — an unworkable idea as evidence for ~design~ is indeed an inverted sort of cleverness.

    • Kevin K

      I think the only “evolutionary informatics” people are full-time DiscoTute employees. Their specialty is the science of post-hoc analysis and retrospective improbability.

      As Galileo said, “And yet it moves.”

  • busterggi

    Still no rabbits in the Cambrian.

    • islandbrewer

      Of course not! The Cambrian happened 480 million years ago, and the earth was created only 5,000 years ago, silly!

    • Sophia Sadek

      No Easter eggs either.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    Was I there ? Well my atoms were ! Hell a few of them might even have been part of a trilobite ?

    • Greg G.

      Some of the H2O molecules in your body were once dinosaur piss.

      • Otto

        COOL!

      • Otto

        I am gonna start calling water ‘dinosaur piss’!

        • TheNuszAbides

          dinosaur piss extract!

      • quinsha

        If homeopathy has any legitimacy to it, the few molecules of ex-dinosaur piss in the ocean makes buying water filters a priority option.

        • Lark62

          Anybody else familiar with Little Willie poems popular a century ago? There were dozens of uplifting morsels like:

          In the family drinking well
          Willie pushed his sister Nell
          She’s there yet because it kilt her
          Now we have to buy a filter.

        • Michael Neville

          Into the cistern little Willie
          Pushed his little sister Lily.
          Father couldn’t find his daughter,
          Now we sterilize our water.

        • Illithid

          Baby Bobby in the tub.
          Ma forgot to place the plug.
          Oh, what sorrow! Oh, what pain!
          There goes Bobby down the drain.

        • Anri

          One morning in a fit of pique,
          (Sing rickity-tickity-tin)
          One morning in a fit of pique,
          She drowned her father in the creek,
          The water tasted bad for a week….

          And we had to make do with gin,
          With gin,
          We had to make do with gin.

          (Tom Lerher, “An Irish Ballad”)

  • Mr. A

    They always say that God created all life on Earth. They never tell me how He did or what process he used, or why certain body plans were favored over other ones.

    • guerillasurgeon

      If intelligent design is true, I want a word or two with the guy who put my prostate where it is.

      • aikidaves

        It would also be good to know why he made the things so prone to cancer. (Yeah, mine ain’t where he put it anymore.)

      • Kevin K

        If intelligent design is true, the designer has an inordinate fondness for beetles.

      • Michael Neville

        If intelligent design is true then why do both the cat and I have arthritis in our hips?

        • Tommy

          Because thousands of years ago, in a magical garden, a naked woman was convinced by a talking snake (who was the craftiest of God’s animals) to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – duh!

        • Joe

          I’ve stopped aking theists why, and focussed on how eating an apple brought about all evil in this world, from aging, disease, murder to natural disasters.

          What caused all that to happen? Not why that was ‘justified’?

          I have yet to receive an answer.

        • Greg G.

          The fruit would somehow have to rearrange the neurons of the brain and rearrange all the DNA in the sperm and ova so that the knowledge could be passed on as a curse. How does that happen?

        • Joe

          How did it cause plate tectonics? Did Sin liquefy the earths metal core?

          If only we could bottle the stuff!

        • https://www.jonmorgan.info Jon Morgan

          But plate tectonics are good, right? They enable so many good things that they are a necessary evil.

          At least, that’s one of the arguments I’ve heard to discount the argument from evil.

        • Michael Neville

          What’s evil about plate tectonics? I’m enjoying my slooooow cruise around the Earth. And if the Yellowstone Supervolcano blows, that’ll be interesting.

        • Bob Jase

          What’s evil about plate tectonics? Its all that wind caused by the rushing around – it musses up my hair.

        • Illithid

          Briefly.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That is one of he more bizarre Christian apologetics. Tsunami? Earthquake? Volcano? Hundreds of thousands dead? Well, don’t blame God for that. Plate tectonics is essential, and that’s just a side effect–deal with it.

          Doesn’t say much about God’s power.

        • https://www.jonmorgan.info Jon Morgan

          Such apologetics go along with a much less interventionist God. I think I’ve seen it with believers who accept evolution, and thus need a long period of history that is not particularly God guided (and don’t see now as particularly God guided either). They would also pick up the cheery message of Luke 13:1 – 5: Disasters aren’t necessarily targeted to worse sinners, but everyone will perish unless they repent.

          It does still raise the question of why God intervened in the way he did in OT and NT, which I think such believers would accept. Something like the resurrection you can probably say it was for deep theological reasons, but surely something like Elijah on Carmel could be handy to apologists today? And the miraculously floating axe head doesn’t suggest a God who says “actions have consequences – deal with it”.

        • Kevin K

          Chromosome fusion, of course!!

          IQ-raising sin-fruit is powerful stuff.

        • Anri

          I blame Monsanto.

        • Tommy

          I usually hear “Adam and Eve disobeyed God,” but that excuse doesn’t factor the talking snake in the role, that Eve was deceived by the craftiest of all the animals that god created to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (the snake didn’t actually deceive Eve, he [it] told the truth, that eating the fruit wouldn’t kill them, but would make Adam and Eve like God – knowing good from evil). That excuse presumes that the fall wasn’t due to eating fruit from a forbidden tree, but “disobeying God”. It’s just one excuse out of many. So in a nutshell, Christians have no idea why but are making up any excuse they can find or read.

        • Joe

          It’s actually quire a clever tale (for the time), if you look at it as a pourquoi story, another way of saying ‘how the elephant got it’s trunk’. As most sensible people see it.

          When taken literally, it’s a mess.

          It still doesn’t explain how biting an apple can cause HIV to emerge in the 20th century, for example.

        • Tommy

          Christian interpretation(s) of the tale makes no sense. Jewish interpretations vary but most I’ve seen don’t accept the concept of “Original Sin”. The text doesn’t say the fruit was an apple or any kind of fruit, though some suspect it was a fig.

        • Joe

          though some suspect it was a fig.

          Schisms wherever you look.

        • Michael Neville

          Of course it was a fig. Where else would Adam and Eve get their fig leafs from? See Genesis 3:9.

        • Tommy

          Deleted

        • Lark62

          But, but, but … The christian interptetation is necessary. Otherwise the story about how “god came to earth as itself so that it could die so that it could forgive humans for being exactly like it made them and violating the rules it made” would not make sense.

        • Tommy

          Many Jews interpret the story as how mankind was separated from the rest of the animal kingdom as Adam and Eve gained knowledge of good and evil while the rest of God’s creation is ignorant of the concept. To most Jews, it’s an origins story that’s not the pillar of Jewish doctrines. However, Christian interpretations of the story are often incoherent:

          “Man disobeyed God”

          – Adam and Eve were incapable of understanding the concept of disobeying or knowing that disobeying god was evil since they had no knowledge of evil before they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. Before Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they wouldn’t have known that obeying God would be good and disobeying God would be evil.

          “Man brought sin into the world”

          – Sin was already present since sin presupposes concepts of good and evil and there already was a tree of knowledge of good and evil present in the garden. So more apt, Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of sin.

          “Man brought evil into the world”

          – Again, the concept of evil already existed in the world since there was a tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden. So more apt, Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of evil.

        • Michael Neville

          Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories are more believable than Genesis.

        • epeeist

          So in a nutshell, Christians have no idea why but are making up any excuse they can find or read.

          SOP in other words.

        • Kuno

          Also, how was Eve supposed to know that disobeying God would be bad if she didn’t even know what good and evil are before eating the fruit?

          Seriously, God needs a better editor.

        • Carol Lynn

          Magic. or er… god did it in mysterious ways.

        • Nos482

          fun fact: While we picture the forbidden fruit as an apple, those were unknown to the authors of Genesis.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Some have suggested a fig as the likeliest fruit.

        • TheNuszAbides

          and why did Bog’s extra-chosen species get a shittier eye design than squid? doesn’t He rejoice when we discover His glorious handiwork? oh wait, that’s right, Reason is his Consigliere’s whore.

    • Jim Jones
  • Rick

    The Cambrian explosion might have been the result of a perfect storm of factors that opened the field to new innovative body plans: predators accelerated the evolution of hard body parts, a global ice age had just ended, the Hox genes that control body plans may have developed at this time, atmospheric oxygen may have been rising, and a newly transparent ocean could have triggered an arms race based on vision. We might also have underestimated the progress in the Precambrian because those animals were tiny or soft and didn’t leave much of a fossil record.

    This seems thin on actual, y’know, reality, content or evidence , as Bob likes to point out.

    Bob Seidensticker replied | Friday, Feb. 3rd | View on Cross Examined
    Philosophical mumbo jumbo doesn’t help my tiny brain. Give me examples where philosophy or metaphysics have taught us something new about reality. Y’know, like science does.

    Bob Seidensticker | Monday, April 17th | View on Stand to Reason Blog
    You’re saying that absolutely nothing is what preceded the universe? Evidence, please. Until then, I think the scientists (y’know, the guys with the evidence) are the ones worth …

    Bob Seidensticker replied | Friday, June 9th | View on Cross Examined
    Translation: “Does too!!”
    If you meant to have more content than that, you’ll have to actually add, y’know, content.

    Just an observation.

    • Otto

      It is thin as to the question of what caused what we see in the geological history of the Cambrian explosion, but the question is, no matter how thin the evidence for the cause of the Cambrian explosion, does the fact that it happened put a feather in the cap of the ID proponents? If the answer is ‘yes’…why?

    • Michael Neville

      “The Cambrian explosion might have been the result of a perfect storm of factors” but we don’t know. In science “we don’t know” is an acceptable statement. It’s only certain religious who claim to have absolute knowledge.

      Science knows it doesn’t know everything; otherwise, it’d stop. But just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you. –Dara O’Briain

    • Joe

      This seems thin on actual, y’know, reality, content or evidence , as Bob likes to point out.

      Probabilistic statements are usually light on evidence, hence the cautious nature of Bob’s terminology.

      What does theology have to say about pre-Cambrian life?

      • guerillasurgeon

        “We don’t know, but God must’ve done it in one of his mysterious spells.”

        • Joe

          That completely non-specific, non-verifiable statement from an anonymous internet poster is good enough for me.

          Thanks for clearing up my misconceptions.

        • TheNuszAbides

          whew! for a moment there, i was terrified that you would proceed with more diabolically stubborn QUESTIONS about REALITY! *wipes cold sweat from brow*

      • Max Doubt

        “What does theology have to say about pre-Cambrian life?”

        Duh. Magic, of course.

    • guerillasurgeon

      In other words, when scientists are unsure about what happened they say so. Religious people just go to the Bible and try to find something that God did.

      • Rick

        I am encouraged that you recognize the absence of proof in the so-called “settled science” position on evolution. Perhaps your side will back off on the emotional “denier” language in view of your recognition of the incomplete evidence trail.

    • TheNuszAbides

      get back to us when you can distinguish between “fits the evidence plausibly” and “defers to empty, absolute assertions attributing the perfectly imaginable to the definitively unimaginable”. at which point,

      Just an observation

      , coming from you, might begin to carry something vaguely resembling weight.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Just an observation.

      Not much of one. Are you confused about how science works? Things are stated with probabilities, not certainty. You can declare certainty with your supernatural beliefs, but it’s not like you have any, y’know, evidence.

      • Rick

        Seriously? No evidence? I could catalogue the evidence but your mind is made up. You are confusing no evidence with no evidence that would convince Bob. They are two very different things. Those whose minds are not closed to the possibility of God will see evidence in the ordered nature of the physical world and the incredible information and biological complexity of life forms.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Not much of an appeal to objectivity. Evidence should be interpretable by anyone.

        • Rick

          Evidence is neutral. A person’s preconceptions frequently color their interpretation of the evidence, however.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Your domain of the supernatural doesn’t yield to ordinary pursuit of evidence. I follow the evidence.

  • skl

    Bob,
    What do you think about that old saying that evolution would be refuted by finding a rabbit in the Cambrian?

    I tend to think it wouldn’t refute evolution. The theory would just have to evolve.

    • Joe

      Me too, I think it would just push back out timeline significantly. One point of data normally isn’t enough to refute millions of others saying the opposite.

    • Greg G.

      I think it was Haldane who used “a rabbit in the Cretacious.”

      It has been said that the evidence for evolution is so strong that if a fossilized human was found in the Cretaceous, it would be evidence of time travel.

      • Brian Westley

        This should be a throwaway gag in a Dr. Who episode.

      • James Chapman

        I believe the quote attributed to Haldane referred to a “Precambrian rabbit”. Since early mammals are known to have existed well before the Cretaceous, discovering a rabbit-like fossil in Cretaceous strata would be far less of a problem for the evolutionary account of life’s history.

        • Greg G.

          You are right. I should have Googled it.

          Thanks.

    • mordred

      This allways reminds me of the good old days of talk.origins, where one of the resident creationists declared that there *were* mammals in the Cambrian: Trilobites!

      • islandbrewer

        I just did a spit take.

        • mordred

          Pretty much my reaction back then too!

  • Jim Jones

    Only 30 [species] splitting events would yield [one] billion species. Over 3.5 billion years, that’s one speciation event every 116 million years. As Allen Orr and [Jerry Coyne] calculated in [their] book Speciation, on average a new species forms by splitting of a given lineage at a rate between one every 100,000 years and one every million years. (This is a rough estimate, of course and varies by taxa.)
    —————————————————————————————————-
    Rabbi doubts evolution, “but not because of religion.”
    —————————————————————————————————-
    Human activity has created a new mosquito species.

    • PacMan

      Only 30 [species] splitting events would yield [one] billion species.
      Over 3.5 billion years, that’s one speciation event every 116 million
      years.

      I think your math is wrong here. A species splitting “event” turns one species into 2 species. 30 events will turn 1 species into 31 species.
      Your numbers only work if “one event” causes *every* existing species to simultaneously split into 2 species, a very unlikely occurrence. Events in one lineage have no reason to line up with events in another lineage, that probably exists in a different environment, on a different continent.

      • Jim Jones

        The way he wrote it was even more confusing. I tried to make it clearer.

        The idea is that 1 becomes 2, 2 become 4, 4 become 8 and so on. Obviously there’s some averaging going on time wise.

        Thus 2^30 = 1,073,741,824

        BTW, the first link is the source, and I had the same questions.

        • Greg G.

          Creationists are all over that kind of math when it comes to showing how the world could be populated to present day levels after the flood, even if it doesn’t work for the survivors building walled cities in an otherwise empty world.

  • epeeist

    More to the point, no biologist builds our understanding of evolution from what Darwin thought.

    Attacking a theory that is known to be inadequate is much easier than attacking one that fixes those inadequacies.

    • Lark62

      That’s why they think tbe ridiculous lie that Darwin converted to Christianity on his death bed matters. Their whole belief system rests on who said what. They have no concept of evidence. They cannot grasp that if Darwin had never existed, evolution would still be true.

      • Michael Neville

        Even if the Lady Hope nonsense was true, becoming a Christian would not necessarily mean that Darwin became a YEC. AIG et al keep forgetting that only a minority of Christians agree with them on creationism.

  • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

    This always says more of their thinking than ours. Darwin is not a prophet whose word constitutes holy writ. Yet that is how they’re used to going by with the Bible. So much for ID being secular.

  • Sophia Sadek

    And here I thought the Cambrian explosion referred to a lab accident at a college in Cambria.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Needs more trilobites.

    • Michael Neville

      Everything needs more trilobites. And more mammoths.

    • DoorknobHead

      FAKE FOSSIL NEWS
      > Actually, Tribbles are born pregnant, so you won’t have to wait long for more JUST KIDDING!
      > Actually, I know that trilobites are ancient extinct marine animals…that had three mouths and were known to make three small bites, down low, on the ‘ankles’ of other animals (tri-low-bites)…attacking the ankles of victims being a common theme in evolution, like with rock-snakes, who don’t throw rocks far but attack the ankles of their prey with small rocks…. JUST KIDDING!

      • Greg G.

        Ah, now I understand rock lobsters.

        • Michael Neville

          And star-nosed moles.

  • Robert Templeton

    He needs to read about Punctuated Equilibrium from Stephen J. Gould. It is a brilliant idea and it makes good sense in explaining large, species-level evolutionary changes.

  • skl

    I noted below that I doubted that ‘finding a rabbit in the Cambrian’ would falsify evolution, and that the theory would just evolve somehow to accommodate it.

    But exactly what WOULD falsify evolution theory?

    • Michael Neville

      I suggest you to a biology blog to ask that question. I doubt any of us here are knowledgeable enough to give a good answer.

    • Tommy

      Because all mammal fossils appear in layers 300 million years younger than the Cambrian layers. Mammals evolved over 200 million years ago and the Cambrian explosion was over 500 million year ago. So finding a fossil of a modern mammal in a rock layer of a time were there were no mammals, or fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds would indeed falsify the theory.

    • Chuck Johnson

      But exactly what WOULD falsify evolution theory?-skl

      Evolutionary theory gets falsified all the time as far as specific details are concerned. Like all science, it must evolve to account for ongoing discoveries.

      As far as being found basically false, that is pretty nearly impossible.
      Terrestrial biology has confirmed evolution for too many years, and in too many ways for that to happen.

      The theory that the Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun is also not likely to be found false.
      Science creates solid foundations for adding new details to old ideas, and this has proven to work very well.

      • skl

        If, as you say, evolutionary theory gets falsified all the
        time as far as specific details are concerned, then what would be the threshold of falsified details beyond which the theory itself is found basically false?

        • Joe

          Greater than 150 years of positive discovery and millions of data points.

          It’s a wonder that creationists are sat in their studies musing over perceived faults in Darwin’s old books, when there’s a mountain of work to be done.

        • Chuck Johnson

          . . . what would be the threshold of falsified details beyond which the theory itself is found basically false?-skl

          Evolutionary theory is a part of modern science.
          Modern science is so empirical and conservative in its claims that it is unlikely that any of modern scientific theory will ever be considered to be basically false.

          Isaac Asimov has a good essay on that topic:
          http://tinyurl.com/34d5o85

        • Chuck Johnson

          When Einstein presented his theory of relativity, this showed that the time-honored calculations of Newtonian mechanics were all wrong. But many calculations were only wrong by the tiniest bit.

          To conclude that Newton’s equations were basically wrong might be a political claim, but not a scientific viewpoint.

          Children are still taught Newtonian mechanics before they are introduced to Relativity.
          Relativity would not be understandable without the foundations laid by Sir Isaac Newton.

    • Joe

      But exactly what WOULD falsify evolution theory

      Not much at this stage, barring a discovery that undermines all of reality as we know it.

      Most likely, it would be a theory that explains all the data we have, better than the current theory. Not a hypothesis that explains none of it, or only one aspect.

      • Kevin K

        If we’re all just a Boltzman brain, that would probably do it…but you’re right assuming reality is “real”. Undermining evolutionary theory would basically undermine everything we know about biology, biochemistry, and a good chunk of physics.

        Ain’t gonna happen.

    • Kodie

      Something would have to explain that in a way that evolution currently cannot. But, for example, maybe there was a rabbit from the future sent back in a time machine, which wouldn’t upset evolution at all, but would be an interesting development.

    • epeeist

      Try this site for a long list of the predictions of evolutionary theory and how these could be falsified.

      • skl

        Thanks. There sure is a lot to read at that website.

        But still, I tend to doubt evolution can be falsified. For example, in the Introduction it says
        “The fundamentals of genetics, developmental biology,
        molecular biology, biochemistry, and geology are assumed to be fundamentally correct—especially those that do not directly purport to explain adaptation.However, whether microevolutionary theories are sufficient to account for macroevolutionary adaptations is a question that is left open.”

        In other words, it seems to me, they’re saying they don’t
        know, or don’t have agreement on, exactly how evolutionary steps happen (i.e. the micro) and so, even if an apparent contradiction or falsification were discovered, it could be dismissed with a ‘We’ll need to investigate further exactly how this could be the case, but we still assume that evolution is true.’

        • Derek Mathias

          “I doubted that ‘finding a rabbit in the Cambrian’ would falsify evolution, and that the theory would just evolve somehow to accommodate it.”

          Unless you posit time travel, a rabbit in the Cambrian would indeed falsify evolution. Had all species turned out to not be based on the same architecture (DNA), or had we not discovered any mechanism for introducing change to the genome (mutation), or had there been no evidence for the existence of transitional forms, or had the philogenetic tree not revealed the interrelationship between all clades, that would have been strong evidence against evolution. But a rabbit in the Cambrian would be impossible to reconcile with evolutionary theory.

          Also, ALL evolution occurs at the “microevolution” scale. “Macroevolution” is what some people call what happens when species diverge enough to no longer interbreed viably. The fossil record, DNA divergence, endogenous retroviral insertions and various other factors are strong evidence of “macroevolution.”

        • skl

          I’m not so sure. I think discovering ‘a rabbit in the Cambrian’ would force the evolution theory to evolve significantly, primarily in
          the TIMELINE and/or SPEED of the story, but evolution would still somehow be the reigning paradigm.

          To get just an inkling of what I’m talking about, consider that
          countless evolution websites and school textbooks say homo sapiens first appeared about 200,000 years ago, but a discovery in the last month shows the number is actually 50% farther back – 300,000 years ago.

          Sometimes the adjustments are in the hundreds of millions of
          years. For instance, see this story:
          http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v501/n7468/full/nature12426.html

        • Joe

          That’s only adjusting a timescale based on what we know.

          It’s filling in the details to paint a clearer picture. Either way, until we actually find Cambrian rabbits, this is all a hypothetical point.

        • Derek Mathias

          “I’m not so sure. I think discovering ‘a rabbit in the Cambrian’ would force the evolution theory to evolve significantly, primarily in
          the TIMELINE and/or SPEED of the story, but evolution would still somehow be the reigning paradigm.”

          IF the evidence of the rabbit in the Cambrian were credible, then there would be a MASSIVE problem for evolution (again, assuming no time travel was involved). That’s because most of the features of a rabbit don’t appear until FAR later in the fossil record. In the Cambrian, no mammals had evolved yet. Nor had fur. Nor had internal gestation. Nor had quadrupeds. Nor had teeth. Nor had true bones. There weren’t even any plants on land yet! There is simply no way that any of the ecosystem “infrastructure” was in place to allow rabbits to have evolved so long ago.

          “consider that countless evolution websites and school textbooks say homo sapiens first appeared about 200,000 years ago, but a discovery in the last month shows the number is actually 50% farther back – 300,000 years ago.”

          The DETAILS of evolution, including exactly when some feature or species first evolved, are constantly revised as new fossils and other evidence are discovered. The oldest Homo sapiens remains we had were around 200,000 years old, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be older remains out there. And, in fact, there were, and those 300,000 y.o. remains possessed some more “primitive” features, as one would expect from older fossils. So that discovery was no problem for evolution; it just required adding more to the human family tree.

          But in no case do examples like these cause problems for evolutionary theory or evolution at all. A rabbit in the Cambrian, however, would be irreconcilable with everything else we know about evolution, and thus pose a serious crisis for the theory.

        • skl

          I didn’t say ‘a rabbit in the Cambrian’ would not be a
          problem for evolution. It *would* be.
          But I *did* say it would *force* the evolution theory to evolve *significantly*, but that ultimately, evolution would still *somehow* continue to be the reigning paradigm.

          I mean, what else is there?

        • Derek Mathias

          Well, we would at least still use evolutionary theory for practical purposes because it fits everything else so well…but there would be recognition in the scientific community that something is ultimately wrong with the theory. Something like the irreconcilability (so far) between general relativity and quantum mechanics (only with no theory to explain the rabbit anomaly).

        • Joe

          In other words, it seems to me, they’re saying they don’t
          know, or don’t have agreement on, exactly how evolutionary steps happen (i.e. the micro)

          Actually, that’s very well understood.

          even if an apparent contradiction or falsification were discovered,

          If being the key word here.

          it could be dismissed with a ‘We’ll need to investigate further exactly how this could be the case, but we still assume that evolution is true.’

          Not dismissed, there would need to be an investigation. But like it has been pointed out, we didn’t throw out Newtonian physics just because Einstein published his paper.

        • skl

          If, as you say, the exact evolutionary steps (i.e. the micro) are very well understood, why would the talkorigins author say
          “However, whether microevolutionary theories are sufficient to account for macroevolutionary adaptations is a question that is left open” ?

        • Joe

          Where does it say that?

        • skl

          Where? In the Introduction.

        • Joe

          I only see one link to TalkOrigins in the article, and I can’t see it there.

        • skl
        • Joe

          Ah, now I see.

          The author is trying to make a point that there is enough evidence for ‘Macro evolution’ that you don’t even need to go into the smaller methods of adaption.

        • skl

          It seems to me the author is saying the microevolutionary theories may not be sufficient to account
          for macroevolutionary adaptations.

        • Joe

          Because of timescale. We can’t confirm them 100%

          However, when they’re plugged into the grand scheme of things, all the other evidence, they have great explanatory power, so become more certain.

    • Kevin K

      At this point? Nothing. You’d have a better chance at falsifying the laws of thermodynamics. Falsifiability is a nice concept when a model is first proposed — but at some point in the proceedings, you can do away with it when there are so many data points of confirmation.

      All life started as simple, single-celled (or protocellular) organisms. And then changed over time. That’s the entire theory in a nutshell — everything else is just commentary.

      “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” — Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky (one of the fathers of the modern evolutionary synthesis)

    • Anri

      Hmm, well to start with, we’d probably have to get rid of the massive evidentiary support for evolution.
      So, all of our understanding of genetics would have to be dead flat wrong, like, entirely useless tells us nothing levels of wrong.
      Likewise, all of our non-historical dating methods would have to be both wrong absolutely and divergent relatively – tree rings, ice cores, magnetic flip tracking, every form of radiometric dating – all totally wrong-headed.

      None of this would actually refute evolution, of course, but it would leave it without much evidence supporting it.

      So, to get at falsifying evolution, you’d probably have to start by falsifying essentially all of modern biology and the majority of modern physics.
      So, I think your cart’s a bit before the horse with your question.

      • skl

        “None of this would actually refute evolution, of course”

        Of course. That’s kind of what I mean.

        • Anri

          Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying evolution is irrefutable, just noting what you’d have to get rid of first, before even starting with evolutionary theory itself.

          In other words, if someone has evidence refuting our current understanding of DNA, they’ve taken the first step towards refuting evolutionary theory. But if they don’t, then DNA evidence is incredibly supportive of evolution.

          Likewise, if someone had evidence that refuted our understanding of radioactive decay, that would be a good way to reduce – but not completely destroy – the evidence for the accepted timeframe of evolution. That’s not refuting the entire theory, but without doing that first, there’s not much point.

          In other words, so long as the edifice of modern science stands more-or-less intact, huge, well-tested aspects of it support evolutionary theory. Attempting to disprove evolution would require first disproving other major sciences.

        • skl

          Right. As you say, even if someone had evidence that refuted our understanding of radioactive decay, it would not completely destroy the acceptance of the evolution paradigm.

  • RichardSRussell

    So does Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute really think that something that took 20 million years was the kind of “explosion” that you get by dropping Mentos into Diet Coke? I mean, 20 million years is a lot of time in which a lot of things could happen. And if 20 million years is a lot of time, doesn’t 6000 seem awfully fast?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      6000 is indeed awfully fast, though Meyer would agree with you. I’m pretty sure he’s an old-earth Creationist.

      It is hilarious when OECs shake their heads at the stupidity of the YECs as they pick and choose their science. They need to look in the mirror.

      • Rick

        Still looking for a realistic hypothesis about that first functional cell issue.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Me? Sure. But so what? That science has unanswered questions doesn’t change the fact that evolution is the consensus.

        • Rick

          Ah, yes—your appeal to your perception of the opinions of the experts. Even if you are correct, science outcomes are not determined by a head count. And the consensus changes on a regular basis with new discoveries of even more complexity, particularly in areas such as epigenetic multilayered programming.

        • islandbrewer

          Ah, yes—your appeal to your perception of the opinions of the experts.

          As opposed to … what? The opinions of theologians?

          Even if you are correct, science outcomes are not determined by a head count.

          Correct, they’re determined by repeated evaluations, new data, and confirmation of testable hypotheses … by the experts who work in that field. If all the experts working and testing and generating data all conclude the same thing, this carries far more weight than, say, half of them disagreeing, and far more weight than a random Rick in a comment thread.

          And the consensus changes on a regular basis with new discoveries of even more complexity, …

          Nah, not really.

          Oh, the consensus does change proportionally to with the uncertainty that’s expressed in each hypothesis. For example, say, the period that flight feathers evolved – a new preserved anceint bird (well, part of a bird) showing rattite-like plumage can change the consensus on that hypothesis.

          However, well supported hypotheses that have had mountains of corroborating evidence don’t change their consensus, or do so only rarely (for example, the period of divergence of Homo from Pan).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Even if I’m correct about what? About evolution being the consensus? It is.

          I hear you saying that the consensus doesn’t define the truth. That’s right; instead, the consensus is our best guess at the truth.

          Why bring up epigenetics? Because this is a challenge to there being a natural explanation for why life is the way it is? If so, show me. More precisely: show me that this is the consensus, because, as you know, I change my opinion to track the consensus. My opinion is easily changeable: just change the consensus of the experts.

        • islandbrewer

          Just a hypothesis? Like this?

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRzxTzKIsp8

  • Chuck Johnson

    Apparently, the Earthly environment and the biota can be largely in equilibrium and this inhibits evolution.

    Also, the Earthly environment and the biota can be out of equilibrium and this would accelerate evolution. Hawaii has examples of being out of equilibrium and undergoing accelerated biological evolution.

    http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150625-islands-where-evolution-ran-riot

    The religionists embarrass themselves when they pretend they know things that they don’t know. – – – Too often, they don’t even want to find out, and they don’t want anyone else to find out, either.

    http://tinyurl.com/nlm7kun

  • Kevin K

    The Ordovician extinction was also quite a bit larger than the event that did away with the dinosaurs. Somehow, all of those “kinds” that didn’t make it through that extinction filter never made it on the ark, either.

    Funny that.

  • David Cromie

    If the supposed ‘creator god’, as depicted in Genesis, really created all that exists in the universe in just 6 days (no matter how they were calculated at the time), and then had a rest on the seventh (would an omnipotent ‘god’ need to take a rest?), why does the fossil record tell a totally different story?

    What would extinction events be required for achieving if everything was perfect in the first place, according to the supposed creator?

    Re-labelling ‘creationism’ as ‘intelligent design’ does not help very much either, nor does trying to drag a supposed ‘omniscient god’ into the equation.

    • sandy

      Massive extinctions and intelligent design do not go together, they are opposites….checkmate.

      • Rick

        Wrong. Extinctions happen when the organism can no longer thrive or survive in its environment. The changes in environment do not indicate a failure of the design. Un-checkmated. It is a lot more complicated than your reply would indicate.

        • Greg G.

          The survivors have a contingency that allows it to adapt to a new environment. An intelligent designer could have foreseen the trap those gone extinct would have faced and designed for it.

          Unless the intelligent designer modeled design on the way random mutations with natural selection would have done it. That would be very intelligent.

        • Rick

          You are assuming that the intelligent designer intended for no species to go extinct. I don’t know on what basis you would conclude that to necessarily be the case. He could just as easily have designed enough creatures that evolutionary niches would be adequately filled.

        • Greg G.

          You are assuming the ID would design exactly like there was no intelligent designer.

    • Michael Neville

      Intelligent design was invented by a lawyer named Phillip Johnson to get around the Constitutional prohibition of teaching religious mythology in American public schools. The “intelligent designer” is Yahweh with the serial number filed off.

      • Cage KY

        ‘The “intelligent designer” is Yahweh with the serial number filed off.’ – Now THAT’S funny!