An intelligent design advocate is publishing a book this month that uses the Cambrian Explosion as evidence against Darwinism and for I.D. Two major evolutionary paleontologists have also published a book about the issue.
Stephen Meyer’s new book, Darwin’s Doubt, is officially released next week. Chapter 4 will tell about the uproar caused at the University of Oklahoma in 2009 when Meyer and Wells scheduled a panel discussion after a showing of Illustra’s film Darwin’s Dilemma about the Cambrian fossil record. Darwinists at the university attempted a pre-emptive strike by issuing announcements that the event was religiously motivated. In the Q&A, though, the university’s professors and museum curators could not produce any unambiguous fossil as a credible ancestor to any of the Cambrian animals. Meyer’s book, updated with the latest findings since then, examines all the putative fossil ancestors and evolutionary exlanations for the Cambrian explosion, and assesses the issue’s relevance to the Darwin-ID debate.
Meanwhile, two leading evolutionary paleontologists have just come out with a pro-evolution book about the sudden appearance of virtually all animal phyla at the base of the Cambrian. Written by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine, experts on the Cambrian fossil record, the new work, The Cambrian Explosion The Construction of Animal Biodiversity, was reviewed by Christpher J. Lowe (Stanford) in Science Magazine this week: “What Led to Metazoa’s Big Bang?” was his suggestive headline. His first paragraph states the problem in such a way as to furrow the brows of Darwinists and make creationists or ID advocates grin, “We told you so.”
The Ediacaran and Cambrian periods witnessed a phase of morphological innovation in animal evolution unrivaled in metazoan history, yet the proximate causes of this body plan revolution remain decidedly murky. The grand puzzle of the Cambrian explosion surely must rank as one of the most important outstanding mysteries in evolutionary biology. Evidence of early representatives of all the major animal phyla first appear abruptly in the Cambrian (starting 542 million years ago). This spectacular morphological diversity contrasts strongly with Precambrian deposits, which have yielded a sparse fossil record with small, morphologically ambiguous trace fossils or the enigmatic but elegant creatures of the Ediacaran fauna. Following the Cambrian, despite a rich fossil record that documents impressive morphological diversification among animals, no new body plans have been revealed, leaving the Cambrian as the apparent crucible of metazoan body plan innovation.
Lowe agrees, then, that it was an explosion, that all the animaly phyla appear abruptly, and that the few Precambrian fossils (including the “enigmatic” Ediacarans) are not ancestral to the Cambrian animals. So what, then, is the evolutionists’ response to this “outstanding mystery” that Darwin wrote about 154 years ago? Lowe is not helpful to the Darwin side: “The range of hypotheses proposed to explain the Cambrian explosion is as diverse and broad as the fossils they seek to explain.”
He gives some sample explanations from Erwin and Valentine’s book. The authors gave a “heroic attempt” to synthesize hypotheses from the “disparate fields” of geology, ecology, developmental biology, and genomics, each of which has “made substantial contributions toward unraveling the causes of this key puzzle of animal evolution.” But a contribution toward unraveling is not the same thing as actually unraveling.
It shouldn’t matter that Erwin and Valentine decorated their book with nice illustrations. It shouldn’t matter how good they are at making their prose accessible to non-specialists. It also shouldn’t matter that they could state “how recent modifications to animal phylogeny have strongly revised our understanding of early animal diversification.” What is the explanation for the virtually instantaneous arrival (in evolutionary geological terms) of some 40 animal body plans, in a period of time Jonathan Wells has described in Illustra’s films as one minute on a 24-hour clock, or one step on a football field?
After filtering out Lowe’s words of hope, not much remains of factual evidence in his tentative solutions:
The authors also review molecular biology’s substantial contributions to solving the grand puzzle of the Cambrian explosion, which have at times been at odds with interpretations derived from fossil data. Comparative developmental genetic studies and genome sequencing projects from diverse metazoan phyla have revealed some of the genetic innovations that were likely responsible, in part, for the increase in animal complexity. These new data may help us reconstruct ancestral morphological features of the mysterious stem lineages of the Ediacaran, by reconstructing ancestral gene complements and by inferring gene regulatory networks that have key roles in setting up the body plans of extant animals. However, our understanding of how to relate genomic and developmental regulatory complexity to organizational and morphological complexity remains in its infancy.
This paragraph consists of little more than promissory notes that the infant will grow up, despite 154 years of trying. Identifying “genetic innovations” that were “likely responsible, in part” says nothing about specific mutations that could have been selected. And examining gene regulatory networks from “extant animals” can only be of minimal help interpreting extinct animals that left no DNA to study. “It’s just too complex,” Lowe seems to be saying.
It seems that Erwin and Valentine’s solution is all futureware. Multidisciplinary approaches will be needed, they say. Proposing multiple causes will be needed, they say. More understanding of the environment, genetics and ecology will be important, they say, to explain this “great evolutionary puzzle”. Somehow, these factors provided “Ecological opportunities for novel morphological innovations” that (as evolutionists) they believe drove the diversification. In other words, if the environment builds it, the body plans will come.
Lowe’s last sentences appear to reveal that Erwin and Valentine have not explained the Cambrian Explosion at all:
Erwin and Valentine illuminate clear links between seemingly disparate disciplines, and they make a compelling case that substantial progress toward understanding the origins of animal diversity will not be achieved through adding isolated gains in individual fields. It is futile to hope to explain such a major evolutionary event without embracing an interdisciplinary approach.
This implies that there has not been substantial progress toward understanding the Cambrian Explosion. The book appears to be a call for all good evolutionists to come to the aid of their theory.
Nothing has changed in the 7 years since Charles Marshall, the Master of Disaster, took on the challenge (4/23/06, see also 9/04/09, 8/05/10). His answer was circular; the animals “evolved because they evolved.” Something gave these animals the “opportunity” to evolve, so they took advantage of it. What kind of answer is that? Why do we pay any attention to these charlatans?
If there was ever a key evidential falsification of evolution, this is it. Too bad for evolutionists it’s not the only one. There’s also the origin of intelligence and morality, the origin of consciousness, the origin of species, the origin of life, the origin of earth, the origin of cosmic structure, the origin of the universe, and the origin of anything from nothing. Every one of these is a show-stopper for Darwinism, and as we like to repeat, it only takes one show-stopper to stop a show. But who wants to watch a show with a master of ceremonies who comes out, shrugs his shoulders, and says, “Stuff Happens”? Put your money on the show with the necessary and sufficient cause for the amazing biosphere we observe: intelligent design.
There are old-earth ID advocates and old-earth creationists who can agree on that much—that the Cambrian Explosion falsifies Darwinism. Thinking long and hard enough about the consequences of that falsification, though, may lead to other questions, like, “Why are we trusting in the dating methods of these charlatans? What else did they get wrong” It’s at least a start of more and more honest debate.
Exercise: To illustrate the folly of Marshall’s explanation for the Cambrian Explosion, take something observable in everyday life and come up with a silly, obviously-illogical explanation for it. Then, dress it up in the most erudite, learned language you can, and see if you can fool somebody. Example hypothesis: An opportunity for knives, forks and spoons to appear in your kitchen drawer arose, so they emerged out of the surrounding material.