June 21, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Crisis at Both Ends of Darwin’s Tree

Two assumptions about evolution – one about the earliest multicellular organisms and one about the rise of mammals – have run into trouble. 

  1. Eukarya sans Mechanista:  “In the absence of direct evidence, science should proceed cautiously with conjecture,” wisely advised Anthony Poole and David Penny in Nature.1  They scorned the researchers who glibly invent fables about how multicellular organisms arose when one engulfed another, saying, “The notion that eukaryotes evolved via a merger of cells from the other two domains – archaea and bacteria – overlooks known processes.”  Maybe that’s why they titled their Concepts essay, “Engulfed by speculation.
        Poole and Penny criticized leading theories about how eukaryotes arose, comparing them with absurd medieval speculations: “The conflicting hypotheses currently on offer show a curious disregard for mechanism,” they asserted.  They agree that engulfing was part of the story – they claim that engulfing is widespread among eukarya, but unknown among archaea and bacteria – but they criticize the way some evolutionists appeal to imagination: “It is the only explanation based on a host capable of engulfing the mitochondrial ancestor by known processes,” they demanded, “rather than by mechanisms founded in unfettered imagination.
        David Tyler on Access Research Network emphasized the damage this article portends for Darwinism.
  2. Mammals sans Clocks:  “Yet again, molecules and fossils are at odds in the dating of a key event in the history of life,” wrote John Whitfield in Nature.2  The molecular clock doesn’t fit the fossil dates at all.  The most complete phylogenetic tree built on the fossil record puts mammals on the rise 65 million years ago, but the DNA studies suggest mammals originated 15 to 35 million years earlier.  “Yawning gaps between molecular and palaeontological approaches to the dating of evolutionary landmarks have appeared ever since molecular approaches based on DNA sequences first became widely used about 15 years ago,” Whitfield lamented.  John Wible added, “I don’t have a good answer as to why there’s this discrepancy.”  Researchers are trying to force two data sets together that don’t want to get married.  The article also mentioned the large discrepancy between the two data sets from the much-earlier Cambrian explosion.
        The latest controversy was spurred by Wible’s discovery, published in the same issue of Nature,3 of a Mongolian mammal he dated at 75 million years old.  He not only found a rare Cretaceous mammal but ventured a phylogenetic tree vastly at odds with molecular studies.  He puts the crown group of mammals late in the Cretaceous, nearer the time of the dinosaur extinction.
        Cifelli and Gordon, in the same issue,4 noted how far-reaching this controversy extends: “The conflicting results of these palaeontological and molecular studies have profound implications for understanding the evolutionary history of mammals, and for understanding the pace and nature of evolution generally.”  They noted Wible’s “eye-popping” and “ground-breaking” analysis, yet how at odds it is with DNA studies.  Paleontologists will have to fill in the gaps with more finds, they said, joking that the discovery of a “Cretaceous giraffe” might send Wible back to the drawing board.  Until then, “The ‘molecules versus morphology’ debate remains both vexing and vibrant.

For more on the mammal problem, see New Scientist.  Also, National Geographic put a positive spin on the problem, favoring Wible’s fossil-centric view that the extinction of dinosaurs paved the way for mammals.

1Anthony Poole and David Penny, “Eukaryote evolution: Engulfed by speculation,” Nature 447, 913 (21 June 2007), doi:10.1038/447913a.
2John Whitfield, “Fossils challenge DNA in the dating game,” Nature 447, 894-895 (21 June 2007), doi:10.1038/447894a.
3Wible et al, “Cretaceous eutherians and Laurasian origin for placental mammals near the K/T boundary,” Nature 47, 1003-1006 (21 June 2007), doi:10.1038/nature05854.
4Richard L. Cifelli and Cynthia L. Gordon, “Evolutionary biology: Re-crowning mammals,” Nature 447, 918-920 (21 June 2007), doi:10.1038/447918a.

This is why you need Creation-Evolution Headlines to give you the spiel from the original sources, instead of swallowing the pre-digested Darwin truth serum from the popular outlets like National Geographic.  Real evolutionists are pulling their hair out.  You rarely see it unless you read the journals, because once they go outside their inner sanctums, they all put on their masks.  These are like the masks seen in Amadeus, with a happy face in front toward fellow evolutionists, and an angry face in back toward creationists.
    When their fights are exposed in all their fury, evolutionists like to say that vexing, vibrant controversy is an essential part of science – and so it should be.  But when it’s all fight and no conclusion for 148 years, except for undying faith in the overall “fact of evolution,” what are outsiders supposed to think?  For proof, wander through the Darwin chain links.  They can’t get the fossils right (05/21/2004), they can’t get the genetics right (06/15/2007, 05/01/2007), they can’t get the dating right (04/25/2007), they can’t get the tree right (02/01/2007), they can’t get the morals right (06/19/2007, 05/22/2007), they can’t get the mind right (07/07/2006, 07/15/2005, 05/17/2007) and they can’t get the philosophy right (04/30/2007, 02/20/2007, 06/03/2004).  They only thing they are good at is hating creationism (06/22/2007).  That debate, more than anything else, remains as vexing and vibrant as ever.

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