Facile Fixes for Fossil Foibles
Can biologists see Darwin in the fossils? Only if they look hard. Andrew P. Hendry (McGill University) wrote in Nature that Darwin has been there all along; we just weren’t looking right.1
Hendry argues that our methods of statistically analyzing the fossil record are guaranteed not to see Darwin. To explain the patterns we see, we shouldn’t use randomness as a null hypothesis. Positive selection and stabilizing selection should get equal footing. When we do that, he argues, patterns of Darwinian evolution begin to emerge.
The example he gave was a sequence of stickleback fish fossils in Nevada that he said go back 21,000 years with 250-year resolution. When the ancestral sticklebacks invaded freshwater lakes, the story goes, the fish began to lose their characteristic bony armor, because predation was less severe in the new habitat. Hendry likes this case because it should represent directional evolution. Using standard statistical methods, however, a team led by Gene Hunt could not eliminate the null hypothesis that the changes were random. Something must be wrong with our thinking rather than with the fossils.
But if we start with the presumption that directional selection was acting, aren’t we assuming what needs to be proved? Hendry deals with this objection, surprisingly, by celebrating the circularity:
Several potential criticisms need to be addressed. First, Hunt et al. start their analysis at exactly the point in time when each armour trait begins to decrease, which favours a model of initially strong directional selection. But this choice does not undermine their general conclusion, because the standard methods could not reject randomness even when started at these same times. Second, the analysis of the stickleback data formally examined only one model of selection – the hybrid directional-stabilizing model they expected beforehand. The authors are here again stacking the deck for success in confirming selection. But then this is the point. Their analysis is akin to a positive control in showing that a new statistical method can infer the correct evolutionary process when that process is almost certain to be acting.
This seems, however, to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent. They expect to see positive selection (the new null hypothesis); they see it; therefore, positive selection caused it.
Does Hendry provide any other examples of the power of this new analytical technique to see Darwin in the fossils? No. The rest of the work is in future tense, but we may see him if we discern patterns rightly in what looks like randomness:
The obvious next step is to apply similar thinking to a much larger array of fossil data and evolutionary models. Doing so will justifiably accelerate the retreat from a ‘one model to rule them all’ vision. This work will almost certainly generate additional support from fossil sequences for the action of natural selection. Perhaps more importantly, it will become easier for biologists to accept randomness when random models still receive the most support. This acceptance, however, needs to be tempered by the realization that selection can certainly generate patterns that look random. Particularly valuable for all this work will be more fossil data with fine temporal resolution such as that seen in the stickleback samples, because selection can cause noteworthy changes in less than a hundred years. Ultimately, we might hope for the emergence of general conclusions about the role of natural selection in generating the diversity of life.
1. Andrew P. Hendry, “Evolutionary biology: Darwin in the fossils,” Nature 451, 779-780 (14 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/451779a.
And here all along you thought the Darwinists already had “general conclusions about the role of natural selection in generating the diversity of life.” What are they doing now looking for the “emergence” of understanding? Aren’t they 150 years too late?
To anyone having their common-sense eyes open, and not brainwashed by Darwiniana, the admissions in this essay are astonishing. Hendry just admitted that there is no clear evidence for natural selection (Darwin’s grand idea that made him famous and makes his disciples want to force the world to celebrate his birthday) in the fossil record. The only way to see it is to assume it – circular reasoning. Hendry tells critics who point this out that “But then this is the point” – we have to assume it or we won’t see it. You have to concentrate long and hard to divine the Divine Darwin, but he is there, because we have already made up our minds that his blessed image is everywhere. On top of that, the best case he could produce was a case of loss of structure – fish that have lost their armor. Would you think that Leonidas is more evolved when he takes his armor off? Incredible.
Hendry talked about three kinds of change over time: randomness, stabilizing selection, and directional selection. Randomness and neutral drift are certainly not going to help Charlie build an eye or a wing. Stabilizing selection won’t help, either: it only maintains what is there. This is the kind of selection that produces living fossils and horseshoe crabs that haven’t changed for 445 million years in the evolutionary timescale (see 01/28/2008). But then, directional selection itself can be up or down. It was down in the case of these stickleback fish: they lost something they had. The only kind of directional selection that will help Charlie spin his myth is the kind that would produce an eye or a wing or other new structure by the accumulation of gradual changes caused by random mutations. If Hendry could have pointed to an example in the fossil record, he surely would have.
The fact is, Darwinists have known about the lack of evidence for their theory in the fossil record since the book of the bearded Buddha himself. Darwin devoted nearly a whole chapter in the Origin about it. He called it perhaps the biggest objection that could be levied against his hypothesis. He told everyone to just keep looking. Here we are in 2008 and there are still no examples (but lots of counterexamples). In any other field of science this would be known as falsification.
Yet the Darwinists persist. Nothing stops them from worshiping their Buddha. They coerce the rest of us to make their cult the state religion in their temples, the public schools.* Creationists and even non-Darwinian evolutionist skeptics have displayed this little problem with their story for many years, to no avail. Gish wrote Evolution: the Fossils Say No in 1978. Many others have said no in the intervening 30 years. If you won’t listen to a creationist, go back to Richard Owen, a contemporary of Darwin, and follow the bones. You will find a steady path of secular, non-creationist paleontologists who knew full well, and stated publicly, that one cannot see natural selection in the fossil record: David Raup and Stephen Jay Gould are recent examples.
When even staunch evolutionists admit this is still a problem after 150 years, why should we put up with the bluff and bluster any more? You saw what Charlie Marshall, the master of disaster, did with the Cambrian explosion (04/23/2006), and now Hendry has done it here. They give responses that are circular, irrational and vacuous. The only transitional forms the Darwinists find in the fossil record are the ones they put there (Piltdown Man, Piltdown Chicken and other hoaxes) or blow out of all proportion (Tiktaalik, Lucy etc.). The contradictions to molecules-to-man evolution, by contrast, are clear and numerous.
The only judgment a reasonable person can make about the dogmatic Darwinists who cling to their story and force it on everyone else in spite of the evidence is that they are hardened intellectual criminals. They should be charged with fraud and drummed out of academia and the science labs. Replace them with honest researchers who will take an oath to obey the Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”