What Can Fossil Leaf Measurements Tell About Evolution?
Flowering plants burst on the scene in the fossil record 140 million years ago in the geologic timescale, creating an “abominable mystery” for Charles Darwin. What can be learned by measuring the stems and leaves of fossil specimens?
Dana Royer and colleagues from Wesleyan University in Connecticut embarked on a project to measure ratios of petiole width and leaf area from 179 species of angiosperms (flowering plants) from three areas of the Albian period, cited 100-110 million years old. The majority of the fossils had a low leaf mass per area.
They compared these ratios with the growth habits of living gymnosperms and angiosperms. Assuming that today’s growth patterns held in the past, they inferred that the fossil angiosperms were short-lived, fast-growing species – like weeds.
What does this mean? Science Daily quoted Dr. Royer: “While this doesn’t tell us anything directly about the earliest angiosperms – the oldest angiosperm pollen is around 140 Ma old – the Albian marks the time when angiosperms begin to be very diverse and important ecologically,” he said. “It is likely that explosive growth is one reason for the success of angiosperms.”
The number of assumptions in the method and its presuppositions outweigh any validity of the conclusions. First, the dating of the fossils is imbued with evolutionary assumptions. Second, the statement “the Albian marks the time when angiosperms begin to be very diverse and important ecologically” is miracle talk. It is distraction for “We have no idea what happened.” Basically, complex plants “emerged” and ”exploded” onto the scene, like universes, Cambrian animals and everything else does in Darwinian theory.
Suppose – just suppose – for the sake of argument, just allow the remote possibility – that plants were created. Then no amount of measuring petioles and leaf area is going to tell you how they evolved. You can measure them with a micrometer, and have them listed in spreadsheets to four significant figures. You can produce the most dazzling Powerpoint presentations. You can even establish a relationship between the ratios and growth habits of living plants (as they did). Even if you believe plants evolved, none of this busy work provides one iota of evidence for evolution. Strip away the assumption of evolution, and restrict yourself to empiricism. All you have done is describe certain mathematical relationships between living species, with a possible inference that those relationships held in the past among extinct species.
If that’s all Dr. Royer was trying to do, fine; he said, “While this doesn’t tell us anything directly about the earliest angiosperms… the Albian marks the time when angiosperms begin to be very diverse and important ecologically.” That could be the third day of creation, presumably. Has he proven otherwise by anything he has done? There seems to be an evolutionary undertone in the article, but where is the evidence for millions of years of slow, gradual change by mutation and selection, followed by explosive diversification of complex, wholly new forms of plants? “It is likely that explosive growth is one reason for the success of angiosperms,” he concluded. Amen, hallelujah. That’s what they were designed to do: succeed. And your point is? Don’t couch miracle talk in hidden variables. Tell us Darwinly how “explosive growth” evolved: here, at the Cambrian explosion, and at the birth of a universe out of absolutely nothing. Until then, don’t call it science; call it leaf collecting.