January 10, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Darwinian Explanations: Show or Snow?

We all know the proverbial “snow job.”  That’s putting on an entertaining song and dance without doing the assignment.  A college sophomore (wise fool) writes a 15-page term paper full of jargon that, on closer inspection, didn’t follow directions or didn’t answer the question – it reveals ignorance of the subject.  A job applicant makes an impression with humor or appearance without demonstrating ability to do the work. A junior makes up a fanciful story to cover up why he didn’t mow the lawn.  Scientists are supposed to explain things based on observation and testable hypotheses.  If Darwinians really believe that an unguided, impersonal, purposeless mechanism led to the diversity of life on Earth, they need to show the evidence.  Here are a few recent examples of evolutionary explanations.  Check whether they “show” evolution, or distract attention with a “snow” job.

Introducing: TNA! (ta-daah).  An article on New Scientist purports to show that you don’t need to start life with the familiar DNA or RNA.  A “simpler” molecule called TNA that uses threose instead of ribose might have gotten things started.  In fact, the early earth might have been a “hodge-podge world” of many different molecules that could store genetic information.  The imagination goes wild with the possibilities.

Only by getting into the nitty-gritty of the article do you come to realize that this is all guesswork.  (1) TNA is “not found in nature today.”  (2) TNA “would not have arisen on its own.”  (3) There is “no trace of TNA or its cousins in modern organisms.”  (4) “no one has actually made it in the conditions that existed on Earth before life began….”  (5) John Chaput and team at U. of Arizona intelligently designed TNA molecules and “evolved them” in their lab with purpose and intent.  (6) “Chaput points out that we still know very little about what TNA can do, because the technology to evolve the molecules in the lab is so new.”  Yet reporter Michael Marshall titled his exploration of TNA, “Before DNA, before RNA: Life in the hodge-podge world.”  Did he show any life?

Shed Light on EvolutionWitness evolution in an English quarry:  Reporter Carl Yapp of the BBC News is going to “shed light” on evolution through amazingly-preserved fossils found in an abandoned quarry.  They’re 450 million years old, he tells us.  Eagerly, the reader looks into the quarry for the evolution, with the powerful flashlight beam Yapp is holding, and sees amazing things: complex hydroids (related to sea anemones), chambered nautiloids, sponges – a whole “community that was entirely new and surprising.”  These animals, the reader learns, were buried alive so quickly that they fossilized intact – a unique, “spectacular,” “astonishing” collection of animals, some so delicate they rarely fossilize.

Yapp said, “Scientists believe they shed new light on how ocean communities have evolved.”  Sufficiently dazzled by the fossils, the impatient reader asks about the promised evidence for evolution, only to hear paleontologist Dr. Lucy Muir say (watch for the operative word imagined):

“It’s not a discovery that you can point to and say: ‘This proves such-and-such,’” said Dr Muir.

“Rather, it’s a question of adding a large new chunk of knowledge, and in turn suggesting that there are many more chunks left to find.

“This type of ecological community type was simply unknown from rocks this old, and for it to suddenly appear makes palaeontologists wonder what else they’ve been missing.

“It shows us that Ordovician ecosystems were even more diverse and complicated than we imagined.

Your inner fish, v.2:  Alfred Romer’s old idea of fish evolving legs as they hopped between drying desert ponds is implausible. Tiktaalik is a has-been.  But now, thank Charles Darwin, “A new theory emerges for where some fish became four-limbed creatures.”  Let’s let PhysOrg set the stage from a University of Oregon press release:

A small fish crawling on stumpy limbs from a shrinking desert pond is an icon of can-do spirit, emblematic of a leading theory for the evolutionary transition between fish and amphibians. This theorized image of such a drastic adaptation to changing environmental conditions, however, may, itself, be evolving into a new picture.

Hero of the new “evolving…picture” is University of Oregon scientist Gregory J. Retallack.  He’s motivated to provide a new “scenario,” because “such a plucky hypothetical ancestor of ours probably could not have survived the overwhelming odds of perishing in a trek to another shrinking pond.”  So out with the old, in with the new: the ancestor wasn’t in a desert after all.  It was in a jungle.  “Judging from where their fossils were found, transitional forms between fish and amphibians lived in wooded floodplains,” Retallack explains.  “Our distant ancestors were not so much foolhardy, as opportunistic, taking advantage of floodplains and lakes choked with roots and logs for the first time in geological history.

Now, the evidence, please.  It sounds too good to be true: “eight-foot-long, 395-million-year-old tetrapods in ancient lagoonal mud in southeastern Poland.”  Wow!  That would be the evolutionary fossil find of the century.  PhysOrg informs us that the tetrapods were announced a year ago – Oh, that was the story about tetrapod tracks we reported on 1/06/2010 (to be making tetrapod tracks, they had to be tetrapods, not fish).  The reader looks for other corroborating evidence, such as Softpedia.com, only to find that Retallack studied “ancient soils,” not actual tetrapods.  The soils had “tracks” of fish and other animals that he assumes were evolving.  This is old news, anyway; the actual paper in the Journal of Geology came out last May.  The abstract didn’t announce any new tetrapod transitional forms; just fossilized soils where he thought showed the transition took place.  “A woodland hypothesis of evolution is presented here,” the paper says.  So why did this make news in late December on PhysOrg?  Elementary; it’s the theory, you recall, that is evolving, not necessarily the fish.  But that’s OK; finish with a rhetorical flourish, and no one will notice: “The Darwin fish of chrome adorning many car trunks represents a particular time and place in the long evolutionary history of life on earth.

Oh, creationists are so frightful,

But concocting tales delightful,

And since we’ve no data to show,

Let us snow! Let us snow! Let us snow!

Our show must go on without stopping,

And our eyes evolved by popping (05/31/2005),

Critical thinking is turned way down low,

Let us snow! Let us snow! Let us snow!

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