February 12, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Does Evolution Wait for Mountains?

Here is the latest association fallacy between geology and biology. Mainstream science lets it pass without criticism.

Evolution came to a standstill because mountains stopped rising for a billion years. How’s that for a rational cause-and-effect explanation of the rise of animal body plans and complex life?

Science thrives on debate, they say. Indeed, some papers stimulate critics to find fault with proposed theories; the journals will usually print the criticisms and let the original authors defend their view. Not so with Darwinism. Any crazy idea that a doctrinaire Darwin worshiper puts up in the journal gets a pass. Popular science writers run it up the pole and expect everyone to salute. Here’s one that defies belief. Brent Grocholski, writing in Science, puts it out there matter-of-factly in his piece, “A boring billion for mountains” —

Earth’s crust has changed over time as supercontinents formed and broke apart. Tied into this cycle are the building and erosion of high mountains, which are tied to collisions between tectonic plates. Tang et al. use europium anomalies in zircons to estimate the mean thickness of crust over Earth’s history. This proxy shows that mountain building has not always been as active as it is today or as it was very early in Earth’s history. Mountain building, and the subsequent erosion, was less intense for about a billion years, roughly correlated with a so-called “boring billion” period of biological evolution.

This is based on a hypothesis by Ming Tang et al. in the same issue, “Orogenic quiescence in Earth’s middle age,” Science 12 Feb 2021: Vol. 371, Issue 6530, pp. 728-731, DOI: 10.1126/science.abf1876.

Let’s take stock of this idea as presented so far. The geologists used a “proxy” to make up their story—not direct evidence, but evidence that they presume can stand in for other evidence. What is their evidence? Crystals! They gathered zircon crystals from various places to “estimate” the “mean thickness” of continental crust. Did they directly measure mountain growth? No. Have they seen europium anomalies correlate with the speed of orogeny (mountain growth)? No. Even if one grants that zircon anomalies might correlate with crustal thickness, do they know that crustal thickness has anything to do with mountain growth? No. They believe that it does, because when plates collide, supposedly they get thicker. This is all highly indirect so far: like a proxy about a proxy about a proxy. Logic alert: association is not causation!

But then, their association fallacy goes off the rails. Imagining from their resulting imaginary timeline that mountain-building slowed down to a crawl for nearly a billion years (1.8 bya to 0.8 bya in Darwin Years, which seems odd for an active planet), they tie this in to Darwinism. Here’s how: mountains get eroded. Rain washes their minerals, like phosphorus and iron, into the ocean. During the imaginary “boring billion” years, there must have been a famine of nutrients in the seas. The poor microbes that had evolved by then were starving. Finally, when the mountain-building machinery started up again, the microbes found the table set for a banquet. Life exploded into endless forms most beautiful, including the Cambrian Explosion! The paper puts it this way:

As mountains reappeared on the continents, nutrient supply to the oceans was enhanced, which catalyzed surges in biological productivity and resumed surface oxidation. Efficient orogenesis appears to have been maintained ever since… The sustained high erosion and weathering rates promoted organic C burial, as evidenced by a systematic 13C enrichment in Phanerozoic carbonates. With the emergence of a fully oxidized atmosphere-ocean system, the planet was eventually primed for the arrival of metazoans in the Cambrian.

Diorama at the Denver Museum

Earth’s mountains disappeared for a billion years, and then life stopped evolving (Live Science). Brandon Specktor shows how not to be a critical thinker. He imagines his job is to put fancy clothes on the naked mannequin and make it look trendy for science window shoppers. Agreeing with lead author Tang that evolution was slow for the “boring billion” years, he joins in the chorus that if you simply add nutrients, complex body plans and ecosystems are sure to spring into existence:

By contrast, Tang said, the Cambrian explosion, which occurred just 300 million years later, introduced almost all major animal groups that we see today. For whatever reason, life evolved achingly slowly during the “boring billion,” then jump-started just as the crust began thickening.

What’s the correlation? If no new mountains formed during this period, then no new nutrients were introduced to Earth’s surface from the mantle below, the researchers wrote — and a dearth of nutrients on land also meant a dearth of nutrients making their way into the ocean through the water cycle. As mountain forming stalled for a billion years, a “famine” of phosphorus and other essential elements could have starved Earth’s simple sea critters, limited their productivity and stalled their evolution, the team suggests.

Notice the high perhapsimaybecouldness index in all this. The team suggests. A famine of nutrients could have starved Earth’s simple sea critters. For whatever reason, life evolved achingly slow; then it jump-started. The planet was primed for the “arrival” of metazoans in the Cambrian. The scenario ties into the Popeye theory of Evolution: trilobites with complex, focusing eyes must have just popped into existence, along with some 20 other complex body plans, each with new tissues, organs, and organ systems. They were all just waiting for the phosphorus gravy train. What took Tinker Bell so long? Was she on break?

If nutrients alone were sufficient to force Darwinian processes into high gear, then sardine cans all over the world would be popping open with new life forms crawling out, because all the nutrients are present in the can (the sardines, remember, were once alive). Sterile agar plates in high school science labs would be exploding with new multicellular organisms. And humanoids would be descending the slopes of eroding Martian volcanoes.

If evolution were the inexorable march of progress (a Victorian myth) that Darwin and his disciples believed it was, then a shortage of nutrients would not have the power to stop it. The microbes could have become more efficient at utilizing the phosphorus and iron it had in the oceans, especially at deep sea vents where hot soup is constantly being served. Nor would a flood of nutrients have any power to make irreducibly complex biological systems arise by chance, any more than a landslide of rocks could build a city.

This story illustrates again the flexibility of the Stuff Happens Law: evolution is achingly slow except when it is explosively fast. It is boring except when it is exciting. It is helpless against famines except when it thrives in deserts.

What is Darwin’s epistemology? Crystals. Look into the crystals, or whatever divination device is lying around, and stare until you see visions of emergence. No rigorous science required. Whatever you see can be published and nobody will criticize it.

Take a different look at the actual evidence, forgetting the geological column with its circular association with evolution over millions of years. The first burst of mountain building occurred at Creation, and the second was the result of the Flood. Why not? No boring billion. No association fallacy with life. No “stuff happens” miracles. An Eyewitness account.




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