Darwin’s Doubt – Chapter 2 – Part 5
This section is called A Puzzling Pattern.
Here, Meyer (again) poisons the well by saying that paleontologists have found many puzzling aspects of the Precambrian-Cambrian fossil record. There are a couple of issues with this characterization though.
First, Meyer has (in a footnote) a citation of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History page 49. Indeed, let me just post the two sentences that Meyer writes in this whole section. (You can’t take it out of context if there isn’t any context.)
Over the years, as paleontologists have reflected on the overall pattern of the Precambrian-Cambrian fossil record in light of Walcott’s discoveries, they too have noted several features of the Cambrian explosion that are unexpected from a Darwinian point of view11 in particular: (1) the sudden appearance of Cambrian animal forms; (2) an absence of transitional intermediate fossils connecting the Cambrian animals to simpler Precambrian forms; (3) a startling array of completely novel animal forms with novel body plans; and (4) a pattern in which radical differences in form in the fossil record arise before more minor, small-scale diversification and variations. This pattern turns on its head the Darwinian expectation of small incremental change only gradually resulting in larger and larger differences in form.
That “11″ is the footnote to Gould.
Let me talk for few minutes about page 49 of Wonderful Life. Page 49 is something of a footnote. It’s a digression. You know how in the school textbooks, there’s that big brown box, with something related to, but not central to the them of that portion of the book? Page 49 is similar here.
The title of this digression is “The Meanings of Diversity and Disparity”.* Gould describes how “diversity” means two different things: the number of species in a group and the difference in body plans.
He notes (not unsurprisingly) that measured as a number of species, the diversity in the Burgess Shale is not high. This seems to be important to Meyer for some reason. I can’t imagine that Meyer thinks that Gould supports a non-evolutionary claim for the existence of the diversity of body plans (what Gould calls “disparity”).
This is simply the fossilization effect. Gould even notes that the number of species has increased as we learn more about the Burgess Shale.
Most paleontologists agree that the simple count of species has augmented through time (Sepkoski et al., 1981}-and this increase of species must therefore have occurred within a reduced number of body plans.
The Sepkoski paper referred to by Gould states the following in the abstract.
Strong correlations between various local and global estimates of Phanerozoic marine diversity for taxa below the ordinal level indicate a single pattern of change underlying all data on fossil density. Geological time alone seems insufficient to explain all of the significant covariation among the data sets, and it is proposed that the common pattern in diversity reflects the signal from a real evolutionary phenomenon strong enough to overcome the biases inherent in the fossil record.
Gould then concludes by suggesting we restrict “diversity” to species counts and use “disparity” for differences in body plans.
Now, someone, I don’t care who, tell me how this relates to Meyer’s claim that “[paleontologists] have noted several features of the Cambrian explosion that are unexpected from a Darwinian point of view in particular…” I honestly don’t get it. I will note that I may not have the same edition and there may be a page issue, but I see nothing in the pages before or after that would apply to this discussion.
The area where page 49 lies is about contingency in Biology and evolution. How even minor alterations at the beginning can have massive changes down the road of time.
As far as the rest of Meyer’s list of ‘concerns’. Well, we’ve talked about this several times already. He simply ignores the volume of fossils that we are currently collecting from the early and pre-Cambrian periods. This is a rich area of study. Since 2012, Google Scholar reports 4000+ hits on Precambrian and fossils.
For example, here’s a new Ediacaran organism that represents the oldest multielement organism with structural support through either biomineralization or chitin.
Here’s some prokaryote and eukaryote cells preserved in one billion year old lake sediments.
Here’s a new tubular Ediacaran fossil from India.
I’d like to also note that these supposed “paleontologist” issues are not actually referenced to any paleontologists. Gould doesn’t say anything about this list. Whose list is it anyway? I think that this is Meyer’s list. And I think that he’s just playing games here in order to try and support a POV that has no support.
God Designer of the gaps” argument just keeps getting weaker and weaker.
* Let me just say here, that I was shocked. I honestly thought that page 49 would be a discussion of the meaning of evolution. Which Meyer hasn’t given us, not really. I’ll note that Meyer doesn’t define evolution. He just notes (in chapter 1) that it can have many definitions.
This is actually a common practice among creationists. If one doesn’t give a definition, then one can change the definition without telling everyone.