• Darwin’s Doubt – Chapter 1 – Part 6

    A Solution Unseen

    Meyer continues to poison the well against Darwin with his opening remarks.  Shockingly, Darwin did know about these issues… that is the apparent sudden emergence of complex living things in the Cambrian.

    I’d like to talk a moment about that word that Meyer keeps leaving out.  “Apparent.”  Meyer keeps writing as if the apparent sudden appearance really means that they suddenly appeared with no precursors at all.  Just thinking about that logically for a minute.  We all know that complex organisms (I’m not going to get into origins of life here, but that’s OK because neither does Meyer, so far), have to have, at least, a mom.  Animals are almost universally bisexual and require both a mom and a dad.

    But Meyer looks at the fossil record, which is roughly equivalent to looking for a complete encyclopedia in a library that burned down last year, and thinks that no only did all the organisms come about via some unknown process, by an unknown designer, some time, but that it happened again and again and again.

    Meyer’s discussion so far has been nothing more than a god intelligent designer of the gaps argument.  “We don’t know what happened, therefore is was god the intelligent designer.”

    Moving on, Meyer writes that Darwin proposed a solution to this seemingly insurmountable problem.  And here, we have a cute little bit of text editing from Meyer.  Here’s what Meyer quotes from “On the Origin of Species – Chapter 9” This is from location 430 of Darwin’s Doubt in the kindle edition.

    Darwin proposed a possible solution.  He suggested that the fossil record may be significantly incomplete: either the ancestral forms of the Cambrian animals were not fossilized or they hadn’t been found yet. “I look at the natural world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect,” Darwin wrote. “Of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries.  Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines…. On this view, the difficulties above discussed are greatly diminished, or even disappear.”

    You see those ellipses?  Creationists are renown for removing things and replacing them with ellipses.  It can change the whole thought of the original author.  They have been known (indeed, Meyer does it in this very book) to mash together pieces of text from paragraphs and pages away into a single quote in  order to support their claim.  Maybe each time this happens it doesn’t change the message of the original author, but it’s exceedingly poor practice to just ellipse away chunks of text.

    Let’s look at what was left out of those ellipses here.  From the Origin of the Species link above.

    The several difficulties here discussed, namely our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links between the many species which now exist or have existed; the sudden manner in which whole groups of species appear in our European formations; the almost entire absence, as at present known, of fossiliferous formations beneath the Silurian strata, are all undoubtedly of the gravest nature. We see this in the plainest manner by the fact that all the most eminent palaeontologists, namely Cuvier, Owen, Agassiz, Barrande, Falconer, E. Forbes, &c., and all our greatest geologists, as Lyell, Murchison, Sedgwick, &c., have unanimously, often vehemently, maintained the immutability of species. But I have reason to believe that one great authority, Sir Charles Lyell, from further reflexion entertains grave doubts on this subject. I feel how rash it is to differ from these great authorities, to whom, with others, we owe all our knowledge. Those who think the natural geological record in any degree perfect, and who do not attach much weight to the facts and arguments of other kinds even in this volume, will undoubtedly at once reject my theory. For my part, following out Lyell’s metaphor, I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, in which the history is supposed to be written, being more or less different in the interrupted succession of chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly changed forms of life, entombed in our consecutive, but widely separated formations. On this view, the difficulties above discussed are greatly diminished, or even disappear.

    The bolding is mine to represent what Meyer wrote.  Now look at what Darwin is saying here.

    The great paleontologists and geologists (including Sedgwick, previously mentioned in Darwin’s Doubt) maintained support in the immutability of the species.  Darwin is rejecting the notions of these men and showing how his notions would actually be easily reconciled with the pieces of the fossil puzzle we had at that time and now.

    Far from thinking that this was a problem, Darwin seems to be saying that this is what is expected in the fossil record.  And he, and Lyell, were right.  We don’t have a continuous record of every living thing from the earliest bit of life to present.  We’d have billions of tons of fossils if that were the case.

    But Meyer, not satisfied with taking pieces of text out of context also says that “Darwin himself was less than satisfied with this explanation”.  Reading the actual quote from Darwin, it doesn’t seem he’s less than satisfied.  And it’s still the correct argument.  Meyer doesn’t go to Darwin for this, but Stephen Gould, who is a great source of quote mines for the creationists.  Meyer refers this quote to Gould’s “Wonderful Life” pg 57.  But again, though Darwin may have thought that his ‘incomplete fossil record’ was wearing a bit thin, it doesn’t mean he was wrong.

    Later on that same page Gould states

    Darwin has been vindicated by a rich Precambrian record, all discovered in the last 30 years.

    I’ve pretty much ignored the information from Agassiz at this point.  He was a vocal opponent of Darwin’s theory.  I don’t know why Meyer keeps quoting him.  There’s no science in these quotes, just a further poisoning of the well against Darwin. We’ll talk some about Agassiz in the next section.

    Meyer closes this section with a cute little carefully worded section.  You remember how I mentioned at the beginning of this article Meyer’s failure to put “apparent appearance” in certain places.  Well, here at the end, he does insert that qualifier…

    The overwhelming preponderance of evidence that Darwin had marshaled seemed to support his theory. (my emphasis)

    This can’t be accident.  Again, Meyer is poisoning the well.  Using word choice to support his notions and reject the actual, testable, science.

    What’s the take away from this section?

    Darwin’s theory doesn’t live or die with Darwin’s thoughts on the matter.  Darwin could have rejected his notions totally.  It doesn’t matter because the science still works.  Things still evolve and Darwin’s ideas started us on the path.  Darwin didn’t know anything about DNA, epigenetics, the Burgess Shale, population biology, or any of these things.  It just means that he had some good ideas that eventually became the science of modern evolutionary theory.

    Even if Meyer totally discredits Darwin in this book, it doesn’t mean that the organisms of this world aren’t related.  It doesn’t mean that life stops evolving.  It doesn’t mean that evolution stops predicting future states of systems.

    The rest of the series.

    Category: Book ReviewCreationismScience

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    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • John Pieret

      “Creationists are renown …”

      I would have said “infamous” but that’s me.

      “But Meyer, not sufficient with taking pieces of text out of context …”

      Maybe “not satisfied“?

      Did you intend to include a Gould quote Meyer used from the same page as “Darwin has been vindicated by a rich Precambrian record, all discovered in the last 30 years.”? If so, you omitted it.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Meyer doesn’t make a direct quote from Gould’s book. I should have been more specific.

        Instead Meyer says “Darwin himself wasn’t satisfied with with this explanation.” and links to a footnote… Gould, Wonderful Life, pg57… and that’s all.

        • John Pieret

          Ah! Now I understand.