• 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.

    Meyer’s “God Designer of the gaps” argument just keeps getting weaker and weaker.

    The rest of the series.

    * 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.


    Category: Book ReviewCreationismResearchScience


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • OK, the chapter I sent you from Wonderful Life was from the hardcover edition. In his note Meyer doesn’t give the edition but the Bibliography lists it as ” Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: Norton, 1990.” That appears to be the paperback edition. Going to Amazon’s listing for the paperback edition and “Look[ing] Inside” shows that the Contents page of the paperback is identical to that of the hardcover, including for page 49 as “Inset: The Meaning of Diversity and Disparity”.

      You can rest confident that there is no page issue

    • Incidently, that “oldest multielement organism with structural support through either biomineralization or chitin” is quite interesting. It seems to be a potted animal. 😉


    • Opps, I did not expect the link to embed the illustration.

    • Buho

      Smilodon, I apologize, but I’m a little confused by this post as well. Sure, maybe the reference is misplaced (an error on Meyer’s part), but do you disagree with what Meyer wrote? Consider the four points Meyer wrote: (1) sudden appearance; (2) absence of transitionals; (3) novel body plans; and (4) radical differences precede minor variations. Meyers writes that paleontologists say these are “unexpected from a Darwinian point of view”.

      Do you disagree? Do you deny 1, 2, 3, and 4 are accurate statements of the fossil record? I cannot imagine you would disagree with any of this. So then why did you write this post? Save yourself the effort: it’s okay to not write about sections of the book that you agree with.

      I was particularly interested in your thoughts about figures 2.7 and 2.8 but you said nothing about them. Perhaps for the next post?

      You write, “this is simply the fossilization effect.” Okay. But Meyers addresses that briefly in the next few pages and in much more detail in the next chapter.

      Regarding the “designer of the gaps” phrase you write: it’s a bit unfair you drop that phrase in when Meyer so far (chapter 2 out of 20) has just been spending time DESCRIBING the state of the fossil record and hasn’t even said a word about his own argument. The only thing you should be critiquing is whether he is accurately describing the fossil record or not.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        Yes to all 4. I deny that there is a sudden appearance. I think that there is an appearance of suddenness. That doesn’t mean that it was sudden.

        I deny that there is an absence of transitional fossils. First, technically speaking, every fossil is transitional. Second, absence implies none, there are plenty of fossils. Are there as many as we want, of course not.

        I’m not sure what the problem with novel body plans are. It’s well known that simply changes to the developmental genes can produce fairly radical morphological changes.

        I deny that radical difference precede minor variations. This, also, is APPEARANCE, it is not fact.

        Meyer is NOT accurately describing the fossil record… as we shall see.

        • Arturo

          I’d like to expand on Meyer’s point #4, that small changes should appear before large ones. This arises from a misconception among creationists caused by an inability to understand what you said about the Linnaean classification system and the meaning of clades.
          To see their perspective lets get into their brains (if you can stand it for a moment). They say: “evolution predicts that changes in one species result in the formation of a new species. Over time, more changes will lead to the formation of a new genus, then new family, etc. We should expect to see the appearance of phyla much later! But new phyla appeared first in the Cambrian! This is backward!”
          This is why Meyer said “this pattern turns on its head the Darwinian expectation of small incremental change only gradually resulting in larger and larger differences in form”.
          He does not understand that if Linneaus was back in the Cambrian he would have classified those animals as closely related, perhaps within the same Family. There would not be a phylum chordates. It would be a Family Chordates!
          The same thing goes moving forward. Animals in different families now may be classified in different phyla 500 million years in the future.

        • Buho

          Dawkins wrote about the APPEARANCE of design. Obviously he denies the design is from intelligence, but it is unarguable that there is (a kind of) design. Likewise, it is unarguable that the fossil record shows sudden appearance and radical differences precede minor variations. You are on chapter 2. Meyers gets into the EXPLANATIONS for these unarguable facts in later chapters.

          If any evolutionary scientist pointed out these four (obvious) points, I’m sure you would be in agreement. After all, the term Cambrian “Explosion” wasn’t invented by the Intelligent Design people.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            Sigh… an explosion that lasted for 75 million years…

            It is not arguable that things appear designed to faulty human senses and our pattern recognition brains.

            The fossil record also APPEARS to show a sudden appearance.. .if one chooses to ignore the evidence to the contrary. We shall see…

    • Patrick Szalapski

      Reading through these. Interesting thoughts–I had a different reaction to the book. I would love to hear your comments in this thread: http://www.reddit.com/r/evolution/comments/1p9p1v/is_meyers_argument_from_probability_credible_in/

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        I don’t do reddit.

    • Ant

      Wouldn’t it be smarter to read the entire book first, and then critique each section in light of the greater argument?

      This piecemeal approach probably isn’t the best one, 0 points for efficacy.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        True, but the point is to crush every single point Meyer makes. There’s a lot of general reviews already.