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Practical Biology (Not)

Yet another ancestor to modern whales is hypothesized. It’s hard to believe people get paid to produce stuff like this.

Whales may be related to deer-like beast

By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
Wed Dec 19, 6:55 PM ET

WASHINGTON – The gigantic ocean-dwelling whale may have evolved from a land animal the size of a small raccoon, new research suggests. What might be the missing evolutionary link between whales and land animals is an odd animal that looks like a long-tailed deer without antlers or an overgrown long-legged rat, fossils indicate.

The creature is called Indohyus, and recently unearthed fossils reveal some crucial evolutionary similarities between it and water-dwelling cetaceans, such as whales, dolphins and porpoises.

For years, the hippo has been the leading candidate for the closest land relative because of its similar DNA and whale-like features. So some scientists were skeptical of the new hypothesis by an Ohio anatomy professor whose work was being published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Still, some researchers have been troubled that hippos seem to have lived in the wrong part of the world and popped up too recently to be a whale ancestor.

Newer fossils point to the deer-like Indohyus. The animal is a “missing link” to the sister species to ancient whales, said Hans Thewissen, an anatomy professor at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.

Read more…

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72 Responses to Practical Biology (Not)

  1. This is funny…sad, but funny.

  2. This is the kind of just-so story that Judge Jones would swallow hook, line, and sinker.

  3. here is more :)

    Oh my DEER! That is amazing! I’m not buying into that BS, nor into that of the Hippo. Give me a break.

    The DEERWHALE (this is not fictitious)

    A long long long long long time ago there was a deer like animal called Prolly. Prolly lived near the big oceans and it loved water. One day the deer Prolly got as big as a whale cause it swallowed too much water, and then all of a sudden it noticed that it didn’t drown, like its brother Todd a million years earlier. So it started to feed on plankton and Prolly was the happiest mammal ever!

    (please feel free to add to the story) … Be assured, that it is scientific.

  4. Humor indeed. At some time in the future, scientists will look back on this stuff and shake their heads in amazement. It will be considered as scientific as bloodletting for curing infections.

    Of particular noteworthiness is the fact that this nonsense gets published in the popular press all the time, with no hint of skepticism on the part of editors and journalists. So brainwashed are they by the Darwinian priesthood that they will buy anything uncritically.

  5. Pardon my naivete, but don’t really really big animals (like whales that can weigh 200 tons) need all sorts of different homeostatic mechanisms to control body heat, etc. compared with much smaller deer/rat-like creatures? Silly me, of course evolution can produce these mechanisms — it created everything else.

  6. Evolution is smarter than you, IDiots [I couldn't resist...]

  7. Laugh if you like at Thewissen’s naivete, but for those who believe (and not all ID proponents do) that whales were designed as a separate group (Order Cetacea), the following quote from the article must seem troubling:

    “The earliest whales didn’t look like whales at all,” Thewissen said. “It (sic) looked like a cross between a pig and a dog.”

    I think there’s a very strong case to be made for the design of the biochemical nano-machinery which is common to living organisms. I acknowledge that the transition from a land-dwelling animal to a sea creature is extremely difficult to envisage, but I am far less certain that the cetacean ear was designed than I am that DNA was. We need to pick our fights carefully, when making the case for the design of certain biological structures.

  8. Hello Everyone,
    Can someone here offer an ID-based hypothesis for the origin of cetaceans with at least as much explanatory power as the comparative anatomical approach described in the article?

    Have a great holiday,
    Michael

  9. Gil, you are right.
    Still, I hope they keep on producing this stuff. I really miss the “World News” in the grocery store check out lines. I’d hate to see another major source of humor go away.

  10. This cracks me up, from the article,

    “The earliest whales didn’t look like whales at all,” Thewissen said. “It looked like a cross between a pig and a dog.”

    A cross between a pig and a dog? LOL!

  11. Jehu, you’ve never seen a “dig” or closely related “pog”? lol

  12. Atom,

    No but then I am city boy. I think I may have found a photgraph of the elusive whale ancestor/pig-dog here:

    http://www.howlinmoonbakery.co.....stume1.jpg

  13. 13
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    Jehu: now that’s a rare find! HA HA

  14. 14

    Judge Jones had a good expression for applying to the idea that this “deer-like” creature is a “missing link” between land mammals and whales — “breathtaking inanity.”

  15. Dr. Dembski: “…don’t really really big animals (like whales that can weigh 200 tons) need all sorts of different homeostatic mechanisms to control body heat, etc. compared with much smaller deer/rat-like creatures?…

    Darwin said* it’s no problem for bears to become like whales, so, with just a little more imagination, it’s also no problem for deer or even rats to do it.

    * Charles Darwin, Origin of Species (1st Edition):

    In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.

  16. Michael Tuite

    Can someone here offer an ID-based hypothesis for the origin of cetaceans with at least as much explanatory power as the comparative anatomical approach described in the article?

    Sure. The genetic code of modern whales existed in a repressed form in the cell line leading to whales. An environmental trigger in the distant past caused a chromosome reorganization to occur which in turn led to a saltation. This is in complete accord with the indisputable testimony of the fossil record which of course is a record of abrupt emergence of radically new phenotypes followed by long periods of stability in the new phenotype and in the vast majority of cases extinction of the new phenotype after an average of 10 million years with all but a small fraction of these leaving no successor species.

    Perhaps when we understand more about genomes we’ll find these hidden potentials in extant genomes, learn how they are stored and conserved for the future, how they are eventually expressed in saltation events, and what external or internal triggers cause the saltations.

    This is the front-loaded ID hypothesis. Phylogenesis mirrors ontogenesis in that both are a series of derepressions of existing genomic information. Both occur according to a set plan where chance plays little if any role and the environment supplies cues (triggers) for proceeding (or not) from one phase of the plan to the next. Both are self-terminating when the preprogrammed path of diversification has completed.

    Nothing in the fossil record makes sense except in the light of front-loading.

  17. Sure. The genetic code of modern whales existed in a repressed form in the cell line leading to whales. An environmental trigger in the distant past caused a chromosome reorganization to occur which in turn led to a saltation. This is in complete accord with the indisputable testimony of the fossil record which of course is a record of abrupt emergence of radically new phenotypes followed by long periods of stability in the new phenotype and in the vast majority of cases extinction of the new phenotype after an average of 10 million years with all but a small fraction of these leaving no successor species.

    If this is actually what happened, then what is so laughable about this publication? It seems that even with a front-loading hypothesis there needs to be some sort of a transitional period… unless you expect that at some point a land-living animal gave birth to something that turned into a giant whale.

    So, if you expect transitional species, what’s wrong with this research paper?

  18. hrun

    The laughable part is that the whale’s ancient ancestor is still in dispute. Prehistoric evolution is nothing but guesswork and the guesses change as often as women’s fashion.

    What’s wrong with the paper is that it’s useless. What practical difference does it make what creatures whales descended from?

  19. Sure. The genetic code of modern whales existed in a repressed form in the cell line leading to whales. An environmental trigger in the distant past caused a chromosome reorganization to occur which in turn led to a saltation. This is in complete accord with the indisputable testimony of the fossil record which of course is a record of abrupt emergence of radically new phenotypes followed by long periods of stability in the new phenotype and in the vast majority of cases extinction of the new phenotype after an average of 10 million years with all but a small fraction of these leaving no successor species.

    Do you have any evidence that this happened, or is this one of those “just so” stories that are so often mocked by most on this site?

    Is there a single species right now that has this repressed DNA in it? Which one? How have you shown it?
    What was the environmental trigger? How did it cause these chromosomal rearrangments? More basically, what kind of chromosomal rearrangments – formation of new ones, fusion of existing ones, modification of histone deposition, acetylation, methylation, etc?

    Why would a transitional fossils form and then go extinct in this system? Are these supposed to be more primitive machines that were supplanted by better designed machines? That wouldn’t make sense in terms or front loading, because all plans are pre-loaded, so why not just make the bacteria (or whatever loaded organism it was) turn directly into a whale if all the plans were in the organisim in the first place?

  20. The laughable part is that the whale’s ancient ancestor is still in dispute. Prehistoric evolution is nothing but guesswork and the guesses change as often as women’s fashion.

    You write ‘still in dispute’. How would we determine the actual ancestor and figure out how the front-loaded genomic information was unfolded other then by studying the transition that occurred?

    So I would expect that in that respect the paper would be very interesting to anybody who supports front-loading.

    What’s wrong with the paper is that it’s useless. What practical difference does it make what creatures whales descended from?

    Oh, you just don’t care about the transition because it has no practical application/value? That seems to be very common for basic research.

  21. A cross between a pig and a dog? LOL!

    So the whale is a descendent of the schweinhundt.

  22. It should also be noted that in a front-loaded scenario the whales need not acquire their mammalian features through land-based ancestry; they could have intelligently evolved entirely in the water and scientists are looking for common ancestry in the wrong place.

  23. Hello Dave,
    Thanks for the brief explication of a very interesting hypothesis.

    At a saltation event, does a new species emerge de novo from an egg/womb/seed? If so, this must occur nearly simultaneously for many members of a parent species in order that the new species has potential mates. As you describe, an external environmental trigger could provide the necessary coordination.

    How large a morphological gap to you suppose a saltation can span? New tissues, new organs? Is it likely that if we observe closely enough we might see a new species emerge from an existing one? Could we artificially trigger a saltation?

    Any thoughts as to what types of environmental change might trigger saltations and how those changes are communicated to the genome?

    Finally, is the unfolding of the frontloaded genome dependent upon a specific earth history or do you imagine that it was designed with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the exigencies of four billion years of complex interactions between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?

    Thanks,
    Michael

  24. It should also be noted that in a front-loaded scenario the whales need not acquire their mammalian features through land-based ancestry; they could have intelligently evolved entirely in the water and scientists are looking for common ancestry in the wrong place.

    But isn’t the point of the paper that researchers actually found transitional elements in land-living animals. So it seems they are looking in the right place. Who knows, maybe they found one of those animals that just ‘turned on’ their internal conversion program given to them by front-loading. I still don’t really understand the scorn heaped on this paper. It seems like nobody has any specific points to criticize, other than the fact that DaveScot thinks that this line of research has no practical use.

  25. But isn’t the point of the paper that researchers actually found transitional elements in land-living animals.

    Really, the only major fact is this line of thinking started with the bearded buddha. If Darwin had not come up with his bear story I doubt today’s scientists would be attempting to cobble together such a disjointed explanation. The starting premises became cemented, even though these beginnings had no positive evidence. The oddest part about the Indohyus story is that it seems this new creature is even further removed from whale ancestry than the other major candidate, hippopotamids. It was very small, the size of a racoon. Its bones show it was not an adept swimmer and most likely did not have a major aquatic lifestyle (unlike hippopotamids). It fed on land, eating plants (whales have a very different diet).

    I’m not automatically denying the the typical land-creature-to-aquatic-creature story for the whale–I consider it an open question, not irrefutable dogma like those who came up with this story–but your statement presumes what is yet to be proven. Convergent evolution as an explanation is lobbed around all the time for other features. Why couldn’t this be the case here? Also, convergent evolution would be much more likely to occur with front-loading. So, even assuming this story is true, I’d say that would just strengthen ID as the best explanation.

  26. 26

    DaveScot said (Comment #16) –

    This is the front-loaded ID hypothesis. Phylogenesis mirrors ontogenesis in that both are a series of derepressions of existing genomic information. Both occur according to a set plan where chance plays little if any role and the environment supplies cues (triggers) for proceeding (or not) from one phase of the plan to the next.

    In mutually beneficial co-evolution — i.e., the mutual evolution of two co-dependent kinds of organisms, e.g., bees and flowering plants — the “cues” (“triggers”) may have to act at the exact same time and in the exact same place in both kinds of organisms, because both of the organisms may have traits requiring the existence of corresponding co-dependent traits in the other organism.

  27. 27
    xcdesignproponentsists

    I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but from what I gather, it’s likely that Indohyus is not an ancestor of whales per se, but rather a sister group that had a common ancestor with the direct ancestors of whales.

    Nonetheless, with regards to the size issue…it would be a problem if one were to try and have whales evolving from rodent-sized creatures in the space of a few thousand years. Consider the variation in size present in modern cetaceans – contrast the Commerson’s Dolphin and the Blue Whale. I don’t know if there’s a consensus amongst design proponents, but most do not deny common ancestry.

    I think skepticism is a good thing, and I agree that there may be some exaggeration of this discovery in the popular press. Nonetheless, I do not see this as a case of Darwinian brainwashing, but rather just another case of hyperbole and sensationalism of scientific findings. If we are to truly understand the implications of this discovery, it would perhaps be best to take a look at Thiewassen’s paper rather than a media article. Of course, the downside is that some of us do not have an adequate background in paleontology, comparative anatomy, etc.

    Anyway, I’m interested to know how design proponents would interpret the Indohyus fossils. Would you agree that they represent close relatives of the ancestors of modern cetaceans, and only differ from the “Darwinian” explanation by claiming that aliens/God/”The Designer” must have been responsible in guiding their transformation into newer creatures? If ID were the reigning paradigm, what would the headlines say?

  28. Michael Tuite asked:

    At a saltation event, does a new species emerge de novo from an egg/womb/seed? If so, this must occur nearly simultaneously for many members of a parent species in order that the new species has potential mates. As you describe, an external environmental trigger could provide the necessary coordination.

    How large a morphological gap to you suppose a saltation can span? New tissues, new organs? Is it likely that if we observe closely enough we might see a new species emerge from an existing one? Could we artificially trigger a saltation?

    Any thoughts as to what types of environmental change might trigger saltations and how those changes are communicated to the genome?

    Finally, is the unfolding of the frontloaded genome dependent upon a specific earth history or do you imagine that it was designed with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the exigencies of four billion years of complex interactions between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?

    Excellent, excellent questions, Michael. Mr. Scot, I would also be very interested in your response. Answers to these, and any following questions, would go a long way to demonstrating that ID explains the available empirical evidence and makes falsifiable predictions.

  29. leo

    Do you have any evidence that this happened, or is this one of those “just so” stories that are so often mocked by most on this site?

    Yes. The evidence is the fossil record which is one of abrupt emergence of fully differentiated species followed by long period of stasis where the species doesn’t change followed by abrupt extinction.

    Is there a single species right now that has this repressed DNA in it?

    None have been positivively demonstrated but we understand very little about very few genomes at the present time. We can’t explain what the function of a vast majority of DNA in the human genome is there for despite extraordinary efforts to figure it out.

    What was the environmental trigger?

    There are many possibilities. Oxygen concentration in the atmosphere is one. Radioactive isotope levels which change over deep time due to long half lives and constant decay is another. Length of a year, or of a day, or of a lunar month, all of which change over deep time are yet other possibilities.

    How did it cause these chromosomal rearrangments? More basically, what kind of chromosomal rearrangments – formation of new ones, fusion of existing ones, modification of histone deposition, acetylation, methylation, etc?

    These are all possibilities.

    Why would a transitional fossils form and then go extinct in this system?

    It wouldn’t be practical for a lizard to lay a mouse egg. There appear to be some restrictions imposed by physics on how much morphological change is possible in a single generation. I suggest instead of guessing about it we employ the fossil record as a guide to the steps that life traversed in changing from one form to another. But perhaps you’re asking is if life was designed why wasn’t it just designed in modern form from the beginning. The answer to that is because the earth was not suitable for habitation by many modern forms in its deep past.

    Are these supposed to be more primitive machines that were supplanted by better designed machines?

    No.

    That wouldn’t make sense in terms or front loading, because all plans are pre-loaded, so why not just make the bacteria (or whatever loaded organism it was) turn directly into a whale if all the plans were in the organisim in the first place?

    Because whales could not have survived on the young earth. It took billions of years to build up enough oxygen in the atmosphere for large air-breathing animals.

  30. michael tuite

    I’ll be brief where answers are very similar to those given in my previous comment.

    At a saltation event, does a new species emerge de novo from an egg/womb/seed?

    I’m not sure it’s a necessity but there’s nothing in principle to make it impossible.

    If so, this must occur nearly simultaneously for many members of a parent species in order that the new species has potential mates.

    True. That’s one of the first questions that arises when considering saltation. It certainly ocurred to me right away.

    As you describe, an external environmental trigger could provide the necessary coordination.

    Yes, that’s one possible way. Two other possibilities I know of are parthenogenesis and retroviruses. Parthenogenesis I hope is self explanatory. Retroviruses aren’t so straightforward. There are thousands of endogenous retroviruses resident on (for example) the human genome. Most if not all of them are deactivated. It’s quite conceivable that any one of them could become reactivated in a single organism which would then start manufacturing the retrovirus and transmitting it in its active form to others of its species. The function of the retrovirus could be as a vector to insert a genetic instruction that triggers a saltation in the modified (infected) genome. This could server to coordinate a large number of saltation events such that a viable population size of the new species is attained.

    How large a morphological gap to you suppose a saltation can span?

    I think this has to be considered on a case by case basis. Obviously a cold blooded water breathing egg laying fish isn’t going to give birth to a kangaroo. There appear to be some physical constraints that restrict the steps. I think this is where the fossil record is useful as a guide.

    New tissues, new organs?

    As long as there are no physical contraints… sure.

    Is it likely that if we observe closely enough we might see a new species emerge from an existing one?

    That’s a very interesting question. Evolution very well may have terminated except for the generation of sub-species. If that is the case there is no reason to presume that any future potentiality for further macro evolution was retained by any living species today. But there’s no good reason to presume that isn’t the case and that there are some, perhaps many, species living today with the unexpressed potential to evolve further. Indeed this even makes sense as a disaster recovery mechanism. This an excellent question that further exploration of the genomic diversity on the planet and understanding what all the sequences actually do may very well answer.

    Could we artificially trigger a saltation?

    That’s quite possible if there are saltations still in the wings waiting for a trigger.

    Any thoughts as to what types of environmental change might trigger saltations and how those changes are communicated to the genome?

    See my previous comment as types of triggers. How they are communicated – reverse transcription and methylation come to mind. A number of mobile elements. The DNA molecule isn’t tht passive read-only source of information that Crick orginally proposed. It’s quite dynamic and we’re still discovering new ways that information flows into it rather than from it.

    Finally, is the unfolding of the frontloaded genome dependent upon a specific earth history or do you imagine that it was designed with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the exigencies of four billion years of complex interactions between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?

    It appears to me that there was contingency response but moreso that life purposely changed the earth’s history rather than adapted to it. It’s called terraforming – engineering changes to whole planets to make them suitable to support human habitation and industry.

  31. DaveScot wrote:

    Is there a single species right now that has this repressed DNA in it?

    None have been positivively demonstrated but we understand very little about very few genomes at the present time. We can’t explain what the function of a vast majority of DNA in the human genome is there for despite extraordinary efforts to figure it out.

    What, then, is the objective, empirical evidence that suggests “front loading”?

    What was the environmental trigger?

    There are many possibilities. Oxygen concentration in the atmosphere is one. Radioactive isotope levels which change over deep time due to long half lives and constant decay is another. Length of a year, or of a day, or of a lunar month, all of which change over deep time are yet other possibilities.

    What predictions does the front loading hypothesis make that would allow one to define an experiment that could determine which of these environmental changes could result in a saltation event?

    How did it cause these chromosomal rearrangments? More basically, what kind of chromosomal rearrangments – formation of new ones, fusion of existing ones, modification of histone deposition, acetylation, methylation, etc?

    These are all possibilities.

    What is the specific mechanism or mechanisms that trigger these rearrangements?

    Why would a transitional fossils form and then go extinct in this system?

    It wouldn’t be practical for a lizard to lay a mouse egg. There appear to be some restrictions imposed by physics on how much morphological change is possible in a single generation. I suggest instead of guessing about it we employ the fossil record as a guide to the steps that life traversed in changing from one form to another. But perhaps you’re asking is if life was designed why wasn’t it just designed in modern form from the beginning. The answer to that is because the earth was not suitable for habitation by many modern forms in its deep past.

    Does the front loading hypothesis therefore restrict the nature of the intelligent designer such that it could not have constructed the earth to be compatible with human life from the beginning? Does it inherently accept the evidence for an old earth?

    Are these supposed to be more primitive machines that were supplanted by better designed machines?

    No.

    That wouldn’t make sense in terms or front loading, because all plans are pre-loaded, so why not just make the bacteria (or whatever loaded organism it was) turn directly into a whale if all the plans were in the organisim in the first place?

    Because whales could not have survived on the young earth. It took billions of years to build up enough oxygen in the atmosphere for large air-breathing animals.

    What empirical evidence is there that the genetic material for whales existed in the earliest forms of life?

  32. DaveScot wrote:

    At a saltation event, does a new species emerge de novo from an egg/womb/seed?

    I’m not sure it’s a necessity but there’s nothing in principle to make it impossible.

    This would distinguish the front loading hypothesis from modern evolutionary theory. Do you have any empirical evidence of such a de novo new species appearing? Modern evolutionary theory predicts tiny changes over long periods of time.

    If so, this must occur nearly simultaneously for many members of a parent species in order that the new species has potential mates.

    True. That’s one of the first questions that arises when considering saltation. It certainly ocurred to me right away.

    Is there any evidence for such simultaneous de novo appearances in any species, ever?

    As you describe, an external environmental trigger could provide the necessary coordination.

    Yes, that’s one possible way. Two other possibilities I know of are parthenogenesis and retroviruses. Parthenogenesis I hope is self explanatory. Retroviruses aren’t so straightforward. There are thousands of endogenous retroviruses resident on (for example) the human genome. Most if not all of them are deactivated. It’s quite conceivable that any one of them could become reactivated in a single organism which would then start manufacturing the retrovirus and transmitting it in its active form to others of its species. The function of the retrovirus could be as a vector to insert a genetic instruction that triggers a saltation in the modified (infected) genome. This could server to coordinate a large number of saltation events such that a viable population size of the new species is attained.

    Endogenous retroviruses are explained by modern evolutionary theory and directly contradict the front loading hypothesis.

    Even assuming that one ERV were to be activated in one individual organism, what evidence is there that the very same ERV has ever been activated in an entire population simultaneously?

    How large a morphological gap to you suppose a saltation can span?

    I think this has to be considered on a case by case basis. Obviously a cold blooded water breathing egg laying fish isn’t going to give birth to a kangaroo. There appear to be some physical constraints that restrict the steps. I think this is where the fossil record is useful as a guide.

    Why not? What specific predictions does the front loading hypothesis make in this regard? On what specific basis does it make those predictions?

    New tissues, new organs?

    As long as there are no physical contraints… sure.

    What empirical evidence is there for this ever having occurred?

    Is it likely that if we observe closely enough we might see a new species emerge from an existing one?

    That’s a very interesting question. Evolution very well may have terminated except for the generation of sub-species.

    Why? Is there a limited amount of front loading allowed? If so, how much and why?

    If that is the case there is no reason to presume that any future potentiality for further macro evolution was retained by any living species today. But there’s no good reason to presume that isn’t the case and that there are some, perhaps many, species living today with the unexpressed potential to evolve further. Indeed this even makes sense as a disaster recovery mechanism. This an excellent question that further exploration of the genomic diversity on the planet and understanding what all the sequences actually do may very well answer.

    What evidence is there for such species to be currently extant?

    Could we artificially trigger a saltation?

    That’s quite possible if there are saltations still in the wings waiting for a trigger.

    What empirical evidence is there for such saltations either ever having existed or currently “in the wings”?

    Any thoughts as to what types of environmental change might trigger saltations and how those changes are communicated to the genome?

    See my previous comment as types of triggers. How they are communicated – reverse transcription and methylation come to mind. A number of mobile elements. The DNA molecule isn’t tht passive read-only source of information that Crick orginally proposed. It’s quite dynamic and we’re still discovering new ways that information flows into it rather than from it.

    Your previous comment listed possible changes but did not discuss detailed mechanisms. What empirical evidence is there for any of this ever having taken place? What evidence does the front loading hypothesis purport to explain? How does it explain that evidence better than modern evolutionary theory?

    Finally, is the unfolding of the frontloaded genome dependent upon a specific earth history or do you imagine that it was designed with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the exigencies of four billion years of complex interactions between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?

    It appears to me that there was contingency response but moreso that life purposely changed the earth’s history rather than adapted to it. It’s called terraforming – engineering changes to whole planets to make them suitable to support human habitation and industry.

    What empirical evidence is there for this “terraforming”? Does the front loading hypothesis predict that lifeforms will modify the environment in such a way as to be compatible with future genomic capabilities? Isn’t this contradicted by the fact that so many species have gone extinct?

  33. dcost

    Do you have any empirical evidence of such a de novo new species appearing?

    Yes. It’s in the fossil record as already stated.

    “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”

    “Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.”

    Gould, Stephen Jay, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, vol. 86 (May 1977), page 14

    The answers to your other questions are either obvious or already given as well.

  34. DaveScot writes:

    Do you have any empirical evidence of such a de novo new species appearing?

    Yes. It’s in the fossil record as already stated.

    Fossilization is a rare event. Given the amount of time spanned by specimens in a particular lineage, the assumption of de novo appearance is unsupported. There is no empirical evidence for de novo appearances of new species since the widespread use of the scientific method (please point to any if you disagree) but there is significant evidence of tiny, incremental changes. The fossil record is therefore better explained by modern evolutionary theory than by the front loading hypothesis.

    The answers to your other questions are either obvious or already given as well.

    It should be no problem for you to provide those answers, then. This is the kind of interaction that takes place when doing science. A scientific hypothesis must be predictive and falsifiable. The questions that Michael Tuite and I have raised attempt to identify the predictions of the front loading hypothesis to determine if it is supported by any empirical evidence. If you want your hypothesis to be considered scientific, you need to provide those answers.

    By the way, your Gould quote continues:

    We believe that Huxley was right in his warning. The modern theory of evolution does not require gradual change. In fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield exactly what we see in the fossil record. It is gradualism we should reject, not Darwinism.

    Note that Gould’s punctuated equilibrium still requires tens to hundreds of thousands of years to take place. He never suggested that new species appeared de novo.

  35. DaveScot, call me crazy, but you seem to be committing the “lack of evidence = evidence of lack” fallacy in regards to the fossil record. Each of my genealogical lines ends with a person for whom there is no extant evidence of parents, but I don’t take that as evidence that my ancestors were parentless.

  36. Darwinism explains why some animals lose things in some special cases but not much else.

    dcost wrote:
    A scientific hypothesis must be predictive and falsifiable.

    gradualism is falsifiable and falsified which is why Gould likes Darwin so much. Darwin makes all your dreams come true. given enough imagination.

  37. peace

    If you’re looking for hypothetical fossils showing gradual evolution from one species to another and you fail to find them there are two possibilities: the first is you didn’t look hard enough and the second is that which you seek never existed.

    It’s been 150 years since Darwin predicted that further exploration of the fossil record would reveal the supportive evidence for gradualism. It hasn’t been found yet. How long are we doubters supposed to wait before we are allowed to reasonably say that the transitionals are missing because they never existed?

  38. dcost

    If you dispute the evidence in the fossil record as one of abrupt emergence of fully defined species followed by long periods of stasis and then extinction without any change in form then we have nothing further to discuss. You reject the best evidence we have of the history of life because it doesn’t agree with your preconceptions.

  39. 39

    Michael Tuite said (comment #23)–

    At a saltation event, does a new species emerge de novo from an egg/womb/seed? If so, this must occur nearly simultaneously for many members of a parent species in order that the new species has potential mates. As you describe, an external environmental trigger could provide the necessary coordination.

    I pointed out in Comment #26 that mutually beneficial co-evolution may require simultaneous changes to occur in two different kinds of co-dependent organisms and not just in one kind of organism –

    In mutually beneficial co-evolution — i.e., the mutual evolution of two co-dependent kinds of organisms, e.g., bees and flowering plants — the “cues” (”triggers”) may have to act at the exact same time and in the exact same place in both kinds of organisms, because both of the organisms may have traits requiring the existence of corresponding co-dependent traits in the other organism.

    DaveScot said (Comment #29) –

    “What was the environmental trigger?”

    There are many possibilities. Oxygen concentration in the atmosphere is one. Radioactive isotope levels which change over deep time due to long half lives and constant decay is another. Length of a year, or of a day, or of a lunar month, all of which change over deep time are yet other possibilities.

    These changes may be too gradual to trigger simultaneous changes in large numbers of the same kind of organism or different kinds of organisms (in co-evolution).

  40. If you dispute the evidence in the fossil record as one of abrupt emergence of fully defined species followed by long periods of stasis and then extinction without any change in form then we have nothing further to discuss.

    If I may interject, it does not seem to me that dcost is rejecting the evidence in the fossil record, so much as expressing skepticism of your interpretation of it. You seem to be tilting at gradualism and hoping no one notices that gradualism is no longer synonymous with the Theory of Evolution ™, as Gould has so eloquently shown vis-a-vis punctuated equilibrium.

    So, the question on the table is not answered by knocking down gradualism dressed up to look like evolution, but rather (1)why front-loading is a better explanation and (2)the empirical support for it. In this expansion of your thoughts lies the opportunity to advance beyond Dr. Davison’s prescribed evolutionary hypotheses.

  41. Specs

    Gradualism is the only game in town for evolution by chance & necessity and even in then it’s been amply demonstrated that even with millions of years and billions of opportunities to effect small changes that add up into novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans the statistical likelyhood is unreasonably remote. To take away gradualism as Gould did in an attempt to reconcile the fossil record with the modern synthesis only exacerbates the statistical problems with evolution by chance & necessity.

    Please read Sanford’s “Genetic Entropy” and Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” for a more complete discussion of the problems with gradual and non-gradual evolution by chance alone.

  42. I’m not totally convinced, Dave, inasmuch as I see appeals to statistics without supporting details. But, having not yet read the books you suggest, I will assume they contain the exhaustive mathematical treatment.

    So, for the sake of advancing the discussion, let’s assume that modern evolutionary theory has been destroyed (I know. I know. It already is. Let’s assume the Weekend at Bernie’s charade has played out). The question still remains regarding how front loading explains the fossil record. So, now that I cannot default to evolution, why should I be compelled to acceptfront loading? Advancing front-loading as the new default hasn’t seemed to move the argument beyond where Dr. Davison left it.

  43. 43

    I haven’t been around here lately, but I’ve poked my head in a bit and I’d like to comment on this idea of front loading. I’ve discussed punk eek on my blog here which touches on the gradualism idea to some degree. Even with Gould’s idea, Darwinism is predicated on gradual transitions, and Dave Scot is quite correct to point out that this is not supported by the fossil record.

    I see front loading as a possible avenue that perhaps needs some more work. That said, it’s a perfectly viable, scientific alternative that should be investigated to see if it bears fruit. We could start by perhaps looking at the genomes of different species to see if we can find hidden pieces of code that would lead to further development. Thus, it is testable and falsifiable.

  44. DaveScot,

    If you’re looking for hypothetical fossils showing gradual evolution from one species to another and you fail to find them there are two possibilities: the first is you didn’t look hard enough and the second is that which you seek never existed.

    Given the amount of ground we have to cover, or uncover, the first possibility doesn’t seem terribly unlikely. And a third possibility is that some forms have no extant fossils.

    It’s been 150 years since Darwin predicted that further exploration of the fossil record would reveal the supportive evidence for gradualism. It hasn’t been found yet.

    Are you saying that no such evidence has been found, or just not enough? I’m no paleontologist, but it’s my understanding that several transitional fossils have been found since Darwin’s day. Furthermore, I doubt that many evolutionists would have a problem renouncing strict gradualism, notwithstanding Darwin’s views.

    How long are we doubters supposed to wait before we are allowed to reasonably say that the transitionals are missing because they never existed?

    Good question. But it bears noting that humans have been searching for the Designer longer than they’ve been searching for transitional fossils.

  45. 45

    Peace,
    “Given the amount of ground we have to cover, or uncover, the first possibility doesn’t seem terribly unlikely.”

    The “more time please” plea.

    “I’m no paleontologist, but it’s my understanding that several transitional fossils have been found since Darwin’s day.”

    There are some that are suggestive of a possibility of being transitional, if you have an a priori inclination to see them that way. Most are fully formed, chimera-like fossils or are rather much different than the species they supposedly transfered from and the specied they became. Most of the identifications are done on the basis of one feature that is similar to another. Take whales for instance, and the new hypothesis that they came from deer-like creatures. This hypothesis is based on the presence of a middle ear structure found in cetaceans that was found in a fossil that post-dates cetaceans.

    “Furthermore, I doubt that many evolutionists would have a problem renouncing strict gradualism, notwithstanding Darwin’s views.”

    This is semantic posturing. Punk Eek is a form of gradualism. It’s a solution that doesn’t solve anything.

    “But it bears noting that humans have been searching for the Designer longer than they’ve been searching for transitional fossils.”

    Sorry, but ID as a scientific endeavor has not been around for very long and has had to fight against the materialists just to gain some traction. Besides, even if your assertion were true, it’s a logical fallacy. The length of time spent looking for an answer doesn’t make the answer any less true.

  46. professorsmith, I appreciate your input. I’m using the term gradualism in contraposition to punctuated equilibrium, as DaveScot does, since I’m conversing with him. I’m sorry that you see this as semantic posturing on the part of DaveScot and myself.

    As for the assertion that you call a fallacy, I certainly agree. I’m sure you realize that the logic is DaveScot’s, and that I simply applied it to the Designer in order to demonstrate the fallacy. Thank you for pointing it out explicitly. But I don’t understand how you reconcile that with your reference to the “‘more time please’ plea”.

    As for your information on transitional forms, I appreciate it. I know very little about that field.

  47. Sorry, but ID as a scientific endeavor has not been around for very long and has had to fight against the materialists just to gain some traction.

    If they were still among us, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and William Paley might take umbrage at your slight to their considerable body of work.

  48. Hello Dave,
    Thanks for your responses.

    The aspect of your hypothesis that interests me most is the idea that the designers could have foreseen how their master genome would unfold over four billion years (give or take) of complex Earth history. I agree wholeheartedly that life has been an active agent in shaping the environment since it first emerged, but what about the role of contingency? Life was almost eliminated from the planet at the end of the Permian and the best evidence for the cause supports Siberian volcanism. Likewise, a bolide impact may have been responsible for the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. How could the designers have anticipated these extra-biological events that have so significantly influenced the course of evolution?

    Would I be correct in assuming that you would not support Gould’s idea that rewinding the tape of life would inevitably result in a very different outcome?

    If the emergence of humankind marks the ultimate product of the unfolding genome, do you assume that some (or all) of our cultural evolution as a species might also have been predetermined? Might certain memes actually represent the will of the designers?

    Finally, would you be willing to offer any speculation about the fate of the designers? Do you assume that they are long dead?

    Thanks again,
    Michael

  49. DaveScot wrote:

    If you dispute the evidence in the fossil record as one of abrupt emergence of fully defined species followed by long periods of stasis and then extinction without any change in form then we have nothing further to discuss. You reject the best evidence we have of the history of life because it doesn’t agree with your preconceptions.

    My position regarding the fossil record is, as stated above, that fossilization is a rare event and therefore one cannot use the fossil record alone as evidence for de novo creation of species. The record is simply insufficiently complete to support that claim.

    If you have evidence for de novo creation of new species, please present it. In the absence of such evidence, we can only build scientific hypotheses and theories based on the evidence we do have. That evidence shows incremental changes in allele frequencies within populations over time. The relative importance of gradualism versus punctuated equilibrium can be, and is being, investigated but, as noted above, even the most aggressive punctuation takes tens to hundreds of thousands of years.

    The available evidence, including but not limited to the fossil record, is therefore not supportive of a front loading hypothesis that predicts de novo creation of new species.

    The answers to your other questions are either obvious or already given as well.

    I await your answers to the other questions raised by Mr. Tuite and myself as well.

  50. dcost

    Actually you are asserting that that the fossil record is incomplete because it does not show the needed support for your preconceptions. I can’t have a reasonable discussion with you when you deny the substantiality of the fossil record as it’s the only real record we have of the history of life that doesn’t rely on speculation or self-reference.

  51. michael tuite

    I believe there was contingency planning for natural disaster. It’s not difficult to predict with some confidence that a solar system containing an asteroid belt and cometary halo which are oft disturbed so that objects are ejected into odd orbits that cross the plane of the inner planets is going to have those inner planets come into collision with those objects.

    Two predictions are easy enough to make – i) collisions will happen and ii) the frequency of collisions will decrease over time.

    What have we observed in nature that might indicate some contingency plannning in this regard?

    First of all are the extremophiles. We don’t know how deep in the earth extremophiles live but we do know they reach down many kilometers into the deepest mines we’ve dug. They survive in high temperatures, extreme pH ranges, and even in high levels of ionizing radiation. There seem to be enough varieties of them that assure the basic machinery of life can persist somewhere on or in the planet through all but the most catastrophic impacts such as the one thought to have created the earth’s moon. I look forward to an inventory of all the genes that are found in extremophiles and wonder what portion, in aggregate, they make up of the gene inventory of “higher” organisms like pineapples and people.

    The second thing we might view as evidence of contingency planning against catastrophic collisions is the very long period of time where, as far as we know, free living single celled and perhaps colonial single celled life forms were all that existed. This period extended for most of the history of life on earth – billions of years. Complex multicelled terrestrial forms are a recent event. Perhaps part of the reason for that is a waiting period was needed for collision frequency to decline. The higher forms of life living on or near the land and ocean surface are much more vulnerable to natural disasters that span the planet and except in colonial form are not viable for life deep in the crust.

    It appears to me that ontogenesis and phylogenesis are similar processes in that both produce results where chance plays no role except as a spoiler. The time scales are vastly different but both have preplanned diversification and terminal points in common. Thus I would not be surprised if evolution were started over from the beginning it would essentially repeat itself.

    do you assume that some (or all) of our cultural evolution as a species might also have been predetermined?

    I don’t assume that but it’s within the realm of possibility. It appears that a technological species capable of space travel was in the cards. Taking the long view for life on earth we think about 4 billion years has passed and the earth can support life for an equal amount of time into the future before the sun becomes a red giant and turns the earth into a cinder where not even extremophiles can survive. Is that the end of life (show’s over; Elvis has left the building)? Not if life can somehow transport itself to a more hospitable location. This requires that life be able to i) locate and/or engineer a suitable habitat elsewhere in this or another solar system and ii) transport itself to the new location.

    Is this a goal that was somehow designed into life? It seems reasonable to presume so given that we have some rather insatiable desire to spend billions of dollars building telescopes capable of detecting and characterizing planets around other stars and spending more billions in another insatiable desire to travel as far as physically possible exploring our solar system and, if physically possible, other solar systems. Is this a biological imperative that was built into us? I think so. Eric Pianka famously (or infamously) asked “What makes humans more important than lizards?” My answer is that humans and humans alone have the capacity to preserve life beyond the point where the sun incinerates the planet. Lizards are inconsequentional in that regard.

    If there’s one thing that can be said about life with any certainty it is that it seeks to continue itself by any possible means. If we take a really long view of this then reproduction over timescales that exceed planetary lifetimes is required. Life on earth is then a link in a continuous chain that stretches back in time to other solar systems and will extend forward in time to other solar systems.

    Finally, would you be willing to offer any speculation about the fate of the designers? Do you assume that they are long dead?

    I have no data to base an opinion of alive or dead but I believe there is no evidence of active involvement either at the present time nor really any time at all. The simplest explanation IMO is that which Crick and Orgel wrote about called directed panspermia – life was purposely placed on this planet one time billions of years ago and has been on auto-pilot since then. We in turn will purposely seed yet another planet (or planets) and thus continue the cycle.

  52. Actually you are asserting that that the fossil record is incomplete because it does not show the needed support for your preconceptions.

    And you assume relative completeness of the fossil record because you believe it supports your preconceptions. That is, of course, unless you have some yet unrevealed evidence that the fossil record is mostly complete?

  53. Peace (#46),
    Certainly you recognize the difference between a scientific theory that is just gettting started and a wild-goose chase, right?

    specs (#47),
    I wasn’t aware that Plato, et. al. did scientific experiments in the field of ID. Perhaps you can point me to their papers?

    specs (#52),
    I don’t believe that’s what Dave Scot is saying. It seems to me that he’s saying that we have the fossil record we have and if we are to make inferences from what we have, then he feels that his inferences fit the record better than those of the gradualists. He’s not saying more won’t be found, but he is saying that what we currently have does not support gradualism. Of course, if I’m reading you wrong Dave, feel free to correct me, but I think this is what you are saying.

  54. I don’t believe that’s what Dave Scot is saying.

    Dave is dismissing dcost with the following statement “I can’t have a reasonable discussion with you when you deny the substantiality of the fossil record as it’s the only real record we have of the history of life that doesn’t rely on speculation or self-reference.” Emphasis added.

    But, I suppose he may be right. After all, I have dug innumerable holes in order to plant trees and shrubs and I’ve never once found a fossil. ;)

  55. specs,

    You have to understand probability and statistics to understand the fossil record. There is constant sampling of the fossil record by new discoveries and all the results of this sampling process show the same thing. Just more examples of the already known record. If there were transitional species available and there were supposed to tens of millions of them, then you would think with each new sampling of the fossil record a lot of these tens of millions of missing species would show up. But they don’t. So the logical conclusion is that they never existed.

    You can invoke all the excuses you want but a lot of stuff got fossilized, just none on the transition species of which there had to be tens of millions if gradualism is correct. That is the inconvenient truth.

    It is possible that future samples will show these transitional species but as of now none have shown any with thousands of sites excavated. But in the mean time, logic and probability argue against it.

  56. I wasn’t aware that Plato, et. al. did scientific experiments in the field of ID. Perhaps you can point me to their papers?

    Intelligent design holds that some features of life are too complex to be explained by anything other than intelligent agency. That is the teleological argument, which has a long history including the aforementioned philosophers. There work is quite available and stands up favorably alongside the more contemporary body of work.

    Do you suppose their experimental work was suppressed by the materialists of their day?

  57. 57

    specs,
    We can’t make inferences on what the fossil record may show in the future. We can only make inferences based on what it does show now. It does not, now, show gradualism as a viable conclusion, so it is folly to simply conclude that gradualism is correct and simply hope that someday the fossil record will reflect that. If you disagree, then you will have to convince us all here that the fossil record does show gradualism now. Flippant remarks about the holes you’ve dug up, however, do not a coherent argument make.

  58. 58

    specs,
    Perhaps you could point me to the experiments that Plato, et al. did then? Your assertions are pretty thin here. You want to assert that ID is not science because it’s been around for so long, but at the same time you wish to assert that these others were engaged in the science of ID? So which is it? Care to make up your mind?

  59. You have to understand probability and statistics to understand the fossil record.

    It has been well nigh two decades since I was in college, but while there I took a number of applied statistics courses. I am, admittedly, rusty. But, I could probably follow along if you would be so kind as to actually work us through the math.

    There seems to be, in my limited time hereabouts, plenty of appeals to statistics with little actual application of statistics. At best, I see dismissive statements that “you don’t understand the statistics” and refers the commenter to books to read.

    I have to admit that I find this rather odd. To a man, the scientists I have encountered are eager to explain their work. In excruciating detail. But here, requests for a more detailed explanation are treated as an affront. Very odd.

    There is constant sampling of the fossil record by new discoveries and all the results of this sampling process show the same thing.

    Of that you will get no argument from me. However, I am trying to understand why your (or Dave’s) interpretation is more compelling. The Darwinists go into great detail explaining new fossils, like they did with Tiktaalik. When interested observers, like myself, ask for the ID explanation, we are met with condescension. So, consider this an opportunity to educate me. I cede the floor for a more detailed exposition on the statistics and probability of the fossil record.

    Well, one more comment.

    You can invoke all the excuses you want but a lot of stuff got fossilized, just none on the transition species of which there had to be tens of millions if gradualism is correct. That is the inconvenient truth.

    You apparently haven’t read all the comments on this post as you are still flailing away at the gradualism strawman like Dave was further up stream.

    Okay, over to you.

  60. We can’t make inferences on what the fossil record may show in the future.

    Professor, you are apparently unfamiliar with the story of Tiktaalik. Researchers, in the quest for a possible transitional link between fish and tetrapods, made detailed predictions as to where they might find such a fossil long before they ever set foot in the field. That was, at the time, a prediction as to what the fossil record would show in the future. And it was a prediction that was shown to be true.

    Flippant remarks about the holes you’ve dug up, however, do not a coherent argument make.

    I suppose not. But it is a fun twist on the argument that gets invoked whenever a potential evolutionary pathway to a bacterial flagellum is proposed. You might want to let Dr. Behe know that responding to such proposals by requiring the proposer to prove that it was the exact pathway does not a cogent argument make. It was never real compelling when it was formed, by Kent Hovind, as “where you there?”

    But, that aside, do you believe the fossil record is substantially complete? And, if so, what is your evidence?

  61. You want to assert that ID is not science because it’s been around for so long, but at the same time you wish to assert that these others were engaged in the science of ID?

    False dichotomy.

    ID, formed as a teleological argument, has a long and illustrious history going back to the great minds I mentioned. As a scientific endeavour, an idea I am open to, it has produced little of substance to convince this deist as Peace points out when he snarkily says “But it bears noting that humans have been searching for the Designer longer than they’ve been searching for transitional fossils.”

    So, I interpret your position that the current crop of ID thinkers would have succeeded where their antecedents didn’t, but for the institutional suppression of the materialists. Fair enough. After all, tobacco companies suppressed research on the negative effects of smoking. So, it is not unheard of. Is there a list of ID papers that have been rejected by the Darwinist journals that I can review while waiting for Jerry to wow me with statistics?

  62. professorsmith,

    Certainly you recognize the difference between a scientific theory that is just gettting started and a wild-goose chase, right?

    I think so, although I doubt we would agree on how to categorize ID vs. the search for transitional forms.

    As for ID just getting started as a scientific endeavor, you might want to inform Michael Egnor, who said:

    The Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution were based the inference that there was design in the universe and that man could understand it using systematic investigation. Modern science arose from the design inference.

  63. dcost is no longer with us. He asserted that the fossil record is incomplete because (I kid you not) it is incomplete. I guess he is certain he is right because he is certain he is right. In the meantime I’m certain that arguments of that nature are not welcome here.

  64. 64

    specs,
    Tiktaalik is not the example that you think it is. The fossil record was not used to figure out what should be in the fossil record, that claim is overblown. What happened was that scientists decided they should be able to find fossils in a certain location – right next to water – and surprise, they found it. It’s not a big deal, considering most animals have to come to water or live near it. This does not support your position.

    Your appeals to Dr. Behe’s argument are non sequitor. We are not talking about IC.

    And, finally, your false dichotomy charge is basically what you were guilty of. You are now conflating. The science of ID is in its infancy. Before, people had an inkling or an inference, but no real science to hang their hat on. Now, with Behe, Dembski, Wells, Meyer, etc. we have real science to hang our hat on in regards to ID. And, yes, suppression is a real problem. I hide behind a pseudonym because of it. Gonzalez was denied tenure because of it. Sternberg was, well, “sternberged” because of it. Shall I go on?

    Peace,
    By your remark, perhaps you think the search for transitional fossils is just getting started? See, I have some snark too.

  65. specs

    Gradualism is no straw man.

    As University of Chicago evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne wrote:

    “There is only one going theory of evolution, and it is this: organisms evolved gradually over time and split into different species, and the main engine of evolutionary change was natural selection. Sure, some details of these processes are unsettled, but there is no argument among biologists about the main claims.

    Gradualism is the only game in town for chance & necessity. The fossil record doesn’t support gradualism. It was once thought that it would but no matter how much digging gets done the story remains the same. One may assert that the fossil record is woefully incomplete but that is nothing more than wishful thinking. It is an assertion generated by a certainty that gradualism is correct where it then follows if the fossil record doesn’t support gradualism then the fossil record is flawed rather than the certain fact of gradualism.

    Now I’m certainly willing to entertain the idea that the fossil record is flawed but more likely it isn’t. We’ve done a lot of digging since Darwin proposed gradualism and the story hasn’t changed.

    Be that as it may even gradualism isn’t enough to salvage evolution by chance & necessity. The statistical likelyhood of beneficial mutations that are both selectable and that occur in numbers that aren’t drowned in a sea of detrimental mutations is simply to remote to be a reasonable mechanism. Blog comments are not an approrpriate forum to belabor the data and statistics. Whole books are devoted to it. Try reading Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” and Sanfords’s “Genetic Entropy”.

  66. Tiktaalik is not the example that you think it is. The fossil record was not used to figure out what should be in the fossil record, that claim is overblown. What happened was that scientists decided they should be able to find fossils in a certain location – right next to water – and surprise, they found it. It’s not a big deal, considering most animals have to come to water or live near it. This does not support your position.

    A gross oversimplification that suggests to me that you really don’t know much about the process behind Tiktaalik or you are being willfully obtuse.

    It wasn’t just a case of looking near water. If it was as simple as that, the scientists could have just looked near water alot closer to home than the wilds of northern Canada. It was a case of looking at a very specific locale and in a very specific strata of rock.

    And, finally, your false dichotomy charge is basically what you were guilty of. You are now conflating. The science of ID is in its infancy. Before, people had an inkling or an inference, but no real science to hang their hat on. Now, with Behe, Dembski, Wells, Meyer, etc. we have real science to hang our hat on in regards to ID.

    Okay fine, lets accept that as true for the sake of moving the argument along. As I said, I am a deist. I am certainly open to the ID argument. I’d like it to succeed. Are you willing to step into Jerry’s shoes and wow me with the statistics of the fossil record?

  67. specs,

    Your main argument seems to be an argument by sarcasm (while waiting for Jerry to wow me with statistics).

    Each year there are new sites excavated for fossils. Each can be considered as a sample of the fossil record. By the way sampling is the basic process of probability. If the sample only has repeats of fossils from previous samples then the likelihood that there are other fossils that are still out there to be found from additional samples gets increasingly smaller as the total N of the number of samples gets larger. Each year N gets larger with few new fossils and nearly all repeats of already found fossils.

    If you like specific numbers then the following is from Denton’s Evolution, a Theory in Crisis:

    1 – There are 43 known living orders of vertebrates and 42 have been found in the fossil record.

    2 – There are 329 living families of vertebrates and 261 have been found as fossils or about 80%. If one removes birds from this count there are 178 families of vertebrates and 156 of them have been found as fossils or 88%. The birds have only 70% fossilization.

    Thus to argue the fossil record is incomplete when it seems to have been able to find all the current vertebrate life forms and not to find all the millions of transitional species that are necessary for gradualism is ludicrous.

    The Tiktaalik has been discussed here before. If it is a link, what is a link between? There does not seem to be anything on either side of it for 10′s of million years. More than likely it is just another species that suddenly appeared and then disappeared into extinction like the rest of the fossil record. So rather than being a transitional species, of which there should be tens of thousands for its particular line, it maybe just a one off species that appeared and then disappeared. So far we have very little on the Tiktaalik and we will have to wait for future excavations for anything further.

  68. specs

    Is there a list of ID papers that have been rejected by the Darwinist journals that I can review while waiting for Jerry to wow me with statistics?

    Try starting here:

    http://arn.org/

    But I really suggest you start by getting your hands on Sanford’s “Genetic Entropy” and Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”.

  69. Your main argument seems to be an argument by sarcasm (while waiting for Jerry to wow me with statistics).

    Guilty as charged. And I am disappointed that you haven’t really provided much of a convincing argument. In fact, you have managed to make your position even less convincing.

    You first start by throwing out a few numbers in support of the notion that the fossil record is relatively complete. But, then you try to dismiss Tiktaalik with this, that I snipped for brevity:

    So far we have very little on the Tiktaalik and we will have to wait for future excavations for anything further.

    In this you are basically saying that the fossil record is inconclusive with regard to whether Tiktaalik is truly the transitional that the discoverer’s think it is. So, within the space of one (!) post you’ve managed to advance the notion that the fossil record is conclusive enough to support your pet theory, but too inconclusive to support the supposition you don’t like. Heads I win, tails you lose!

    I realize that I am advancing the same argument as the “Darwinists” y’all like to demonize. I suppose that will make my time here short. But, as I said, I am not opposed to ID. As a deist, I’d like to see proof of more than a disinterested designer. But, I am, sadly not finding it here. In fact, your argument regarding Tiktaalik filling a gap in a evolutionary history seems to boil down to nothing more than exclaiming “Look, now there are two gaps!” You are going to have to do alot better than that to convince me, to say nothing of folks that are openly hostile to your hypotheses.

  70. There was a recent discussion on Tiktaalik here (click me).

    I hope you guys don’t mind if I repost what I said before:

    First off, ID is compatible with universal common descent and you’ll find a lot of supporters of such hypotheses on UD. This is despite the fact that Darwinists claim that “As such, it [Tiktaalik] will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power.” Here is how Bill Dembski put it:

    ““Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred. In particular, it questions whether purposeless material processes–as opposed to intelligence–can create biological complexity and diversity.”

    Second, despite the hype surrounding Tiktaalik I believe it’s prudent to consider the evidence fully.

    Click me for image of comparisons between the samples

    The origin of major tetrapod features has remained obscure for lack of fossils that document the sequence of evolutionary changes. Scientists speculate that the front fins of the Tiktaalik allowed the creature to hoist itself up and possibly drag its tail behind. Unfortunately, lacking living representatives, scientists are unable to tell for certain what the fin bones actually were used for (other than the obvious one of swimming). Side-by-side comparisons do not look that informative, especially when there are no soft parts and no evidence for how the creature actually lived. It must be remembered, for instance, that Coelacanth was long considered a transitional form because of its bony fins, but when discovered alive, the fish did not use them for walking or raising itself up in any way. The same thing happened to “Lucy” last year when more evidence was discovered in Dikika, Ethiopia, since “all three lines of evidence suggest that the locomotion of A. afarensis was unlikely to have been restricted to walking on two feet” (‘Palaeoanthropology: A precious little bundle’ Nature 443(7109):278–281, 21 September 2006.”) and thus was demoted and placed in a separate lineage. The general conclusion seems to be it may have been capable of walking upright some of the time—as does the living pygmy chimp (bonobo)–but “[i]t is now recognized widely that the australopithecines are not structurally closely similar to humans, that they must have been living at least in part in arboreal environments, and that many of the later specimens were contemporaneous or almost so with the earlier members of the genus Homo.” (C.E. Oxnard, Nature 258:389–395) The latest evidence seems to indicate that an arboreal lifestyle is even more likely.

    Back to Tiktaalik. Although these small distal bones bear some resemblance to tetrapod digits in terms of their supposed function and range of movement, they are still very much components of a fin. There remains a large morphological gap between them and digits as seen in, for example, Acanthostega: if the digits evolved from these distal bones, the process must have involved considerable developmental repatterning. The implication is that function changed in advance of morphology…assuming the storytelling about Tiktaalik’s lifestyle are true, of course.

    In particular we have almost no information about the step between Tiktaalik and the earliest tetrapods, when the anatomy underwent the most drastic changes, or about what happened in the following Early Carboniferous period, after the end of the Devonian, when tetrapods became fully terrestrial.

    So, no, despite being a potential transitional (notice that I’m not immediately rejecting it, but being cautious, which is prudent given the examples of the Coelacanth and A. afarensis) overall I don’t see this example as being particularly strong considering it largely rides on the storytelling and the base assertion (hype) that it is a major find, and not the evidence itself. The usual lack of details is also present. Would the minor ability to supposedly drag itself along the ground give enough selective pressure to evolve into a tetrapod? The ability to soak up sun in the arctic, as I’ve also seen speculated? It’s speculated that it might be capable of escaping predators by dragging itself onto land, although how large of a factor this would be is unknown. Sounds squirrelly to me. Also, what exactly was predicted (not “predicting” after the fact) about the Tiktaalik that they’d find…that’s one thing I did not see discussed when I read about the Tiktaalik.

    The major issue is that Darwinian mechanisms do not have any positive evidence to say they are capable of providing such a transition. Intelligent evolution (whatever the mechanism) would at least be capable. With intelligent evolution the changes can also be quite rapid, as well, conforming to the evidence better. Not to mention, the true evolutionary lineage for tetrapods might not even include the Tiktaalik at all. Scientists thought tetrapods evolved in the northern hemisphere (Tiktaalik was found in the arctic) but examples like the Gogonasus, which shares some similarities with Tiktaalik, was found in Australia. Convergent evolution or frontloading or are both dead ends for investigation into tetrapod evolution?

    Henry Gee, editor of Nature, on the feasibility of reconstructing phylogenetic trees from fossils: “To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story — amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.”

  71. 71

    specs,
    Thank you for falling back on the old, “If you don’t agree with me, then you obviously don’t know what you are talking about” Darwinist gambit. I do so love it when Darwinists fall back on such arguments, because it shows that they are out of scientific/logical arguments and the only thing they have left is sarcasm, logical fallacy, villification, etc. Jerry has you pegged; your MO is to argue by sarcasm. It won’t get you far, because we can all see through it. And, Patrick has already handled Tiktaalik, so what will you cling to now? Face it, your claims have been debunked. You might want to stop digging.

  72. specs, the pattern continues to be that important evolutionary transformations in complexity and innovation always seem to happen “somewhere else” and are not captured as fossils.

    But NDE is a gradual tiny step-wise process which should show up as such in the fossil record. So why doesn’t it? As the known fossil record continues to increase with further excavation, more and more of the millions of gradual, tiny morphological steps should show up, but what mainly has been happening is that the same pattern is just made clearer. As Jerry pointed out (from Denton), a large percentage of all vertebrate families and orders have been found in the fossil record. If Darwinian gradualism were the mechanism, the fossil record would also have been found to contain a similar high percentage of all the millions of transitionals between these families and orders.

    The conditions for fossilization could somehow always be unfavorable during millions of years of slow macroevolution, but this is clearly untenable.

    Punctuated equilibrium theory tries to rescue the NDE theory by saying it always is somehow taking place very rapidly in small peripheral populations that are not fossilized because of small numbers and relatively short time periods. But the small peripheral populations are too small to have the large pool of variation needed by the NDE process to select from in each generation. It is argued that if these small peripheral populations cumulatively cover a large range they may well have many more opportunities to try out mutations in small isolated populations. However, this doesn’t somehow overcome the statistical problem. A small reproductively isolated population will be limited to the greatly reduced sequence space of different random variations allowed by the small population, and will have the further problem of increased genetic drift.

    If it always happens too fast for fossil detection the number of generations for NDE to accomplish the transformation is severely limited. But the NDE process needs not only large populations for large numbers of potentially beneficial genetic changes to occur somewhere, but also large expanses of time for the huge numbers of generations needed. It doesn’t get either in the punctuated equilibrium model.

    So the lack of transitionals is recognized as one of the major problems for NDE, with no satisfactory solution as of yet or even on the horizon.

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