Home » Biology, Cambrian explosion, Darwinism, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Natural selection, Science, The Design of Life » Editing the Tape of Evolutionary History Yet Again

Editing the Tape of Evolutionary History Yet Again

The late Stephen J. Gould once wrote “Replay the tape [of evolution] a million times from a Burgess [the Burgess Shale fossils]beginning, and I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again. It is, indeed, a wonderful life.” (Gould, Stephen J. [Professor of Zoology and Geology, Harvard University], “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,” [1989], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.289. Well, maybe we wont’ have to replay the tape, because the tape of evolutionary history is getting replayed all the time, in the sense that lately it seems that every new discovery forces a complete re-write (re-wind?) of evolutionary history. Now we have a recent fossil discovery about to be reported in Nature shows that tetrapods may have crawled out of the seas way earlier than previously thought.

According to the article

A set of fossilized footprints show that the first tetrapods – a term applied to any four-footed animal with a spine – were treading open ground 397 million years ago, well before scientists thought they existed.

An expert unconnected with the research said the find would force experts to reconsider a critical period in evolution when sea-based vertebrates took their first steps toward becoming dinosaurs, mammals and – eventually – human beings.

“It blows the whole story out of the water, so to speak,” said Jenny Clack, a paleontologist at Cambridge University.

The work appears in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Despite Gould’s fantasy about rewinding tapes, it seems clear we’ve yet to see the first one correctly. In fact, as more and more discoveries like this one are forthcoming, it seems less and less likely that there even is an evolutionary tape to rewind, or if we even have the right tape. It will be interesting to see how this new find gets edited into the evolutionary tape.

UPDATED: Subsequent to posting this, I found this blogpost at Evolution News and Views written by Casey Luskin. Casey makes a good point regarding this new fossil find and its implications for the oft touted evolutionary link Tiktaalik.

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44 Responses to Editing the Tape of Evolutionary History Yet Again

  1. I always laugh when this aspect of Darwinism comes up – the “evolution from fin to foot” is how the article phrased it. It’s obvious to even the most casual observer that fins and feet have no resemblance to one another. Nor should they since their functions are completely different. We are left with the conclusion that this particular evolutionary step must have occurred in one generation. Of course, a lot of other things would also have to change as well to convert to a land dweller. I am reminded of the fish with legs symbol often displayed on bumpers presumably supporting Darwinism, but actually it ridicules it. What’s more ridiculous than a fish with legs?

  2. Mr DonaldM,

    “way earlier”? I thought the difference was about 20 million years. If 20 million years is way earlier, please keep that in mind when discussing the Cambrian “Explosion” which happened across 50 million years. The start of that ‘explosion’ must have been way, way, way earlier than the end.

    Nonsense. The best information we have now is that the cambrian explosion (no scare quotes I) happened over 5 million, but no longer than 10 million years. Nakashima, you can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. Editors.

  3. Nakashima-san,

    Tiktaalik is from 375 million years ago.

    It was not a tetrapod.

    Tetrapods are allegedly from 365-370 mya.

    As for your time-line for the Cambrian explosion- that is still in debate.

    Some say it was 5- 10 million years.

    Others say up to 40 million.

    IOW depending on who you talk to the length of between the two aren’t so different.

  4. Correction-

    The article sez:

    The earliest tetrapods had been traced to 385 million years ago.

    Which doesn’t make any sense if Tiktaalik was supposed to be a transitional.

    It looks like Shubin, et al., need to re-think their find.

    It also looks like Zachriel, et al., need to re-think their use of Tiktaalik in their “arguments” for Common Descent.

  5. Hakashima in #2:

    20-30mm years becomes significant when the argument is that it took at least that long for evolution to produce tetrapods. Remember the whole argument is that evolution is a long…very long…slow march of accumulated changes.

    Now it seems not only is 20+ million years shaved off the necessary time, but on top of that, one of the key transitional forms, tiktaalik apparently arrived subsequent to the forms it was transitional to, namely, tetrapods. (See the link in my update to the OP above) These evolutionary timelines can’t just be shifted around without creating all sorts of havoc with what supposedly happened when with respect to evolution. Remove 20mm+ years from the evolutionary timeline and explanations for all sorts of changes have to be crammed into ever shrinking bands of time.

    Now, I don’t doubt for one second that Darwinists will find a way to accomodate their theory with this latest discovery, because if we’ve learned anything about evolution in modern times it is that it is totally and completely impervious to falsification! Even in the article I referenced, no one says, “this casts doubt on evolutionary theory itself.” After all, no one doubts that evolution happened, we’re just quibbling over how!

    Uh huh!!

  6. This is just a good example of Jehu’s Law, which states that evolutionary events will always be discovered to have occurred at an earlier time than previously believed.

  7. If there are humans tetrapods, why are there still apes fishopods?

    Evolutionary descent is a radiating pattern, with most lineages varying in length before eventually going extinct. Tiktaalik is an organism that has intermediate features of tetrapods and fish. That doesn’t mean it is a direct ancestor of tetrapods. Indeed, that would have been considered highly unlikely.

  8. DonaldM:

    Casey makes a good point regarding this new fossil find and its implications for the oft touted evolutionary link Tiktaalik.

    I’m still savoring the implications of Archaeopteryx and Ida. I can’t wait to see what the menu for 2010 has in store.

  9. To DonaldM: Darwinists will find a way to accomodate their theory … youre too late, they already have. A report on the article states that there was a transition between fish & land-dwelling tetrapods, but it lasted for about 50m years. Its not like a steady succesion from one model to the next.

    Go to Pharyngula, or if thats not to your taste, to Pandas Thumb.

  10. There is another observation similar to Jehu’s law (#8) that should be pointed out. Tracks before fossils is turning out to be a common feature. We have tetrapod tracks here before tetrapod fossils. We have triassic bird tracks before bird fossils. And we have the Laetoli footprints, indistinguishable from modern human footprints, before the fossils of modern humans are found. It seems that something fishy is going on here.

    Graham I (#9),

    “Its not like a steady succesion from one model to the next.”
    Wow!. To quote Popper (Unended Quest, p. 172),

    Gradualness is thus, from a logical point of view the central prediction of the theory [of evolution]. (It seems to me that it is its only prediction.)

    With this prediction apparently falsified, it would appear that evolution has completely left the field of science.

  11. Whoops! That was Jehu #6.

  12. Graham in #9

    Pharyngula is a waste of time. Panda’s Thumb is hardly worth paying attention to anymore.

  13. Evolutionary descent is a radiating pattern, with most lineages varying in length before eventually going extinct.

    What we have is a radiating pattern. It is inferred that this is due to evolutionary descent.

    Please try to learn to discern between fact and theory, please.

    Like I think that’s going to actually happen.

  14. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Tiktaalik is the direct ancestor of all quadrupeds. This is well known confusion about the status of transitional fossils. It would be a stunning coincidence to come across a fossil of a direct ancestor. Tiktaalik shows transitional features between fish and quadrupeds which would almost certainly have been shared by other species both before and after (indeed some of these features are shown by some current species). There is no contradiction in quadrupeds existing tens of millions of years before Tiktaalik .

  15. jpg564,

    What’s more ridiculous than a fish with legs?

    Maybe this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOWA_sPGfLA

  16. DonaldM @ 5

    Now, I don’t doubt for one second that Darwinists will find a way to accomodate their theory with this latest discovery, because if we’ve learned anything about evolution in modern times it is that it is totally and completely impervious to falsification!

    Adjusting a theory to accommodate new data, rather than the other way round, is a perfectly sound scientific principle.

    We can all imagine the great wailing and gnashing of teeth that would be heard from critics of evolution if biologists were found to have ignored or suppressed data.

    And the theory is still falsifiable, although testability is a better criterion. We might yet find the fossils of Cambrian rabbits.

  17. Paul Giem @ 10

    Graham I (#9),

    “Its not like a steady succesion from one model to the next.”
    Wow!. To quote Popper (Unended Quest, p. 172),

    Gradualness is thus, from a logical point of view the central prediction of the theory [of evolution]. (It seems to me that it is its only prediction.)

    With this prediction apparently falsified, it would appear that evolution has completely left the field of science.

    If you are going to quote Popper on evolution why be so frugal? There is much more to choose from, such as the following, for example:

    Popper’s statement of nonfalsifiability was pretty mild, not as extensive as it is often taken. He applied it only to natural selection, not evolution as a whole, and he allowed that some testing of natural selection was possible, just not a significant amount.

    Moreover, he said that natural selection is a useful theory. A “metaphysical research programme” was to him not a bad thing; it is an essential part of science, as it guides productive research by suggesting predictions. He said of Darwinism,

    And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin. In trying to explain experiments with bacteria which become adapted to, say, penicillin, it is quite clear that we are greatly helped by the theory of natural selection. Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment (such as a penicillin-infested environment) in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory so far which does all that. (Popper 1976, 171-172)

    Finally, Popper notes that theism as an explanation of adaptation “was worse than an open admission of failure, for it created the impression that an ultimate explanation had been reached” (Popper 1976, 172).

    and

    Popper later changed his mind and recognized that natural selection is testable. Here is an excerpt from a later writing on “Natural Selection and Its Scientific Status” (Miller 1985, 241-243; see also Popper 1978):

    When speaking here of Darwinism, I shall speak always of today’s theory – that is Darwin’s own theory of natural selection supported by the Mendelian theory of heredity, by the theory of the mutation and recombination of genes in a gene pool, and by the decoded genetic code. This is an immensely impressive and powerful theory. The claim that it completely explains evolution is of course a bold claim, and very far from being established. All scientific theories are conjectures, even those that have successfully passed many severe and varied tests. The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism.

    However, Darwin’s own most important contribution to the theory of evolution, his theory of natural selection, is difficult to test. There are some tests, even some experimental tests; and in some cases, such as the famous phenomenon known as ‘industrial melanism’, we can observe natural selection happening under our very eyes, as it were. Nevertheless, really severe tests of the theory of natural selection are hard to come by, much more so than tests of otherwise comparable theories in physics or chemistry.

    The fact that the theory of natural selection is difficult to test has led some people, anti-Darwinists and even some great Darwinists, to claim that it is a tautology [see CA500]. A tautology like ‘All tables are tables’ is not, of course, testable; nor has it any explanatory power. It is therefore most surprising to hear that some of the greatest contemporary Darwinists themselves formulate the theory in such a way that it amounts to the tautology that those organisms that leave most offspring leave most offspring. C. H. Waddington says somewhere (and he defends this view in other places) that ‘Natural selection . . . turns out … to be a tautology’ ..4 However, he attributes at the same place to the theory an ‘enormous power. … of explanation’. Since the explanatory power of a tautology is obviously zero, something must be wrong here.

    Yet similar passages can be found in the works of such great Darwinists as Ronald Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane, and George Gaylord Simpson; and others.

    I mention this problem because I too belong among the culprits. Influenced by what these authorities say, I have in the past described the theory as ‘almost tautological’, and I have tried to explain how the theory of natural selection could be untestable (as is a tautology) and yet of great scientific interest. My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme. It raises detailed problems in many fields, and it tells us what we would expect of an acceptable solution of these problems.

    I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.

    It would seem from the above that Popper believed evolution, far from having left the field of science, was firmly established there.

  18. Seversky.

    I had a discussion about it at RD.net before I was banned there. Popper actually rediculed darwinism for circular reasoning – survived those who survived. Later he retracted his statements. Neverthenless he never doubted chemistry or physiscs. It is telling.

    Darwinists do much ado about “falsifiability” of their fantasies. No other science use arguments like this.

    I am convinced that even if winged pigs having compound eyes were discovered it would perfectly fit into bizarre world of darwinian “fasifiability”.

  19. VMartin @ 16

    I had a discussion about it at RD.net before I was banned there. Popper actually rediculed darwinism for circular reasoning – survived those who survived. Later he retracted his statements. Neverthenless he never doubted chemistry or physiscs. It is telling.

    Yes, it is telling that he later came to accept evolution as a fully-fledged – in other words, falsifiable – scientific theory

    Darwinists do much ado about “falsifiability” of their fantasies. No other science use arguments like this.

    Scientists in all disciplines, not just biologists, were happy to adopt falsifiability as a criterion by which good science could be judged. Many still do.

    I am convinced that even if winged pigs having compound eyes were discovered it would perfectly fit into bizarre world of darwinian “fasifiability”.

    What would be wrong with that?

    If flying pigs with compound eyes were ever discovered they would have to be explained.

    That is what science does. It tries to explain what is observed.

    First, it tries to explain the observations in terms of the best theory available at the time. If that doesn’t work then there is an attempt to adjust the theory. If that doesn’t work then a new and better theory has to be found.

    The vast majority of working biologists, the people best-placed to judge, seem to find that the theory of evolution is working pretty well so far.

  20. Pharyngula has put up a pretty detailed explanation of all the above. Maybe you guys could go over there & read it.

  21. Zachriel:

    Tiktaalik is an organism that has intermediate features of tetrapods and fish. That doesn’t mean it is a direct ancestor of tetrapods. Indeed, that would have been considered highly unlikely.

    Then I take it that you will stop using it as an example of some fulfilled prediction.

  22. Seversky:

    That is what science does. It tries to explain what is observed.

    IOW Intelligent Design is scienctific because it tries to explain what is observed.

    The vast majority of working biologists, the people best-placed to judge, seem to find that the theory of evolution is working pretty well so far.

    Except for the fact that not one biologist knows whether or not the transformations required are even possible.

    IOW it works well for minor variations- ie the Creation model of biological evolution, ie baraminology.

  23. How would rabbits in the Cambrian falsify the theory of evolution?

    All that would do is shift time-lines- OR someone would try to explain it away.

    So just how could one falsify the theory of evolution?

    Please provide a valid scientific research venue that would/ could do such a thing.

  24. Seversky

    The vast majority of working biologists, the people best-placed to judge, seem to find that the theory of evolution is working pretty well so far.

    Vast majority obviously doesn’t mean all. For instance Lynn Margulis who has clearly rejected neodarwinian “selfishness” of evolution.

    Such situation is not in real sciences as far as I know – no one chemicist rejects Mendelejev table of elements.

    Autodidact Darwin invented “Natural selection” – a curious force no one observed before him and which he applied from breeding of pigeons and reading Malthus. Atheists embraced the fantasy immediately and present it as “science” that are subject “falsification”. Beeing married for wealthy woman he added also “sexual selection” (Wallace who didn’t have so much luck rejected this force).

    Considering the theory from this point of view it is the pure antropomorphism. Theory which traslated selfishness of early victorian liberalism into nature and posited it there as “natural law”.

  25. Seversky

    First, it tries to explain the observations in terms of the best theory available at the time. If that doesn’t work then there is an attempt to adjust the theory. If that doesn’t work then a new and better theory has to be found.

    You’re correct, that is what ought, but in the case of the ToE, it doesn’t. Nothing, absolutely nothing, ever bring the ToE itself into question. It is impervious to falsification. And the reason for that is simple: if you’re a philosophical naturalist, then evolution (or something very much like it) is the ONLY game in town and therefore must be protected at all costs.

    How much contradictory evidence is required before a theory is discarded? First Darwin himself imagined this long, slow succession of slight modifications occurring over eons and eons of time. But then the fossil record didn’t quite live up to that expectation, so Gould and Eldridge come along with “punctuated equalibrium”, the idea being that some bits of evolution ‘might’ happen really fast followed by long periods of stasis, since that is what the fossils showed. Of course, no explanation as to exactly how all these organisms actually did evolve was given, so punk eek is really little more than a speculation.

    We have Behe and irreducible complexity. IC systems abound in biological systems and in the 13 or so years since Behe first published his book it is STILL the case that there is not one, single research study published in any relevant peer reviewed scientific journal laying out a detailed, testable, falsifiable model of how evolution built any IC system. None. Zip, zero, nada. The only study that ever gets cited in this regard is Lenski et.al.’s study using the AVIDA computer program!! In other words, no actual biological system.

    Then we have all the supposed “transitional” forms, that end up not being transitional after all, with the latest being our little friend tiktaalik due to this recent fossil find.

    But none of this matters to Darwinists because they already know thier theory is correct.
    Eugenie Scott said it best: “no one doubts that evolution happened, the only debate is over how it happened.” [that may not be verbatim, but its darn close]. Lately it seems that every single “how” of evolutionary theory is highly questionable and much debate over details ensues. In other words, no one knows how. Yet in the face of any contradictory evidence, evolution, so we’re told, is still safe from falsification. It just HAS to work as advertised.

    The only area of evolutionary theory that has been able to provide details is the non-controversial studies of observed adaptations. No one disputes adaptations. The extrapolations from adaptations to the Grand Evolutionary Extrapolation (what I like to call the great GEE of evolution as in “golly, gee whiz, look at all the wonders evolution hath wrought) have never been confirmed and more and more evidence mounts against it.

  26. Zachriel: Tiktaalik is an organism that has intermediate features of tetrapods and fish. That doesn’t mean it is a direct ancestor of tetrapods. Indeed, that would have been considered highly unlikely. Finding a fossil fishopod doesn’t mean it was the first or the last fishopod in evolutionary history.

    Joseph: Then I take it that you will stop using it as an example of some fulfilled prediction.

    Of course it’s a fulfilled prediction. The scientists didn’t just stumble on the fossil in their backyard. They made a prediction from the Theory of Evolution, then tested it by mounting a complex expedition over several years to the Canadian Arctic.

    Joseph: How would rabbits in the Cambrian falsify the theory of evolution?

    Yes, because it would precede any plausible ancestor. The current Theory of Evolution would be inadequate to explain such a find.

    By the way, did you ever determine whether sparrows group best with eagles or toads?

  27. Seversky: The vast majority of working biologists, the people best-placed to judge, seem to find that the theory of evolution is working pretty well so far.

    VMartin: Vast majority obviously doesn’t mean all. For instance Lynn Margulis who has clearly rejected neodarwinian “selfishness” of evolution.

    Margulis sees herself as a “Definitely a Darwinist,” which in scientific circles means she thinks that Natural Selection is essential to explaining adaptation. Her complaint is that Neodarwinism has pushed an oversimplified view of mutation as the source of biological novelty. Margulis is an evolutionary biologist.

  28. DonaldM: Nothing, absolutely nothing, ever bring the ToE itself into question. It is impervious to falsification. And the reason for that is simple: if you’re a philosophical naturalist, then evolution (or something very much like it) is the ONLY game in town and therefore must be protected at all costs.

    In fact, prevailing theories of evolution have been falsified many times. Today’s Theory of Evolution is quite different from Darwin’s. And new tests are performed every day, many of which call into question the prevailing theory. However, there is no evidence thus far that calls into question that mice and men share a common ancestor and evolved by descent with modification.

  29. DonaldM: But then the fossil record didn’t quite live up to that expectation, so Gould and Eldridge come along with “punctuated equalibrium”, the idea being that some bits of evolution ‘might’ happen really fast followed by long periods of stasis, since that is what the fossils showed.

    With Punctuated Equilibrium, changes occur relatively rapidly in small, isolated populations that leave few fossils. We can observe this process when a new habitat opens up, such as during island colonization. Observed rates of evolution are much faster than necessary to explain the historical record. Punctuated Equilibrium is not in opposition to gradualism, but to the belief that evolution occurs at a continuous rate, phyletic gradualism.

  30. Zachriel.

    Perhaps you didn’t read Behe’s Darwin’s black box. He also qouted her. Margulis said about competitive neodarwinism:


    “…a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology.”[6] … “wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him… Neo-Darwinism, which insists on (the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection), is a complete funk.”[6]

  31. VMartin: a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology…

    Margulis’s hyperbolic statement refers to Neodarwinian Theory, not to Darwinism or to the fact of evolution. She proposed an updated Theory of Evolution, one based on symbiogenesis. Modern evolutionary theory incorporates many of Margulis’s insights. Her findings offer no comfort to Intelligent Design. She’s “definitely a Darwinist.”

  32. Zachriel (#17)

    Thanks for your comments. I missed the part where you commented on whether and why tracks seem to precede the relevant animal fossils.

    I also missed the part where you disputed my quote of Graham I that “Its not like a steady succesion from one model to the next.” Have you also given up on gradualism?

    I agree with you, and with the later Popper, that falsification is not a good dividing point between science and non-science. You seem to miss one implication, which is that one cannot use falsification, or rather the lack thereof, to rule out ID as a scientific theory. (If you wish to see my philosophy of science, you can find it by clicking on my name and reading the first chapter of my book.) One can insist that the earlier Popper is right. But that paints naturalistic evolution as a failed theory, being either falsified, or unfalsifiable, neither of which will fit the earlier Popper’s definition of science.

    I personally like Imre Lakatos’ idea of scientific research programs. That is why, using a creationist (not just ID) program, I predicted, looked for, and found carbon-14 in fossil material conventionally dating over 300 million years old. That would seem to put not just ID, but YLC, into the field of science.

    I am interested in your take on the Cambrian rabbit. I would maintain that naturalistic evolution is not directly falsifiable because it is not a theory, but a scientific research program. You are free to disagree. I might suggest that before you do, you read the discussion that starts here:
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-311949
    Especially comments 189, 198, 206, 210, 212, 234, 255, 257-259, 309-317, 323 (the last comment).

  33. Graham 1 at #9:

    No one, and I mean absolutely no one, with a real interest in science and reasoned debate, would ever be caught dead over at Phoolrangula. You may as well have a town hall meeting about public education and invite the crips and the bloods. You would expect, and no doubt get, at least as much intelligent debate in that venue as you will find over at Phyrangula.

  34. Paul Giem: I missed the part where you commented on whether and why tracks seem to precede the relevant animal fossils.

    Because a given fossil is almost certainly not the first or the last of a lineage. It’s a single data-point.

    Paul Giem: Have you also given up on gradualism?

    Perhaps you mean phyletic gradualism. Evolution doesn’t happen at a constant rate.

    Paul Giem: I agree with you, and with the later Popper, that falsification is not a good dividing point between science and non-science.

    Falsification is an important, but not flawless heuristic. The idea is to divide the world into two empirical possibilities clearly demarcated by the potential falsification. However, a potentially falsifying observation can be just as prone to theoretical bias as any other observation. And such clear demarcation is not always available.

    The anomalous precession of the perihelion of Mercury is a case in point. It could have been due to some other body influencing Mercury’s orbit. So it might have been an unexplained anomaly. Or if it were an actual falsification, we could retain Newton’s Theory by simply excluding Mercury’s precession from its domain until a more satisfactory resolution was found.

    Paul Giem: You seem to miss one implication, which is that one cannot use falsification, or rather the lack thereof, to rule out ID as a scientific theory.

    Unfortunately, the term “Intelligent Design” is subject to equivocation. It’s more precise to deal with specific claims.

    Paul Giem: But that paints naturalistic evolution as a failed theory, being either falsified, or unfalsifiable, neither of which will fit the earlier Popper’s definition of science.

    A theory is nearly always a structured collection of interrelated claims. Only specific claims can be directly falsified, though if the falsified claim is fundamental to a theory, then it could mean the theory is scrapped. Aspects of the Theory of Evolution has been falsified many times; consequently, the current Theory of Evolution is not the same as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

    Paul Giem: I am interested in your take on the Cambrian rabbit.

    If a Precambrian rabbit were demonstrated (rather than merely asserted), it would precede any plausible evolutionary ancestor. Time-traveling Leporidae?

    Paul Giem: I would maintain that naturalistic evolution is not directly falsifiable because it is not a theory, but a scientific research program.

    The Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory that is comprised of a number of interrelated and falsifiable scientific claims (actually several versions, which though sharing most fundamental claims, yet vie over some details). And yes, the Theory of Evolution is constantly being modified in the light of new data, especially with regards to the historical narrative.

  35. We all believe gravity is a fact (although another thread here makes me suspect that no, we do not all take it for granted) but aside from that, even though most of us take gravity for granted, science is by far finished with it; it is still searching for more info, like gravitons, knowledge about what gravity is, how does if fit into the great framework of the ‘theory of everything’?

    Just as a pendant to the frequent complaints about evolutionary theory not being static. Meaning continued research and updating of a theory doesn’t equate to doubts about, falsification or rejection of the basic fact, be it gravity – or evolution.

  36. http://www.pnas.org/content/97/9/4426.full
    The Vendian-Cambrian boundary is now placed at ?543 Myr, and the duration (?45 Myr) of the Cambrian is substantially shorter than once thought.

  37. Oops, the ? actually was ASCII F7H, (meaning approx?)

  38. Dear Editors,

    Please respond in a normally threaded message. It makes following a conversation easier. Previous administrations here at UD have disavowed editing other people’s comments except to ban them.

    As well known as the term “Cambrian Explsion” is, I don’t know of a hard and fast definition of it. Here is one from PBS educational material:

    Then, between about 570 and 530 million years ago, another burst of diversification occurred, with the eventual appearance of the lineages of almost all animals living today. This stunning and unique evolutionary flowering is termed the “Cambrian explosion,” taking the name of the geological age in whose early part it occurred. But it was not as rapid as an explosion: the changes seems to have happened in a range of about 30 million years, and some stages took 5 to 10 million years.

    I grant you that there are sources that agree with you, such as this paleobiology website:

    The theory of the Cambrian Explosion holds that, beginning some 545 million years ago, an explosion of diversity led to the appearance over a relatively short period of 5 million to 10 million years of a huge number of complex, multi-celled organisms.

    I agree that we can have differing opinions, but not differing facts. Here, however, we are not dealing with facts, merely popular terms.

    In any case, I am heartened that we agree on some of the most basic aspects of the discussion – the reality of deep time, the reliability of dating methods and the geologic column, the ability to understand trace fossils and other fossil remains, and the testimony of all of these to a series of life forms that were related to each other (common descent).

  39. Nakashima (#2, #38) and Cabal (#36-37),

    There is a common confusion between the Cambrian and the Cambrian Explosion. This confusion is fostered by sites PBS site cited by Nakashima. If it can be maintained that the Cambrian explosion happened over a long time, it will not appear to be so difficult to explain it as being consistent with Darwinian evolution.

    The problem, to state it succinctly, is that there are very few, and so far restricted kinds (phyla) of organisms before the Cambrian, whereas not just at the end of the Cambrian, but at the earlier strata, for example the Chengjiang in China, nearly all the modern phyla are present, and often extinct phyla as well. That time frame thus is not between the late Precambrian and the late Cambrian, but between the late Precambrian and the early Cambrian. Thus 40 to 45 million years is a gross overestimate for the time during which the changes happened. Estimates of 1-10 million years are more appropriate.

    It is fascinating to read the Wikipedia article on the Cambrian explosion. Obviously, they also have an interest in minimizing the problem. However they still allow that

    The Cambrian explosion has generated extensive scientific debate. The seemingly rapid appearance of fossils in the “Primordial Strata” was noted as early as the mid 19th century,[6] and Charles Darwin saw it as one of the main objections that could be made against his theory of evolution by natural selection.[7]

    The next paragraph is just choice:

    The long-running puzzlement about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna, seemingly abruptly and from nowhere, centers on three key points: whether there really was a mass diversification of complex organisms over a relatively short period of time during the early Cambrian; what might have caused such rapid change; and what it would imply about the origin and evolution of animals. Interpretation is difficult due to a limited supply of evidence, based mainly on an incomplete fossil record and chemical signatures left in Cambrian rocks.

    Note the desperate attempts to avoid the implications of the problem. The first attempt is to challenge the data, or to deny that the fossil data reflect the biological reality. The difficulty with this approach can be appreciated by noting that some estimates put the divergence of protostomes and deuterostomes at some 896 million years ago, which means that for some 350 million years we have evolution without any known fossil evidence. That makes even 40 million years look like a very short time.

    The next attempt is to ask “what might have caused such rapid change”. Well, of course, designers could have but Wikipedia isn’t going there :) . Maybe if there is no (unguided) mechanism, the problem will just go away.

    The final attempt is to obfuscate the problem. “Interpretation is difficult due to a limited supply of evidence, based mainly on an incomplete fossil record and chemical signatures left in Cambrian rocks.” No it’s not. Interpretation is difficult due precisely to the excellent preservation of the fossil record in the Cambrian If one wishes to argue the incompleteness of the fossil record, one has to make that case for the Precambrian record. This statement makes me wonder what Kool-aid the Wikipedia authors have been drinking.

    The lack of logic is again evident in the following quote:

    While differing significantly in details, both Whittington and Gould proposed that all modern animal phyla had appeared rather suddenly. This view was influenced by the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which Eldredge and Gould developed in the early 1970s and which views evolution as long intervals of near-stasis “punctuated” by short periods of rapid change.[15]

    Note the lack of support for the idea that Whittington actually subscribed to punctuated equilibrium. But more importantly, note the suggestion that the theory of puunctuated equilibrium influenced the empiric observation that the fossil record indicates the rapid development of phyla. In reality, of course, it was precisely the reverse. Eldredge and Gould developed their theory to account for the data of the fossil record. They had started out as more or less orthodox Darwinists. It was the fossil data, their area of expertise, that convinced them otherwise.

    More of this minimization of the problem continues:

    A phylum is not a fundamental division of nature, such as the difference between electrons and protons. It is simply a very high-level grouping in a classification system created to describe all currently living organisms.

    Simply? This kind of argument cannot conceal the fact that if we take the fossil record at face value, it indicates that fundamentally differently types of organisms suddenly appeared in the fossil record. As Dawkins (TBW) put it, “It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” (Read the whole quote; it is fascinating.)

  40. Zachriel,

    I’ll get back to you later. I ran out of time, but am pleased by the tone of your response.

  41. Zachriel:

    Of course it’s a fulfilled prediction. The scientists didn’t just stumble on the fossil in their backyard. They made a prediction from the Theory of Evolution, then tested it by mounting a complex expedition over several years to the Canadian Arctic.

    The prediction seems to be falsified by the new find.

    Ya see Shubin et al. were looking for a trasitional and found one AFTER the transition was already esyablished.

    In order for theior’s to be a good prediction they needed to find the transitional BEFORE tetrapods made it to land.

    How would rabbits in the Cambrian falsify the theory of evolution?

    Yes, because it would precede any plausible ancestor.

    You don’t know that.

    For all you know there are plausible ancestors that just haven’t been found.

    Also you don’t ewven know what a plausible ancestor is because you don’t know what makes a rabbit a rabbit.

    The current Theory of Evolution would be inadequate to explain such a find.

    I could think of several things that could explain it away and I am sure evos could think of more.

  42. This article is object of another article at Biologos.

    http://biologos.org/blog/footprints-in-the-sand/

  43. Zachriel:

    Unfortunately, the term “Intelligent Design” is subject to equivocation.

    The word “evolution” is always equivocated:

    Equivocation and Evolution

    and

    Equivocation and Evolution cont

  44. Zachriel (#34),

    Could you explain why this is an answer?

    Paul Giem: I missed the part where you commented on whether and why tracks seem to precede the relevant animal fossils.

    Because a given fossil is almost certainly not the first or the last of a lineage. It’s a single data-point.

    If you had said that there are many more tracks than fossils, and therefore the track distribution would be expected to be outside, and therefore earlier than, the fossil distribution, I might wonder about the premise, but at least understand the argument.

    Reading your answer,

    Paul Giem: Have you also given up on gradualism

    Perhaps you mean phyletic gradualism. Evolution doesn’t happen at a constant rate.

    It looks like you are proposing the Hopeful Monster theory, at least as far as the fossil record is concerned. Suddenly, or perhaps within a few thousand years, an alga became a trilobite. Is that the explanation of the Cambrian explosion?

    When, in answer to my comment,

    You seem to miss one implication, which is that one cannot use falsification, or rather the lack thereof, to rule out ID as a scientific theory.

    you reply,

    Unfortunately, the term “Intelligent Design” is subject to equivocation. It’s more precise to deal with specific claims.

    you sidestep the issue rather than meet the thrust of the comment head on. It’s a good debating tactic, but in this case it is not helpful in finding the truth. If falsification is not a defining characteristic of science, than its absence cannot be used to declare a theory, or even a collection of theories, unscientific. That means that specifically it is not legitimate to use it to rule out ID as non-scientific. ID may be non-scientific, but the criterion fails.

    Aspects of the Theory of Evolution has been falsified many times; consequently, the current Theory of Evolution is not the same as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

    Is there any particular reason why we should trust the current version to be more successful than the past ones?

    If a Precambrian rabbit were demonstrated (rather than merely asserted), it would precede any plausible evolutionary ancestor. Time-traveling Leporidae?

    Did you read the discussion at the link I provided? Perhaps you can reply to Cambrian plants (scan down to “In the mid- 1940s”), specifically oaks, and Precambrian angiosperm pollen (see R. M. Stainforth, “Occurrence of Pollen and Spores in the Roraima Formation of Venezuela and British Guiana,” Nature, Vol. 210, No. 5033 (April 16, 1966), pp. 292–294.). I would be interested in your answer.

    I suspect that you and I are closer together than it might appear on the nature of scientific theories. It appears that you just are not used to the terminology of Lakatos, where “scientific research program” is used for a core theory which is not directly testable, with surrounding theories and heuristics, with the surrounding theories being testable. The core theory gains or loses credibility based on the ability or lack thereof of the surrounding theories to predict novel facts, and their ability to avoid apparent falsification. Does that seem heretical to you?

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