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The Gradualist’s Demise

The Cambrian Explosion,
what a commotion,
for long-established theories
on how things should occur.
Sudden emergence,
animal insurgence,
novel parts and body plans,
no ancestry we’re sure.

Five fifty million years ago,
a faunal troupe did truly show,
what all the fossil experts know,
“Biology’s Big Bang”.
No intermediates came before,
a true explosion to the core,
those trilobites we can’t ignore,
a self-assertive gang.

With all the complex novelty,
of body plan disparity,
with legs to walk and eyes to see
exquisitely designed.
From what we know we can infer,
a mindful manufacturer,
from what we’ve seen we can concur,
intelligent the mind.

Intelligent the mind that made,
this ‘multi-cell’lar’ cavalcade,
so unperturbed and clearly laid,
all so that man could see.
The informational design,
this DNA of yours and mine,
that specifies the bottom line
of how they came to be.

So many proteins functions new,
in single cells there’d been so few,
but now with novel tasks to do,
new proteins were in need.
With proteins novel cells came too,
all specialized for tasks to do,
from these new cells new tissues grew,
all function’lly decreed.

And all of this in shortest time,
five million years it took to climb,
from simple cell to form sublime,
the body plans attest.
The Cambrian lives as testament,
a firmly standing monument,
preplanned with care and full intent,
designing at its best.

The gradualistic undertone,
so steadfast held as fact, was shown
to be so clearly challenge prone,
so theories we revise.
From Cambrian’s loft we plainly see,
a suddenness,  immediacy,
no gradual change such fallacy,
the gradualist’s demise.

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17 Responses to The Gradualist’s Demise

  1. Pardon me for playing devil’s advocate here, but I don’t think the Cambrian explosion is a very good argument for ID. The following quote from Wikipedia (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrian_explosion ) explains why it’s not such an open-and-shut case. (For ease of reading, I’ve removed footnotes.)

    The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was the seemingly rapid appearance of most major groups of complex animals around 530 million years ago, as evidenced by the fossil record. This was accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes. Before about 580 million years ago, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 or 80 million years the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude (as defined in terms of the extinction and origination rate of species) and the diversity of life began to resemble today’s…

    The fossil record as Darwin knew it seemed to suggest that the major metazoan groups appeared in a few million years of the early to mid-Cambrian, and even in the 1980s this still appeared to be the case.

    However, evidence of Precambrian metazoa is gradually accumulating. If the Ediacaran Kimberella was a mollusc-like protostome (one of the two main groups of coelomates), the protostome and deuterostome lineages must have split significantly before 550 million years ago (deuterostomes are the other main group of coelomates). Even if it is not a protostome, it is widely accepted as a bilaterian. Since fossils of rather modern-looking Cnidarians (jellyfish-like organisms) have been found in the Doushantuo lagerstatte, the Cnidarian and bilaterian lineages must have diverged well over 580 million years ago.

    Trace fossils and predatory borings in Cloudina shells provide further evidence of Ediacaran animals. Some fossils from the Doushantuo formation have been interpreted as embryos and one (Vernanimalcula) as a bilaterian coelomate, although these interpretations are not universally accepted. Earlier still, predatory pressure has acted on stromatolites and acritarchs since around 1,250 million years ago.

    The presence of Precambrian animals somewhat dampens the “bang” of the explosion: not only was the appearance of animals gradual, but their evolutionary radiation (“diversification”) may also not have been as rapid as once thought. Indeed, statistical analysis shows that the Cambrian explosion was no faster than any of the other radiations in animals’ history.

    There is little doubt that disparity – that is, the range of different organism “designs” or “ways of life” – rose sharply in the early Cambrian. However, recent research has overthrown the once-popular idea that disparity was exceptionally high throughout the Cambrian, before subsequently decreasing. In fact, disparity remains relatively low throughout the Cambrian, with modern levels of disparity only attained after the early Ordovician radiation.

    The diversity of many Cambrian assemblages is similar to today’s.

    Readers would do well to note that the explosion took place about 530 million years ago, rather than at the beginning of the Cambrian period, 543 million years ago; and that it was preceded by 70 to 80 million years of animal evolution, not five or six million years as some over-enthusiastic ID proponents claim.

    Now for the really hard part. Would the emergence of body plans and complex parts even over a 70 to 80 million-year period be an unexpected result of a blind evolutionary process? Can the explosion be mathematically modelled? Stephen Meyer argues strongly for a design-based explanation in his article at http://www.discovery.org/artic.....mbrian.pdf . His paper has been criticized at http://pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/000430.html and http://pharyngula.org/index/we.....ting_meyer . Not being a biologist, I don’t feel qualified to say who’s right here.

    Interestingly, the Wikipedia article I cited above does a very good job in pointing out the deficiencies in the standard attempts to explain away the Cambrian explosion.

    All I want to say is: the controversy about this issue won’t end anytime soon. In my humble opinion, the origin of DNA poses a far more formidable obstacle for evolutionists, and we would do better to focus on our argumentative strengths.

  2. I’m not saying anything said there is wrong, but wikipedia is basically an “official” sounding version of stuff posted on the panda’s thumb. It is anything but ideologicaly neutral lterature. The “criticism” sections of naturalist pages are basically snyopses from Richard Dawkins books defending againt criticism. It is biased, and has never included a fair portrayal of the other side of the argument

  3. Wikipedia is notoriously Darwinian fundamentalist prig run and remarkably dishonest.

    The ability of anyone to put anything at all that is remotely contrary to macro evol or supportive of ID. is well known to be zero.

    I know, I and many others have tried.

    Just join up and try editing some of their evolutionary pages to correct the many and often grievous errors and hyperbole. Your edits will ‘disappear’ in less than 24 hours. Every time you try again – same thing – some die-hard materialist Darwiener will wipe out everything you’ve posted and claim it is false or must be discussed for approval – but it never will be because they group together and vote it out – they don’t care what well referenced evidence you provide.

    So, quoting Darwinpedia here, on any ID/Darwinism related issue won’t get you very far.

  4. Coincidentally, Australian philosopher John Wilkins has just posted on what he argues is the myth that Darwin was a gradualist.

  5. The Cambrian Explosion supposedly happened in a remarkably short time, somewhere about 5-10 million years. It may have happened in a shorter time but dating everything that far back is problematic. The people writing the Cambrian article are spinning and trying to put the best possible light on the scarcity of evidence preceding the Cambrian.

    What preceded the Cambrian is really very, very thin though people tend to exaggerate the diversity of what was present. You note the use of trace fossils. These indicates some worm like creatures and nothing more. Some speculation on some embryos. Maybe one of the phyla was present.

    The article said

    “There is little doubt that disparity – that is, the range of different organism “designs” or “ways of life” – rose sharply in the early Cambrian. However, recent research has overthrown the once-popular idea that disparity was exceptionally high throughout the Cambrian, before subsequently decreasing.”

    What does this mean? It means that some of the incredible disparity disappeared because of extinction. In case one does not understand the difference between disparity and diversity, here is a simple explanation:

    Disparity refers to the number of different body plans. Each phyla has a different body plan. So two organisms are disparate if they have different body plans. Think shark and jelly fish, worm and beetle etc.

    Diversity is the number of variants within a body plan or phyla. Think human and bear, beetle and bee etc.

    So the Cambrian produced much disparity and little diversity within the phyla. Just the opposite of what gradualism would predict. Phyla would be the end of gradualism not the beginning.

  6. The Darwinian hypothesis of gradualism driven by random mutation/variation and natural selection is simply absurd in light of what is now known about the nature of living systems and the fossil evidence. Virtually everything we now know conspires to contradict it. In no other “scientific” field would a conjecture like this survive against an interminable onslaught of evidence and simple logic.

    Darwinists should simply admit that the hypothesis is a 19th-century fantasy based on the ignorance of that era, and that design, engineering, and foresight was involved, although we have no idea how it was all implemented.

  7. Seversky,

    Here is the summary from the article you linked to

    “So to summarise: Darwin was not a steady stater – a “phyletic gradualist” in any reasonable sense. He was a continuity advocate, and he was a uniformitarian. As to continuity, it seems to me that large scale (another relative contextual term that effectively means nothing) change in one sense – say in developmental sequence – will have incremental intermediates between it and its ancestral form, in some other level or fashion (e.g., genetic, regulatory, or timing increments).”

    So all this guy is saying is that Darwin did not think there wasn’t a constant rate of change. I don’t know anyone who has ever advocated that. I am sure that some may have but I have never heard it as part of any argument. People talk about molecular mutation rate but that is not the same thing.

    So this guy’s interpretation of the word “gradualism” is a non issue and nothing has really changed.

  8. The amazing thing about the Wikipedia article is that they have the whole world of evolutionary biology and paleontology to support them and this is what they come up with. What more of an indictment is there.

  9. This is off-topic, but I couldn’t post the following in a more relevant thread:

    What are FSCI and CSI?

  10. B:

    Try the “FAQ” and glossary at the top on the right hand side of the page.

    There are several current threads as well.

    G

  11. As to gradualism,

    I like Lonnig, 2004 (Peer-reviewed BTW . . . ):

    ____________________

    examples like the horseshoe crab [appar 250 MY stasis] are by no means rare exceptions from the rule of gradually evolving life forms . . . In fact, we are literally surrounded by ‘living fossils’ in the present world of organisms when applying the term more inclusively as “an existing species whose similarity to ancient ancestral species indicates that very few morphological changes have occurred over a long period of geological time” [85] . . . . Now, since all these “old features”, morphologically as well as molecularly, are still with us, the basic genetical questions should be addressed in the face of all the dynamic features of ever reshuffling and rearranging, shifting genomes, (a) why are these characters stable at all and (b) how is it possible to derive stable features from any given plant or animal species by mutations in their genomes? . . . .

    A first hint for answering the questions . . . is perhaps also provided by Charles Darwin himself when he suggested the following sufficiency test for his theory [16]: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” . . . Biochemist Michael J. Behe [5] has refined Darwin’s statement by introducing and defining his concept of “irreducibly complex systems”, specifying: “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning” . . . [for example] (1) the cilium, (2) the bacterial flagellum with filament, hook and motor embedded in the membranes and cell wall and (3) the biochemistry of blood clotting in humans . . . .

    One point is clear: granted that there are indeed many systems and/or correlated subsystems in biology, which have to be classified as irreducibly complex and that such systems are essentially involved in the formation of morphological characters of organisms, this would explain both, the regular abrupt appearance of new forms in the fossil record as well as their constancy over enormous periods of time. For, if “several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function” are necessary for biochemical and/or anatomical systems to exist as functioning systems at all (because “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning”) such systems have to (1) originate in a non-gradual manner and (2) must remain constant as long as they are reproduced and exist. And this could mean no less than the enormous time periods mentioned for all the living fossils hinted at above. Moreover, an additional phenomenon would also be explained: (3) the equally abrupt disappearance of so many life forms in earth history . . . The reason why irreducibly complex systems would also behave in accord with point (3) is also nearly self-evident: if environmental conditions deteriorate so much for certain life forms (defined and specified by systems and/or subsystems of irreducible complexity), so that their very existence be in question, they could only adapt by integrating further correspondingly specified and useful parts into their overall organization, which prima facie could be an improbable process — or perish . . . .

    According to Behe and several other authors [5-7, 21-23, 53-60, 68, 86] the only adequate hypothesis so far known for the origin of irreducibly complex systems is intelligent design (ID) . . . in connection with Dembski’s criterion of specified complexity . . . . “For something to exhibit specified complexity therefore means that it matches a conditionally independent pattern (i.e., specification) of low specificational complexity, but where the event corresponding to that pattern has a probability less than the universal probability bound and therefore high probabilistic complexity” [23]. For instance, regarding the origin of the bacterial flagellum, Dembski calculated a probability of 10^-234[22].

    ____________________

    GEM of TKI

  12. On Cambrian Explosion . . .

    Why, Meyer’s famous paper that passed “proper peer review by renowned scientists” of course — has wIKWiki passed such peer review?

    ____________

    The Cambrian explosion represents a remarkable jump in the specified complexity or “complex specified information” (CSI) of the biological world. For over three billions years, the biological realm included little more than bacteria and algae (Brocks et al. 1999). Then, beginning about 570-565 million years ago (mya), the first complex multicellular organisms appeared in the rock strata, including sponges, cnidarians, and the peculiar Ediacaran biota (Grotzinger et al. 1995). Forty million years later, the Cambrian explosion occurred (Bowring et al. 1993) . . . [.]

    One way to estimate the amount of new CSI that appeared with the Cambrian animals is to count the number of new cell types that emerged with them (Valentine 1995:91-93) . . . the more complex animals that appeared in the Cambrian (e.g., arthropods) would have required fifty or more cell types . . . New cell types require many new and specialized proteins. New proteins, in turn, require new genetic information. Thus an increase in the number of cell types implies (at a minimum) a considerable increase in the amount of specified genetic information.

    [to break up as points] ]

    [1] Molecular biologists have recently estimated that a minimally complex single-celled organism would require between 318 and 562 kilobase pairs of DNA to produce the proteins necessary to maintain life (Koonin 2000). More complex single cells might require upward of a million base pairs.

    [2] Yet to build the proteins necessary to sustain a complex arthropod such as a trilobite would require orders of magnitude more coding instructions. The genome size of a modern arthropod, the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, is approximately 180 million base pairs (Gerhart & Kirschner 1997:121, Adams et al. 2000). Transitions from a single cell to colonies of cells to complex animals represent significant (and, in principle, measurable) increases in CSI . . . .

    [3] In order to explain the origin of the Cambrian animals, one must account not only for new proteins and cell types, but also for the origin of new body plans . . . [.]

    [4] Mutations in genes that are expressed late in the development of an organism will not affect the body plan. Mutations expressed early in development, however, could conceivably produce significant morphological change (Arthur 1997:21) . . . [but] processes of development are tightly integrated spatially and temporally such that changes early in development will require a host of other coordinated changes in separate but functionally interrelated developmental processes downstream.

    [5] For this reason, mutations will be much more likely to be deadly if they disrupt a functionally deeply-embedded structure such as a spinal column than if they affect more isolated anatomical features such as fingers (Kauffman 1995:200) . . . McDonald notes that genes that are observed to vary within natural populations do not lead to major adaptive changes, while genes that could cause major changes–the very stuff of macroevolution–apparently do not vary.

    [6] In other words, mutations of the kind that macroevolution doesn’t need (namely, viable genetic mutations in DNA expressed late in development) do occur, but those that it does need (namely, beneficial body plan mutations expressed early in development) apparently don’t occur.6

    {Can you supply an observed case in point? if not then why claim this is as well established as planets orbiting the sun?}
    __________________

    GEM of TKI

  13. Ediacara and Cambrian explosions are astounding facts against gradualism. Wikipedia’s attempts at “explaining” the Cambrian scenario are just what they appear to be: a desperate defense of what cannot be defended.

    There is no doubt that those issues will remain controversial for a long time: can you imagine a better reason for a “controversial” issue than something which cannot be explained by the current theories?

    And I am ready to admit that those explosions, and especially the Ediacara, appear as true mysteries and challenges even from a design perspective: that’s why they are really interesting…

  14. Berceuse,

    DNA is information, this information is complex, the information specifies something else, namely a protein, and this protein has a function.

    The only things besides DNA/RNA that do this in this world are language and computer software. So this is FSCI and it is crystal clear what it means and what it does.

    CSI is not so clear because it is more general. I personally wish it would disappear because it causes needless arguments. The anti ID people love it because they think they have a gotcha but hate FSCI because it is so clear and obvious.

  15. Thanks kairos

    I know there are several current threads, but something was being quirky with the login when I tried to comment in them, so I couldn’t post anything.

  16. H’mm:

    let’s put things in context:

    As we saw, to move to first life requires about 600 k bits of functional info. then, to diversify into the major body plans seems to require 10 – 100 M bits apiece of new info.

    But, to produce just 1,000 bits of info by chance and blind mechanical forces, means having to search a space of ~ 10^301 configs. That is, ten times the SQUARE of the number of quantum states of the 10^80 or so atoms of our observed cosmos across its estimated lifespan.

    So, to search out 600 k bits much less 10 – 100 or more Mega bits, whether in 5 – 10 million years, or 500 – 600 million years, or 3 – 4 billion years, or 10 – 20 billion years, is no practical difference.

    That is, the claimed C + N only mechanism for originating cell-based life as well as body plans, is utterly implausible on needle in haystack search grounds. But, there is a known causal factor that routinely generates that sort of quantum of functional information: intelligence.

    So, per inference to best current uncensored explanation, it seems very reasonable to infer to intelligence being responsible for cell based life, and for the body plan level biodiversity in current and fossil forms.

    GEM of TKI

    PS:

    B:

    Yes, there have been some oddities with log in and posting recently.

  17. jerry @ 7

    So all this guy is saying is that Darwin did not think there wasn’t a constant rate of change. I don’t know anyone who has ever advocated that. I am sure that some may have but I have never heard it as part of any argument. People talk about molecular mutation rate but that is not the same thing.

    My understanding is that Darwin went to great lengths to ensure that his readers understood that his theory was based on the notion of very small changes accumulating very slowly over enormous spans of time. It is a gradual process but he recognized that it need not proceed at a constant rate of change. When Gould and Eldredge published their theory of punctuated equilibria they stressed Darwin’s more gradualist explanation to heighten the contrast between that and their own. Wilkins is pointing out that the distance between the two positions is not as great as some have thought.

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