Monday, July 22, 2013

Hunting for Creationism - Round 14 - Fossils Show Stasis and No Transitional Forms

I'm on the hunt for evidence for Creationism/Intelligent Design (hereby C/ID). Here, I set the ground rules and mission. Here, I have an index of my search.

Continuing on icr.org (they have a bunch of arguments). Today's argument, "Fossils Show Stasis and No Transitional Forms".
I've actually put this one off for a couple weeks. I already feel saturated by the stupidity from these arguments. Maybe I should intersperse some non-IRC arguments in here, instead of systematically going through each one. I think I'll start doing that next time.

The Argument

The fossil record reflects the original diversity of life, not an evolving tree of increasing complexity. 
I don't know why they think this.
Diagram depicting Earth's history, and the spans of time of different types/levels of organisms through history.
Courtesy Wikipedia - click to enlarge
We have enough data to establish both what fossils exist, and when they fossilized. Our data clearly shows an increase in complexity over time. (link to Wiki article)

What in the blazes of Thor's fiery beard, is the author talking about?

There are many examples of "living fossils," where the species is alive today and found deep in the fossil record as well.
This is a common theme, and just as I explained when Geoffrey Simmons brought it up (link to my post), that's not contrary to Evolutionary Theory. Evolution doesn't require all creatures to change all the time. In fact, if a species is well suited to an environment that doesn't change, it's not bound to evolve much, if at all.

That's how evolution works.

... we're not talking about some fringe tangential concept... this is the absolute core of descent with modification, and natural selection - the more suited you are to your environment, the less likely some random mutation is going to improve things for you, and it's not selected for or against... and in fact, those miscellaneous changes are more likely to be negative, and then be weeded out... maintaining the form.

According to evolution models for the fossil record, there are three predictions:
Okay, let's see these predictions of evolution for the fossil record. Keep that thought in mind.

1. wholesale change of organisms through time
2. primitive organisms gave rise to complex organisms
3. gradual derivation of new organisms produced transitional forms.
This is actually both a Straw man argument, and an Equivocation Fallacy. I'll explain, but first, let's go through these points (which is part of being a Straw man argument, but not all of it).

On #1 - what, by the fingernail clippings of Xenu, does the author mean by "wholesale change"?  Dictionary.com says, "5. in large quantities; on a large scale, especially without discrimination: Wild horses were slaughtered wholesale."

Okay, sure, many organisms will change... but do we mean becoming "new types" (as they'd describe as "macroevolution"), or simply adaption to new environments?

Life on this planet will always have bacteria, because it's a productive niche... so it's not a guarantee that all species/lineages will necessarily evolve into more complex life forms.

On #2, this goes more to my point about #1. While complex organisms would come from more primitive, that doesn't mean that all primitive organisms will become complex organisms.

#3 looks fine, I suppose.

Here's the problem. Once the details are fixed up a bit, is a description of evolution... but not the fossil record. The author simply equivocated the two. The theory of evolution, and the fossilization process are two different mechanisms. Evolution may produce intermediate species, but due to Punctuated Equilibrium (the transitional forms would be unstable, and shift to a more stable form quickly), the fossil record would basically under-report that... especially for land creatures (they don't tend to live in conditions conducive for fossilization).

... so there's bound to be differences between evolution and the fossil record.

Fossils are what initially clued us in that this "evolution" thing was real, but our evidence and study of the phenomenon of evolution goes far beyond rock castings of creatures.

However, these predictions are not borne out by the data from the fossil record.
They... they aren't? I'm going to have to take a page out of Hitchen's book, and just say, "That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence"... because I have no idea why they think this.

Here's a Wiki list of discovered transitional fossils... arguably the more important of the three points.

Gosh, I swear I'm debating the same things over and over. I'm stuck in some kind of time loop. I'll know I'm striking gold when my posts consist of nothing but "333333333333" (don't worry if you don't get the obscure reference).

Trilobites, for instance, appear suddenly in the fossil record without any transitions. There are no fossils between simple single-cell organisms, such as bacteria, and complex invertebrates, such as trilobites.
Keep in mind that the further back we go, the harder it is to find intact fossils. This stuff does break over time.

But sure, now that the author has scoured the fossil record, ignoring all the known transitional fossils, has finally managed to find a species, which is so old that our records would be scattered anyway, that we haven't (yet) found any transitional forms... bingo, I guess. Then again, there's tons of other species that have not discovered transitional forms, yet either... but all the transitional forms we have discovered were from species for which we didn't have transitional forms, at one point.

I have more to say on this, but I'll save it for the meta analysis... but I'll say, this is the closest this author has gotten to positively supporting creationism. which is kind of pathetic.

Extinct trilobites had as much organized complexity as any of today’s invertebrates.
So? The author seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding about evolutionary theory.

Consider the evolution of the eye. We have a very good understanding of the evolution of the eye, from very simple photosensitive patches, to squid and eagle eyes, which can spot field mice from across a field (the eagle eyes, not the squid. The squid would see polarized mice).

.. that doesn't mean that all creatures, across the board, have eyes of the same level complexity. It's not as though "evolution of the eye" is a global ubiquitous development that's then handed out to all the creatures of the Earth to use all at once.

Instead, we find eyes in every stage of evolution right now. That's to be expected when one considers that the increase in complexity can start at any point, per evolutionary lineage, throughout evolutionary history. The bacteria I killed when I cleaned my kitchen counter this morning might have eventually evolved into space-faring species in a billion years.

.. so of course, if the author takes what was one of the more complex creatures from 270 million years ago, and compares it to the existing simple creatures today, it's going to be as complex.

... but that argument could only be compelling to those who don't get how evolution works.

Oh...

In addition to trilobites, billions of other fossils have been found that suddenly appear, fully formed, such as clams, snails, sponges, and jellyfish. Over 300 different body plans are found without any fossil transitions between them and single-cell organisms.
Fish have no ancestors or transitional forms to show how invertebrates, with their skeletons on the outside, became vertebrates with their skeletons inside.
Fossils of a wide variety of flying and crawling insects appear without any transitions. Dragonflies, for example, appear suddenly in the fossil record. The highly complex systems that enable the dragonfly's aerodynamic abilities have no ancestors in the fossil record.
Here's the next chunk of claims from the argument. I don't think I'll waste my time trying to debunk each individual claim (I think many of these are actually true, right off the bat)... but there's a reasoning error, and epistemological error, which has basically engulfed this entire argument.

The problem is, it's turning into an Argument from Ignorance... but more on that later.

In the entire fossil record, there is not a single unequivocal transition form proving a causal relationship between any two species. From the billions of fossils we have discovered, there should be thousands of clear examples if they existed.
Uh, we have those. You might not accept it... but that's your prerogative. So is denial.

The lack of transitions between species in the fossil record is what would be expected if life was created.
Sure, that's one possibility, but this isn't a process of elimination... which brings us to...

Meta analysis

As with many of these arguments, this one colossally fails the check against the preponderance of evidence.

While this was their best attempt at positive evidence supporting creationism, it devolved into "see, evolution can't account for it - we win!" The author didn't officially say, "well, we don't know how else this would happen", so I'm not going to declare it an Argument from Ignorance, but the author was certainly flirting with it.

Keep in mind, that when I started this hunt, I started with a few axioms.. namely, that I'm going to assume evolution is false, and that I wanted positive evidence supporting creationism. That means, most of this argument is disqualified, in terms of content.

... but that leaves us with a core argument that's basically:
If creationism were true, we'd expect to see life forms pop up suddenly through history. The fossil record is consistent with this model.
Okay, great. You've got a good first step on a core mechanism of your model... but what makes you think creationism is the best explanation for that phenomenon?

Setting aside all the transitional fossils we do have, and all the multiple cross-confirming independent lines of evidence, that all support evolutionary theory, let's consider the context of what we're talking about.

Note, that we don't have any observations of creatures being invented from scratch (on the other hand, we have plenty of direct observations of evolution, even speciation). It's not like we've seen a new type of creature *poof* out of nothing.

Instead, we have this thing we call a "fossil record" that's spotty, and shows different creatures suddenly appearing/disappearing (i.e. extinction) at different times in geologic history... but that could be due to fossilization being very rare, and fossils frequently being destroyed.

So, which do you think is more likely to be the correct explanation?:

  1. Fossilization rarely captures lifeform snapshots, causing large gaps between forms, to the point we don't see them as being the same lineage.
  2. An otherwise unobserved, unevidenced being, using an unobserved and evidenceless process that is otherwise unprecedented, unobserved and unevidenced outside of the fossil record to, literally, magically create life forms from scratch, that otherwise violates all of known reality, if it were true.

Occam's Razor is grinning.


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