Jonathan Wells, the “science-stopper”

16 01 2007

Once again Gil Dodgen has cut & pasted some spurious claims from a DI fellow over at UD, this time from the ID advocate that makes my brain hurt more than any other: Jonathan Wells. This past May, when I finally decided to buckle down and see what all the hubub about Intelligent Design was about, Icons of Evolution was the first book that I read and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Although I didn’t know as much as I do now about the evolution debate, and while I agree that evolutionary science is not properly taught in public schools (or even at the college level), Wells’ claims are spurious and vapid at best; I guess that’s the best you can expect from someone who also denies that HIV causes AIDS. Add all this to the fact that he’s a Moonie and has done nothing to contribute to science since getting his degree (his graduate studies funded by his church for the expressed purpose of “destroying Darwinism”) and I wonder why anyone considers anything he has to say to be of value. In any event, here’s the latest tripe to come spilling out of his mouth, dealing with the Cambrian “explosion”:

How did it happen? We don’t have the foggiest idea how it happened. Assuming a jellyfish was the common ancestor — I don’t believe that — but how do you turn a jellyfish into a trilobite? How do you turn a jellyfish into a fish with a backbone? How do you do it? I don’t just mean taking a scalpel and rearranging the parts like you’re doing a collage in third-grade art class. We’re talking about a living animal here, that reproduces itself and makes more things like itself. How do you do it? We don’t have the foggiest idea.

To try to explain this away by saying Darwin’s theory accounts for it is a science-stopper. It’s the biggest science-stopper of modern history. It stops your inquiry right there. You have no more questions. Oh, all these animals just appeared. That’s not science.

I somehow doubt that Wells has read the relevant literature on the topic, be it the wonderful popular treatment in Gould’s Wonderful Life
or the technical rundown in Valentine’s On the Origin of Phyla. PZ posted on the topic of the Cambrian “explosion” long ago, featuring wonderful charts from the Valentine book (I don’t reproduce them on here for fear of copyright issues, but visit the Pharyngula link for one of the best visual representations of what we have prior to the Cambrian through the Burgess Shale fauna), showing that it’s not as if we have no record of animal life and then the majority of present Phyla suddenly appear in the Cambrian with no explanation. Although it is true that 90% or so of all Phyla are present in the Cambrian, this does not mean life did not exist beforehand and Phylum is a very general taxonomic category, just under Kingdom in specificity. I don’t mention this to somehow downplay the huge evolutionary leaps that occurred, but as can plainly be seen in the above quote, Wells is merely setting up one of the flimsiest straw men ever to be constructed.

Unfortunately, Gil doesn’t post or link the entire passage so I can only work with what is said, but I can only assume from what Wells said is that he can’t figure out how we could get odd and wonderful arthropods like Trilobotes (or arthopod-like animals that are still awaiting proper taxonomic placement like Anomalocaris and Opabinia from the small shelly fauna and worms of Pre-Cambrian deposits. I must say I have to agree with him that you can’t get a trilobite from a jellyfish between the Ediacaran and Cambrian, especially because the ancestors to the Arthopoda were most likely segmented worms, not Cnidarians. What do I have to go on? Take a look at this critter, named Spriggina. While it’s ancestry to Trilobites is still debated, make note that it seems to have a crescent-shaped head shield, a segmented body plan, and have chevron patterns similar to those seen in Trilobites. Hopefully more such creatures will come to light, but such forms give even more credence to the worm-arthropod transition, the Onychophora (Velvet Worms) also pointing to such a relationship. Indeed, members of the Onychophora were even present in the Cambrian (although like some of the arthopods, the exact placement of these creatures is still debated), the odd Hallucigenia being one of them and thus suggest that the transition from worm to arthopod began even before the base of the Cambrian.

After such huge academic blunders (15 minutes browsing Wikipedia would have corrected Wells’ massive mistakes), Wells then goes on to shove his footh in his mouth even further saying that evolutionists consider the Cambrian an event of spontaneous generation. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that these animals just appeared, thus stopping inquiry. Quite the contrary; the wonderful fossils coming from Chengjiang, China Cambrian sediments and Ediacaran deposits are giving us an incrimentally better picture of “life before trilobotes.” There are lots of questions that still need answering (the affinities of many Cambrian animals still in dispute), but there is only so far we can discern from the fossil material we have and more study is absolutely essential to understanding what happened during this crucial time period. Why should any scientist make claims that can neither be confirmed or denied as to what happened during the Cambrian, at worst making a fool of himself and at worst adding no new actual knowledge or understanding of what occurred? Some have tried to shoe-horn odd animals like Opabinia into existing taxa before, even altering the animals appearance to be more like an arthropod in illustration, but such ideas were long ago been thrown out and did nothing to help us better understand the Cambrian. I don’t see Wells suggesting what happened during this time. Did the creator just make the animals appear? By what means did the designer shape these animals and then deliver them into the oceans to propagate? Such questions are never answered, making Wells’ arguments not only misinformed but negative, thus showing that Wells is not courageous enough to stick his neck out and offer an alternate hypothesis. If he’s so right and evolutionists are so wrong, then why not illuminate our backward thinking by telling us how it really happened? I don’t expect such an explanation to be forthcoming, although I do expect Wells to continue to claim that evolution only needs one more nail driven into the coffin before it’s burial.




One response

30 03 2007

interesting article.

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