Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

New PNAS study: maximum animal diversity exists at the beginning of the fossil record

From – news of a study that is lethal to orthodox Darwinian belief. This is huge.


Our understanding of how animals on the planet evolved may be wrong, according to scientists at the University.

In a new paper, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, evolutionary biologists from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry looked at nearly one hundred fossil groups to test the notion that it takes groups of animals many millions of years to reach their maximum diversity of form.

Contrary to popular belief, not all animal groups continued to evolve fundamentally new morphologies through time. The majority actually achieved their greatest diversity of form (disparity) relatively early in their histories.

Lead researcher from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry, Dr Matthew Wills said: “This pattern, known as ‘early high disparity’, turns the traditional V-shaped cone model of evolution on its head. What is equally surprising in our findings is that groups of animals are likely to show early-high disparity regardless of when they originated over the last half a billion years. This isn’t a phenomenon particularly associated with the first radiation of animals, or periods in the immediate wake of mass extinctions.”

The team used published descriptions of extinct groups in order to construct ‘morphospaces'; empirical spaces in which anatomically similar species plotted close together, and more dissimilar species plotted further apart. By looking at the manner in which the occupied ‘volume’ of space changed through time, they were able to track changes in morphological disparity.

Evolution News analyzes how the authors of the study explain away their findings to keep faith with Darwin.


Why did 20 or more separate animal phyla suddenly appear in the geological blink of an eye? Because “Clades reach highest morphological disparity early in their evolution,” answer Martin Hughes, Sylvain Gerber, and Matthew Albion Will… The Cambrian animals exploded onto the scene because evolution works fast sometimes. It seems to be a pattern that high disparity occurs early on. Must be a law of nature. What, you’ve got a problem with that?

These three biologists from the University of Bath took a bath in their own assumptions. They don’t deny that the animals appear suddenly. They just believe that when opportunity arises, evolution works fast to fill up the landscape with endless forms most beautiful. Under the section, “Why Do Clades Have Early High Disparity?” they say:

What might explain the prevailing pattern of early high disparity in clade evolution? Both ecological and developmental explanations have been proposed, and our results remain consistent with both. The “empty ecospace” modelpredicts that clades will radiate and diversify more rapidly when colonizing a new environment. This colonization may occur because ecospace has been vacated by other occupants (e.g., in the wake of some other extinction, typically the result of external, physical factors) or because a hitherto inaccessible environment or other resource has been rendered viable by the acquisition of some novel, “key” adaptation or series of characters (an intrinsic, biological trigger). Morphological change under these circumstances may be rapid eitherbecause transitions are unusually large or because rates of cladogenesis areunusually high (even with “normal” step sizes at each splitting event). (Emphasis added, reference numbers omitted.)

Jaws should drop at that “explanation.” If Hughes, Gerber and Wills were simply describing what is found in the fossil record — the sudden appearance of complex animals — it would be one thing. But they attempted to explain how these complex animals appeared, so suddenly as Jonathan Wells described in the film Darwin’s Dilemma, that it’s comparable to less than two minutes on a twenty-four-hour clock.

[...]As Stephen Meyer shows in Darwin’s Doubt, prior to the Cambrian explosion there were only microbes, sponges and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna that most paleontologists do not consider related to the Cambrian animals. There were no jointed appendages, eyes, guts, nervous systems or any of the other organs, tissue types and body plans that characterize Cambrian phyla. What kind of Darwinian “miracle” would it take to get all those complex traits in blink of an eye? Calling it “cladogenesis” is like calling the simultaneous chance appearance of cars, boats, and airplanes “vehicle-o-genesis.”

The model has striking similarities to the old notion of Punctuated Equilibrium discussed in Chapter 7 of Darwin’s Doubt. In fact, the PNAS paper was edited by Steven Stanley, “an early advocate of the punctuated equilibrium model” according to Meyer (p. 137). As such, this new model is really a throwback to the old “punk eek,” and suffers from the same drawbacks: it’s an attempt to explain away the absence of evidence for evolution by claiming, without any mechanism better than old-fashioned neo-Darwinism, why the fossil record shows a discontinuous pattern, not a record of a gradually branching tree.

There’s a lot more in that Evolution News article.

Now, I’m pretty sure I read about this upside-down tree of life years ago in a little book by biologist Jonathan Wells entitled “Icons of Evolution“. Dr. Wells made the case that Darwin’s iconic picture of “the tree of life” should really be inverted. Darwin thought that the root came early in the fossil record, and the branches came later – by mutation and selection. The truth is that the branches come first. The diversity is all at the beginning of the fossil record. This falsifies evolution (again).

Is this new study going to make the naturalists change their religion? Probably not. Because science has nothing to do with the presupposition of naturalism. Darwinists presuppose naturalism for other reasons that are insulated from experimental science. It’s a faith commitment – and they don’t care about revising their faith when the progress of science reveals new facts.

Related posts

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How brief was the period in which the Cambrian phyla suddenly appeared?

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. ID proponents think that the period is between 5-10 million years at the most. Naturalists want to stretch out the period in which the body plans appear to tens of millions of years. The two sides can’t both be right. What’s the truth?

Evolution News has the answer.


To establish the length of the most explosive period of innovation within the Cambrian explosion itself, Meyer cites the work of MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring and his colleagues as well the work of another group led by Smithsonian paleontologist Douglas Erwin. The Bowring-led study showed that (in their words) “the main period of exponential diversification” within the Cambrian lasted “only 5-6 million years” (emphasis added). Meyer explains:

An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window. (p. 73)

[...][T]ake a look first at the following figure that Bowring and his colleagues included in their definitive 1993 article, published in the journal Science. They use radiometric methods to date the different stages of the Cambrian period, including the crucial Tommotian and Atdabanian stages in which the greatest number of new animal phyla and classes arise. Note that the so-called Manykaian stage of the Cambrian period lasts about 10-14 million years. Note also that the main pulse of morphological innovation didn’t begin during this stage but rather during the Tommotian and Atdabanian — a period that they describe as taking between “5 to 10 million years,” and in a more detailed passage as taking about 5-6 million years.

[...]In the figure above, the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages of the Cambrian period together span only about 5 million years, starting at about 530 and ending about 525 million years ago. Bowring’s figure also depicts the total number of classes and orders present at any given time during the Cambrian period. The biggest increases in morphological innovation occur during the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages. Indeed, during this period the number of known orders nearly quadruples. Moreover, Bowring and his colleagues also make clear that this period corresponds to the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation as measured by the number of new phyla and classes that first appear. They note that, while a few groups of animals do arise in the earliest Manykaian stage of the Cambrian, the most rapid period of “exponential increase of diversification,” corresponding to the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages, “lasted only 5 to 6 m.y.”

You can see the figure they are reference in the Evolution News article.

Also, check out these clips that explain the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The first clip features James Valentine, a professor of biology at the University of California who just co-authored a new book on the Cambrian explosion and is not a proponent of intelligent design.

The consensus among scientists regarding the period of time in which the new body plans appear is 5-6 million years. Biologically speaking, that’s a blink of an eye. You aren’t going that kind of complexity and innovation in such a short period of time any more than you can expect to win the lottery by buying 5-6 million tickets when the odds of winning are 1 in a googol (10 to the 100th power – 1, followed by 100 zeroes). You don’t have enough lottery tickets to make winning the lottery likely. Similarly, 5-6 million years is not enough time for naturalistic mechanisms to code brand new body plans from scratch. It would be like trying to research and write a Ph.D thesis during a single lunch hour. It’s just not enough time to produce the amount of information that’s required.

Related posts

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dennis Prager interviews Stephen C. Meyer about intelligent design

This episode of the Dennis Prager show is actually from the day that “Darwin’s Doubt” came out. Darwin’s Doubt is the new book on the sudden origin of animal body plans in the fossil record. Dennis had previously interviewed Dr. Meyer about his first book “Signature in the Cell“, which was about the origin of life. I listen to the Dennis Prager show every day, if work permits. It’s the only radio show I listen to regularly.

The MP3 file is here. (32 minutes)


  • What did Darwin have a doubt about? What is the Cambrian explosion?
  • The mystery of the missing precursor fossil record for the Cambrian animals
  • The mystery of the origin of all of the new body plans that appeared in the Cambrian explosion
  • The problem of building a new animal is basically the problem of adding new code
  • Mutations generally don’t improve the quality of code but intelligent agents do improve it
  • Do paleontologists acknowledge these problems? What is their solution to these problems?
  • A new book by non-ID paleontologists Douglas and Valentine admits the two problems
  • They argue that no known mechanism exists to explain the origin of these animal forms
  • What has the reaction to Darwin’s Doubt been from paleontologists?
  • Stephen J. Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory: the fossil record shows stasis and jumps
  • But Gould’s theory did not propose a mechanism adequate to explain the stasis and jumps
  • Caller Bob: what good is partial function? Why would an organism keep half-an-eye around?
  • Meyer: exquisite organs in the Cambrian animals also come into being suddenly
  • Is the book understandable by lay people? Could Dennis Prager understand it?
  • Critiques of naturalistic attempts to explain the sudden origin of the Cambrian animal forms
  • The Cambrian explosion is an explosion of information: where did it come from?
  • Illustrating probabilities with combination locks: the product rule
  • The search for the combination to the lock is bounded by the time available
  • There is not unlimited time to generate this new biological information
  • Prager: how can science conclude that a non-material explanation is the best explanation?
  • Meyer: Darwin used the method of “inference to the best explanation” in his theory
  • the book uses the same method of investigation that Darwin used
  • the best explanation for the explosion of new information is an intelligent agent
  • we are already familiar with intelligent causes creating information – we do it all the time
  • information can be speech, writing, coding, etc., which human intelligence does all the time
  • Prager: is the method of inferring an intelligent cause for this Cambrian data “creationism”?
  • Meyer: ID is based on scientific evidence
  • Meyer: Creationism is an interpretation or deduction from religious authority
  • Meyer: ID is agnostic on the age of the Earth, Creationism requires a young Earth
  • Caller Marty: life could have been brought here on asteroids
  • Meyer: we don’t have evidence to assess whether an alien intelligence was responsible
  • Meyer: the theistic explanation is better because of the cosmology and fine-tuning arguments

It’s very important for Christians to broaden out philosophical and historical arguments with scientific evidence. Most of the people reading this post are familiar with the Big Bang cosmology and the fine-tuning arguments. But the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion are two more areas that we all need to be aware of as much as we can. It probably wouldn’t hurt to be familiar with the galactic and stellar habitability arguments made by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, too. That’s a good half-dozen scientific arguments, which is 6 more than any atheist you meet is likely to have. Why go about unarmed when the scientific data is right there waiting for you? Fill your hands.

Note: if you think that these books might be too difficult for you, then by all means pick up these three intelligent design DVDs for about $18. That will cover the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion and both habitability arguments. You can get a good look at the Big Bang and fine-tuning arguments in this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig delivered at the University of Colorado (Boulder). If you want to see those two arguments presented in a debate, then get Dr. Craig’s debate with atheist Christopher Hitchens on DVD for $11. Everybody reading this post should own those DVDs so you can show them to other people and change minds.

Related posts

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen C. Meyer discusses his new book “Darwin’s Doubt” on the Michael Medved show

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience. He has a regular weekly segment on science and culture featuring  scholars from the Discovery Institute.

Here is the segment from this past week, courtesy of the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

The MP3 file is available for download. (38 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, the Michael Medved Show welcomes Dr. Stephen Meyer to talk about his new bestselling book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Listen in as Meyer and Medved discuss the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion and why this phenomenon continues to stump Darwinian evolutionists.

Each week, leading fellows from Discovery Institute will join Michael Medved to talk about the intersection of science and culture. Listen in live online or on your local Medved station, or stay tuned at ID the Future for the weekly podcast.


  • Darwinism offers a materialistic account of where humans and animals came from, but is that all human beings are?
  • Darwin was the first to have doubt about his theory of evolution because of the sudden origin if many different animal forms in the Cambrian era
  • The book is about the sudden origin of these animal forms and more generally about how much information is needed to make an animal genome
  • An animal is not just the form or the organs it is also the information to make new proteins and the instructions to make proteins are in the DNA
  • At least 20 new phyla appear suddenly in the Cambrian fossils and the question is what is capable of creating all of that new information
  • Mathematicians and computer scientists are especially likely to doubt evolution as a way of making new features because they know that random changes to the code base of an application are more likely to break things and degrade performance
  • Naturalists have tried to explain the Cambrian explosion as being a case of the transitional fossils being not yet discovered
  • The consensus of science at this time is that there is no known naturalistic explanation for the sudden origin of these animal types
  • Caller: how abrupt are we talking about for the introduction of these new animal forms?
  • Meyer: We can calculate the amount of time that is needed to generate change, and the period of time that is needed to generate new forms of life exceeds the time available
  • Caller: is it possible that meteors, asteroids and comets could transport biological components to the Earth to shorten the development time?
  • Meyer: that’s related to my first book on the origin of the first living cell “Signature in the Cell”, and that life-from-space hypothesis would only get you building blocks, but not the bio-molecules that have the building blocks sequences – it’s the difference between a pile of Scrabble letters and a Shakespearean play – it’s the arranging of the components that is the problem
  • Medved: The book has a lot of endorsements from scientists who are working at good universities and institutions
  • Meyer: the strange thing about exploring the limits of evolution is that you can cite mainstream papers to criticize the Darwinian mechanisms, and then the proponents of Darwinism just assert that no criticism of Darwinian evolution is allowed
  • Caller Greg: are you saying that all the phyla came in during the Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: No, of the 26 phyla that we see in the fossil record, 20 come in during the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: But there are some sponges that existed before the Cambrian explosion, so maybe all the Cambrian phyla came from sponges?
  • Meyer: There are 3 phyla present in the pre-Cambrian but they are not ancestral to the 20 Cambrian phyla, the sponges are very simple – 6-10 cell types, arthropods have 60-90 cell types – you can’t go from sponges to compound eyes in just 5-10 million years
  • Meyer: even the sponges in the pre-Cambrian appear abrutly at the end of the pre-Cambrian
  • Caller Greg: but there are complex worms in the Pre-Cambrian as well, and maybe those are ancestral to the 20 new phyla that appear suddenly in the Cambrian explosion
  • Caller Greg: what you’re saying is that we scientists don’t understand what happened so an intelligence did it
  • Meyer: No, what I am saying is that the Cambrian explosion involves massive amounts of new biological information, and none of the naturalistic Darwinian mechanisms can create that much new information in that short of the time
  • Caller Greg: it’s magic!
  • Meyer: there are two points in the development of life forms where intelligence is needed: the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion, and this is because of the new information that is being added
  • Caller Greg: new information is added by Hox Gene duplication
  • Caller: don’t we have to look a bit more at epistemology when discussing these issues?
  • Meyer: Yes, we have to highlight that many people reject intelligent design because of a pre-supposition of naturalism that prevents them from seeing that intelligence explains anything regardless of the evidence
  • Caller: well if you define evolution as change over time, then evolution happened, and who cares about the details like the origin of life and Cambrian explosion?
  • Meyer: well there are many definitions of evolution: 1) change over time, 2) universal common ancestry, 3) undirected random process can explain the origin of life and the explosion of new animal forms in the fossil record
  • Meyer: I accept 1) and I am skeptical of 2) and 3)

You can read more about caller Greg and Hox gene duplication at Evolution News.

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!

Previous entries

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , ,

Thinking Christian reviews “Darwin’s Doubt”, a new book by Stephen C. Meyer

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design

NOTE: you can tune in to the Dennis Prager radio show  at 2 PM Eastern today in order to hear Dr. Meyer discuss the new book.

I found a book review of the new book on intelligent design by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. This book is concerned with the fossil record, and it is the sequel to the highly acclaimed “Signature in the Cell“, which dealt with the origin of biological information in the first living cell.


The title of the book refers to the difficulty [Charles Darwin] had in explaining the “Cambrian Explosion,” the vast proliferation of new animal body plans (new “phyla” or major animal groupings) that appears in fossils in the Cambrian strata, deposited some 530 million years ago. These animals appear suddenly in the fossil record, without any plausible predecessor such as Darwin’s theory predicted. Darwin wrote,

The difficulty of understand the absence of vast piles of fossiliferous strata, which on my theory were no doubt somewhere accumulated before the Silurian [i.e., Cambrian] epoch, is very great. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.

Darwin saw this accurately as a challenge to his theory. It remains one still. The animals appear too quickly in the record to be explained through his gradualistic theory.

And it remains a challenge from the perspective of mainstream science. Various theories have been proposed in explanation of the suddenness with which these new phyla came on the scene. Perhaps selective fossilization caused their predecessors to disappear from paleontologists’ view. Mainstream science casts serious doubt on that view. Statistical paleontology renders it deeply improbable. The soft-body hypothesis appears unlikely to succeed, since the evidence shows soft-bodied organisms have been frequently fossilized.

Or maybe the Cambrian animals’ precursors really are there in the record, in the form of exotic Ediacaran fossils. But these organisms are not clearly animals of any sort, and what they are is so in confusion that they could hardly be considered evidence for anything. Further,

As Nature recently noted, if the Ediacaran fauna “were animals, they bore little or no resemblance to any other creatures, either fossil or extant.” … This absence of clear affinities has led an increasing number of paleontologists to reject an ancestor/dependent relationship between the Ediacaran and Cambrian fauna.

Scientists have proposed genetic histories for these phyla, but as Meyer pointedly puts it, these scenarios all “assume a gene.” And a lot more besides. That is to say, they beg the question of evolution’s explanatory adequacy by assuming that it must be true. From there they suggest pathways according to which genes “must have” evolved. But there’s no evidence of it in the record.

Now the exciting thing is that at the time of writing (Monday night), the book is number one on Barnes and Noble:

Darwin's Doubt #1 at Barnes and Noble

Darwin’s Doubt #1 at Barnes and Noble

And number ten on Amazon:

Darwin's Doubt #10 at

Darwin’s Doubt #10 at

Now is this a book for the layman? Well, I’ve met the guy who wrote the book review above face-to-face, and his background is not in biology. I think if he can struggle through it, then I could do it too. And so could you. I think that both of Dr. Meyer’s books are must-read books for anyone interested in knowing how well the presumption of naturalism succeeds when confronted with the latest scientific evidence. These are the books you need to buy and read if you are serious about integrating science and religion. The thing to realize is that naturalists and atheists and materialists have no answer to these books. None. Do you like winning? Then spend the money and time on the books that are unstoppable in a debate.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,233,600 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,972 other followers



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,972 other followers

%d bloggers like this: