Paul Nelson: Skepticism of the dino bird hypothesis explored

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On UcD announces the Temple lectures by Marcus Ross speaking about the Cambrian explosion and Dr Peter Dodson who is speaking for evolution (I wonder for what or whom Ross was speaking?).

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Also speaking (for evolution) will be dinosaur paleontologist Dr. Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania. Dodson has been a skeptic of the dino-to-bird hypothesis, and has interacted with Ross at professional meetings. Their exchange today should be fascinating. The lectures begin at 6 and run to 8:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public.

While in early 2000 Peter Dodson may have been a skeptic of the dino to bird hypothesis, I have found two problems with Nelson’s claims, unless all he meant to say that Peter Dodson used to doubt the dino to bird hypothesis a decade or so ago but has changed his mind based on the evidence.

The paper to which Paul Nelson links, talks about Dodson’s objections to relying on cladistics only to reach the conclusion about the dino to bird link.

While skepticism is common in science, one should not conflate true scientific skepticism with ‘teach the controversy’ which is nothing more than a weakened down version of the ID thesis, since ID itself lacks scientific relevance. To correct for this minor problem, ID proponents have embarked on ‘teach the controversy’ which is little more than pointing out unsolved problems with evolutionary theory (in particular Darwinian theory).

Dodson is also one of the authors of “The Dinosauria” which was published in 2004.

The authors explain that

For example while in 1990 we merely paid lip service to the proposition that birds are dinosaurs, in this edition we embrace fully as a logical sequela of phylogenetic systematics that birds are part of therapoda.

Seems that these former ‘skeptics’ have been convinced by the collected evidence of the likelihood that birds are dinosaurs. Rather than arguing that such skepticism indicates the possibility of something, let’s call it for simplicity reasons ‘intelligent design’, these researchers have been convinced by the evidence in support of this thesis. Not only will Intelligent Design never have the luxury to be scientifically involved in such hypotheses, but Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.

The result is that Science by skeptics leads to better science while science in the name of ‘teaching the controversy’ leaves gaps.

It seems that our friend Padian contributed the chapter Basal Avialae to this seminal work on dinosaurs.

Reviewers of Dinosaurus point out that

The most novel systematic chapters in this volume include the basal birds section, which succeeds at the difficult task of summarizing the exponential burst of new bird discoveries. Recall that little more than Archaeopteryx, a few enantiornithines, and Ornithurae were known at the last writing; now a six-page taxon list! The basal Saurischia chapter by Langer is an in depth analysis of various likely basal dinosaurs, most of which were very poorly known at the time of the last volume. The basal Tetanurae chapter by Holtz et al. is a comprehensive perspective that cleans up a lot of mess in this region of the theropod tree. The 75-page Sauropoda section is a huge leap forward from 14 years ago, thanks to a string of new discoveries around the world (and good phylogenetic analyses thereof; almost absent in the last edition) by the authors (Upchurch et al.) as well as Curry, Wilson, Sereno, and many others. Many of the Ornithischia chapters didn’t seem as novel to me. The Ankylosauria chapter (Vickaryous et al.) was more thorough (also the only section with computed tomography scan images). It is also clear that some needed stability of relationships within basal Iguanodontia (Norman) and Hadrosauridae (Horner et al.) has been attained.

In other words, it was ignorance which caused skepticism about phylogenetic relationships of birds and therapods, an issue which was resolved when more data were collected. Which also shows how relying on research from even half a decade ago, can lead to unfortunate impressions. The same applies to the Cambrian explosion which was considered to be quite a problem for Darwinian theory by Valentine in the middle/late 90’s. However, based on the vast amounts of new data, the author has recently concluded that there are no problems for the Darwinian theory to explain the Cambrian explosion. Sadly enough ID proponents and other creationists are still quoting Valentine’s earlier observations while failing to provide a more updated version of his claims and arguments.

And finally, what is a YEC’er doing talking about the Cambrian explosion? After all, how can someone who has blindly accepted that the event took place 5000-10,000 years ago, evaluate the evidence about the Cambrian explosion? Of course Darwinian theory will fail when given such little time (dogs for instance share a common ancestor just 10,000 years ago).

Since Marcus Ross and Stephen Meyer are the authors of the Cambrian Explosion study kit, does this mean that Ross agrees with the following blurb?

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

Or is the chicken language of ‘no more than 5 million years sufficient to include a much smaller period of time?

Or is it, as Krauze on TelicThoughts observes just a case of

Marcus Ross simply behaved like a good methodological naturalists, conducting his research as if the reptiles he studied were 65 million years old.

Wow

PS: Nelson and Ross still owe us a more in depth description of ontogenetic depth, which has missed its deadline by 3 years, which in most cases would be a record but for Paul Nelson it seems that it is just par for the course as his much touted thesis work is yet to be released.

20 Comments

Can’t. Stop. Myself.

When explaining evolution and the fossil record, “We” must always be careful about our choice of words. Ill-considered phrases lead to confusion. Here’s one reason for the misconceptions held by creationist (and naive evolution-accepters): During the Cambrian,

…perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth.

(boldface added)

gaack! That line implies (a) instantaneous appearance and (perhaps) (b) that the phyla first appeared somewhere other than earth.

A much clearer and more accurate phrase is:

… perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance in the fossil record.

I know that most knowledgeable biologists would not be confused, but the quote-miners put on their helmets over things like this.

A little care saves a lot of grief.

The blurb is by ID proponents in the ARN study kit for the Cambrian. Weasel words?

The paper to which Paul Nelson links, talks about Dodson’s objections to relying on cladistics only to reach the conclusion about the dino to bird link.

That’s putting it mildly. Gaaah. Even I, an amateur whose knowledge is now several years out of date, know enough about taxonomy to follow Dodson’s argument in the linked article. He absolutely and unequivocally accepts the dinosaur-to-bird theory of avian origins. He says so point-blank in the linked article:

Peter Dodson Wrote:

It is probably fair to state that the bird-theropod link is as firmly established as any phylogenetic link could be (Padian and Chiappe, 1998a, bGo), and the position that was heretical for much of the 20th century undeniably has become the current orthodoxy. My own position is that there is every reason to believe that the ancestor of birds was a small coelurosaurian dinosaur.

Dodson’s objection to the dino-bird sequence as currently put forth is entirely a methodological one: he dislikes the cladists’ habit of developing the connection using fossils that are temporally dislocated from the actual sequence. As he says, the Liaoning fossils like Sinosauropteryx and Caudipteryx are all Early Cretaceous animals, while the actual evolutionary sequence that led to Archaeopteryx and later birds must have taken place in the Mid to Late Jurassic, several million years earlier than Liaoning. Which makes perfect sense to me: he wants to be sure, and the only way to be sure is to have a fossil sequence that’s correct in both morphology and chronology. If you have either one but not both, you could still be wrong. It isn’t likely, but it’s still possible.

The linked paper is only about Dodson’s objections to the picture of cladistics as final arbiter of phylogeny. He doesn’t doubt the underlying hypothesis – that is, the dinosaurian origin of Aves, often abbreviated as BADD, Birds Are Dinosaur Descendants – at all. Nelson is simply lying when he suggests that Dodson doubts BADD.

I am somewhat puzzled by djactin’s remarks.

But perhaps still a better formulation would be something like this?

“… perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla have their time of divergence from other lineages.”

Many of the anti-evolutionists seem confused by the quite arbitrary title of “phylum”, and any talk which plays to that confusion - if someone is really worried about being quote mined - would be best avoided. An expression like “a phylum appeared” can be easily, IMHO, interpreted as saying that a phylum is an objective, concrete, entity - something that can “appear” - rather than being a term of convenience for classifiers. If someone were present at - let’s say, when the chordates “first appeared” - it would be a rather unremarkable event, just another speciation, which was only a “major event” because of the great variety of interesting descendants that that particular “first chordate species” would give rise to, and that species is designated as a “new phylum” only in view of what was to come.

(By the way, I speak as a non-scientist, so this is just an uninformed opinion.)

And finally, what is a YEC’er doing talking about the Cambrian explosion? After all, how can someone who has blindly accepted that the event took place 5000-10,000 years ago, evaluate the evidence about the Cambrian explosion? Of course Darwinian theory will fail when given such little time (dogs for instance share a common ancestor just 10,000 years ago).

I really can’t resist posting this:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/rad[…]dtodinos.pdf

and this:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/hom[…]osaurs19.asp

PvM Wrote:

(but also quoting) The Ankylosauria chapter (Vickaryous et al.) was more thorough (also the only section with computed tomography scan images).

So apparently good observers discover the evidence…

Sorry - In bit of a silly mood tonight

The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years).

Someone correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not a scientist of any stripe), but I thought that the Cambrian was something like 80-100 million years long, and that phyla appeared in a more or less dispersed pattern during some 50 million years within this time frame. Did the first fossil record of these phyla appear all at one point within the Cambrian?

For the number of phyla first known in the fossil recored from a period of about 10 million years within the early Cambrian, try ten.

More, you say? OK what are they and what is the specific time of each? For reference there’s a chart in Valentine’s book The Origins of Phyla.

On the Origin of Phyla by Valentine is an excellent overview of this period. However it seems that ID proponents are more interested in Valentine’s position of the middle 90’s than his position based on the new data collected since then.

But perhaps still a better formulation would be something like this?

“… perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla have their time of divergence from other lineages.”

But, the fossil record only tells us roughly when a group got populous enough to start leaving behind fossils that would last until the present, not when that group first separated from other groups.

Henry

“Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.”

One could just as accurately say the same about Darwinists who are constantly attempting to make round evidence fit into a square Darwinian hole. Plus, it matters not one whit where an idea comes from (be it tea leaves, a bad dream, or a religious text). “Religious motivation” isn’t a helpful reason for dismissing a notion. The only thing we should ever care about is how well an idea stands up to scientific scrutiny once it is advanced. The “religious motivation” rationale is really not a valid one. So what, who cares? It simply doesn’t matter.

“Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.”

One could just as accurately say the same about Darwinists who are constantly attempting to make round evidence fit into a square Darwinian hole. Plus, it matters not one whit where an idea comes from (be it tea leaves, a bad dream, or a religious text). “Religious motivation” isn’t a helpful reason for dismissing a notion. The only thing we should ever care about is how well an idea stands up to scientific scrutiny once it is advanced. The “religious motivation” rationale is really not a valid one. So what, who cares? It simply doesn’t matter.

Kevin Wirth said:

“Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.”

One could just as accurately say the same about Darwinists who are constantly attempting to make round evidence fit into a square Darwinian hole.

No they cannot, given as how Intelligent Design proponents are not motivated to do any science whatsoever.

Plus, it matters not one whit where an idea comes from (be it tea leaves, a bad dream, or a religious text). “Religious motivation” isn’t a helpful reason for dismissing a notion.

Religious motivation is a helpful reason to dismiss an argument if it’s the primary reason why the person or persons spews pseudoscientific garbage and spouts pernicious apologetics.

The only thing we should ever care about is how well an idea stands up to scientific scrutiny once it is advanced. The “religious motivation” rationale is really not a valid one. So what, who cares? It simply doesn’t matter.

And unless you have had your head under a rock for the last 15 decades, the Theory of Evolution has stood up to scientific scrutiny. You have to have had your head under a rock for 15 decades if you have conveniently ignored the primary reason why scientists dismiss Intelligent Design “theory” is because ID cannot survive 15 seconds of scientific scrutiny.

Religious motivations help understand why ID has remained without any scientific contributions and why the concept is scientifically vacuous, not to mention theologically foolish.

Kevin Wirth said:

“Intelligent Design has also shown itself to be utterly unable to accept (new) evidence which contradicts their philosophically and religiously motivated view points.”

One could just as accurately say the same about Darwinists who are constantly attempting to make round evidence fit into a square Darwinian hole. Plus, it matters not one whit where an idea comes from (be it tea leaves, a bad dream, or a religious text). “Religious motivation” isn’t a helpful reason for dismissing a notion. The only thing we should ever care about is how well an idea stands up to scientific scrutiny once it is advanced. The “religious motivation” rationale is really not a valid one. So what, who cares? It simply doesn’t matter.

PvM said:

Religious motivations help understand why ID has remained without any scientific contributions and why the concept is scientifically vacuous, not to mention theologically foolish.

Actually, it’s theologically pernicious concept, as it transforms God, aka “The (Intelligent) Designer,” into a sneaky, research and conversation-stopping synonym for “I don’t know.”

“Actually, it’s theologically pernicious concept, as it transforms God, aka “The (Intelligent) Designer,” into a sneaky, research and conversation-stopping synonym for “I don’t know.”

Oh,and that’s different HOW from any of the comments I regularly read in the conundrum-laden text of just about any book on vertebrate evolution?

The “I don’t know” part of evolution is pretty well documented all the way around in paleontology, for example.

Which seems to make macro-evolutionary claims that evolution is well established a whole lot more than just “pernicious” - how about downright dishonest?

These books are literally riddled with reports and (gulp) admissions about how much confusion and debate exists over the evolutionary relationships of the vertebrates, leaving little doubt whatsoever that we really understand next to nothing about evolutionary relationships based on the evidence of fossils.

Oh, to be sure, there is a TON of speculation. But if I were an ardent evolutionist, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable hanging my hat on it.

You should read this stuff so I could watch the chills race up and down your spine.

Listen dude, I did my homework. Now you do yours. Enough of your stupid invective. If you want to have a serious talk about the evidence fine, let’s do that. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time.

Kevin Wirth said:

Oh,and that’s different HOW from any of the comments I regularly read in the conundrum-laden text of just about any book on vertebrate evolution?

You are overlooking the verified facts between the gaps. ID is cherry picking the gaps, you demonstrate how.

And to claim on such basis that you have done your home work, is interested in science or a serious debate is, well, pernicious to your argument.

Kevin Wirth said:

“Actually, it’s theologically pernicious concept, as it transforms God, aka “The (Intelligent) Designer,” into a sneaky, research and conversation-stopping synonym for “I don’t know.”

Oh,and that’s different HOW from any of the comments I regularly read in the conundrum-laden text of just about any book on vertebrate evolution?

The “I don’t know” part of evolution is pretty well documented all the way around in paleontology, for example.

You fail, or perhaps refuse to realize that, unlike Intelligent Design proponents, evolutionary biologists do not use “I do not know” as an excuse to stop research forever. Though, actually, Intelligent Design proponents use “I do not know” to never ever do research in the first place.

Or, perhaps you could explain why none of the staff of the Discovery Institute have ever attempted to do or promote any sort of scientific research for the past 20 years or so since the founding of the Discovery Institute?

Which seems to make macro-evolutionary claims that evolution is well established a whole lot more than just “pernicious” - how about downright dishonest?

If you actually knew how to understand the English language, you would know that “pernicious” is more negative an adjective than “dishonest,” given as how “pernicious” means “harmful or destructive in a manner that threatens life.”

These books are literally riddled with reports and (gulp) admissions about how much confusion and debate exists over the evolutionary relationships of the vertebrates, leaving little doubt whatsoever that we really understand next to nothing about evolutionary relationships based on the evidence of fossils.

Actually, they are being honest about admitting the debate and confusion that exists today. On the other hand, debate and confusion persist in all branches of science. To claim that this is “dishonesty” is extremely dishonest on your behalf, Kevin.

Oh, to be sure, there is a TON of speculation. But if I were an ardent evolutionist, I wouldn’t feel very comfortable hanging my hat on it.

A science that lacks live debates is a dead science. That there are zero scientific debates inside of Intelligent Design theory would suggest that it, too, is a dead science, but, it was never a science to begin with.

You should read this stuff so I could watch the chills race up and down your spine.

You are a sad and warped little man if you are so negatively inclined so as to confuse squirmings of joy with fear and sadness.

Listen dude, I did my homework. Now you do yours. Enough of your stupid invective. If you want to have a serious talk about the evidence fine, let’s do that. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time.

You are the only one providing stupid invectives, apparently to hide the facts that all you have contributed are the standard Creationist lies about how debate is a symptom of a dying science, and that you have extremely poor reading comprehension skills when it comes to scientific text.

It’s hard to believe you when you claim that evolutionists have no evidence when not only have evolutionists been collecting and studying evidence for the past 1 and a half centuries, but, Intelligent Design proponents admit that Intelligent Design was never science and never about science to begin with.

So, the evidence is against you, as it looks like you are the one who did not do his homework.

If you want to participate in this Mexican standoff of wits, please do not come armed with only a cracked wiffle bat.

The “I don’t know” part of evolution is pretty well documented all the way around in paleontology, for example.

That’s the difference between science and ID, the latter confuses the absence of an explanation with ‘design’, the former accurately describes the situation, may present testable hypotheses and expands our knowledge and understanding.

Listen dude, I did my homework. Now you do yours. Enough of your stupid invective. If you want to have a serious talk about the evidence fine, let’s do that. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time.

A serious talk about the evidence… Evidence for what? ID? In that case you surely mean the absence of evidence… We have done our homework as well, ID is a scientific dead end, a vacuous concept and a theologically dangerous position at it raises our ignorance to a level of evidence in favor of design.

The “I don’t know” part of evolution is pretty well documented all the way around in paleontology, for example.

That’s the difference between science and ID, the latter confuses the absence of an explanation with ‘design’, the former accurately describes the situation, may present testable hypotheses and expands our knowledge and understanding.

Listen dude, I did my homework. Now you do yours. Enough of your stupid invective. If you want to have a serious talk about the evidence fine, let’s do that. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time.

A serious talk about the evidence… Evidence for what? ID? In that case you surely mean the absence of evidence… We have done our homework as well, ID is a scientific dead end, a vacuous concept and a theologically dangerous position at it raises our ignorance to a level of evidence in favor of design.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on April 10, 2007 7:35 PM.

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