Some Big News Items

| 245 Comments

Some big stories came out this week.

Science Daily reported on March 3rd that

A fossil that was celebrated last year as a possible “missing link” between humans and early primates is actually a forebearer of modern-day lemurs and lorises, according to two papers by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, Duke University and the University of Chicago. In an article now available online in the Journal of Human Evolution, four scientists present evidence that the 47-million-year-old Darwinius masillae is not a haplorhine primate like humans, apes and monkeys, as the 2009 research claimed. They also note that the article on Darwinius published last year in the journal PLoS ONE ignores two decades of published research showing that similar fossils are actually strepsirrhines, the primate group that includes lemurs and lorises. ‘Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution,’ says Chris Kirk, associate professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin. ‘Every year, scientists describe new fossils that contribute to our understanding of primate evolution. What’s amazing about Darwinius is, despite the fact that it’s nearly complete, it tells us very little that we didn’t already know from fossils of closely related species.’ ..

And, the BBC reports on March 4th that

An international panel of experts has strongly endorsed evidence that a space impact was behind the mass extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs. They reached the consensus after conducting the most wide-ranging analysis yet of the evidence. Writing in Science journal, they rule out alternative theories such as large-scale volcanism. The analysis has been discussed at the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in the US. A panel of 41 international experts reviewed 20 years’ worth of research to determine the cause of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) mass extinction, around 65 million years ago. The extinction wiped out more than half of all species on the planet, including the dinosaurs, bird-like pterosaurs and large marine reptiles, clearing the way for mammals to become the dominant species on Earth. Their review of the evidence shows that the extinction was caused by a massive asteroid or comet smashing into Earth at Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula…

While creationists are sure to glom onto these stories as evidence that any change of opinions over time means entire disciplines are simply nonsense, both of these stories show science incorporating new information, and improving with age.

Contrast that with creationism or “intelligent design,” for which nothing becomes clearer or better understood over time. Hmm - what is the actual mechanism by which the Designer infuses new designs into actual, living organisms? Search me!

Discuss.

245 Comments

With regard to Darwinius the science community had serious reservations about some of the claims made. What the science community has now isn’t a “change of opinion” on Darwinius, but more evidence that their original opinion was correct.

btw, of all the science-blogging articles on this find, I liked Ed Yong’s (Not Exactly Rocket Science) post the best (not as informative science-wise as some of the links he provides to Laelaps and The Loom, but very entertaining).

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketsc[…]_changes.php

There was ample criticism and disbelief expressed within the vertebrate paleobiological community when Darwinius was announced last year, and these two papers merely illustrate how and why such criticism and disbelief was credible:

Daniel J. Andrews said:

With regard to Darwinius the science community had serious reservations about some of the claims made. What the science community has now isn’t a “change of opinion” on Darwinius, but more evidence that their original opinion was correct.

btw, of all the science-blogging articles on this find, I liked Ed Yong’s (Not Exactly Rocket Science) post the best (not as informative science-wise as some of the links he provides to Laelaps and The Loom, but very entertaining).

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketsc[…]_changes.php

Dave,

Of the two stories you mention in your latest Panda’s Thumb entry, clearly the second is far more important. On a more personal note it is especially so since I was a graduate school colleague of the “discoverer” - or rather re-discoverer (since it was first found during Pemex surveys of the region in the late 1960s) - of the Chicxulub impact site, planetary geologist Alan Hildebrand, and reacted initially to ample skepticism and disbelief as he recounted to me and another fellow graduate student, all of the data he was collecting which pointed to a terminal Cretaceous asteroid impact. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t sustain my skepticism and disbelief once Alan and his colleagues had published their research (A sentiment I wish “scientific creationists” would adopt now that we have overwhelming evidence from virtually every aspect of biology that supports the fact of biological evolution.)

John Kwok said:

Dave,

Of the two stories you mention in your latest Panda’s Thumb entry, clearly the second is far more important. On a more personal note it is especially so since I was a graduate school colleague of the “discoverer” - or rather re-discoverer (since it was first found during Pemex surveys of the region in the late 1960s) - of the Chicxulub impact site, planetary geologist Alan Hildebrand, and reacted initially to ample skepticism and disbelief as he recounted to me and another fellow graduate student, all of the data he was collecting which pointed to a terminal Cretaceous asteroid impact. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t sustain my skepticism and disbelief once Alan and his colleagues had published their research (A sentiment I wish “scientific creationists” would adopt now that we have overwhelming evidence from virtually every aspect of biology that supports the fact of biological evolution.)

Thanks for the inside scoop, John!

Say, is there any truth to the rumor that you were there to help Darwin organize his notes on his Beagle voyage? ;-)

Actually, I was, Dave. I hitchhiked a ride aboard the Doctor’s TARDIS and we stumbled upon Darwin in the Galapagos:

Dave Thomas said:

Thanks for the inside scoop, John!

Say, is there any truth to the rumor that you were there to help Darwin organize his notes on his Beagle voyage? ;-)

And the most amazing thing, Dave, was that Darwin looked and ssounded like actor Paul Bettany.

Seriously, I wish all “scientific” creationists would have the same reaction I did when I finally read Alan’s paper. But they can’t since that would run contrary to their religious beliefs and values, not those relevant to science.

The real problem with the blaze of publicity about Darwinius is not that it was described as more closely related to monkeys and apes than to tarsiers and lemurs. It is the irresponsible use of the word “link”, which was repeated endlessly and is deeply misleading.

The term “missing link” came into existence in Darwin’s day, as opponents argued that there was no fossil connecting humans to (other) apes. The missing link was found in 1891 when Homo erectus was discovered – and if you don’t consider that good enough, then you should agree that it was found in 1924 when Australopithecus was discovered.

There is simply no excuse for scientists or documentary filmmakers exploiting the public’s familiarity with the term “missing link” and the confusion about what it is and whether it is still “missing”. Sowing confusion in the public understanding of science is not excused by the need to publicize one’s work or make money.

Hi Dave,

I’m sure there are some “glommers” out there, but I agree with you that the two stories show that science can be self-correcting. I also agree that a weakness of ID is an inability to provide an account of the causal mechanism. But that doesn’t mean that ID can’t make progress. I think Mike Gene is making a great deal of progress in fleshing out his hypothesis of Front-loaded Evolution:

designmatrix.wordpress.com

What is the significant difference between “front loading” and deism?

Mike Elzinga said:

What is the significant difference between “front loading” and deism?

Not much, especially since “front loading” is merely deceptive Intelligent Design jargon for “God/Designer did it in a way I’m too lazy to examine”

But not only with regards to potential ancestors of Homo sapiens has the term “missing link” been greatly misused and abused:

Joe Felsenstein said:

The real problem with the blaze of publicity about Darwinius is not that it was described as more closely related to monkeys and apes than to tarsiers and lemurs. It is the irresponsible use of the word “link”, which was repeated endlessly and is deeply misleading.

The term “missing link” came into existence in Darwin’s day, as opponents argued that there was no fossil connecting humans to (other) apes. The missing link was found in 1891 when Homo erectus was discovered – and if you don’t consider that good enough, then you should agree that it was found in 1924 when Australopithecus was discovered.

There is simply no excuse for scientists or documentary filmmakers exploiting the public’s familiarity with the term “missing link” and the confusion about what it is and whether it is still “missing”. Sowing confusion in the public understanding of science is not excused by the need to publicize one’s work or make money.

Far too often than I care to recall, the term “missing link” has been applied to fossils representing the “transitional” phylogenetic sequence from nonavian theropod dinosaurs to birds, from “primitive” placental mammals to whales, and from fish to tetrapods to name but a few. So much so that it is now common creationist claptrap for many to assert that the fossil record doesn’t show “missing links”, and then, as though to prove their point, “quote mine” the likes of Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge and other paleobiologists.

Front-loaded Evolution isn’t a necessarily a theological position. It’s the hypothesis that there was a one time event at the origin of life, and that the cells were front-loaded with mechanisms, structures and genetic information to make the eventual evolution of metazoa and perhaps intelligent life more probable.

One could be a theist, deist, or an atheist and still accept that hypothesis.

Bilbo -

Can you do me a huge favor and explain to me what “front loading” means in actual molecular detail?

Bilbo said:

Front-loaded Evolution isn’t a necessarily a theological position. It’s the hypothesis that there was a one time event at the origin of life, and that the cells were front-loaded with mechanisms, structures and genetic information to make the eventual evolution of metazoa and perhaps intelligent life more probable.

One could be a theist, deist, or an atheist and still accept that hypothesis.

Rather like the unknown Designer mysteriously tinkering with bacterial to give them a magical flagellum that nature, alone and unassisted, couldn’t have provided, except it now all takes place way back when? Seems like simply shifting the terms from “Designer” to “Front-loader.”

And I wouldn’t call Mike Gene “lazy.”

Wheels said:

Bilbo said:

Front-loaded Evolution isn’t a necessarily a theological position. It’s the hypothesis that there was a one time event at the origin of life, and that the cells were front-loaded with mechanisms, structures and genetic information to make the eventual evolution of metazoa and perhaps intelligent life more probable.

One could be a theist, deist, or an atheist and still accept that hypothesis.

Rather like the unknown Designer mysteriously tinkering with bacterial to give them a magical flagellum that nature, alone and unassisted, couldn’t have provided, except it now all takes place way back when? Seems like simply shifting the terms from “Designer” to “Front-loader.”

Strangely enough Mike Gene now thinks that Nick Matzke et al have provided enough evidence to make it reasonable to believe that the bacterial flagellum evolved. I disagree, but Mike knows a lot more than I do.

It’s the hypothesis that there was a one time event at the origin of life, and that the cells were front-loaded with mechanisms, structures and genetic information to make the eventual evolution of metazoa and perhaps intelligent life more probable.

Interesting, but I still need far more detail to subject this idea to skeptical analysis. For me to take you seriously, and not dismiss you as a dishonest ass who should be legally pursued by the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, I must ask for real answers.

Please explain what this one time event consisted of in terms I can understand.

You say “mechanisms, structures, and genetic information” were “front-loaded” into cells.

Peculiar language. Let’s clear it up. First of all, which mechanisms are we talking about? Which structures? Which nucleotide sequences? Please be specific.

You raise a major issue with your “more probable” language. Very odd. Still, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for now. What was original life like before this front loading event? How did you calculate the a priori probability that this type of life would be an ancestor of metazoans? What was the nature of the front loading event again? (You should already have explained that while answering my earlier questions, but please review for clarity.) How did you calculate that a priori probability that life post-event would give rise to metazoa?

I have to tell you, I’m very skeptical, and I don’t expect intelligent answers at all. But do your best to surprise me.

Bilbo -

You continue to confuse me.

Strangely enough Mike Gene now thinks that Nick Matzke et al have provided enough evidence to make it reasonable to believe that the bacterial flagellum evolved. I disagree, but Mike knows a lot more than I do.

Please answer my other questions first, but this is odd. If even the one whom you designate as an authority on the matter is telling you that the flagellum was not pinned on bacteria by magic, why do you continue to disagree?

Bilbo wrote:

“Strangely enough Mike Gene now thinks that Nick Matzke et al have provided enough evidence to make it reasonable to believe that the bacterial flagellum evolved. I disagree, but Mike knows a lot more than I do.”

So then why is front loading necessary? If the poster child for irreducible complexity can be shown to have evolved by natural means, then no front loading would seem to be necessary for any complex structure. Certainly the same evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the evolution of the flagellum could also produce other biological structures as well.

Bilbo said:

Front-loaded Evolution isn’t a necessarily a theological position. It’s the hypothesis that there was a one time event at the origin of life, and that the cells were front-loaded with mechanisms, structures and genetic information to make the eventual evolution of metazoa and perhaps intelligent life more probable.

One could be a theist, deist, or an atheist and still accept that hypothesis.

Let me guess; “front loading” means some intelligence put in “information” in order to overcome “entropy barriers” and the second law of thermodynamics.

Correct?

Hi Harold,

First, this is not my hypothesis, it’s Mike Gene’s. I haven’t done any probability calculations, and at this point I doubt that Mike has either. What he has done is demonstrate that there is deep homology for many of the features that are essential to metazoan life. That may not sound like much, but it wasn’t too long ago that biologists scoffed at the idea that a designer could somehow front-load ancient cells with the information necessary for metazoa. “It would all be lost over time,” they said. Yet we keep finding that it wasn’t lost. So, what nucleotide sequences were front-loaded? The ones that coded for the proteins, RNA, and whatever else would be needed to make evolution of metazoa more probable.

What mechanisms and structures? You’ll have to read Mike’s book or blog, or ask him yourself:

designmatrix.wordpress.com

harold said:

Bilbo -

You continue to confuse me.

Strangely enough Mike Gene now thinks that Nick Matzke et al have provided enough evidence to make it reasonable to believe that the bacterial flagellum evolved. I disagree, but Mike knows a lot more than I do.

Please answer my other questions first, but this is odd. If even the one whom you designate as an authority on the matter is telling you that the flagellum was not pinned on bacteria by magic, why do you continue to disagree?

Mike Gene doesn’t buy Behe’s argument against neo-Darwinism, but Behe’s case looks cogent to me. So I continue to believe in magic, as any good hobbit would.

Is divine front-loading any different from theistic evolution other than in the timing of when God puts His invisible thumb on the scale? Is this the biological equivalent of big bang vs steady state?

Without reading it Bilbo, I know that it is ample philosophical nonsense emanating from Mike Gene (Have dealt with Mike before and find him absolutely baffling. Maybe he ought to emulate others like Francis Collins and Ken Miller, and learn something about science for once.):

Bilbo said:

Hi Harold,

First, this is not my hypothesis, it’s Mike Gene’s. I haven’t done any probability calculations, and at this point I doubt that Mike has either. What he has done is demonstrate that there is deep homology for many of the features that are essential to metazoan life. That may not sound like much, but it wasn’t too long ago that biologists scoffed at the idea that a designer could somehow front-load ancient cells with the information necessary for metazoa. “It would all be lost over time,” they said. Yet we keep finding that it wasn’t lost. So, what nucleotide sequences were front-loaded? The ones that coded for the proteins, RNA, and whatever else would be needed to make evolution of metazoa more probable.

What mechanisms and structures? You’ll have to read Mike’s book or blog, or ask him yourself:

designmatrix.wordpress.com

Actually it is much easier to believe in the veracity of Klingon Cosmology than Mike Gene’s pseudoscientific hocus - pocus. Being the good hobbit that you are, Bilbo, I won’t ask Sauron (Bill Dembski) to send out his NINE, or to pester Shelob (Denyse O’Leary):

Bilbo said:

harold said:

Bilbo -

You continue to confuse me.

Strangely enough Mike Gene now thinks that Nick Matzke et al have provided enough evidence to make it reasonable to believe that the bacterial flagellum evolved. I disagree, but Mike knows a lot more than I do.

Please answer my other questions first, but this is odd. If even the one whom you designate as an authority on the matter is telling you that the flagellum was not pinned on bacteria by magic, why do you continue to disagree?

Mike Gene doesn’t buy Behe’s argument against neo-Darwinism, but Behe’s case looks cogent to me. So I continue to believe in magic, as any good hobbit would.

First, this is not my hypothesis, it’s Mike Gene’s.

no, it’s not Gene’s either. the concept of front loading is an OLD one, disproved LONG long ago.

Mike’s beating a dead horse.

Does he still think that non-coding regions of DNA aren’t “junk”? that this is where all the “front loaded” information is?

then that’s easy enough to disprove.

here’s ONE of thousands of little disproofs of just that (it’s a rundown of the arguments against the idea of “useful junk” that are often used to support the idea of frontloading).

http://www.youngausskeptics.com/200[…]really-junk/

there are plenty more if you search this very site (panda’s thumb) for “front loading”

In fact, there was an excellent disproof of how the evolution of snake venoms clearly rejects the idea of front loading, by the very person who did the research on the snake venoms.

that’s a good one to look for; should pop up from about 3-4 years ago?

I’ve come to call it “Pant loading” myself, since the arguments involved are so obviously shite.

Wonder if anyone else here is interested in sticking to this thread started by Dave Thomas’s excellent news reportage, or must we head senselessly toward another philosophical Mount Doom, beckoned by delusional creo troll hobbits like Bilbo?

John_S said:

Is divine front-loading any different from theistic evolution other than in the timing of when God puts His invisible thumb on the scale? Is this the biological equivalent of big bang vs steady state?

Assuming that God was the designer, I think the simplest way to look at Mike’s hypothesis would be to say that there were two design events: the beginning of the universe and the beginning of life. Unless it turns out that physical laws are completely deterministic, in which case only one “poof” was necessary.

So, about nomenclature… when something like D. masillae is uncovered, and its genealogy is still nebulous, how do they decide what to call it? Is it too far back to be included in an already-establish genus? Would it get a name change if its… er… pedigree… turns out to be a surprise?

How’s that, John? Back on track? :-)

Dave Thomas said:

This thread is almost a fortnight old, and it’s showing it’s age. Get in your last digs ‘fore I pull the plug!

Cheers, Dave

Oops, I meant “its” not “it’s”.

Dave

Oops, I meant “its” not “it’s”.

Is that a case of possession being 9/10 of the law?

Henry J said:

Oops, I meant “its” not “it’s”.

Is that a case of possession being 9/10 of the law?

No, but it was an ambiguous correction, since I didn’t say which copy of “it’s” I was referencing.

So, 50-50, eh?

Dave

Dave Thomas said:

Dave Thomas said:

This thread is almost a fortnight old, and it’s showing it’s age. Get in your last digs ‘fore I pull the plug!

Cheers, Dave

Oops, I meant “its” not “it’s”.

Dave

Last dig!

Prof Red Bottom said:

Dave Thomas said:

Dave Thomas said:

This thread is almost a fortnight old, and it’s showing it’s age. Get in your last digs ‘fore I pull the plug!

Cheers, Dave

Oops, I meant “its” not “it’s”.

Dave

Last dig!

Indeedly! Cheers, Dave

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This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on March 6, 2010 9:45 AM.

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