Discoveroids Respond to the Miller Challenge

Over at the blog of the Discoveroids, described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page, they’ve posted an unintentionally funny new article. It’s Why Does the History of Technology Give the Appearance of Evolution?

The thing is by Granville Sewell, about whom we last wrote Discovery Institute Gives Us Their Best Argument. Reviewing that should give you a good feel for the quality of his work. Now he follows the example of Jonathan Wells and tries to respond to a challenge from Kenneth R. Miller, who was a lead expert for the winning side in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Miller asked critics of Darwinism to explain why, in the fossil record, we find “one organism after another in places and in sequences…that clearly give the appearance of evolution.”

Miller’s underlying assumption seems to be that if a designer had anything to do with the origin of species, then we should see evidence in the fossil record that someone waved a magic wand and new species appeared suddenly out of nowhere, unconnected to past species. And in fact, we don’t see that (except possibly in the Cambrian explosion).

Okay, that’s the challenge. Perhaps you recall how Wells answered it — he said that things look that way because Earth is a mirror of heaven (see Jonathan Wells Explains Away the Evidence). Now let’s see how Sewell handles Miller’s question. Maybe he’ll do even better than Wells. First, he talks about the way human technology “evolves” compared to biological evolution:

In neither case — the development of life or of technology — do we really see very gradual development. In both cases, there are smaller gaps where minor new features appear, and larger gaps where major new features (new orders, classes or phyla) appear

Sewell is stretching the evidence. Technology gaps are small and entirely comprehensible, and the biological gaps keep getting fewer and smaller all the time, but it’s true that we haven’t found fossils to fill all biological gaps. That’s where creationists move in with their God of the gaps — oops, we mean the designer of the gaps. But there’s no possibility of playing the gap game with human technology, because anyone who suggested a supernatural intervention would be universally regarded as a fool (although he’d probably appear on the History Channel babbling about ancient aliens). Let’s read on:

So then given that the fossil record looks like the way we design things, why is that an argument against intelligent design?

Huh? Well, it’s definitely an argument against six-day creationism. For millennia the superficial appearance of design was an argument for creationism — until Darwin provided a natural explanation for the proliferation of species. But the Discoveroids are old-Earthers, so they claim their magic designer — blessed be he! — for mysterious reasons of his own, prefers to function over geological ages. Thus, they claim that the gradual appearance of biological forms isn’t an argument against their designer. Yes, he could be cleverly simulating evolution. In such matters, say the mystics, one can never really trust his senses. Here’s the end of Sewell’s brilliant essay:

So I would answer Kenneth Miller’s question with another question: “Why does the history of technology give the appearance of evolution?” when it was really the result of intelligent design?

Aaaargh!! The fallacies in that question are immense, and we can’t do them justice in a few paragraphs — but we’ll try. Look, we know how technology developed. Humans did it. We’re still doing it. There was never any mystery about it, and no one (except a few ancient alien buffs) claims that humans didn’t develop our technology. There being zero mystery about causes, there is zero incentive to propose supernatural agents.

Not only is there no reason to imagine supernatural causes for technology, there is no reason to imagine any natural cause other than our own intentional efforts. No one has ever claimed that technology is the undirected product of blind natural forces. Therefore, technology just isn’t analogous in any way to biological evolution — except in Seattle.

It’s true that human technology was once a popular analogy for creationism, in spite of there being no evidence of the designer’s existence, because there wasn’t any other viable explanation. That’s the essence of William Paley’s watchmaker analogy, which was very appealing in the days before Darwin. But now that we have a natural explanation for evolution, Paley’s analogy is obsolete.

Well, it’s not obsolete for the Discoveroids. Paley’s watchmaker is pretty much their entire argument. Alas for Sewell, it’s not only obsolete, but it certainly doesn’t work as a two-way analogy. No one (until now) ever dreamed of saying: “Hey, Rev Paley — if frogs evolved, why didn’t watches?” But we’ll give Sewell credit for originality. And we’ll give Miller credit for what his challenge is doing to the Discoveroids.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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39 responses to “Discoveroids Respond to the Miller Challenge

  1. One thing about human design is that we do find repeats of old, discarded designs. While biological extinction is final.
    Ideas get independent inventions in separate cultures (how many times was writing invented?) and fashions become obsolete and then come back again.

  2. TomS makes a good point, Truly-True Intelligent Design would bring with it Intelligent Marketing and possibly Intelligent Product Placement, so we should be seeing extinct species suddenly pop back into existence because they are trending on google.

  3. I can readily trace back the history of Paley’s watch to a rock or a twig in the ground that casts a shadow. Simply watching the shadow “move” gave observers the sense that something was happening, i.e., time was passing. From that point on we see the evoluton of timekeeping devices. It’s too bad Paley couldn’t see the digital watches of today without any moving parts.

  4. This is a show of progress for creationism, connecting the biological innovation of the Intelligent Designers with the work of human technological innovation. About 20 years ago they created the [cargo-cult] Science of Baraminology. This put them on tracks with biologists of the 18th Century, now I see them nearing the 19th Century with their fascination with antique fallacies.
    In about 20-30 years, after we have found out how to create life and give them time to catch up, they will have their Darwin/Wallace moments. They can finally answer how the designers created life.

  5. TomS, don’t we see the same thing in evolutionary history? How many times has the eye, or the wing, venom etc. independently evolved?

  6. @Alex Shuffell
    On reconsideration, I see the flaw in my statement.

  7. Modern devices often incorporate multiple different technologies traceable to independent lines of development. A typical computer, for example, utilizes small electric motors in it’s cooling fans and disc drives, the technology for which was developed prior to the existence of the computer. It uses laser technology to read discs, another technology developed independently of either fans or computers. The device is built of plastics and other materials that were originally developed for other completely unrelated uses, and so on.

    In biology, unrelated species do not interbred to produce new species, like the dog-cat or crocoduck. In technology, this sort of mashing together of different ideas and devices happens all the time.

    Technology does not appear in the least bit like evolution.

  8. Technology can make huge leaps with no intermediate steps. The best example I can think of is the way we light our homes. If the jump from fire to an incandescent bulb isn’t huge with no intermediate steps I’m not sure what is.

  9. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I will get more technical here, about the vast difference between intelligently designed artifacts and biological complexity.

    Biological complexity forms a Unique Nested Hierarchy [UHN] which is the topic of taxonomy. That means all species, based on an inter-comparison of physical properties can be put in a specific box, which can be put in a general box, which can be put in a more general box, and so on, up to a universal box. These boxes are ‘taxa.’ The boxes do not overlap. If they overlap, it’s not a Unique Nested Hierarchy.

    The fact that all species form a UNH was noticed before Darwin published The Origin, but creationists attributed it to a plan in the mind of God. Around this there was much philosophizing; species supposedly representing ideal types [Gestalten in German] and there was endless, sterile philosophizing about ideal types and biology, how these ideal types related to Plato, blah blah blah.

    When Darwin published The Origin, he did not introduce the UNH, rather, he provided a mechanistic explanation for its origin, in terms of universal common ancestry with gradual changes as each species produces another. That is: UCA, Universal Common Ancestry, causes UNH, the Tree of Life.

    Immediately most creationists decided the UNH didn’t exist after all. They forgot about the UNH, an idea once regarded by all creationists as an objective, observational fact, before Darwin published the Origin. As soon as Darwin published the Origin, creationists changed the story: either the UNH was an illusion, following from evolutionary bias (which their creationist predecessors, who discovered it, did not possess) or else creationists simply forgot the UNH ever existed. Nowadays we evolutionists have to re-explain to today’s creationists what a UNH is, and they will simply deny its existence, although their creationist predecessors considered it a simple, observational fact (back when nobody had any mechanistic explanation for it.)

    Here is one major difference between intelligently designed objects and biological complexity: biological species form a UNH, and intelligently designed objects do not.

    You cannot form a UNH from intelligently designed objects, e.g. airplaines, helicopters, cars, etc. Many creationists stupidly contest this point nowadays, forgetting that their creationist predecessors considered it a simple, observational fact that no knowledgeable person would ever dispute.

    Instead, many creationists today will blather on about trucks, insisting that trucks can be arranged in a UNH. Obviously intelligently designed artifacts can be arranged in a nested hierarchy, but it will never be UNIQUE. Sure, you can do: American trucks, Japanese trucks, four-door trucks, two-door trucks… if you enforce a kind of ordering, you can enforce a hierarchy, but it’s artificial. Biological species have a NATURAL, and unique, nested hierarchy.

    Next point: evolutionary theory fits the fossil record because evolutionary theory requires that, because UCA caused the UNH, “general” must be old, while “specific” is new.

    That is: if you start with a UNH formed ONLY from living species, without peeking at the fossil record, and simply apply the mapping from evolutionary theory: general –> old, specific –> new, then you can predict countless things that match the fossil record.

    For example, consider just the human lineage (ignore whales, arthropods etc.) We can predict this order of appearance of complex structures in the fossil record:

    1. Bilaterian body structure
    2. Backbone
    3. Jaw
    4. Lungs
    5. Tetrapod limb structure
    6. Amniotic development
    7. [Mammalian ear bone structure / warm-bloodedness]
    8. Placental development
    9. [Primate face / dentition]
    10. [Big brain/ Upright walking]

    Above I have placed in [square brackets] two structural features where we cannot predict, from living species alone, the order of which of two things [A/B] should appear first. For example, comparing humans and living primates will not tell you whether the big brain appears before or after upright walking. Comparing humans and living primates will only tell you that both big brain and upright walking both come after primate face and dentition. To figure out the precise order of A or B, we have to look in the fossil record, which clarifies this immediately.

    The above order is predicted by evolution, and that’s what we see. That is in fact the order seen in the fossil record.

    Moreover, we have transitional fossils for some of the largest structural changes. We have extensive transitional fossils for:

    Tetrapod limb structure
    Mammalian ear bone structure AND warm-bloodedness
    Placental development
    Primate face / dentition
    Big brain/ Upright walking

    (I’ll include upright walking because Ardipithecus and Australopithecus walk upright but not quite in the human fashion, and obviously their limbs are in some ways transitional.)

    Let’s be clear as to the reasons why we cannot make predictions for intelligently designed objects (technology) analogous to what we can do for evolution. Intelligently designed objects (technology) do not form a UNH. Thus, you cannot make any predictions about the order in which complex structures appear.

    This is obvious. Consider a complex structure: TV technology. Not long ago, all airplanes had a big projection TV at the front of the coach section, and mini-vans had no TV’s at all. Then LCD flat-screens began to appear in homes as free-standing televisions. In vehicles, they soon appeared abruptly, with no transitionals — showing up in mini-vans with no intermediates, and using absolutely identical technology to that used in free-standing TV sets, even down to the human language labelling (“Toshiba”, “Sony.”)

    Next in airplanes, LCD flat screens appeared abruptly, with no transitionals– as fully formed LCD screens embedded in the back of each passengers’ seat, and using absolutely identical technology to that used in free-standing TV sets, again down to the human language labelling (“Toshiba”, “Sony.”)

    At the exact simultaneous moment that LCD screens appeared in airplanes, the projection TV’s completely disappeared from airplanes that had LCD’s! Nothing like that happens in the fossil record!

    For example, when the four jaw bones of reptiles became re-purposed in mammals as three ear bones and one jaw bone, the jaw bones of the reptile did not vanish. They just shrank. We still have them.

    When our ancestors ceased to digest large amounts of leaves, our appendix did not disappear. It just shrank. We still have it.

    When our ancestors left the trees, our prehensile tail did not abruptly disappear. We still have it.

    When our ancestors began to rely more on vision and less on smell, our genes for olfaction did not disappear. They just got broken, ceased to be expressed as RNA, and because pseudogenes. We still have them.

    Thus, here are four major differences between biological complexity and intelligently designed objects:

    1. Biological species form a UNH. Intelligently designed objects (technology) can be shoved into non-unique, artificial hierarchies, but they never form UNH’s.

    2. For biological complexity, the order of appearance of complex structures, predicted from a UNH, matches the fossil record. For intelligently designed objects, we cannot even make analogous predictions about the order of appearance of new complex structures, so it’s moot.

    3. For major changes in biological complexity, we USUALLY have transitional forms! This is a general rule. For major gains in biological complexity, transitional fossils are THE RULE, and gaps in the fossil are THE EXCEPTION. With intelligently designed objects, for major gains in structural complexity, transitional forms cannot be found.

    4. For biological objects, when new complex structures take over the functions of old complex structures, the complex structures linger on for millions of years, generally shrinking in size or becoming dedicated to another purpose (e.g. ostrich wings, kiwi wings). For intelligently designed objects, when new complex structures take over the functions of old complex structures, the old complex structures often disappear immediately and completely.

    There are other important differences like this– enough for now.

  10. Excellent, Diogenes. You could also toss in Linnaean taxonomy, which rigorously described what thoughtful observers had noticed since the time of Aristotle. Carl Linnaeus published more than a century before Darwin’s Origin. A system like that doesn’t exist for technology.

  11. Gosh, this is so stupid that I feel like I’m replying to a 5-year old kid. Living things have genes that mutate. They reproduce and pass their mutations to the next generation. Tech products don’t have genetics and I haven’t seen two iPhones mating to produce more of their kind. How are these two comparable?!
    Life responds to natural phenomena and change very gradually – over millions & billions of years. Tech products don’t morph by themselves – not even to the slightest degree (microevolution). And of course, it doesn’t take billions of years to build them.
    Tech products need to be operated by an operator whereas living things don’t require an operator, they function all by themselves. Living systems are self-sustaining entities unlike tech products that are artificial & have no existence of their own.
    Based on the features of living things, we can construct evolutionary trees that link all life on earth – past & present. We can trace their history down to their common ancestor. They even form nested hierarchies – a hallmark of evolution.

    No such tree exists for man-made technology! Tech products simply can’t be linked coherently. Can the Dishonesty Institute construct such an interlinked tree for all human tech innovations & show a pattern similar to that of life?

    In short, technology bears all the hallmarks of an unnatural, artificial, intelligently-designed entity. Not so for life. I feel embarrassed that people can put forth such kiddish arguments.

  12. Notice how the IDiots contradict each other. Here’s Jonathan Wells just one week before, at ENV, Feb. 21, 2013:

    Wells: Not only did living things appear in a certain order, but in some cases they also had features intermediate between organisms that preceded them and those that followed them. Kenneth R. Miller challenges critics of Darwinism to explain why we find “one organism after another in places and in sequences… that clearly give the appearance of evolution.”

    Oops! Wells compromised the Party LIne, by conceding the existence of intermediates, and conceding the premise of Miller’s question!

    They must’ve screwed up! So the Discovernaughts enlist pseudomathematician Granville Sewell to lie about the fossil record, one week later, Feb. 26:

    Sewell: In neither case — the development of life or of technology — do we really see very gradual development. In both cases, there are smaller gaps where minor new features appear, and larger gaps where major new features (new orders, classes or phyla) appear.

    The phrase in bold is patently false, and even Stephen Jay “punctuated equilibrium” Gould wouldn’t agree with that one!

  13. Curm:

    You could also toss in Linnaean taxonomy, which rigorously described what thoughtful observers had noticed since the time of Aristotle. Carl Linnaeus published more than a century before Darwin’s Origin. A system like that doesn’t exist for technology.

    Yes, when I said UNH, I meant Linnaean taxonomy.

  14. Jim Thomerson

    Having lived through the transition, I can tell you there were intermediates within fire. We had carbide gas lights for a while, then replaced them with coal oil lamps before we ever got electricity.

  15. Jim,
    While you personally may have made a switch from carbide gas to kerosene not everyone did and they were still primarily the same thing, burning a fuel to produce a flame. Electric light was completly different and in no way dependent on ever having had carbide gas or kerosene lamps. The end result of producing light was the same, but nothing else. I forgot if I ever had a point ofther than the disco-tute knows less about technology and biology than I do.

  16. C’mon people, especially you TomS, who knows better. This is an ad-nauseam recycling of the same-old DI bait-and-switch (as if the DI does anything but bait-and-switch). To take it at face value in order to refute it may be instructive once, but not every damn time they pull it. By now the only way to respond is to simply expose the bait-and-switch.

    Can we ever put this to rest?: An intelligent designer, especially an almighty one, can do it any way he wants, and make it look exactly like evolution, exactly like a Last Thursday creation of “kinds,” and everything between and beyond. Conversely, if there were evidence of a recent pop-up of “kinds,” or even just some “gaps,” “Darwinists” would be all over it, proposing and testing candidate hypotheses. And so would the few scientists who sold out to the DI or the Biblical anti-evolution propaganda outfits.

    Besides, one of the most prominent DI Fellows (Behe) is on record for nearly 20 years that, whatever the designer did, and whatever he/she/it left to chance and regularity, it all happened via ~4 billion years of common descent with modification anyway. And not one DI person, not even those who claim to deny common descent or play dumb about it, has ever challenged Behe directly and publicly. The fossil record, and not to mention independent molecular and comparative anatomy evidence, all scream “~4 billion years of common descent with modification,” and are completely silent either way about whether any designers or creators might have been involved. Thus actively and passively, the DI screams complete agreement, despite all their pandering to Biblical literalists in the big tent. If the DI seriously thought that some designer intervened “somewhere,” they’d be shouting nonstop about the whens, wheres and hows. Even if they were genuinely unsure of that, but seriously thought that
    something other than “RM + NS” was operating “somewhere,” they’d be shouting nonstop about the whats, whens, wheres and hows. And their scientists would testing it to death, instead of lying about being “expelled” by “Darwinists” who want to replace God with Hitler.

  17. Christine Janis

    Diogenes makes brilliant comments, as usual, but I’m afraid I can’t resist being a pedant, and making a correction to something he says. (This is gotten wrong so often in many popular sources that i thought I’d make it clear here:)

    “For example, when the four jaw bones of reptiles became re-purposed in mammals as three ear bones and one jaw bone, the jaw bones of the reptile did not vanish. They just shrank. We still have them.”

    1. Mammals and reptiles (almost all tetrapods) share a middle ear bone, the stapes (= the hyomandibula of fishes). However, enclosure of this bone (with or without others) into a distinct middle ear clearly happened convergently in frogs, mammals (the final enclosure being accomplished separately in monotremes and therians [marsupials and placentals], and reptiles (perhaps several times within reptiles).
    The remaining three “jaw bones” are the articular (in the lower jaw, forming the lower part of the jaw joint), the quadrate (forming the upper part of the jaw joint in the skull), and the dentary (the tooth-bearing bone).

    2. The articular and quadrate (which go to form the malleus and incus in the mammalian middle ear, respectively) are the end parts of the old mandibular pharyngeal arch (the hyomandibula is the upper part of the hyoid pharyngeal arch — AKA gill arch, but that term seems too emotive for creationists) that form from neural crest-derived cartilage in all vertebrates (as also seen in our own embryology). The dentary is one of dermal bones (not pre-formed in cartilage) that are laid down over the head and jaw of all osteichthyes (bony fishes and tetrapods).

    3. The generalized tetrapod lower jaw has not only the articular and the dentary, but also a bunch of other dermal bones (prearticular, angular, surangular, splenial, coracoid) that do not bear teeth, and which are located between the more anterior dentary and the articular. In mammals these bones are lost (except for a portion of the angular, which forms the tympanic bone holding the ear drum), and the dentary expands to become the only bone in the lower jaw, now forming the jaw articulation with a dermal bone in the skull, the squamosal. The expansion of the dentary, and the reduction of the “postdentary bones” can be seen in a perfect transitional array through the non-mammalian synapsids (AKA “mammal-like reptiles”), as can the incorporation of the articular and quadrate into the middle ear (the latter being “recapitulated” in mammalian ontogeny).

  18. Christine Janis


    “Next in airplanes, LCD flat screens appeared abruptly, with no transitionals– as fully formed LCD screens embedded in the back of each passengers’ seat, and using absolutely identical technology to that used in free-standing TV sets, again down to the human language labelling (“Toshiba”, “Sony.”) ”

    Diogenes has clearly never travelled from Boston to London via American Airlines, of from Los Angeles to Sydney via United Airlines, which use planes that appear to be the technological equivalent of the horseshoe crab in this respect.

  19. Diogenes: “Notice how the IDiots contradict each other…Oops! Wells compromised the Party LIne…

    Maybe the AiG party line, but the DI’s goal is to have everything both ways, and throw a bone to everyone in the big tent, from flat-earthers to common decent-accepting old lifers. Contradictions is the DI party line.

  20. Frank J, as to the last sentence in your #2. When I explained to one of my colleagues that we are osteichthyes, she replied. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!” Still some non-cladists out there. 🙂

  21. @FrankJ –
    You have rightly chastened me. I do know better.

  22. A new creationist argument: God of the Apps.

  23. @Jom Thomerson:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming that by “non-cladist” you mean “common descent denier” (AIUI many people accept common descent but reject cladistics as a method to determine phylogenetic trees – Behe is probably one), and that you are talking about a rank-and-file evolution denier (~half of population) as opposed to an activist (a very tiny minority). Rank-and-file evolution deniers mostly also reject common descent (CD), but only because they simply have not though it through. The activists have thought it through, and are hopelessly divided as to what “kinds” originated independently, and when they originated (by 5-6 orders of magnitude!). Most activists are very good at sweeping their hopeless disagreements under the rug – far too often with our help! – but the ID scam raised it to an art.

    Even before there was a testable mechanism for speciation, CD was the simplest explanation for the diversity of life. Even the ancient Greeks recognized that. And since several formal alternatives have been proposed, those who deny CD ought to more than willing to stating exactly which one they find most promising, and why they reject the others. Today’s scam artists refuse to do even that, much less try to support any alternative on its own merits. CD requires only one origin-of-life event (though it can tolerate more), while the alternatives require multiple events, making the “abiogenesis is impossible/improbable” claim all the more absurd. To pretend that the alternative to CD is “I don’t know,” or to bait-and-switch CD in general with the Darwinian mechanism is a complete scam. For every scam artist who knows that it is, but perpetrates it anyway, there are ~1000 people who unwittingly repeat it. From both years of reading and a few personal examples I am convinced that ~half of rank-and-file deniers are fully capable of correcting that misconception. Maybe even your colleague. That does not mean that it’s easy. I always start with the “age of life” question. There you can quickly weed out the hopeless subset – they will either backpedal into Omphalism or go all postmodern with nonsense like “what is time anyway?” But for every one of them there is at least one old-earther who is willing to listen. For them the next thing to address is CD – before getting into the mechanism, and without wasting time on whether or not some designer was involved. They might reject the “kinds” nonsense and accept evolution, but they’ll never let go of their designer.

  24. Congratulations, all commenters on this post. You have set a new record for SC’s blog — Highest average words per comment.

  25. Christine, I thought you were an anthropologist. But you write like a comparative anatomist.

    I want to be clear as to what, exactly, I got wrong in my comment. What I think is my only error, is addressed by you when you wrote:

    The generalized tetrapod lower jaw has not only the articular and the dentary, but also a bunch of other dermal bones (prearticular, angular, surangular, splenial, coracoid) that do not bear teeth, and which are located between the more anterior dentary and the articular. In mammals these bones are lost (except for a portion of the angular, which forms the tympanic bone holding the ear drum)

    This seems to be my only error: that there are other dermal bones in the generalized tetrapod lower jaw, besides the four I mentioned; and that these bones disappear completely in mammals.

    But it seems there are no bones pre-formed as cartilage which disappear in mammals, correct? The bones that disappear in mammals are all dermal, it seems.

    I have a question about this point of yours.

    the stapes (= the hyomandibula of fishes). However, enclosure of this bone (with or without others) into a distinct middle ear clearly happened convergently in frogs, mammals (the final enclosure being accomplished separately in monotremes and therians [marsupials and placentals], and reptiles (perhaps several times within reptiles).

    Is it really current thinking that the mammalian ear is the product of convergent evolution? I recall creationist Phillip Johnson making a big deal of this in Darwin on Trial: it was his rebuttal to the transitional fossils between reptile and mammal. Here is what Johnson wrote:

    “The case for therapsids as an ancestral chain linking reptiles to mammals would be a great deal more persuasive if the chain could be attached to something specific at either end. Unfortunately, important structural differences among the early mammals make it just as difficult to pick a specific mammal descendant as it is to pick any specific therapsid ancestors. This baffling situation led some paleontologists to consider a disturbing theory that mammals, long assumed to be a natural “monophyletic” group (that is, descended from a common mammalian ancestor) were actually several groups which had evolved separately from different lines of therapsids.

    Turning mammals into a polyphyletic group would make therapsids more plausible as ancestors, but only at the unacceptable cost of undermining the Darwinist argument that mammalian homologies are relics of common ancestry. Whether mammals evolved more than once remains an open question as far as fossils are concerned, but the prestigious George Gaylord Simpson lowered the stakes considerably by deciding that a group could reasonably be considered monophyletic if it descended from a single unit of lower rank in the taxonomic hierarchy. Having arisen from the order Therapsida, the class Mammalia was acceptable as a natural unit. [Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, p.79]

    The above is rebutted by Brian Spitzer.

  26. Christine Janis

    For Diogenes (not sure that this is the right forum for discussing this issue, but here we go).
    Firstly, I’ll like to emphasize that the only reason for my posting a long explanation about the mammalian middle ear is because most non-specialists get it wrong in part — it’s wrong in many popular books. This was not meant to criticize you directly, —- I really enjoy your anti-creationists posts and don’t want you to make errors that could then make them less effective. (Thanks also to the link by Brian Spitzer, that was great!)
    I think that the reason why you think I’m an anthropologists is because of a discussion I got into in an Amazon forum with Paul McBride — but the issue there was only that I knew more anthropology than he did (which so made me the *comparative* “expert”).

    OK, here’s what’s specifically wrong with your statement:
    “For example, when the four jaw bones of reptiles became re-purposed in mammals as three ear bones and one jaw bone, the jaw bones of the reptile did not vanish. They just shrank. We still have them.”

    Most people think of the “jaw” as the mandible (lower jaw). Only one bone from the generalized tetrapod condition* of the lower jaw can be found in the mammalian middle ear: the malleus (= the articular, or lower jaw articulation). Another bone, the incus (= the quadrate) can be considered a jaw bone as it’s technically part of the original neural-crest derived upper jaw, but in modern tetrapods it just looks like a regular skull bone, forming the articulation with the lower jaw. The third bone in the mammalian middle ear, the stapes (= the hyomandibula of jawed fishes) is never found in the jaws of tetrapods. In fact, it’s found in the middle ear of all tetrapods (except when lost, as in snakes).
    So only two bones in the “reptilian jaw” become two out of the three bones in the mammalian middle ear. Doing that did not leave “one jaw bone” (the dentary, as found in ourselves) as there are other dermal bones in the lower jaw that are still present in at least derived mammal-like reptiles (would have to look up the precise condition in mammals — some remnants are retained). But the dentary is greatly enlarged over the primitive tetrapod condition, now forming the entire lower jaw (including a new jaw joint), which is at odds with the statement “they just shrank”. (And, actually, it’s not so much that those ear bones “shrink”, it’s that they fail to grow in ontogeny.)

    I’ll answer your other point in a second post.

    *note that mammals and present-day reptiles are on divergent amniote clades — synapsids and sauropsids [including birds], respectively

  27. Christine Janis

    Post no. 2 (forgot to add in first post that i am indeed a comparative anatomist/paleontologist).

    The “convergent evolution” of the mammalian middle ear refers to the convergent final enclosure of the bones in a middle ear cavity in the adult, separated from the lower jaw. The great amount of material of early mammals that has been found in the past decade or so (especially the excellent stuff coming from China) has shown that the middle ear of the earliest mammals (e.g., Morganucodon, strictly a “mammaliaform”), where the articular remains attached to the jaw and the animal appears to have two jaw joints) is not so much a transitory transitional phase as it is a stable condition in early mammals. The Meckel’s cartilage (the embryonic frame of the lower jaw, of which the articular is the posterior end) is retained and becomes ossified, thus isolating the ear bones from the skull and enhancing hearing (I really should go and look up/check these details, but the basic point is that there is a defined stable anatomical condition known as the “transitional mammalian middle ear”). The detachment of the malleus and incus from the jaw in ontogeny, and then the isolation of these auditory ossicles in an enclosed middle ear (i.e. the definitive mammalian middle ear) can be shown by both comparative anatomy and fossil record evidence to have occurred independently in monotremes and therians (marsupials and placentals), and may be related ontogentically to the expansion of the braincase in large-brained animals. This may also have happened independently in at least one other extinct lineage.

    When Simpson was writing about the possible “polyphyletic origin” of mammals in the 1950s (I think), our knowledge of therapsids and early mammals was sparse. However, there was never any doubt that it was cynodont therapsids that were ancestral to mammals —- the “polyphyly” bit came from some uncertainty as to whether monotremes and therians had a common ancestor amongst the derived cynodonts.

    The picture became a lot clearly in the 1960s and 1970s, when many new, small cynodonts were discovered in the Late Triassic of South Africa and South America (a bunch of different lineages known collectively as the Probainognatha). This was clearly an adaptive radiation of small, mainly insectivorous forms, three lineages of which crossed the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (tritheledonts, tritylodonts, and mammaliaforms), with only the latter lineage (the smallest-sized one) surviving past the mid Jurassic. There is some debate as to which probainognathan taxon is the precise sister taxon of mammaliaforms, but most consider the tritheledonts to be the sister group.

    There is little excuse, for Philip Johnson, writing in 1991, to be completely unaware of this vast increase in our knowledge since the writings of Simpson.

  28. Christine- thanks for your patient explanation. It goes in my notes.

    I think I understand all that, but I’ve got one question: the hyoid bone, that bone in a woodpecker’s tongue: it develops from the Hyoid pharyngeal arch, I guess from the name?

  29. Never mind my question, I found it on Wikipedia. Thanks again.

  30. @Diogenes and Christine:

    Wow, such detailed explanatoins (yes I have head them before, and they are necessary, but please play along). Now I have to wonder if Johnson and the other evolution-deniers might be on to something. At least a testable hypothesis, if not necessarily one that has any evidence. Maybe mammals and reptiles don’t share common ancestors (never mind that Behe hisself said they do and that no other Discoveroid challenged him directly). So we now have at least 2 “blessed events”. Since the technical term for that is “abiogenesis,” and since we “know” that abiogenesis is “impossible or maybe just improbable” then it now must be extremely “impossible or maybe just improbable.” With that I have to run to the lab. No way can I miss an opportunity like this! I hope I don’t trip over any Discoveroids on the way. 😉

  31. Christine Janis

    @ Diogenes. Yes, the hyoid bone of tetrapods is from the hyoid arch — from the bottom portion (the hyoid apparatus): the top portion (the hyomandibula) now forms the stapes. The tetrapod hyoid bone is often added to from elements from one or more posterior pharyngeal arches (that also go to form things such as the laryngeal and thyroid cartilages).

    @ Frank J. Mammals and reptiles are amniotes. They most certainly do share a common ancestor at the base of the amniote radiation, in the mid Carboniferous (around 320 million years ago). The point is that modern reptiles are a relatively recent radiation from the sauropsid side of amniotes: members of the modern lineages of turtles, lizards, crocodiles, etc. appear in the Late Triassic, at more or less the same time as the first mammals (and the first dinosaurs).

  32. @Christine Janis: Is there going to be a test on this later? (flexes hand to relieve cramp from all the notes he’s been taking)

  33. Christine Janis

    Only Diogenes gets tested on this.

  34. Well, I don’t know if Christine is still following this, but I have another question that is driving me bats.

    Some fish like moray eels have pharyngeal jaws that form from the cartilage in the (I think) hyomandibular arch. But in moray eels and some other fish, these jaws have teeth.

    Now how did those teeth evolve, and what are they homologous to? It seems to me that they can’t possibly be homologous to the teeth we have in our oral jaws. The teeth in our oral jaws are homologous to fish scales that evolved to have dentine etc. We lost all our scales except for our teeth. But that’s reasonable because they grow from our dentary which is dermal bone.

    But then how could teeth grow from pharyngeal jaws that form from the cartilage in a gill arch buried in the body far from any skin?

  35. Christine Janis

    Hi Diogenes
    Just covered this in my last lecture! All neopterygians (that is holosteans and teleosts = almost of the ray-finned fishes apart from sturgeons, paddlefish and reedfish) have some sort of pharyngeal jaws, although few are as elaborate as those of the Moray eel.

    The notion that fish scales are strictly homologous with teeth is no longer thought to be true, although of course they are both formed in the skin, out of similar tissues, and the real issue (embryonic induction, etc.) appears to be the presence of dentine (a neural crest derived tissue). However, it is true that teeth or scales only form in the skin or on dermal bone.

    The teeth on the pharyngeal jaws are not actually embedded in those bones — rather they are formed in dermal elements derived from the skin that have fused onto the top of those bones. I’m not sure if the “skin” in the oral cavity is still ectodermal back that far, but it’s also been shown that teeth can form in membranes derived from endoderm, as long as dentine is present.

  36. Well thanks for that Christine. Good to know a real paleontologist.

    But if teeth are not homologous to fish scales, then how did they evolve?

  37. Christine Janis

    Diogenes, this is a good resource.

    Ann Huysseune, Jean-Yves Sire and P. Eckhard Witten
    Evolutionary and developmental origins of the vertebrate
    J. Anat. (2009) 214, pp465–476
    doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2009.01053.x

  38. @Christine,

    thanks again, that was great. I’m writing a book on creationism. It may have three chapters on fossils. Where paleontology is concerned, I’m a mere autodidact as you can tell. Perhaps I could run a draft past you when I finish it.

  39. Christine Janis

    Would be delighted!