Not like a worm?


Ann Coulter is back to whining about evolution again, and this week she focuses on fossils. It’s boring predictable stuff: there are no transitional fossils, she says.

We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record – for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.)

Darwin postulated that whales could have evolved from bears, but he was wrong…as we now know because we found a lot of transitional fossils in whale evolution. Carl Zimmer has a summary of recent discoveries, and I wrote up a bit about the molecular genetics of whale evolution. Whales have become one of the best examples of macroevolutionary transitions in the fossil record, all in roughly the last 30 years — which gives us a minimal estimate of how out of date Ann Coulter’s sources are.

But then she writes this, which is not only wrong, but self-refuting.

To explain away the explosion of plants and animals during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago, Darwiniacs asserted – without evidence – that there must have been soft-bodied creatures evolving like mad before then, but left no fossil record because of their squishy little microscopic bodies.

Then in 1984, “the dog ate our fossils” excuse collapsed, too. In a discovery the New York Times called “among the most spectacular in this century,” Chinese paleontologists discovered fossils just preceding the Cambrian era.

Despite being soft-bodied microscopic creatures – precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn’t fossilize and therefore deprived them of crucial evidence – it turned out fossilization was not merely possible in the pre-Cambrian era, but positively ideal.

And yet the only thing paleontologists found there were a few worms. For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

It’s so weird to read that: yes, people have been predicting that the precursors to the Cambrian fauna would have been small and soft-bodied (what else would you expect), and that they would be difficult to fossilize…but not impossible, and further, scientists have been out finding these fossils. Somehow this is a refutation of evolution? What we’re seeing is exactly what evolution predicted!

What we have is a good record of small shelly fossils and trace fossils from the pre-Cambrian — before there were fully armored trilobites, there were arthropod-like creatures with partial armor that decayed into scattered small fragments of shell after death, and before that there were entirely soft-bodied, unarmored creatures that left only trackways and burrows. Even in this period Coulter wants to call abrupt, we find evidence of gradual transitions in animal forms.

And then to claim that there is an absence of transitional forms because all that was found were worms! Um, if you take an animal with an armored exoskeleton or bones, and you catch it before the hard skeleton had evolved, exactly what do you think it would look like? Like a worm.

As evolution predicted. As the evidence shows.

I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. says

    We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record

    They often resort to this now, that, well, there ought to be more transitionals. They know there are some that look a whole lot like transitionals, but somehow that doesn’t mean much, if anything, because there “should be more.”

    Uh, what’s the rationale for Designing Archaeopteryx, Ann? The debbil trying to fool you?

    For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

    No, ignoramus, for 3 billion years bacteria, about 2 billion years ago, eukaryotes. Worms are later.

    And gee, all phyla–not only animal phyla but plant phyla–are deeply related within the expected “nested hierarchies.” This necessary limitation in evolution (where horizontal transfers are rare to nonexistent) also limited God, how?

    The Cambrian “explosion” is somewhat surprising within evolution, it’s true, but it fits within the overall expected evolution of eukaryotes from simpler life, then multicellular life appearing within eukarya, and extensive evolution after that.

    There are no gaps in the genetic record (within extant taxa, anyhow). A great deal about how phyla diverged is known, because we have the molecules that diverged around the time of the Cambrian, and which have evolved ever since.

    Glen Davidson

  2. chigau (™) says

    I’m back to thinking that Coulter is a fraud and writes this shit only for the money.

  3. says

    I had a thought pop into my head that I thought I’d ask about, for people who know more about the really early days of multicellularity: Would a worm-like tube form be an expected (if not already demonstrated) transitional form between radial and bilateral symmetry?

    It seems to make sense to me: Radial symmetry around the digestive tract, down the length of the animal. Whatever genes enforce the additional axes of symmetry get modified into making something like the dorsal/ventral divide, while one axis remains largely symmetrical.

    Of course, I might be getting the relationship wrong, if radial and bilateral animals evolved their symmetries independently, instead of bilaterals evolving from some worm-like branch of radials.

  4. Stonyground says

    It is interesting that the one scientific theory that these people continually bang on about is the theory of evolution. I know that it contradicts their Bible and everything but then pretty much all of modern science does. Why isn’t she having a go at the scientific theory that the earth is roughly spherical rather than being flat with edges, corners and pillars? What about the scientific view that insects have six legs versus the Biblical view that the correct number is four? How about the scientific view that snakes and donkeys can’t talk?

  5. says

    @Stonyground – because evolution turns out to have been the turning point in intellectuals’ acceptance of religion. Before evolution was understood, people really had no idea where all this life came from; God was the hypothesis of last resort. With evolution, that wasn’t needed either.

    (This is somewhat oversimplified. There’s probably a good written-out list of reasons why they harp on this one.)

  6. amphiox says

    the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago,

    animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

    Much better than 6000 years at least.

    Progress!

  7. lightning says

    To the creatards, a “transition fossil” is “one we haven’t found”. All those things the paleontologists call “transition fossils” are just plain old fossils.

    Or perhaps they’re expecting something like the monster from a bad 1950s horror movie — perhaps a bear skeleton with a whale’s tail, or a human skull with an ape’s jaw.

  8. says

    Ann Coulter should be nicer to fossils. She’s well on the way to becoming one.

    On the other hand, I heard on the radio just yesterday that all animal species appeared instantaneously in this Cambrian explosion thingie. And they all looked exactly the way they do today, utterly refuting evolution! Amazing! Of course, the same radio program had a little problem with the roundness of heavenly bodies. Perhaps people that stupid should not be trusted.

  9. Rey Fox says

    Stonyground: Because if the human race wasn’t specially created special-like by a loving Daddy god, then everything is meaningless.

  10. says

    Wait, I thought Ann Coulter was a Poe.

    I think she would transition into one, but she has no mechanism by which to add new information.

    To the creatards, a “transition fossil” is “one we haven’t found”. All those things the paleontologists call “transition fossils” are just plain old fossils.

    I’m starting to think they expect “transitional fossils” to be changing as they are dug up.

  11. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    The wonder is not that we have loons like Ann Coulter who believe crap like this, and who simply cannot be bothered with logical argument. The wonder is that when she squats and deposits a fresh turd like this–so full of lies that it hardly has room for definite articles–that anyone greets it with more than raucous laughter or quiet concern.

    Ann Coulter is mentally ill.

  12. says

    I’ve met plenty of worms with more sense than Ann Coulter.

    I agree with Rey: the religious conservatives’ aversion to evolution in particular is all about the Special.

  13. mferrari says

    Please please please challenge her to a live debate PZ! I would pay a fortune for the video footage! :) I know you recently stated again that you aren’t interested in debating these loons but I think it would be a great piece of entertainment for us fans!

    I also can’t think of any valid reasons for debating creationists, but I don’t think she’s looking for credibility. She comes off as believing everything she espouses

  14. Nerdette says

    I read the first edition of Origins several years ago as an undergrad, and I recall the bear-whale, but I thought it was Darwin supposing a creature existing (swimming around, its giant mouth gaping open to catch small fish – it was an amusing image to be sure), not suggesting that whales evolved from bears. I even recall my professor chuckling when it was mentioned during discussion, and commenting that Darwin removed the example in later editions. Did he touch the topic again later, and I’m just ignorant?

  15. says

    The fundies do go after all sorts of other elements of science. For example I’ve seen it claimed the Grand Canyon is evidence for the Flood. I’ve heard of Young Earth Creationists claiming atomic decay hasn’t been consistent throughout history, thus explaining why geology is wrong claimning the Earth is several billion years old, and that fossil X isn’t hundreds of millions of years old because the surrounding rock isn’t. It’s just like their claim of Biblical literalism, they cherry pick what is “real” from the data, then come up with interesting interpretation of why the other data doesn’t say what it appears to say.

  16. JOhn. says

    My guess is that Ms. Coulter is looking for evolution like it is always portrayed on TV. One moment there’s a monkey, then SNAP CRACKLE POP it’s a human. So, “transitional” to them probably means a skeleton that is half bear and half whale.

  17. VegeBrain says

    Even if you take the position of the creationists in regards at face value (ie: no transitional fossils have been found), they’re still contradicting themselves.

    The creationists like to ask religious skeptics whether or not they have searched the entire universe and not found god anywhere. Since the skeptic obviously hasn’t done this, they go on their way believing in god and think they’ve done a good job at keeping the hounds of doubt at bay. But when it comes to transitional fossils they take the opposite position: they won’t believe in evolution until transitional fossils are found.

    In the case of god, they won’t quite believing until proof of his nonexistence is sure but when it comes to transitional fossils they won’t believe in them until any evidence for them is found.

  18. ss123 says

    At least they found wormy, squishy things before the cambrian explosion instead of elephants… A point she conveniently didn’t mention.

  19. amphiox says

    Considering that pinnipeds are Carnivora, and that Polar Bears are amphibious, Darwin’s bear speculation really isn’t as far-off as it might superficially appear.

  20. amphiox says

    So, “transitional” to them probably means a skeleton that is half bear and half whale.

    Australopithecus is for all intents and purposes a half-human half-ape skeleton. Ape from waist up, almost entirely human from waist down…..

    And H. erectus is for all intents and purposes a half-human half-australopithecine skeleton. Australopithecine (with some modifications) from neck up, and virtually exactly entirely human from neck down…..

  21. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    When I read Origin, I thought “Here’s yet another example of Darwin’s genius. At the same time as Ishmael was certain that whales should be classed as fish, Darwin’s positing evolution of whales from an ancestral bear. Looking at Pakicetus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pakicetus_BW.jpg), he’s not far off the mark.”

  22. amphiox says

    At the same time as Ishmael was certain that whales should be classed as fish, Darwin’s positing evolution of whales from an ancestral bear.

    Well, the Ancient Greeks knew that dolphins and whales were mammals.

  23. WishYouWereHere says

    Anne Coulter should be the last person to demean evolution given her memes abilities to survive and reproduce.

    Like carpetbaggers and her fellow media barkers, her schtick provides her a very comfortable living. Further, Ms Coulter probably doesn’t give a damn about what her critics think or say other than to use us as fodder to generate more of her hate filled bull. In the end, it doesn’t matter (to her) whether she believes her own words or whether what she says is true, her gig is about the money.

    After all, she’s a product of her culture.

  24. ManOutOfTime says

    How do you Google bomb a person? A Coulter is a person who makes a living – in her case, a lucrative one – spouting bullshit they can’t possibly believe just because it pisses off liberals and eggheads. I was unimpressed with her as a “political” pundit; as an anti-science pundit, she’s even worse! She’s repeating the lamest, weakest “arguments” of the Behe variety. Lazy pathetic plagiarist. I hope for her sake if she ever gets cancer she seeks out physicians with a better grasp of reality than her followers. On the other hand, I hope her broker doesn’t – she’d be destitute in a snap.

  25. Twisty says

    No whalebears, therefore god. Also, all science is wrong. The Grand Canyon was made by floodwater when our heavenly father got pissed off and decided to commit genocide, the lack of whalebears, crocoducks and the like means all life popped into existance exactly as it is today. If all he was going to do was pop life into existance on one tiny, insignificant rock, I suppose he made a universe many orders of magnitude larger than it needed to be for that just so he could show off?

    I love how radioisotope dating can be discounted by suggesting that the principles of radioactive decay haven’t been constant theoughout history. Has anyone come up with some alternative wacko fundie theory of radioactive decay to explain this? Physicists need to ‘teach the controversy’ as well!

    These people need to learn that “it doesn’t fit with my theory, therefore it is wrong” thing is not how you do science.

  26. Chris says

    In my limited knowledge and understanding of paleontology,what I don’t understand is that from what I’ve read and heard “fossilization” regardless of how many we’ve found is still considered a “rare” occurrence.The conditions under which fossilization can occur are exact and don’t happen that often.If that is true wouldn’t it be logical to assume that the lack of transitional fossil or gaps in the fossil records in addition to not having found them yet,could be due to them simply not existing because fossilization is a rare process?
    I mean just because that fossil doesn’t exist doesn’t necessarily mean that species never did right?
    This all just seems like common sense to me,so if I am wrong I would appreciate if someone could set me straight :D
    Thanks

  27. herr doktor bimler says

    Am I following the argument correctly? All the life-forms 500 million years ago were nothing like the species currently occupying Earth, therefore Evolution never happened?

  28. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    that the principles of radioactive decay haven’t been constant theoughout history.

    This means the weak force isn’t constant. And if it did change, what would be the distribution of isotopes at the moment? A simple calculation based on nuclear binding energy. Funny how that never, ever, seems to have been calculated. Almost like they know, but can’t report the answer, because they are WRONG!.

  29. squidmaster says

    Coulter is a troll. I doubt that she believes the crap she writes. She gets paid for it and is willing to be a shill for the wingnuts. While there are clearly some people who are real biblical literalists, most of the political literalists embrace these silly positions because they can drive a wedge between folks who don’t know and the left. People on the left also espouse silliness. Most woo-woo adherents of my acquaintance are also progressive. Of course pagans, whose idea of religion is dancing naked around the fire and chanting, are greatly preferred to republicans.

    So. What should we do? Feed the troll? I guess we do. The press will interview Coulter and act like she has the credentials to make pronouncements on evolutionary biology, even though I, not an evolutionary biologist, know more about the subject than she.

  30. CS Miller says

    for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat

    Has she never heard of a flying squirrel? Give them few millennia of selective pressure and their defendants could well become bat-like.

  31. anchor says

    “…this week [Coulter] focuses on fossils.”

    Damn, I chipped a tooth and bit off a half-inch of my tongue when my jaw hit after my elbow slipped off the edge of my desk.

  32. john maltby says

    “We don’t have fossils for any intermediate creatures in the process of evolving into something better.”

    I forgot that we used the tree of life as a hierarchy.

  33. says

    What worries me about the unfunny fundies is that they retard every aspect of life.

    Back in the earlier Middle Ages Arab Science ruled. Much of the work of the Greeks came to Europe through Arabic translation; think of all those terms from, algebra and algorithm to the names of stars that owe their origin to the Arabs. Then the fundies and the That-Goeth-Against-the-Koran-ists got power, and from about 1500 till now they lost all that early advantage.
    There was no Arab Renaissance; Industrial Revolution; Age of Enlightenment; anything.
    If it wasn’t for the oil that our own development needs so much they would still be utterly buggered.
    If we get Dominion-ised or whatever, woe for our descendants, for their lives are like to be woeful.

  34. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Has she never heard of a flying squirrel? Give them few millennia of selective pressure and their defendants could well become bat-like.

    If the defendants start sprouting wings then heaven help our criminal justice system.

  35. SLC says

    Re Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says: @ #41

    Actually, there are other possibilities. These include a larger value of Planck’s Constant, and a larger value of the neutron/proton mass difference. Of course, there is not a jot or a tittle of evidence for either of these.

  36. slc1 says

    Re Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls @ #41

    Actually, there are other possibilities. These include a larger value for Planck’s Constant and/or a larger value for the neutron/proton mass difference. Of course, like the weak coupling constant being larger in the past, there is not a jot or a tittle of evidence to support any of these explanations.

  37. says

    It isn’t like there isn’t a large number of specimens–or a large body of literature–about late Neoproterozoic animal fossils. Heck, go to the reading list for my grad seminar of three years ago and check out weeks 4 and 5. (And it isn’t like there haven’t been major contributions since Spring 2008!)

  38. says

    It is interesting that the one scientific theory that these people continually bang on about is the theory of evolution.

    I hadn’t thought about it before, but you’re right!

    The Bible describes God as creating the sun, moon, and stars and placing them in the dome of the sky over earth- pretty much all of modern astronomy contradicts the Bible.

    The Bible has the earth at about 6,000 years old, so geology also contradicts the Bible.

    According to the Bible, you can cause a sheep to bear spotted lambs by showing it spotted wood while it’s mating: genetics also contradicts the Bible.

    I’m not thinking about miracles here, I’m trying to think of science that is in conflict with the way the Bible describes the world as working in the normal course of events.

  39. jose says

    Forget fossils.

    Colugos. Mudskippers. Sea lions. Dugongs. Flying fish. Duck’s feet. How can someone look at those and not think immediately about evolution? Gawd it’s so evident.

  40. Aquaria says

    I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?

    She expected them not to look like the average conservatard.

  41. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    We don’t need to know anything about the history of the weak coupling constant or any of those other parameters. It’s an observed fact that the decay of Uranium, Thorium, and Potassium 40 (mainly) over 4.5 billion years has been enough to keep most of the Earth molten. If the decay were 750,000 times as fast, like the YECs want, I leave to the imagination what effect that would have—would the Earth merely be vaporized or turned into a plasma?

    Actually, it’s worse than that—they need a lot of that decay to have occurred during the 40 days and 40 nights the Ark was floating on the water. Good luck with that.

  42. Djahn says

    I’m back to thinking that Coulter is a fraud and writes this shit only for the money.

    Bingo. She’s a very intelligent woman and knows this shit isn’t true. But it sells books and it gets her gigs on talk shows.

    An honest person makes a living honestly. She isn’t one, and doesn’t.

  43. Edward Neubauer says

    It’s simply another case of idolatrous faith. The faith itself _is_ the dogma. No amount of evidence will ever prod Coulter into learning anything new. What’s sad is that there is a large minority whose brains are in this OFF position.

  44. says

    I love how radioisotope dating can be discounted by suggesting that the principles of radioactive decay haven’t been constant theoughout history. Has anyone come up with some alternative wacko fundie theory of radioactive decay to explain this? Physicists need to ‘teach the controversy’ as well!

    The closest I’ve seen is a book called Thousands, Not Billions (which I reviewed on my own website in Part I and Part II). They did the typical creationist strategy of cherry picking data that they think supports their position, but ignoring the vast bulk of the data that contradicts them.

  45. Dan L. says

    Coulter isn’t nuts, unless you count being a total intellectual sellout as a kind of crazy. If she thought embracing the modern scientific consensus would sell a million books, she’d have tiktaalik on her next cover.

  46. lopsided says

    Why is everyone so convinced Ann Coulter doesn’t believe what she’s saying? I saw her interviewed no-holds-barred on CBC once and she came off astonishingly stupid. She was clueless about everything: politics, current events, general knowledge, history, science. The simpler explanation is she’s just an idiot.

  47. Ragutis says

    Chris says:
    3 September 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I mean just because that fossil doesn’t exist doesn’t necessarily mean that species never did right?
    This all just seems like common sense to me,so if I am wrong I would appreciate if someone could set me straight :D
    Thanks

    Good point. Pushing that line of “thinking” just a tad further, they’d have to believe that there were only a grand total of 30 T-rex’s ever and that hundreds of critters like poor little Staurikosaurus and Saurornithoides were created by a loving god to live and die unique and alone.

  48. says

    A Precambrian animal should look like a rabbit.

    Because:
    1. Precambrian rabbits would falsify evolution
    2. Evolution is false
    Therefore, there are Precambrian rabbits.

    How’m I doing on my Creationist Logic? Pretty special, eh?

  49. maxamillion says

    Oh PZ, there is only so much ignorance the one can stand on the weekend. We really need a NSFS (Not Safe for Sunday) flag.

    The comments on that article are truly depressing.

  50. Non-Biblical Paul says

    I feel sorry for anyone who assumes the dismal task of rummaging through Ann Coulter’s conceit, as if it will ever matter.

  51. says

    I didn’t read through all the posts. But I had a question. What on earth would a transitional fossil look like anyway? How would a researcher know if he/she was holding one up or not. How in the world could you tell if it is “in transition” if a species is transitioning over millions of years?

  52. scenario says

    Creationist have a hard time understanding the concept of selection. They seem to believe that everything is either planned or completely random.

    One analogy for selection I use is a cereal box. Most cereal boxes come with large pieces on top and powder on the bottom. Did the cereal company put a layer of powder, then a layer of small pieces, then progressively larger pieces, leaving the biggest ones at the top? What are the chances that all of the thousands of pieces just randomly arranged themselves that way? They must have been put there that way on purpose.

    No, in simple terms, when the box is shaken things inside move randomly. Because of gravity, everything tends to settle towards the bottom of the box but powder is the smallest so it is more likely to fall through the cracks and reach the bottom.

    Evolution like the settling of cereal in a box is not random, but contains some random elements but it is also not planned.

  53. Non-Biblical Paul says

    @ Ned:

    Everything that has ever been born, when it was born, it was only a part of one species. What Coulter is saying is that she needs things to be born as a part of two species simultaneously, before she’ll consider contriving another embarrassing reason to deny evolution. Transitional fossils don’t mean a thing to her.

    A transitional species would bear much resemblance to an earlier and a latter species, both in appearance and in it’s genes.

  54. Non-Biblical Paul says

    Ned,

    A transitional fossil, or a transitional species, could look like anything. If you want a good example of what a transitional species looks like, look at yourself in a mirror, because you, like all modern humans, are a transitional species between Homo Erectus and the human species that follows modern humanity, if humanity doesn’t go extinct. Every species that ever came before us was a transitional species between two other species, dating all the way back to the first life on the planet. Every species alive today has the potential of being a transitional species.

  55. McCthulhu says

    Can you imagine how productive the human race would be if we weren’t all spinning our wheels in ignoramuck, trying to teach reality to the likes of Coulter? I’m afraid that PZ’s teaching moments are utterly wasted because it’s now obvious that the truly and willfully ignorant* are deeply infested with Dunning-Kruger virus. They will always fight back, regardless of how wrong they are and what evidence is produced. Even if she is a Poe, she’s peddling to people that think she’s for real, and considering she could buy several houses and cars with that money, that much income from that many dolts is both horrifying and depressing to me.

  56. Anri says

    All fossils are transitional fossils.
    Species are, if I understand things, merely convenient and nearly arbitrary labels we put on creatures to tell us if they’re regularly having babies with one another or not.

  57. DLC says

    Ned: it’s an intentional misunderstanding on the part of creationists. They hear the words “Transitional form” and assume that a dog gave birth to something that is half dog and half cat.
    So, when you see a creationist bleat “there are no traditional forms” you’ll know that what they really mean is, there are no Crocoducks.

  58. Craigore says

    And out come the fundies. I swear FSTD.net might possibly implode from the sheer weight of stupidity dripping from the comments section.

  59. jose says

    Non-Biblical Paul,
    I don’t think a transitional fossil is meant to show a transition between species. The transition from one species to another is usually too rapid to leave any footprint in fossil form anyhow, and further we can’t tell whether one fossil species is a direct descendant from another species specifically, normally we haven’t got that kind of accuracy. What a transitional fossil allows us to say is that the real family link was very likely to be similar and to have undergone similar evolutionary transformations. What this means is transitional forms give us an idea of how the real link could have evolved, regardless of whether or not the fossil actually is part of the lineage or a relative. For example, a lot of feathered dinosaurs can’t be ancestors of modern birds because birds were contemporary to them. However, those dinosaurs give us valuable information about the evolution of feathers and we can apply that knowledge to figure out what the real ancestors of birds were like.

    Transitions refer to larger groups like orders and classes (for example we say archaeopteryx is a transitional form between two classes: reptiles and birds). Sometimes we go a bit lower in the hierarchy and say Australopithecus is transitional between humans and apes (meaning between homo and all the other hominids, so now we’re talking about a genre and a chunk of a family). However, we don’t say they are transitional between chimpanzees and modern humans.

  60. Donttellhimpike says

    PZ, YOU GIT! I followed the link and got dragged into the stupid and stayed waaaaay too long among the creationists. I have to go and bathe now…

  61. mythusmage says

    Observations:

    On Worms;

    I forget the formal name, but I do remember it being called the cnidarian worm. Basically a jelly in tube form, and the free swimming phase of a parasite once known as a slime mold. As far as I can figure it, it takes a tubular shape because of the medium it dwells in, a tube being the shape an animal with no appreciable structural integrity would take in a liquid such as water. Domes and cups being comparatively advanced structures all things considered.

    On The Cambrian Revolution;

    Look at it this way, in about one million years the rise of civilization is going to appear abrupt.

  62. Djahn says

    Why is everyone so convinced Ann Coulter doesn’t believe what she’s saying? I saw her interviewed no-holds-barred on CBC once and she came off astonishingly stupid. She was clueless about everything: politics, current events, general knowledge, history, science. The simpler explanation is she’s just an idiot./

    Ignorance sells, and she knows it.

    There are an awful lot of stupid people out here, and they simply don’t understand the importance of intelligence. In fact, many are intimidated by intelligence and don’t trust intelligent people. They’ll trust a mouth breather who believes in Jebus. But they won’t trust somebody who understands basic scientific or economic principles.

    The biggest problem is that these people have the power to vote. The United States is devolving into an idiocracy. And the Rick Perrys, Sarah Palins, and Michele Bachmanns, cheered on by the Glen Becks, Rush Limbaughs, and Ann Coulters are directly responsible.

  63. Iain Walker says

    Nerdette (#23):

    I even recall my professor chuckling when it was mentioned during discussion, and commenting that Darwin removed the example in later editions. Did he touch the topic again later, and I’m just ignorant?

    I don’t think Darwin did, but you have to bear in mind that Coulter isn’t working from the scientific literature (modern or historic) – she’s working from creationist myths about evolution. And this creationist mythmaking reflects their own simple-minded, reactionary biases, in particular the notion of authoritative texts and the idea of a fixed and inerrant body of wisdom arising in the past and being handed down over generations. Basically, poor unimaginative souls that they are, they project these biases onto others.

    So if Darwin said something, it must be what “Darwinists” think. It doesn’t matter if Darwin had second thoughts or if subsequent discoveries have shown him to be right in some respects and wrong in others. All that matters was that Darwin said it.

    Coulter may or may not be smart enough to realise that she’s talking out of her arse – I neither know nor care. But consciously or otherwise, she is nevertheless constructing her “argument” according to fairly standard rules of creationist-think.

  64. Scott says

    P-Zed, why do you even bother responding to her? Perhaps if she had some background in evolutionary biology she’d be worth it. It’s like arguing with a 5-year-old over eating vegetables; you can argue all you want about the health benefits of veggie-eating, but the 5-year-old will still just keep saying “But they’re yucky!”

  65. madtom1999 says

    I’m beginning to wonder if she may accidentally have a point: there seem to be no evolutionary stages between naive and rantingly ignorant. From a misinterpretation to full blown deliberate twisting of everything they see and hear. Information catastrophe theory anyone?

  66. madbull says

    5 to 10 millions years is a small period of time in evolutionary language. Is it small for a creator who poofed things into existence ? What took him so long ?

    Seriously what is she talking about :-/

  67. madbull says

    @richardelguru,

    You got me thinking about Mesopotamia and current day Iraq and made me very very sad. Would the world have looked very different if that mohammed loon wasnt around ? Nah, they’d find someone else but maybe not this loony!

  68. says

    You can lead a horse to water,
    but you can’t make it drink;
    you can lead a creationist to evidence,
    but you can’t make her think!
    ———————————– Burma-Shave

  69. Carlie says

    Why is everyone so convinced Ann Coulter doesn’t believe what she’s saying? I saw her interviewed no-holds-barred on CBC once and she came off astonishingly stupid. She was clueless about everything: politics, current events, general knowledge, history, science. The simpler explanation is she’s just an idiot.

    That’s my take on it as well. I see no reason to believe she’s some kind of shrewd manipulator taking everyone for a ride. She presents herself as an idiot, I’m going to think of her as an idiot. I’m not giving her an ounce of benefit of thinking she’s any smarter than she purposely presents herself to be.

  70. -RT says

    The comments on Wing Nut Daily are just sad.

    Someone actually asked “why are there still monkeys?” and got several “likes” and supporting comments.

  71. DLC says

    Oooh. My own Typo @73:

    “So, when you see a creationist bleat “there are no traditional forms” you’ll know that what they really mean is, there are no Crocoducks.”

    Of course, that should have been transitional, not traditional.
    It is, however, traditional for Creationists to cry out “where’s the Crocoduck!?” when the subject of transitional forms comes up.

  72. rumleech says

    I’m still waiting for someone to find a transitional fossil between humanity and Ann Coulter.

  73. slc1 says

    Re The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge @ #56

    Oh ye of little faith. Obviously, the speed of light was much lower back then so that the energy from radioactive decay was also much lower (E = mc^2 and all that). End snark.

  74. kev_s says

    Creationists are so obsessed with the Cambrian explosion because they want to infer god’s interference in order to explain the ‘sudden’ appearance of life. The fossils from China not only prove a prediction of evolution (and therefore strengthen the theory, not weaken it) but that fact that there are fossils of something rather than nothing also disproves the ‘hand of god’ theory in the Cambrian explosion. Another ‘gap’ that god has been eliminated from.

  75. Ned says

    Thanks for the info, all. So all fossils technically are transitional. I get that. And I agree with (72) @Anri then, that all species are arbitrary and merely convenient. So does this make “species” unscientific?

  76. KG says

    Ned@93,

    No, “species” is not unscientific, but it’s a term with a long history, taken into science from earlier philosophical language, and gradually transformed as scientific biology developed. Linnaeus, who originated the modern system of biological classifications, thought of species as unchanging and well-defined, so any organism belonged unambiguously to one species, but evolutionary theory explains the overwhelming evidence that this is not so: evidence of doubtful cases in the present day, and of species change over time. Anri@72 said “nearly arbitrary”. That’s probably true in most cases if you consider species over evolutionary time (although there are some exceptions, e.g. plant species that arise in a single generation by polyploidy); but at a specific time, such as now, there are many very well-defined species – such as Homo sapiens. There are well over a hundred definitions of “species”, but a lot of them would coincide in most cases, such as our own. There’s no single, correct definition, but if the difference between definitions is important for the issue they are looking at, biologists should specify what definition they are using.

  77. jose says

    Ned,
    God no, not all fossils are transitional. A few are. Most species just live for a while and then go extinct. For example, there’s nothing transitional about Tyrannosaurus or Smilodon or Gigantopithecus as far as I know.

  78. Ned says

    @kg – well formed, well put.

    @jose – see, this is where I have problems. Wouldn’t those fossils have to be transitional? Although I have a hard time with it, I know many say the “dinosaur species” transitioned (evolved) into birds.

    Otherwise, I can see why there is such confusion.

  79. David Marjanović, OM says

    I mean just because that fossil doesn’t exist doesn’t necessarily mean that species never did right?

    We have a winner.

    Bingo. She’s a very intelligent woman and knows this shit isn’t true. But it sells books and it gets her gigs on talk shows.

    She’s very stupid, and I’m not sure if she cares whether this shit is true (…her utter lack of effort to educate herself suggests she doesn’t). But it sells books and it gets her gigs on talk shows.

    I forget the formal name, but I do remember it being called the cnidarian worm.

    Buddenbrockia. And no, cnidosporidans were never considered slime molds, though they were considered $NOT_ANIMALS.

    I know many say the “dinosaur species” transitioned (evolved) into birds

    Most of them didn’t. Remember: the tree of life isn’t a pole, it’s a tree.

    (Or actually a coral.

    “The tree of life should perhaps be called the coral of life, base of branches dead; so that passages cannot be seen.”

    – C. Darwin, Notebook B, p. 25)

    Any problems left? :-)

  80. claimthehighground says

    Ann’s “pre-Cambrian animal”: Fabio. Wait, no, it is Rick Perry. I always get those two mixed up. Me bad.

  81. peterh says

    “…I followed the link and got dragged into the stupid and stayed waaaaay too long among the creationists. I have to go and bathe now.”

    Unclean until sunset, eh? There’s a book somewhere about that deals in such matters.

  82. mythusmage says

    Buddenbrockia!

    That’s the fellow! Lives between fish as a very basic worm (not much structure to it) and in fish as an amorphous parasitic blob.

    Also the only animal which reproduces via spores, which leads me to suspect that buddenbrokia is not a true animal, but belongs to a super-kingdom that includes a kingdom of slime molds and animalia itself.

    Just a suspicion on my part.

  83. says

    Annye coulter is a total fraud, it is impossible for someone to be so thick and ignorant. She has her fingers in her ears and is singing “lalalalala”, while catering to the “dumb is beautiful” population. I want to throw up.

  84. David Marjanović, OM says

    Buddenbrockia!

    That’s the fellow! Lives between fish as a very basic worm (not much structure to it) and in fish as an amorphous parasitic blob.

    No. Lives in the body cavity of bryozoans as a very basic worm.

    Also the only animal which reproduces via spores, which leads me to suspect that buddenbrokia is not a true animal, but belongs to a super-kingdom that includes a kingdom of slime molds and animalia itself.

    Just a suspicion on my part.

    *headdesk* You see, there’s a reason scientists don’t do phylogenetics by one character.

    In particular, “spore” is just a word. How about “egg”?

    It is not merely an animal in general, but specifically a cnidarian, and so are all the other myxozoans. Check out the four references in this article.

  85. Carbon Based Life Form says

    the speed of light was much lower back then

    There’s an Australian creationist named Barry Setterfield who seriously argues this to solve a problem for Young Earth Creationists: How to reconcile the demonstrated fact that there are astronomical objects more than 6,000 light years away from the Earth. Setterfield wrote a pamphlet, The Velocity of Light and The Age of The Universe saying that since the speed of light, C, has decreased over time, reaching the current value in 1960. There are a couple of problems with his hypothesis. The first is the selection of data.

    The first determination of C was made by Römer in 1675. Setterfield claims that older measurements gave too-high values of C suspiciously often, and that the measurement errors do not completely account for that. Setterfield argued that some of the measurements should be included in his graph, and some rejected. In some cases, he used adjusted values, rather than the values published by the original authors.

    Setterfield gives a graph of the measurements of C in which he is honest enough to include error bars. A line from the center of the 1960 measurement that is parallel to the x-axis will miss exactly two error bars, both from the 19th century and neither by very much.

    Clocks that were really accurate enough to make really good measurements did not even begin to appear until the 19th century, and were not really available until the 20th. But let me give Setterfield the benefit of the doubt, and say that he can start with data from 1675. He says that creation took place 6000 years ago, but attempts to draw a curve using data from only the last 4.75% of the period, and he really should reject all data from before about 1875, which means the last ~1.5% of the time period. This does not inspire confidence in his curve.

    The formula Setterfield gives for his curve (prior to 1960) is:

    C = 299792.5 km/sec * cosec^2 (T)

    Where T = π * t / 12000 yrs

    Thus t = 0 at 4040 BC and t = π/2 at 1960 AD

    He arrived at his formula by fitting data from 1675 thru 1960 to the formula:

    log C(T) = A + B * log sin(T)

    The thing to notice is that “T” has already been defined prior to the fit. He gets away with this because all his data points fall very close to T = π/2; t = 5715 at 1675 AD gives T = .9525 * π/2.

    This means that to an excellent approximation:

    sin(T) = 1 – .5 * (π/2 – T)^2

    The next term is (pi/2 – T)^4/4!, and is less than 1/1000 of the included term at 1675 AD. Considering that log(1+x) ~= x for small x, what this amounts to is fitting to the formula:

    log C(t) = a + b * (k*t)^2 = a + b*k^2 * t^2

    where t is “years before 1960″. In other words, only the value of b*k^2 affects the fit. We can pick k at will and adjust b to get the same fit. To check this, I’ll try doubling and halving k. This gives the formulas:

    c1(t) = c0 * sec(π/2 * t/6000) ^ 2 (Setterfield’s)

    c2(t) = c0 * sec(pi/2 * t/3000) ^ .5

    c3(t) = c0 * sec(pi/2 * t/12000) ^ 8

    Here is a comparison of the resulting values:

    t c1/c0-1 c2/c0-1 c3/c0-1

    10 6.85392e-6 6.85395e-6 6.85392e-6
    100 6.85702e-4 6.85938e-4 6.85644e-4
    200 2.74658e-3 2.75036e-3 2.74563e-3
    285 5.5878e-3 5.6035e-3 5.5839e-3

    In case anyone is inclined to quibble over the quality of the agreement here, I’ll point out that the exponent of -2 in Setterfield’s equation is an approximation to -1.94665385 which he obtained from the curve. This gave a value of c = 301423 km/sec in 1675 AD compared to 301468, 301472, and 301467 for each of the “approximate” formulas. Setterfield stated of his approximation that “It is simple and precise and has exactly the same features and values of C throughout” (compared to the exact formula.)

    To beat this to death, the simplest formula which has the

    log C = a + b*t^2

    characteristic which determines the fit is simply:

    C = c0 * exp( (t/2737.71)^2 )

    This matches Setterfield’s “exact” fit better than his approximation, but it doesn’t go to infinity at any finite time in the past. At t=6000 it gives a mere 3,300,000 km/sec, ten times the present value.

    To sum up then, even if you go along with Setterfield all the way through his data selection and curve fitting, the resultant speed of light as a function of time does not lead to the conclusion that it was infinite at any certain time in the past. Setterfield simply injected the figure of 6000 years into his formula and built around it.

    What Setterfield is doing is called “blinding with science”. In order to understand both his argument and my response to it, a pretty solid knowledge of mathematical analysis is required. (Setterfield also does some fairly impressive handwaving about the r squared statistical test.)

    There is a non-mathematical response to Setterfield at Talkorigins.org

    Of course, studies of supernova 1987A have conclusively demonstrated that the speed of light has been constant for at least the last quarter of a million years.

    Another response to the problem of astronomical objects antedating creation is that God created these various objects with the light from them already enroute to the Earth. Leaving aside various philosophical problems with that — how do we know we weren’t created five minutes ago with all our memories created with us — this doesn’t work on purely creationist grounds. The creationists insist that we must accept the Genesis account of creation because to reject it means that God is lying, and God always tells the truth. Yet this explanation says that God is lying.

  86. says

    Stonyground @6

    Guarantee this was covered before, but it’s because it’s not actually about God at all. It’s about the importance of humans.

    The point of believing in a “Personal God” who has your back and is really interested in every person you do or do not fuck and who cares so much that he’s willing to destroy the world in your generation just to make you the most meaningful generation of humans, is really one giant love letter to the self.

    It lets one feel important in an uncaring unjust universe, like you were personally chosen, created, separated from the beasts, and that you are important no matter what you do on this “meaningless physical plane” so you don’t even feel the pressure to become a really big person here on Earth and leave your mark in good deeds or great works.

    The resistance to evolution is not in how it separates God from the equation, but the way it includes man. Man is now just another part of a long and storied puzzle of nature, completely a part of the world, rather than its culmination, the thing set to rule the world as it sees fit.

    You see this in the resistance to other connections to the world. The resistance to global warming acknowledgment because of how that presumes a human connection and responsibility to the planet and its ecosystem. Vegetarianism or animal rights owing to their assumption of compassion rather than dominance of the animal kingdom (note here that I do not actually believe that vegetarianism makes one more “moral”, just noting the reasons for the violent resistance among a certain type of God-botherer).

    At all points, the idea of being connected, of being a larger part of an amorphous cloud is the thing that they run to religion to escape from. To find the purpose of being special. The one called. The one celestial battles take place over. Who is set to rule everything if not in life then as part of the True Believers in death.

    God has always been the convenient excuse. What they are really worried about is the diminishment of Man.

  87. Frank says

    I wonder how Darwinists explain Ann Coulter’s Adam’s Apple? If Intelligent Design is correct then God evidently doesn’t like her either. She is Rush Limbaugh without the charm, a dated and no longer relevant archetype for Palin; proud to be stupid, admired only conservatives who need masturbation-material. There are, by an order of magnitude, more transitional fossils discovered by science than there ever were Ann Coulter fans. PZ loses more brain cells in an hour than she has ever displayed in her trivial life; best to ignore her.

  88. Qwerty says

    The Rev. Big Dump Chimp insists Coulter is a satirist.

    The problem is her devotees don’t realize this.

  89. drbunsen le savant fou says

    I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like.

    Rabbits, presumably.

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  91. John Morales says

    Stupid bible spammer:

    True faith comes from knowledge.

    Faith is for when one lacks knowledge.

    Also, everything one needs to know about the bible is that it’s a fairy-tale, only it takes itself seriously.