There’s something fishy about that fish

Institute for Creation Research President Dr. John Morris has taken to recycling; in this case he’s dusted off some nonsense from an article he wrote 3 years ago titled “Evolution’s Biggest Hurdles” (Morris 2008) and repackaged it as “The Biggest Problems for Evolution” (Morris 2011).

As I usually do I started out writing a point by point re-rebuttal to Morris’s new article; even though I already wrote a fairly extensive rebuttal to the earlier version. However, as I was writing, and as it got longer and longer, I realized that I was going to bury the lead way too deep. So, I am dropping most of the rehashing and jump to the new issues I want to address.

First though just a little of the lead in for context:

Morris: Even though the gaps in the fossil record are found between each basic animal type, there are two huge gaps in particular that should be emphasized. The evolutionary distance between single-cell organisms and the vast array of multicellular, highly complex marine invertebrates precludes even rapid evolution.

Oh boy, this is déjà vu all over again.

From earlier context (see below) the “rapid evolution” he is referring to here is supposed to be punctuated equilibrium, however P.E. about apparent, geologically, “rapid” transitions (say a few tens of thousands of years) and concerns species level transitions (like those necessary to evolve horses and zebras from a common ancestor) not multicellular organisms from unicellular ones. Again, I’ll have more on his use of P.E. below.

As for the gap between unicellular and multicellular organisms the (really) short answer is: choanoflagellates (colony forming single celled organisms that are strikingly similar to cells found in sponges called choanocytes). Again, see my earlier post You can tune a piano but you can’t tunicate” for more.

Morris In the supposedly 600-million-year-old layers of rock designated as Cambrian (which contain the first appearance of varied multi-cell life), sponges, clams, trilobites, starfish, etc., are found without the required evolutionary ancestors.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I covered this before as well.

1) There are fossils of multicellular organism in Precambrian strata (the Ediacaran biota for example).

2) Amongst those Precambrian multicellular organisms are sponges and jellyfish.

3) “Clams” (bivalve mollusks) are known from the Cambrian but only from few tiny extinct types.

4) Starfish or sea stars (Class Asteroidea) fossils do not appear in the fossil record until the Ordovician.

Morris: The gap from marine invertebrates to the vertebrate fish is likewise immense.

Again, Dr. Morris doesn’t want you to know about invertebrate chordates or the evidence for a relationship between chordates and echinoderms. I’ll have more on this in a few moments.

OK, now we get to it:

Morris:  To make matters worse for the evolutionists, fish fossils are also found in Cambrian strata.

If we define the colloquial term “fish” in the usual way (in reference to all aquatic, gill bearing, vertebrates) then yes, a few genera of “fish fossils” have indeed been found in Cambrian strata.

However the word “fish”, is not a scientific term, so the question must be; exactly what sort of “fish” has been found in the Cambrian strata? Dr. Morris does not grace his readers with any further comment on this question; there is however a prominent illustration of a fossil fish that accompanies the article. Here is a screen shot of the page the article appears on:

And here is a larger version of the fish fossil picture:

I think it is fair to say that most people who are not particularly familiar with vertebrate phylogeny and paleontology—including most of Dr. Morris’s readers—might assume when they read in his article that “fish fossils are also found in Cambrian strata” that the large centrally displayed picture of a fossil fish might in fact be one of the Cambrian fish Morris is referring to.

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‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!

Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, just can’t seem to stop himself from saying ignorant things. And saying them about things for which there is no reason to be ignorant about even for a young earth creationist.

In the October issue of Acts & Facts, in yet another of a seemingly endless  parade of snarks about the Cambrian radiation (Morris 2008a) he throws out this little nugget about the famous mid-Cambrian Burgess Shale fossil locality:

Morris: In 1940, fossils of amazing clarity and diversity were found in Canada’s Burgess Shale. The extremely fine-grained shale preserved intricate details of previously unknown invertebrates.

The problem is the Burgess Shale was discovered by Charles Walcott in 1909 and quarried for fossils for decades before 1940. And as far as I know nothing significant regarding the Burgess Shale happened in 1940 either. But why get this wrong? Never mind bothering to crack a book on the subject, if Morris had bothered to Google the Burgess Shale the very first thing to pop up would have been the Wikipedia entry on the fossil locality which in a matter of seconds would have given him the correct date for its discovery.

It’s like he’s not even pretending to care about getting even the most basic and noncontroversial facts straight.

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More scientific ignorance from Dr. John Morris

Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research is at it again. Apparently not content with advertising his abject ignorance of zoology as he did a few months ago when he listed tunicates (phylum chordata) along with sea stars as members of the phylum echinodermata, he is now letting everyone know that he is equally incompetent to comment intelligently on the subject of paleontology (I know, I am as shocked as you are).

More specifically he has come out attacking the classic fossil evidence for the evolution of the horse in the September (2008) issue of ICR’s Acts & Facts.

Morris: Horse evolution prominently appears in textbooks as a supreme example of the evolution of one body style into another. All students remember the “horse series” sketches, tracing the development of a small browser named Hyracotherium (formerly known as Eohippus) with four toes on the front feet and three on the rear, into the large one-toed horse of today. Intermediate steps included the three-toed Mesohippus, a modified horse with one toe touching the ground [Emphasis mine]

Wrong right off the bat. The fact is that with Mesohippus all three toes touch the ground as can be seen in the above photo of a mounted fossil at the Chicago Field Museum. This is especially true when it is taken into account that Mesohippus probably would have had pads on its feet similar to those found in tapirs.

Tapir hooves

Tapir hooves

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You can tune a piano but you can’t tunicate…

The May (2008) issue of the Institute for Creation Research‘s monthly newsletter Acts & Facts contains an article by the current President of ICR, Dr. John Morris, titled “Evolution’s Biggest Hurdles“. The article is ostensibly about enumerating unsolved questions in evolutionary theory but instead what it does is highlight a deeply rooted set of character flaws in the “creation science” movement and its leaders: intellectual laziness (and/or dishonesty) combined with a lack of basic scientific literacy and colossal hubris.

While I understand that this article is a relatively short, non-technical piece, this does not in my opinion excuse the glaring omissions of relevant evidence about its supposed subject. Nor does the fact that Dr. Morris has a background in geological engineering forgive the zoological ignorance it displays. I am not a zoologist. I don’t have any degrees, but still I was able to immediately spot some of the rather glaring zoological errors and omissions in what Dr. Morris wrote. For someone who has been involved in the creation/evolution debate as long as Dr. Morris has it is difficult to fathom how he could not be better informed on such basic issues.

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