4 (More) Nails in Discovery Institute’s Coffin

Last week, the Discovery Institute took its creationist road show to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Titled 4 Nails in Darwin’s Coffin, the event was sponsored by a student religious organization known as Pulse and the Victory Campus Ministries and included a showing of the pro-intelligent design movie Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record.

As Discovery Institute fellow Jonathan Wells said about the event in a news release, “The evidence is clear: Darwin was wrong about the origin of new species, organs and body plans. We are ready to show the next generation of young scientists just how wrong Darwin was.”

Of course, one of Discovery Institute’s featured tactics is to pretend that Darwin’s theory exists in a vacuum and that the scientific world has learned nothing in the past 150 years to advance knowledge of evolution and how it works. Destroy Darwin, destroy evolution. 

But in order to make that argument, they must conveniently discount, ignore or just lie about the vast amount of information made since then in the fields of genetics, molecular biology and evolutionary development. Perhaps to bring him up to speed a bit on the past century and a half, I’d like to make a helpful suggestion to Wells. He should read Sean Carroll’s wonderful book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Norton, 2005) for an understanding of how the evolution of genetic switches led to the formation of complex body forms in all their infinite and amazing variations.

As always, the discussions were from the same old playbook. Wells addressed the role of genetic switches in evolution by simply dismissing him with his tired argument that mutations in flies can only cause deleterious effects or no changes, saying, “DNA mutations cannot change the body plan.” He’s been making the same argument for years, evidence be damned.

Fortunately, SMU’s science faculty attended the lecture, so they are able to correct the record. John Wise, an SMU biology professor who, I’m told, suffered a painful headache from the event, has helpfully provided an informative page that explains why intelligent design is not science.

It’s really a good source for correcting the deceptive and deceitful assertions and I’m having a hard time picking out just one good example:

The Discovery Institute in their “Darwin’s Dilemma FAQ” state that “there are no clear evolutionary precursors to the Cambrian fauna.” The Cambrian explosion is generally accepted to have occurred around 520 million years ago.

Some of the known peer-reviewed science not cited in the film that completely demolishes this assertion by the Discovery Institute was reported by Gordon Love and colleagues last year:

Love found a very specific chemical, a variation of the steroid cholesterol, that is only made by the most primitive of animals, the porifera (click here for his paper). What is very interesting is that he found this “chemical fossil” in 635 million year old rocks!

115 million years before the Cambrian explosion animals already existed!

Love et al. state that these finds “represent the oldest evidence for animals in the fossil record.”

And he found them continuously in rocks dated closer and closer to the Cambrian, which tells us these animals survived all the way to the Cambrian radiation.

This work all by itself simply demolishes the assertion by the Discovery Institute that “there are no clear evolutionary precursors to the Cambrian fauna.”

The entire piece is worth a read, but if you only have time for a quick scan, I suggest the section, Did the Cambrian Explosion Require an Intelligent Designer? As a matter of fact, it would be terrific if someone sent a link to Don McLeroy to read. Last year, the Texas Board of Education member and ardent young earth creationist successfully led efforts to insert language into his state’s science curriculum that question evolution as it relates to the Cambrian Explosion.  

Still, after looking over all this, I do have one question. If the DI folk argue that evolution can’t account for the living diversity of the 60 million year time span of the Cambrian explosion, what exactly are they arguing? Are they saying that the omnipotent designer intentionally created all those various extinct life forms just to kill them off later?