Footprints in the Sand

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January 11, 2010 Tags: History of Life

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

I have a confession to make. I almost hollered in frustration when I read what Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute wrote about this week’s cover story in Nature. Then I read Donald M‘s blog over at Uncommon Descent. It happened all over again—I almost hollered. I am the one who wrote that we need to imagine our exchanges as being like conversation over coffee. I am the one who indicated that as we put away our cups, we need to do so as friends. For far too long the discussion regarding this issue has been like people yelling at each other. The louder we yell, the less we hear. So here I am, coffee cup in hand, ruminating over what I fully expect was a sincere effort to do what they think is right, even though it seemed so wrong to me. I don’t want to holler, and I don’t want to be condescending, we all have to listen to each other. There is much at stake.

The Nature article describes the finding of “footprints in the mud”—some quite detailed—in what is now 395 million year old rock. This set of walks in what was then a marine intertidal zone represent the earliest vertebrate footprints ever discovered. Until last week’s publication, we didn’t know there were animals with backbones walking on land that early. This is 18 million years earlier than paleobiologists expected. I was shocked when I read the article, but my old scientific juices started to flow, too. Science thrives on unexpected results, especially when they show unequivocally that things are not as simple as they first thought. Scientists are—first and foremost—puzzle-solvers. Finding a new piece that doesn’t quite fit into the picture and then revising it accordingly is what brings great joy to being a scientist.

You may remember the excitement engendered by the 2006 report of the discovery of a well-articulated fossil in northern Canada. It contained the impression of the bones of Tiktaalik, a fish that 375 million years ago had obviously been able to support itself on land. Neil Shubin’s book, Your Inner Fish, describes the discovery of Tiktaalik. As one of my two all-time favorite science books, I wrote a blog post about it soon after we started Science and the Sacred last May. Now though, as a result of these footprints-in-the-mud, we know that neither Tiktaalik, nor any of its contemporary cousin species, was the transitional species that led to the first land vertebrates. That transition had occurred at least 18 to 20 million years earlier. As interesting as this information is, it will simply involve a revision in the timing of the origin of land vertebrates.

I am puzzled then, that Donald M. in his Uncommon Descent blog, concludes his discussion of the footprints story this way: “…as more and more discoveries like this one are forthcoming, it seems less and less likely that there even is an evolutionary tape to rewind.” Why would he conclude from this that evolution is untrue—that there was no evolutionary “tape?” Why does he think that because scientists were perhaps two percentage points off on their estimate of the timing of the origin of land vertebrates, that this puts the theory of evolution into crisis? Why does he tell people this?

Excuse me. I need to take another sip of my coffee.

Casey Luskin puts the “crisis” into a broader perspective. After telling the Tiktaalik story in his blog, he goes on to summarize four other cases where new data has emerged this year. For reasons, I do not understand he thinks that when new data arises it puts the entire theory into crisis. Here are his four other events:

  • Archaeoptrix, which has long been known to be closely related to the transitional species on the lineage from reptiles to birds, was shown to have a bone growth pattern which is more like a dinosaur than expected. This is minor tweaking. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that Archaeoptrix is the transitional species. There are likely a whole set of them and the chances that Archaeoptrix itself is on the lineage are probably quite slim. I’m not sure Luskin understands this.
  • The fossilized remains of a 4.2 million year old early hominid, Ardipithecus ramidus were described. Science magazine has declared this to be the most important discovery of 2009. True, there is some ambiguity as to whether this species was on the direct lineage to humans. It may well have been a cousin species. But we have new data and even a new species. The fact that it may or may not be on the direct lineage to humans is irrelevant to the theory of evolution. It doesn’t, in contrast to what Luskin states, even provide reason to doubt. It is beside the point.
  • A paper was published in which the authors conclude that birds may have arisen through the Archosaur lineage of reptiles rather than the dinosaur lineage. I think we can just wait for more data. I don’t know of any paleobiologist who has suggested that this creates reason to doubt that birds evolved from reptiles.
  • There was a great deal of media hype about the discovery of a primitive primate, Darwinius masillae, which lived 47 million years ago. (Primates include monkey, lemurs, apes, and humans.) For some reason this, the earliest complete primate fossil ever found, was touted by the media as a missing link to humans. All it did was fill in some missing data on very early stages of primate evolution 40 million years before the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees strolled upon the earth. It was a nice piece of data that provided a more complete story for primate evolution in general. Certainly its description and the media hype associated with it do not create reason to doubt that primates evolved.

Luskin concludes his discussion of these paleontology discoveries by citing a quotation from Francis Collins: "The evidence mounts every day to support the concept that we and all other organisms on this planet are descended from a common ancestor, and that the theory of evolution is really no longer a theory in the sense of being untested. It is a theory in the sense of gravity. It is a fact." Having quoted Collins, and having discussed the new data described above Luskin goes on to say, ”But yet we see the facts of neo-Darwinism constantly being revised.” Collins didn’t say that these five bits of the still emerging story were facts. He said that the theory of evolution is a fact. Of course, the details are being revised. Is not that how science works?

I need another sip of coffee.

Remember what Steven Benner said in his essay on December 30? “When scientists cease to be more critical of data that support their own hypotheses than data that contradict them, they soon lose the ability to distinguish reality from non-reality.” Science works through constant revision of the individual little hypotheses that make up the entire body of the theory. Luskin and Donald M don’t seem to understand this. Why did the footprints-in-the-mud make the cover of Nature magazine? Why is Ardipithecus on the cover of this week’s Science magazine? It is because scientists, when they are at their best, love to find pieces in a puzzle that don’t quite fit their pre-conceived notions.

So if ID is really science (and I believe it is), why are the scientific leaders of the movement allowing Casey Luskin and Donald M to make statements that are so illogical? With all due respect, as I wash my coffee cup and place it on the wall hanger beside the sink, I am thinking that the leaders owe it to members of the Church who are not scientists to make sure that this kind of writing ceases for good. It is not fair to the Church and it dishonors the discipline. Can we (I say ‘we’ because these people are my brothers and sisters in the family of God) get back on track? I hope so. There is much at stake.

Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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Darrel Falk - #2377

January 11th 2010

John,  ( Re: 2375)

We are indeed “stealth allies” in the cause that matters most of all in life.  Most of the DI people along with all of us here at BioLogos accept the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as being that from which we draw meaning in our lives.  This is so central to our purpose in life…indeed it is that alone which gives us purpose….that there is a bond between us that cannot be broken. 

So if the people over at Panda’s Thumb see us as allies they are seeing us through a special lens.  I’m delighted to see them looking through it.


John Kwok - #2378

January 11th 2010

@ Darrel -

As Barbara Forrest has noted in her writings apart from, of course, “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”, the Discovery Institute is an organization with a crypto - Fascist agenda, which has received ample financial support from one wealthy contributor, Howard Ahmanson Jr., a notorious Christian Reconstructionist, who has supported many Far Right Christian “Taliban” movements and individuals for years.

Are you certain that you want BioLogos to admit to being a “stealth ally” of an organization, the Discovery Institute, with clear-cut, well documented ties to the Fundamentalist Christian Right; an organization which has far more in common with the likes of Trotsky and Goebbels than it does with Jefferson, Adams and Franklin IMHO (I would appreciate it very much if your webmaster leaves this post of mine alone, especially when I am pointing out a most uncomfortable truth regarding the Discovery Institute.).

Respectfully yours,

John Kwok

P. S. I may quote you over at Panda’s Thumb. So you might want to rephrase what you’ve written.

Mere_Christian - #2379

January 11th 2010

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

1 Acts 1:1-3

Darrel, is that stuff that Luke wrote, really the equal of anything Gene Roddenberry created?

beaglelady - #2381

January 11th 2010

If ID is science, what does ID research look like?  If ID is science, is it legal to teach it in public schools as such?

John Kwok - #2382

January 11th 2010

@ Darrel -

The DI staff’s “acceptance” of Christ is one that insists that science and religion be intertwined inextricably, with any true “Christian scientist” doing both simultaneously. That is a most absurd position to take, especially when one considers the views of “mainstream” Christian scientists like Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller and Vatican Astronomer - and Jesuit Brother - Guy Consolmagno. I have heard both say, in public, that, as professional scientists, their scientific views are paramount, with no consideration at all of their religious beliefs (It is only when they are not working as scientists will they think of their religious beliefs.). I have known and worked alongside other religiously devout scientists who would agree with Miller and Consolmagno’s observations. Those who would disagree happen to be Discovery Institute “scientists” and other so-called “scientific creationists”.

Again, is this a valid position for you and BioLogos to find yourselves to be sympathetic to? I most certainly hope not.

John Kwok - #2384

January 11th 2010

@ Mere_Christian -

Of course the “gospel” of Gene Roddenberry is more important than Saint Luke’s. It’s been so ordained as “holy writ” in the religious documents of the Klingons, Bajorans and Romulans. After all, there is a reason why Roddenberry was known as “The Great Bird of the Galaxy”.

beaglelady - #2386

January 11th 2010

Incidentally, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is coming up very soon; it runs from the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter (January 18) through the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (January 25). That said, I think the DI should be upfront about their real agenda—getting their religious views taught in public school science classrooms.

karl Giberson - #2387

January 12th 2010


I would not say that BioLogos is a “stealth ally” of the DI.  But a shared belief in God as creator is significant.  Nevertheless, we are trying to promote strong science so we must critique them on their science, which is close to non-existent.  I just watched Darwin’s Dilemma, a DVD produced by the DI and was quite dismayed at the presentation.  Simon Conway Morris was “packaged” to look like an ID guy; Paul Nelson waxed eloquent about the “suddenness” of a Cambrian Explosion that he does not believe in, since he is a young earth creationist who rejects the geological epochs; and there were other examples that looked like attempts to mislead.

But I know these guys and they are not sinister characters.  They have simply gotten caught up in a political cause that is carrying them along in ways that they may not even understand themselves.

John Kwok - #2390

January 12th 2010

Karl -

I have been subjected to an online witch hunt from Bill Dembski over at And David Klinghoffer - a fellow alumnus of Brown University - has referred to me in “third person” as an “obsessed Darwinist” over at his Discovery Institute blog. If Dembski and Klinghoffer can do this to someone who is relatively unknown, then what else can one expect from the Discovery Institute? A lot more, unfortunately, and what I have noted in my two most recent posts, merely scratches the tip of the iceberg IMHO.


Gordon J. Glover - #2410

January 12th 2010

@beaglelady - #2381

“If ID is science, is it legal to teach it in public schools as such?”

I would answer that even though the holocaust denier is ‘doing history’ - it is bad history.  And we are not obligated to confuse impressionable young minds with ideas that are poorly researched, unsubstantiated, or politically motivated by teaching them everything that lies at the fringes of an academic discipline.

ID hasn’t even come close to earning a broad scientific consensus.  Not only would they have to demonstrate that ‘design’ has more explanatory and predictive power than the modern synthesis (sometheing they can do right now with existing data sets like genebank), but they would also have to solve the mind-body problem and demonstrate how an unidentified immaterial conciousness could manipulate organic macromolecules to create a suite of essential genes and DNA-replicating machinery.  After all, ‘design’ solves nothing without a viable causal mechanism by which a mind can act.  And unless the ID movement wants to jump on the panspermia bandwagon, they are left with trying explain, under the guise of science, how a deity perfroms miracles.

Brian - #2415

January 12th 2010

Karl @ 2367

“Ken Miller and others have at least partially refuted several of Behe’s case studies”

Citations please.

Brian - #2416

January 12th 2010

There will always be folks in these conversations who believe that stridency, hyperbole and name-calling constitutes argument.  While I appreciate your efforts, you may have noticed that appeals to reason only increased the volume, providing more heat and less light.  You may of course do what you will, but I myself gave up when “Klingon Cosmology” was invoked as a point of argument.

Mere_Christian - #2417

January 12th 2010

@John Kwok - #2384

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

- Jesus

(Words for BioLogos staff to live by.)

To those that believe in Jesus, this is good advice when dealing with those so enamored of themselves that they so effortlessly and ignorantly compare Christians to FASCISTS and TALIBAN terrorists.

Kwok, please keep to your word about my posts. (A nobleman speaking to a “troll?”) if you would be so “respectful.”  A person so eminent and morally and intellectually expansive as you present yourself to be, shouldn’t lower tehmselves to comment to such an average simpleton such as I.

I like it better when you turn your infidelsdotorgishness on the BioLogos staff.

John Kwok - #2420

January 12th 2010

@ Karl -

Take a look at Ian Musgrave’s work, Jerry Coyne’s, as well as Ken Miller’s with respect to irreducible complexity. All three have refuted virtually all - if not all - of Behe’s risible notion of Irreducible Complexity, which, I might add, was proposed originally by someone else back in 1918 and ignored. In particular, look at Behe’s understanding of the bacterial flagellum and also see how Behe has twisted and distorted published work on it in order to use that work to support his concept replete in its breathtaking inanity (For example, I spoke last fall to Yale University microbiologist Jorge Galan, who mentioned to me that Behe had misinterpreted work done by Galan’s team back in the early 2000s as “proof” of irreducible complexity in the bacerial flagellum
(This is yet another example of the rampant deceit practiced daily by Behe and his fellow Discovery Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers).



P. S. Peter Enns asked me to provide specific examples of Dembski’s sinister behavior. I suggest you, Peter and Darrel look carefully at them.

AusAdrian - #2423

January 12th 2010

@ John Kwok
In any other forum, I would say, “John Kwok, you are god”. That wouldn’t be appropriate in this forum, but in Australia it would just mean that you are to be applauded on your intellect. I found your writings so refreshing and reinforcing.

I have always been worried about how so called “Christians” can be so dishonest and deceitful in their writings. DI constantly misrepresents “The Theory of Evolution”. To say it is just a “theory”, is to display an ignorance of the status of scientific theory.

Secondly, why should we waste time in schools teaching ID? Do we waste time with the “flat earthers” in Geology classes? What about the “geocentric” in astronomy classes? Do they deserve equal time?

Thanks again John.

John Kwok - #2427

January 12th 2010

@ AusAdrian -

Thanks for adding a substantial level of sanity to this discussion. I greatly appreciate your comments.

AusAdrian - #2434

January 12th 2010

@Gregory Arago -

Trotsky and Goebbel influenced many people with propaganda. They were ruthless in their suppression of alternative views. I think John Kwok has evidence of the ruthless nature of repression within DI. Thus such a comparision is made.

John Kwok must be taken seriously, as he backs up his statements with facts.

I commend the moderater on allowing such discourse to take place.

There are limits to tolerance, but a moderated forum of words is hardly comparable to the the mass exposure of DI to thousands of christians via DVD, etc.

Just checked before I posted this comment. Went from #2423 to #2427 and then no more. My response was for @Gregory Arago, which has been removed.

John Kwok - #2438

January 12th 2010

Karl (continued) -

Here’s Dembski admitting that he contacted the Federal Department of Homeland Security regarding Pianka’s comments, falsely accusing Pianka as a potential “bioterrorist”:

Here’s Wikipedia’s take regarding Forrest Mims’s appraisal of Pianka’s comments, including his contact with Dembski:

Here’s David Bolinsky, the president of the science animation video firm that produced the Harvard University cell animation video “thanking” Dembski for admitting to his theft:

And here’s more over at Wikipedia:

There are credible reports that Dover Area School District had to pay $20,000 to Dembski as a potential witness for the defense, even though he opted not to appear at the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial.

John Kwok - #2439

January 12th 2010

@ Gregory -

Anyone who looks objectively at my list of Dembski’s repugnant behavior (see above), should conclude that his conduct mirrors Trotsky and Goebbels, as AusAdrian has noted. Regrettably, Dembski is not alone in such conduct, which seems to be the daily modus operandi of the Discovery Institute.

When will you answer these questions, please (Yes or No shall suffice):

1) Do you recognize, as scientific fact, biological evolution?

2) Do you recognize the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution, as the best, most comprehensive, scientific theory that exists now that accounts for the scientific fact of biological evolution?

Unapologetic Catholic - #2441

January 12th 2010


First, let me thank you for your efforts.

You said:

“I just watched Darwin’s Dilemma, a DVD produced by the DI and was quite dismayed at the presentation.  Simon Conway Morris was “packaged” to look like an ID guy; Paul Nelson waxed eloquent about the “suddenness” of a Cambrian Explosion that he does not believe in, since he is a young earth creationist who rejects the geological epochs; and there were other examples that looked like attempts to mislead.

But I know these guys and they are not sinister characters.”

Would you agree that fellow Christians may find your observations in these paragraphs irreconcilable and reasonably differ with you regarding the good faith of the Discovery institute?

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