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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 BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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John Kwok - #2491

January 12th 2010

@ Gregory Arago -

Don’t mince words with me. IMHO, judging from your comments, you are an ID creationist. Why don’t you just admit it? You still refuse to answer the two questions I have raised again and again.
Why, if you don’t mind my asking?

American science education is not in a state of “evolution”, but rather, “regression”. And I think I pointed out how and why, in the case of both Leica rangefinder cameras (the current M-mount) and the Nikon F SLR mount, cameras don’t evolve.

AusAdrian - #2492

January 12th 2010

@Gregory Arago-
I’m not sure what you mean by “other real supernatural things”.
Things are either real or supernatural, not both.
Also, you won’t answer John’s question until he answers yours. Interesting.
An example of something that doesn’t evolve. A rock. An individual mosquito. (Evolution is a population phenomenon). Are you equating the “evolution” of the modern motor car, which is clearly the result of “intelligent design”, with the evolution of vanco resistant enterococcus.

Gregory Arago - #2496

January 12th 2010

Thank you, John. Now I can answer your questions. Tomorrow.


Sure, supernatural can be real. Why not?

Bio - Life.

Logos - God’s word, reason, order.

The people behind this site (along with a majority of human beings on the planet, according to social surveys) believe that “God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s both supernatural and real. It doesn’t matter if one can or cannot ‘prove’ it in the ‘modern western scientific’ meaning of ‘proof.’ This is what we believe - supernatural *and* real.

I thank you, nonetheless, for answering a question that Gordon J. Glover wouldn’t, and that beaglelady dodged, and that finally John Kwok has now answered.

I’ll address that tomorrow.

Cheers, Gregory

AusAdrian - #2497

January 12th 2010

@Gregory Arago-
Thanks for your reply. I see your point, although as a western biology teacher, don’t agree with it. Nonetheless, thanks for your perspective.

Gordon J. Glover - #2498

January 12th 2010

“I’ll address that tomorrow.”  Now I won’t be able to sleep tonignt.

beaglelady - #2504

January 12th 2010

Now I won’t be able to sleep tonignt.

That’s because your wife is leaving you. (Because of your engineering degree.)

beaglelady - #2505

January 12th 2010

I thank you, nonetheless, for answering a question that Gordon J. Glover wouldn’t, and that beaglelady dodged…


I gave you an answer a while ago. My answer was that God doesn’t evolve.  Then you persisted in needling me for more answers and refused to provide your CORRECT ANSWERS©.  You also didn’t provide me with the requested list of words that might set you off as the e-word does. So I got tired of playing. Besides, if you want to pose riddles, why don’t you audition to sing Turandot at the Met? 

“Any man who desires to wed Turandot must first answer her three riddles. If he fails, he will be beheaded”
beaglelady - #2506

January 12th 2010

When their GODs began to meddle too much in their lives, the Klingons killed their GODS or drove off the Klingon homeworld Qo’nos.

Just one question, Captain John T. Kwok:

How many Klingons can dance on the head of a pin?

John Kwok - #2510

January 13th 2010

@ Beaglelady -

Henceforth, please address me as Starfleet Commander/Grand Nagus John T. Kwok. Just kidding of course….

Haven’t the foggiest idea how many Klingons can dance on the head of a pin? Reminds me of the question, “How many Brown students does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The correct answer is ten; one to screw it and nine to share in the experience.”

Live Long and Prosper,


John Kwok - #2511

January 13th 2010

@ Gordon (# 2498) -

Now that’s going to give me nightmares. Until I saw Gregory’s post, I had visions of Bill Dembski being chased by a pack of hungry velociraptors in “Jurassic Park V: Intelligent Design on Trial”.

Gregory Arago - #2578

January 13th 2010

Answer to my views of eVo biology:

“Darwin’s theory was good biology which was perverted by others to support bad sociology.” – T. Dobzhansky

As a non-biologist I am not qualified to evaluate the field of ‘evolutionary biology,’ or biology in general. I must trust those *in* the field & accept the grammar they choose. So, I accept Darrel’s & John’s (& AusAdrian’s) authority, or at least, respect the sovereignty of their realm.

I am *not* an ‘ID creationist’ & would appreciate not being harassed with this label.

L. Margulis is a ‘post-Darwinist’ biologist, says ‘Darwinism’ is closed-minded. M. Denton opposes ‘Darwinian mechanisms.’ Let’s not pretend there’s *no controversy* surrounding ‘evolution’ in biology. Behe is just 1 IDist among others seeking to move biology forward. M. Gene sees ‘teleology’ in evolution using ‘design’.

We’ll see @ biology, one field in the Academy that currently undergoes immense changes, e.g. “The Language of God” (2006).

That said, I believe in ‘Creation’ & in ‘creativity’ and in ‘design’ in so far as I see it in many ways & places around me. Those who deny *all* ‘design’ are obviously blind.

Gregory Arago - #2579

January 13th 2010

Is there a credible ‘science’ of ‘intelligent design’? No. It appears that IDists take seriously some ideas, such as ‘pattern recognition’ & ‘information specification,’ more than do many biologists.

There are 7 PhDs or Masters of Biology held by D.I. Fellows (10 higher degrees in Philosophy & 7 in Theology). They were educated at some of the top universities in America.

One MAJOR issue often ignored by natural scientists is ‘scientism.’ K. Giberson is a good exception & should be credited for his work. If Biologos supported science ‘above’ philosophy or religion it would spell its doom. Thankfully, Drs. Falk & Giberson don’t do this and rather seek a balance between these three.

S. Meyer is a thoughtful, Cambridge educated scholar in HPS. There is no doubt imho that he would ‘wipe the floor’ with anyone here who challenged him *within* HPS. I challenge Karl Giberson to have a closed thread discussion with Meyer at BioLogos @ Signature in the Cell.

Biologos’ position now seems more anti-ID than pro-anything else. I’ve yet to see what + contribution BioLogos can offer other than to suggest “there is *no* conflict between science & religion.” Everyone knows this is a simplistic perspective!

Gregory Arago - #2583

January 13th 2010

BioLogos does not currently have an HPS specialist in its ranks. Why is this?

Dr. Falk says ID-biology is ‘poorly researched.’ What does this say about the Institutions that gave PhDs to IDM personnel?

‘Evolution’ is more a problem in how it is used in human-social sciences than how it is used in natural-physical sciences.

Miller (beaglelady’s link) writes:
“everyone knows that evolution, in a sense, is change over time.”

Strike one: bad philosophy. Evolution is a type of change, but change is the master category.

‘Nature’ is not an ‘agent.’ There is no ‘choice’ by a non-conscious entity. Human-social scientists trump natural-physical scientists on ‘the character of consciousness.’

How does J. Kwok measure or identify ‘divine action’ of the deity in which he believes? Is his God an impotent God or one who could & indeed does intervene in natural and social history? Dr. Falk says BioLogos people agree with most IDM people in the most important way; their faith in God.

If ‘science,’ as an imperfect ‘way’ of knowing, disagrees with ‘faith,’ is it possible that sometimes faith & not science should be deemed the more important?

Unapologetic Catholic - #2584

January 13th 2010

I give up.  Wha tis an HPS specialist.

“There are 7 PhDs or Masters of Biology held by D.I. Fellows (10 higher degrees in Philosophy & 7 in Theology).”

Realy?  Who has a Ph.D in Biology?  Theologians of course are not generally qualified to opine on biology at the doctorate level.

I exclude all Ph. D philosphers including this one: “Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle.

Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science.”

Unapologetic Catholic - #2592

January 13th 2010

Ahh, I think I figured it out out: “History and Philosophy of Science.”  Meyer is a piker.

“S. Meyer is a thoughtful, Cambridge educated scholar in HPS. There is no doubt imho that he would ‘wipe the floor’ with anyone here who challenged him *within* HPS.”

Not true, he was wiped in the Kitzmiller Trial by Robert Pennock, who testifed under oath. 


Curiuusly, Meyer was absent.  He didn’t testify at trial although given the opportunity.  He would have been shredded on cross examination as were all of the ID experts and he was smart enough to know it and stay away from the dbacle.

Instead the Discovery Institute attemtpted to sneak his testimony in as an exhibit—a move harshly cricized and correctly rejected by the trial judge.

ID proponents are adverse to testifying under oath.  They can’t refuse to answer embarrassing questions in a courtroom and very few will risk their reputations by doing so.

beaglelady - #2632

January 14th 2010

Behe is just 1 IDist among others seeking to move biology forward.

That sounds good. What specifically ID-related research is he or others doing?  What does ID research look like, anyway?  How do you seal off the designer from experiments, as a control?

Gregory Arago - #2671

January 15th 2010

Fair questions, beaglelady. As a human-social scientist, it is admittedly impossible to “seal off the designer from experiments.” I am and must be intimately involved with the ‘object’ of my research, in so far as ‘design’ or ‘making’ (e.g. homo faber) or ‘composition’ or ‘construction’ or any number of other concepts go. The ID people imho have simply ‘got it wrong’ to rigidly insist that their concept duo of choice belongs *first in biology* and is thus ‘scientific’. And they tend to be far too anti-Darwin!

But then again, perhaps Meyer’s book looks beyond Darwin’s paradigm by speaking about ‘origins of life’?

As for research, probably a survey of D. Axe and his institute is a better place to start. But then again, I’m not a biologist (and thankfully not!!). Are you a biologist or other scholar, beaglelady?

beaglelady - #2682

January 15th 2010

I’m neither a biologist nor a scholar,  but I would like to know what specifically ID-related research is going on, and exactly what ID research looks like.  How is Behe moving biology forward?

unapologetic Catholic - #2690

January 15th 2010

“As for research, probably a survey of D. Axe and his institute is a better place to start.”

Been there, perhaps? 

Only “pretend research” is being done at that location.


The Biologic Institute is a perfect place to start with ID research. 

Number of peer reviewed papers produced since 2006:  0

Number of Irreducibly complex structures identified since 2006:  0

Calcualations of complex specified informaiton observed in biological systems since 2006:  0

Total scientific output of the Biologic Institute since its inception: 0

Steve Greene - #2724

January 15th 2010

Creationist literature has always thrived on conjuring up mountains of crises out of anthills of new scientific that actually makes the picture of evolutionary history clearer than before. Anything that is not *exactly* as was expected prior to the new data is portrayed as another crisis leading to the imminent demise of evolution in science. Creationists have only been doing this for over a hundred years, claiming the imminent demise of evolution for over a hundred years based on one alleged “crisis” after another. It does indeed demonstrate the incompetence of creationist thinking in regard to how science works. Whether this is “not fair to the Church” is disputable, since in fact religious beliefs are based on faith, not science, and it is the nature of the religious faith of a lot of religious believers that scientific contradiction of their particular religious beliefs is simply intolerable to their particular faith. However, the creationist rhetoric certainly does “dishonor the discipline” of science. But that’s what creationist rhetoric is, so it’s not going to cease until the nature of creationist thinking itself is fundamentally changed. But then it wouldn’t be creationism any more.

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