Derbyshire III: Soft Bodies a Femme Fatale for Darwinism

Jonathan Witt

As we saw in Derbyshire II, the pattern of the fossil record doesn’t fit the Darwinian prediction of a gradually branching tree of life, even where punctuated equilibrium is invoked to shoehorn the transitional intermediates into those gaps John Derbyshire puts such faith in.
The problem gets even uglier when Darwinists try to explain away the fossil record leading up to the Cambrian Explosion. What story do these strata tell? Animals didn’t exist; and then they did–not just dozens of species but dozen of phyla. If you want some idea of how large a category phyla is, consider that sharks, mice, humans and otters are all members of the same phylum.
If natural selection working on random genetic mutation built this menagerie of animals, it had to do it one extraordinarily tiny, functional improvement at a time, one generation at a time, over tens and even hundreds of millions of years. If we had even a tiny fraction of a fraction of the Precambrian life forms, we would have so many transitional forms we would be hard-pressed to draw the line between one phylum and another, so thoroughly would they bleed one form into the other. But we find no such fossil pattern in the Precambrian.
Derbyshire suggests that the precursors of the many Cambrian phyla were soft-bodied and so never fossilized: “[S]oft body parts hardly ever get fossilized,” he writes. “We are working from a pretty scanty data set here.”
The problem is, many soft-bodied creatures did fossilize, and they tell a different story from the one Darwin told. Consider this passage in which Meyer et al., marshall evidence from mainstream evolutionists working in paleobiology:

While clearly the fossil record does not preserve soft body parts of organisms as frequently as hard body parts, it has preserved enough soft body animals and organs to render this version of the artifact hypothesis suspect. Indeed, entirely soft-bodied representatives of several phyla have been identified in the Cambrian. Soft-bodied organisms are also preserved in Precambrian strata around the world. Even so, these Precambrian organisms do not represent plausible transitional intermediates to representatives of the Cambrian phyla. In each case the jump in complexity (as measured by the number of cell types, for example) and the morphological disparity between the Precambrian and Cambrian organisms appears far too great. (See Section IV.B. below).
Furthermore, the postulation of exclusively soft-bodied ancestors for hard-bodied Cambrian organisms seems implausible on anatomical grounds.54 Many phyla such as brachiopods and arthropods could not have evolved their soft parts first and then added shells later, since their survival depends in large part upon their ability to protect their soft parts from hostile environmental forces. Instead, soft and hard parts had to arise together.55 As Valentine notes in the case of brachiopods, “the brachiopod Baupl?�ne cannot function without a durable skeleton.”56 To admit that hard-bodied Cambrian animals had not yet evolved their hard-bodied parts in the Precambrian effectively concedes that credible precursor animals themselves had not yet evolved. 57 As Chen and Zhou explain: “[A]nimals such as brachiopods and most echinoderms and mollusks cannot exist without a mineralized skeleton. Arthropods bear jointed appendages and likewise require a hard, organic or mineralized outer covering. Therefore the existence of these organisms in the distant past should be recorded either by fossil tracks and trails or remains of skeletons. The observation that such fossils are absent in Precambrian strata proves that these phyla arose in the Cambrian.” (356-357)

There are other tactics for avoiding the growing body of paleontological evidence against Darwinism. Meyer deals with many of those in a peer-reviewed biology journal article here. A spirited rebuttal is here. Discovery Institute fellows show why the rebuttal lacks force here and here. A short, introductory piece on the controversy over the Cambrian Explosion is here. A collection of eye-opening quotations from mainstream paleontologists is here. Journalists seeking to comment on these issues can quickly distinguish themselves merely by doing their homework.
More to come on Derbyshire and the evidence for intelligent design.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.