Evolution Icon Evolution
Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design

Yet Again, Answering Paleontologist Donald Prothero on the Duration of the Cambrian Explosion; Plus Bonus "Taradiddle" Alert

David Klinghoffer

In his debate with "skeptic" Michael Shermer on the Michael Medved Show this week, Stephen Meyer had the opportunity to respond to a spurious review of Darwin’s Doubt that appeared under the auspices of Shermer’s Skeptic magazine. The widely cited review by paleontologist Donald Prothero focused on Prothero’s contention, nothing more than a definitional trick, that the Cambrian explosion was an 80-million-year event rather than (as most paleontologists say) a 10-million-year one.

Of course it wouldn’t matter much if you did decide to define the Cambrian explosion at 80 million years in length since the ancestors of the Cambrian animals would still be missing from the fossil record, rendering their debut no less enigmatic; but never mind that.

Meyer responds to Prothero in a video here, not that we haven’t already addressed Prothero’s complaint, multiple times. Prothero does not seem to be able to absorb responses, but simply repeats the same points over and over again.

Meanwhile, I just checked his review at Skeptic‘s blog and noticed that he tacked on an undated Postscript. This guy really takes the cake. His Postscript includes the remarkable statement that, in responding to his review of Meyer’s book, we have misrepresented the views of Douglas Erwin and James Valentine in their book The Cambrian Explosion. Prothero says of ENV‘s Casey Luskin:

Mostly he quote-mines Erwin and Valentine’s new book to make it appear that these distinguished paleontologists are creationists! (When I pointed this out to my good friend Doug Erwin, he found it laughable and made it clear to me that in no way does his book support creationism or Meyer’s misinterpretations …).

Luskin presents Erwin and Valentine as "creationists"!? Let’s grant Prothero his use of a wildly inappropriate and misleading term to include not only Young Earth Creationists, advocates of Biblical literalism, but advocates of the scientific theory of intelligent design, which finds evidence of design in the origins of the cosmos and of life.

Does Casey imply that Erwin and Valentine are advocates of intelligent design? Of course not. They aren’t, not in the least. In the post Prothero refers to, Casey Luskin neither says nor remotely implies any such thing. On the contrary, he links to his lengthier review of Erwin and Valentine’s book where he explicitly says:

Erwin and Valentine are not proponents of intelligent design. So obviously they’re not going to agree with everything Stephen Meyer writes in Darwin’s Doubt, especially when Meyer argues for intelligent design.

Clear enough? Not for Donald Prothero, who goes on to say how he shared with his "good friend Doug Erwin" that we are going around enlisting him as a "creationist," a notion that Erwin found "laughable." Of course it’s laughable. It’s not true, obviously not true, not in any respect.

We’ve been at pains to make clear that while The Cambrian Explosion confirms Meyer’s argument on key points — the duration of the Cambrian event, that the Cambrian explosion is a real and "unresolved" event, not explained by reference to incomplete preservation or sampling of the fossil record — that in no way makes the authors advocates of intelligent design. Indeed in the video conversation with him above, Meyer says yet again that James Valentine and Doug Erwin "are not proponents of intelligent design."

If we said this any more clearly and frequently than we’ve done already, you could rightly call us a broken record.

So Prothero told his "good friend" Dr. Erwin a — what shall we call it, in keeping with the principles of charity? — an untruth. Perhaps a taradiddle? Come to think of it, from Donald Prothero’s account, in finding his claim "laughable," it’s not entirely clear whether Erwin was laughing with Prothero or at him.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.