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ABC News Says “‘Darwin’s Dilemma’ May Be Solved”: What, Again?

An article at ABC News carries the bold headline, “‘Darwin’s Dilemma’ May Be Solved.” The story has generated some buzz over at RichardDawkins.net. The subject is a recent paper in Science, “Low Mid-Proterozoic atmospheric oxygen levels and the delayed rise of animals,” which we’ve already covered at ENV . What is “Darwin’s dilemma”? The ABC News article explains:

Biologists and geologists have been puzzled for decades over why life began so early on this planet, and then took so long to get interesting.

Some estimates indicate the earth was only a few tens of millions of years old when the first simple organisms appeared. There was a little evolution over the first billion years when single-celled organisms morphed into bacteria, slimy algae and other simple kinfolk, but it was still pretty dull.

It didn’t get much better until nearly 600 million years ago when the most dramatic period in the biological history of the planet erupted in what has become known as the “Cambrian Explosion.”
Those boring organisms from early earth evolved into forms of nearly every plant and animal on the planet today in what has seemed like an incredibly short period of time.

It seemed so fast, in fact, that Charles Darwin worried that it might undermine his theory of evolution, thus giving birth to “Darwin’s dilemma.”

So why is Darwin’s dilemma no longer a problem? The article goes on:

Excavations around the world have since uncovered fossils that show the change was rapid, but not too rapid to be inconsistent with evolutionary theory. It actually took millions of years.

But is there really sufficient time in the fossil record to evolve the Cambrian animals? As we’ve documented, most leading paleontologists date the Cambrian explosion at about 10 million years in length. But in Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer shows that the waiting time to evolve multi-mutation features — features that require multiple mutations before providing any advantage — can be many tens or hundreds of millions of years. As Douglas Axe has calculated, a multi-mutation feature that requires more than six mutations before providing any advantage would be unlikely to arise in the entire history of the earth. Thus, studies that claim that the “lightning fast” evolution in the Cambrian explosion can be accommodated by Darwinian theory are offbase.

But ABC News has another reason for saying Darwin’s dilemma has been solved:

A paper published last week in Science by Noah Planavsky of Yale University and Christopher Reinhard of Georgia Institute of Technology, based on ancient sediments from China, Australia, Canada and the United States, suggests that scientists have long overestimated the amount of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere in the pre-Cambrian era just before the “explosion.”

Many had thought the air was about 40 percent oxygen (around twice what it is today) but oxidized chromium — which is directly linked to oxygen in the atmosphere — in those sediments indicates the percentage was only about one-10th of one percent.

No complex organism known today could survive in a world with that little oxygen, so if this team is correct, the stage was not yet set for rapid evolutionary processes. Something had to change before the explosion could occur.

Meanwhile, other evidence published last week in the journal Geology suggests that very dramatic changes driven by the tectonic breakup of the so-called “supercontinents” of the pre-Cambrian era could have caused an extraordinary leap in oxygen levels of both the ancient oceans and the earth’s atmosphere.

“I’m not claiming to have solved the Cambrian explosion,” Ian Dalziel of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a telephone interview. But he has offered a scenario for how tectonic forces could have resulted in oxygen enrichment and sea level rise.

So they’ve explained how tectonic forces might have produced an oxygen-rich environment. But that leaves out one crucial thing: biological information. How did the new information arise to build the Cambrian animals? That question never gets addressed.

Essentially, evolutionary scientists are trying to solve a problem (how did the ocean get enriched with oxygen) that isn’t the main problem they need to solve (how did information arise). And they haven’t explained how doing so brings them any closer to resolving the primary dilemma they face.

This is by no means the first time that evolutionary biologists have pulled such a bait-and-switch. We’ve documented many feeble attempts to explain the Cambrian explosion simply by coming up with mechanisms for increasing oxygen levels, nitrogen levels, sediment levels, and so on. None of these explain how new information arises in the history of life. See our previous coverage here:

DebatingDDsmall.jpegThe common theme among each of these “solutions” to Darwin’s dilemma is that none of them explain the origin of biological information. It’s funny how “Darwin’s dilemma” has been solved so many times before, in so many different ways, yet now we’re told it’s been solved again! If Darwinian evolutionists had the problem all figured out and nailed down, why does it seem to come loose again so often?

All this raises the question of why it is that of late everyone is so concerned about whether Darwin’s Dilemma has been solved? And if they are concerned about the question, why are they so eager to declare this problem “solved” when in fact the “solution” they offer is nothing of the kind? Could it be that the folks at ABC News, Science Magazine, RichardDawkins.net, and the rest have been surreptitiously following the debate over Darwinian evolution? It sounds to me like they are aware, uncomfortably so, of books like Darwin’s Doubt or films like Darwin’s Dilemma, which show that after all these years, “Darwin’s dilemma” is still a problem for Darwinism.

Image: James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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