Amber and Embryos – DpSU’s, May 30

There have been some rather amusing articles from Mr Thomas in the last few days…

To summarise the first, a CT scan of a 49 million year old spider trapped in amber (video) apparently challenges evolution, largely on the grounds that

  1. The spider’s relatives haven’t noticeably changed over the millennia, and
  2. The amber has rapidly oxidised and turned opaque since being found in 1854 – how can it have been 49 million years old?
  3. The Baltic Amber was caused by the Flood, as “a large deposit [of amber, such as in the Baltic,] implies massive damage to whole forests that was catastrophic enough to trap even “strong, quick animals.” This kind of broad-scale destruction is consistent with the global Flood or its residual catastrophes.”

The first is interesting – how much can you expect the surface of a spider to change over a few millennia, compared to another spider in the same genus? Considering, you understand, that you can’t see the colour and the specimen isn’t complete in all respects. I dunno myself, but I doubt it’s that much. As time passes, major changes in organism groups are decreasingly common, and spiders had been around for nearly 200 million years when the amber here was made. Thomas tried to make a similar argument not too long ago, when he claimed that horsetails hadn’t evolved much since the time of the dinosaurs (150 million years ago, in this case). Again, this isn’t unbelievable. What would be useful here is DNA for comparison, and despite what you might have seen on Jurrassic Park this is unfortunately not possible for either the horsetail or the spider specimen. This hardly “Confirms Creation”. It is also worth noting that the whole “Punctuated Evolution” saga is over the degree to which evolution occurs in bursts, nobody feels that evolution occurs “relentlessly”, even if more the most part mutations do.

As for the second, this is claimed to be a killing blow but in reality is glossed over somewhat. Thomas claims that “there are no known rock types that are able to totally block oxygen from passing through them”, which may well be true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount (or lack of) oxygen is sufficient to slow the rate of oxidation by orders of magnitude. Considering that it still took 150 or so years to turn opaque while out in the air, how long would it take under anaerobic conditions? Probably quite a while, I think. Tellingly, a section of a paper that I am unable to access states that “The high content of organic matter in the sediments [which sediments I don’t know] favours the preservation of amber by preventing its oxidation and destruction. Otherwise, in aerobic conditions, during pre-transport exposure to the atmosphere or reworking processes, amber oxidation takes place quickly”. Interesting…

The Flood reference seems a little out of place, or at least poorly backed up. It may well be true that amber appears as a result of catastrophe, but I can’t see how this could be caused by “the global Flood or its residual catastrophes”, the nature of which are not specified by Thomas or the Bible as far as I am aware. Indeed, Thomas provides no challenge to the dating of the amber at 49 million years, nor the insects in other pieces of amber, which are indeed different to their present forms.

As for the second, “Embryonic Tissue Development Needs More than Just DNA“, therefore God. Something like that, anyway…

I can’t claim to be an expert in this (or anything else), so I’ll take it that Thomas has faithfully reported the study that he is using for a source, and is merely adding his own interpretation. What he is claiming the study shows that if you stimulate muscle contractions in roundworms with a needle, you can cause stem cells to differentiate into epithelial cells. Fair enough, but then Thomas goes on to claim that this means that not all embryonic development is caused by DNA, and even further as to say that:

…the fact that specific elements other than DNA—in this case, nearby cells and their contractile motions—are required for proper development removes evolution from contention as a possible origins hypothesis, since evolution supposedly operates by making changes to DNA.[ref to own article] So if something other than DNA is needed to develop and sustain life forms, then evolution is out.

So, what causes these contractions in nature? (I’m assuming they do occur in nature, though it doesn’t necessarily follow). It’s possible that it comes back to DNA. Even if not, Thomas is attacking a straw man of evolution, in which DNA is the only agent of heredity. It doesn’t have to be – Darwin sure didn’t know about DNA or genes, and anything that permits “descent with modification” can be incorporated into the system. After all, why wouldn’t it be? Imagine, for a moment, that we’re talking mammals instead of minute invertebrates, and that the cause of the muscle contractions is the precise chemical composition of the fluids in the womb. Most likely, the make-up of this fluid is determined by the mother’s genes – evolution can still occur. If it comes from the food she eats, that is still determined by genes. Hypothetically it could come from an approximate synthesis of the fluid the mother experienced in the womb herself, but even here evolution can still occur, although DNA is no longer involved to such a degree. Mistakes can still be made, and Natural Selection can still punish them. Thomas needs to show that the only possible explanation of the roundworm muscle contractions is divine – Evolution can still act on anything else, except possibly direct environmental influence, but if this was generally harmful to the organism, it can be evolved away from, or if not the species will simply die off. Will he do it? Lets see…

…He doesn’t. Instead he goes off on a tangent with a dangerously large example of irreducible complexity. I.C is usually invoked for the very small, such as bacterial flagella, not for things as large as roundworms and other multicellular creatures, as it makes it more plausible that the arch really would collapse if one stone was removed. This makes it even more likely that this, like most – if not all – other examples of I.C. raised over the years, simply isn’t irreducibly complex. I couldn’t tell you if that was the case, however, so I’ll assume that the situation is indeed I.C. It would seem likely, then, that instead of a simpler origin to the situation, it began (or at least went through a period of being) far more complex, inefficient and redundant. As time and evolution passed, it became simpler and simpler until it could do so no more, like a mountain eroded down to a single, beautiful rock. As a result, it fits the definition of ‘irreducibly complex’, but has still evolved. As you would expect, Thomas does not mention this, and merely finishes thusly:

So, what does it take to make epithelial tissue in roundworms, and possibly in other creatures? The answer is: precisely the right DNA, the right hemidesmosomes, the right kinds of nearby muscle cells, and the right strength and duration of muscle contractions. Without all these features already in place and fine-tuned to work together, there would be no epithelial tissue, and as a result, no surviving creature.

Skin development could not have evolved by a gradual addition of traits, because this would require a version of the animal that did not already have all the required traits. Such a transitional form would have died, and the animal would not exist today. And since it certainly exists, it must have been created.

*sigh* And to think I thought irreducible complexity was dead…

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3 thoughts on “Amber and Embryos – DpSU’s, May 30

  1. Pingback: The Theory of Supernatural Embryology? « Eye on the ICR

  2. Pingback: Head-Desk Embryological Stupidity « Eye on the ICR

  3. Pingback: It’s Dinofuz! « Eye on the ICR

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