The Case for Macroevolution

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Dave Matson's picture
The Case for Macroevolution

I hereby dedicate this thread to John 61X Breezy, the courageous man who asked for a mere week and some days to prepare, who any day now will appear and overthrow 150 years of biological science by nixing macroevolution! This is something to tell your grandchildren about! You were there!

In its broadest sense macroevolution is common descent with modification. Think of a family tree that (with a bit of luck) gets ever more branchy as the years go by. Everyone born into this family tree has descended from the same early ancestor. They share a common lineage or common descent.

For macroevolution, that "family tree" takes in all known life on earth and traces back to a primitive prokaryote (a cell without a nucleus). And, the evolutionary (phylogenetic) tree continually developed new branches (beginning as little twigs) as life continued to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Thus, the name "common descent with modification," also called the "fact of evolution."

I claim that macroevolution is a fact (like the sun rising in the morning) that follows from a mountain of solid evidence. Theories are the useful, polished explanations of those facts, so we have theories of evolution (natural selection, sexual selection, founder's effect, genetic drift, etc.) as well as the fact of evolution. It's not a case of one theory fitting all, though Darwin's natural selection is the main engine. Biologists do have disagreements over the theories of evolution, Stephen Jay Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" being a classic example, but they all accept the fact of evolution. (You won't find an ongoing debate in any reputable scientific journal over the fact of evolution. Nor will you find any legitimate, university textbook on biology or geology suggesting that the fact of evolution is still being debated in the scientific community.)

How do we test a scientific claim? If an hypothesis makes significant predictions that go beyond any evidence that it was designed to accommodate (the former being real predictions; the latter being ad hoc agreement) then we have our test. Therefore, in order to test macroevolution we need to look at its best predictions. Mr. Breezy must challenge those predictions! (Any other approach is totally irrelevant.) Fortunately, Dr. Douglas Theobald (Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Brandeis University, Massachusetts) has done us a great service by outlining the major predictions of macroevolution. Thus, I present his last update (2012) of that outline, copyrighted by Douglas L. Theobald and used with permission.

The full essay may be found on the Talk.Origins Archive website and has an excellent introduction to the nature of science and of phylogenetic (evolutionary) trees. (Phylogenetic trees are, in my opinion, the number one proof of macroevolution, so anyone attacking macroevolution should know tree basics.) The following outline also serves as a table of contents for Dr. Theobald's essay. Even if science is not your bowl of soup, you might enjoy romping around on this fun and educational website. Tired of pretentious, creationist drivel? The whole Talk.Origins Archive is one, big playground!

* * *

Part I. A unique, historical phylogenetic tree
1. Unity of life
2. Nested hierarchies
3. Convergence of independent phylogenies
Statistics of incongruent phylogenies
4. Transitional forms

  • Reptile-birds
  • Reptile-mammals
  • Ape-humans
  • Legged whales
  • Legged seacows

5. Chronology of common ancestors

Part 2. Past history
1. Anatomical vestiges
2. Atavisms

  • Whales and dolphins with hindlimbs
  • Human tails

3. Molecular vestiges
4. Ontogeny and developmental biology

  • Mammalian ear bones, reptilian jaws
  • Pharyngeal pouches, branchial arches
  • Snake embryos with legs
  • Embryonic human tail
  • Marsupial eggshell and caruncle

5. Present biogeography
6. Past biogeography

  • Marsupials
  • Horses
  • Apes and humans

Part 3. Evolutionary opportunism
1. Anatomical parahomology
2. Molecular parahomology
3. Anatomical convergence
4. Molecular convergence
5. Anatomical suboptimal function
6. Molecular suboptimal function

Part 4. Molecular evidence
1. Protein functional redundancy
2. DNA functional redundancy
3. Transposons
4. Redundant pseudogenes
5. Endogenous retroviruses

Part 5. Change
1. Genetic
2. Morphological
3. Functional
4. The strange past
5. Stages of speciation
6. Speciation events
7. Morphological rates
8. Genetic rates

Theobald, Douglas L. "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent." The Talk.Origins Archive. Vers. 2.89. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2012

(Copyrighted by Douglas L. Theobald and used with permission.)

So, that's the outline of what macroevolution predicts. Are these major predictions fulfilled? Are there any credible alternative hypotheses that make these predictions? (Keep in mind that this debate is about hard evidence, not about theological speculation!) Those two questions are the only relevant questions in this debate.

* * *

Let's start off with something simple--the fossil record (under Part I-5 in the outline). Here are four major predictions in a nutshell:

1) Since the overall order of geologic strata has been worked out, and later dated by radiometric methods, we can make a very strong and testable prediction. The oldest strata in which fossils are found will contain fossils of very primitive life.

FACT: In Precambrian strata older than about 2 1/2 billion years all fossils are of primitive prokaryotes (cells without a nucleus). Not a single dinosaur bone or plant leaf to be found in the original rock! Not even fossil pollen which has a sturdy shell that preserves rather well! How is it possible that a large chunk of the geologic record is missing even the debris of more advanced life? Where was all that life hiding?

2) Macroevolution predicts that fossils found in the most recent strata will strongly resemble life on earth today, and that as we look at older and older strata we will find less and less similarity to life on earth today.

FACT: Darwin observed this relationship as did the great French biologist, Jean Lamark, who mentioned it around 1800. Dr. David Montgomery (and many others) have observed this relationship when climbing out of the Grand Canyon. Obviously, macroevolution has nailed this prediction! Now, can you think of any credible alternative hypothesis?

3) Macroevolution makes the strong prediction that members of certain, extensive plant families will not be found together in the fossil record, against all reasonable expectations, for the simple reason that those families evolved at different times. Later on, when both families co-exist, they might share the same fossil strata.

FACT: Modern flowering plants (angiosperms) and their distinct pollen are totally missing in the great coal forests/swamps of the Carboniferous Period! The idea that not one out of 300,000 species of modern flowering plants will show up in the great coal forests is not very credible given that they totally dominate plant life today and prosper in virtually every ecosystem where plants may be found. We find them everywhere today except in the depths of the ocean and the heart of Antarctica. Even sea grass, found in the surf zone, belongs to that group! And, don't forget their distinctive pollen and small, winged seeds which can be blown for hundreds of miles if the wind is right!

FACT: Ferns did not always live in shady places. In their Jurassic heyday some species occupied the open prairies--except that there is no evidence of grass then! Thus, we have another remarkable fulfillment of the above prediction. If not for macroevolution, we would expect to find ferns and grass living side by side given that they occupied the same, open habitat.

FACT: Coccolithophorids, a marine plankton, are found in oceans throughout the world. Diatoms, also a marine plankton, are so numerous that they contribute about 20% of the new oxygen released each year by photosynthesis. But the fossils for these two groups are not found together in the early Jurassic! If not for macroevolution, we would certainly expect to find these marine plankton well mixed in the fossil record. Hence, prediction #3 is fulfilled by yet another observed fact.

4) Here's another strong prediction. If we start with the oldest strata containing fossils and work our way up, we will find a logical progression consistent with macroevolution. Mammals, for instance, shouldn't precede amphibians and reptiles in which developments necessary for mammals first appear. Reptiles, which don't have to live near bodies of water, should not precede amphibians which depend on bodies of water. A full adaptation to land logically comes after dependence on bodies of water. In that vein, sea life should precede land life. Above all, new types of plants and animals should be continually appearing for the first time throughout the fossil record. Do we observe these strong predictions? Are there any good alternative hypotheses?

FACT: You won't find fossils of whales, dolphins, dinosaurs, or most modern fish in the Devonian (the age of fishes), nor fossils of elephants, horses, tigers, bears, or us in dinosaur strata despite wild, creationist claims. Nor do fossils of land life precede those of sea life. Humble Devonian forests bear little resemblance to later Carboniferous forests, which bear little resemblance to later Cretaceous forests. They have to come in that order to match the logical development of various innovations needed at each stage. Macroevolution gets it right!

Raise you hand if you are still awake! (Pass the Monster drinks and coffee! Doughnuts too! I'll take a couple of those glazed ones, thank you. Running archaic slide projector.)

For those of you who want some details of the fossil sequence, here's an outline of the first known appearances of life forms in the geologic record. (It's rather incomplete and unrepresentative but it does focus on familiar organisms.) In some cases those life forms may have appeared somewhat earlier since the oldest fossil we see may not actually be the very first, but the general pattern is not much changed. "Prehistoric Life: The Definitive History of Life on Earth," published by DK in 2012, served as a guide for much of this list. Almost every page is loaded with photos and stunning paintings so that you can make sense out of strange names. Some 20 scientists contributed to its various chapters, not counting an additional 7 or 8 special consultants! So, it's pretty accurate and highly readable--and fun.

3.5 billion years ago: We find only primitive prokaryotes (single-celled life lacking a nucleus).
2.4 billion years ago: We find cyanobacteria in which photosynthesis occurred. Oxygen, a waste product, was being pumped out into the atmosphere. Before then there was no oxygen in the air to speak of.
1.85 billion years ago: We observe the early eukaryotes, those being more complicated cells that organize their DNA into a nucleus.
1.5 billion years ago: About 350 million years later we find structurally complex eukaryotes. Lots of internal structures and organelles are present in these cells.
1.4 billion years ago: About 100 million years later we find a great increase in stromatolites (mound-forming mats of cyanobacteria that grew in successive layers). A few distant survivors can be found to this very day on the west coast of Australia.
0.72-0.64 billion years ago: Around 700 million years ago we find the first fossils of soft-bodied, multi-cellular animals (the metazoans).
550 million years ago: We find the first evidence of comb jellies, sponges, and other ctenophores.

A host of bizarre sea creatures with hard parts arise, including the famed trilobites. Sea snails also appear and it is thought that the first primitive fish made the scene based on some peculiar fossils.

Starfish show up in the fossil record. Trilobites diversity. (Every time you see the word "diversify" that means a group of closely related, new species (or higher taxa) appeared that were hitherto unknown in the fossil record. This is hard to explain without macroevolution! We also see the diversification of early corals which now include true, multi-cellular organisms. Previously, reefs consisted of algae (those that used calcium as a cement) and certain other single-celled life forms. The fossil of a sea creature turned up in what is now North America; it showed evidence of a backbone.

An assortment of jawless fish are observed in the fossil record along with the first jawed fish. Jaws have arrived but not true fish teeth! The first ray-finned fish show up. Scorpions and related arachnids invade the land but insect fossils are not yet found. Plants also invade the land, at least near the water's edge. The earliest plants are small since the specialized tissue for efficient water transport was lacking. Nor did they have true leaves.

DEVONIAN PERIOD: "The Age of Fish."
The first true fish teeth show up in the fossil record. The first bony, fresh-water fish fossils turn up. The first true sharks appear. Late in the Devonian we find fossils of nautilus-like animals with coiled shells. On land, horsetails and lichens appear along with the first amphibians. We also find fossils of the first real forests which are unlike anything today! "Seed" ferns are in their glory! Fossil evidence of insects munching away on plant leaves are now found.

CARBONIFEROUS PERIOD: "The Age of Coal and Amphibians."
We observe the rise of the great coal forests in lowland, swampy areas near the equator of that time. The coal seams of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and of parts of Europe, then near the equator, were laid down. It is an age of ferns and seed ferns. The fossils of early conifers show up in forests dominated by lycopsids, cordaites, and seed plants. The oxygen level is extremely high, much higher than modern times. Huge insects show up in the fossil record! Some dragonflies had a 2-foot wingspan! (The high level of oxygen supports the evolution of giant insects.) Winged insects diversify even more. We also find the first plant-eating tetrapods. Reptiles are making headway in this age of amphibians.

Fossils of the first coniferous trees are found. Conifers and seed plants diversity. The first beetles show up in the fossil record. Some of the terrestrial amphibians increase in diversity. Mammal-like reptiles appear. The greatest of all known extinctions closes out the Permian, earth's ecosystem being in ruins.

Mammal-like reptiles increase their body size. The first dinosaurs, small forerunners of T-Rex and other late theropods, appear. They are not a promising group! Cycads and conifers saw an increase of diversity. The first bony (teleost) fish appear along with turtles. On land flies make their appearance. We also find fossils of the first mammals and they are small critters. They seem to have appeared at about the same time as the dinosaurs but went nowhere until a meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs.

The great, plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs diversify. Brachiosaurus, weighing in at 50 tons, walks the earth! The first fossils of salamanders and newts appear. Fossils are found of the first true birds and lizards. Theropods (Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, and velociraptor being theropod examples) diversify. Ginkgoes are in their heyday, reaching their maximum diversity. Jurassic conifers look more like modern conifers than those of the Triassic. Dominant ferns lived in similar open habitats as do grasses today! Mammals, still small critters underfoot of the dinosaurs, diversify into a range of body types. In the oceans the bony (teleost) fish undergo a huge radiation during the Jurassic and Cretaceus periods. Ammonites (looking a bit like nautiluses) are in their heyday. New corals (scleractinian corals) arise and now replace those of the Triassic.

Fossils are found of a new type of dinosaur, the ceratopsians, of which Triceratops is a classic example. This was also the time when T-Rex roamed. (Dinosaurs continued to diversify.) We find the first snakes, the first flowering plants (~125 million years ago) and their large diversification some 40 million years later. We find fossils of the first palm trees and other monocots such as orchids and lilies. The first termites and ants show up. Insects and reptiles diversify. Major changes in the conifers bring in many of the modern groups we see today. In the ocean and inland seas the fossils of great sea monsters are found, such as the plesiosaurs and mosasaurs. The largest flying animal of all time, a pterosaur named Quetzalcoatlus with something like a 50-foot wingspan, took to the air! The Cretaceous came to an abrupt end when a large meteorite struck the shallow seas in what is today the northern shoreline of the Yucatan peninsula.

PALEOCENE EPOC: (We now move to smaller time intervals called "epocs.")
Fossils show a quick, initial diversification of ants. Grass first shows up. Mammals undergo a rapid diversification. The first primates arrive.

Modern bird groups diversity. Whales, rodents, horses, elephants, bats, and camels make their first appearance. Fossils are now found of modern moths and butterflies. We see the beginnings of the great grassland ecosystems. Many of the modern animals appear.

The first eucalyptus fossils are found in Australia. Cats and deer arrive. Seashores get their first barnacles. Fossils of the first monkeys are found.

The Australian mega fauna diversifies. Fossils show much diversification in mammals, snakes, and especially rodents. Cattle, sheep, goats, and bison are part of that new lot. The great grasslands have fully arrived. Insects, especially termites and ants, diversity further. The first apes show up, followed by the first hominins (human-like).

Hippo fossils are found. Carnivores become larger and faster, and more diversity is found in grazing animals. Fossils of the first Homo show up, that being the genus (one level higher than species) that we belong to. Conifers living at high altitudes diversify.

Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo Sapiens arrive in that order.

------------- CONCLUSION -------------

Not only is the fossil record in a logical developmental order as predicted by macroevolution, but we see numerous examples of species and higher taxa appearing for the first time all the way up the fossil record. Invariably, when an important new group of animals or plants shows up diversification soon follows. That relationship is rather difficult to explain without macroevolution!

The four major predictions I looked at with respect to the fossil record are right on the money! Nothing wrong with macroevolution here! If there are any credible, alternative explanations then Mr. Breezy will have to inform us because I can't think of any. The fossil record is just the start of a mountain of evidence for macroevolution! But already we see macroevolution passing strong tests.

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ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Just so I can get myself

"Phylogenetic trees are, in my opinion, the number one proof of macroevolution, so anyone attacking macroevolution should know tree basics"

If that's the case, then I think its worth noting from the outset that phylogenetic trees are hypotheses. They are inferences into how organisms might be related, not how they are related; models are then created from those hypothetical relationships. They have predictive value, but are not in themselves proof of anything. They get rejected and modified all the time, and once in a blue moon get supported. So if you think phylogenetic trees are the number one proof of macroevolution, it seems you gave me an early lead.

Just so I can get myself oriented on what's going on here, is everything from the start of the outline onwards copy/pasted from Dr. Douglas? I'll read the rest of the post once you clarify where Dr Douglas' words end and yours begin.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

Dr. Douglas is responsible for the outline, that material between the two, starred lines.

If you go to his site and read the introductory material you will find that there are several mathematical algorithms for recreating phylogenetic trees. These mathematical tools are designed to construct the most probable trees under various conditions, and they do give excellent results. Thus, by applying an appropriate mathematical algorithm (where the error margin may be estimated) we arrive at tree models that are sufficiently close to reality as to be reliable, and that is a fact we can work with. We are close enough to the real thing that we may treat it as the real thing! Phylogenetic trees not only show us the probable pathways of evolved life, but they prove that life is organized in that manner. So, they do prove something very important! Modifications and changes do get made in the phylogenetic trees as new information becomes available, but that's the story of scientific advancement! None of this has destroyed the validity of the phylogenetic tree itself. They become better and better.

On my PO I began with the fossil record as evidence for macroevolution. If you are willing to concede that macroevolution is right on the money with respect to the four major predictions I looked at, and if you further concede that no credible hypothesis predicts these results, then I'll be happy to move on to phylogenetic trees or some other point in the outline. Otherwise, we need to settle the claims relating to those four predictions first. That was our starting point.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
"We are close enough to the

"We are close enough to the real thing that we may treat it as the real thing! Phylogenetic trees not only show us the probable pathways of evolved life, but they prove that life is organized in that manner."

I think there is a lot of bad reasoning here. Approximating the real thing should never be treated as the real thing, there's a lot of errors that can come from that. Secondly, the act of organizing the phylogenetic trees does not prove life is organized in that manner, that's why they are hypotheses. That's like organizing stars into constellations and taking this as proof that stars are organized in that way. It should be noted that phylogenies and taxonomies are different methods of organizing organisms.

"On my PO I began with the fossil record as evidence for macroevolution.If you are willing to concede that macroevolution is right on the money with respect to the four major predictions I looked at..."

In the thread from which this conversations stems from, I did say "I think any evidence for macroevolution comes almost exclusively from deductions made through the fossil record." Partly for this reason I also think discussing the fossil record is the last thing we should do. It also forces me to accept too many assumptions that I would have contested otherwise. So I think we should start from the foundations of evolution, since these in turn are what would produce the predictions, which in turn lead to the question of whether or not observations (such as fossils) fit those predictions.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

You're just blowing smoke, John! Real science is based on models that approximate the real thing! That IS our understanding of reality! The fact that phylogenetic trees are excellent mathematical approximations of real-life relationships over time, based on reasonable assumptions, makes them as "real" as science ever gets! If you want 100% certainty stick to mathematics. I'm afraid, John, that the bad reasoning is coming from you. You don't seem to understand the nature of science despite working in a lab.

The first subject is already on the table, John. Have the courtesy to address it! Feel free to contest any assumptions that you are not comfortable with! Do keep in mind though that any scientific debate assumes the validity of well established knowledge outside of the topic of debate. It would be quite impossible to have a meaningful scientific debate if we couldn't make use of such knowledge.

I have supplied 4 major predictions that macroevolution makes about the fossil record. I have argued that those predictions are right on the money, and I invite you to produce credible alternative models that make these predictions. I'm sorry if that is inconvenient for you! Do you or do you not intend to challenge the accuracy of these 4 major predictions? Here we have really strong evidence for macroevolution and you don't even want to look at it! Well, I don't blame you for not wanting to go there, but if we are going to have a debate then that is exactly where you have to go. If you continue this foot-dragging, then I will assume that you were never serious about this debate.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Theories are what model

1. Theories are what model reality, hypotheses are what test those theories, and observations are what reality actually is. Making observations and producing raw data is as close to reality as science gets. Phylogenies fall into the hypothesis category, which means we can only know how well they approximate reality by contrasting them with observations. Hypotheses are never a substitute for reality.

2. The issue isn't that this debate is inconvenient, its that it doesn't make sense. If I've stated that the primary support for macroevolution comes from fossils. Why would you start a thread with me in which I'm supposed to argue against my own point?

3. If you're adamant about only discussing those four points, then I'm going to need a few more things from you. I take hypotheses (predictions) very seriously. One of the biggest errors people make is post-hoc hypothesizing. This means making the hypothesis after you know the results. So, if you are going to claim these are four predictions made by macroevolution, are you able to show material which shows macroevolution did make these predictions before we had the available information; and only once the observation were made could we go back and conclude that the predictions were correct?

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

If you are thinking that phylogenetic trees are isolated from observation then you really are lost at sea! A great deal of observable evidence is involved, and it doesn't all come from the fossil record.

Everything we know about objective reality, beyond raw sensory impressions, is based on models. Those models may be unconscious, informal, or scientific. A good model is as close as you get to understanding reality. Phylogenetic trees tell us something real (beyond a reasonable doubt) about the history of how life developed. Your disingenuous attempt to dismiss phylogenetic trees as a mere hypothesis (read "guesswork" when they are actually finely tuned models) is not appreciated. I used that word more as a courtesy, given the nature of the debate. In fact, we are dealing with finely tuned models that give us reliable information about the history of life.

"I've stated that the primary support for macroevolution comes from fossils. Why would you start a thread with me in which I'm supposed to argue against my own point?" --Breezy

Is this your convoluted way of conceding the point? Are you in agreement that macroevolution has been wholly validated in these 4 predictions about the fossil record? If that is the case, then I'll be happy to move on to another subject in the outline. However, you will be accepting some of the strongest arguments for macroevolution! At that rate you might as well concede the whole debate!

Yes, I am adamant about discussing some of the most powerful arguments for macroevolution! Isn't that the whole point? Macroevolution made these kinds of predictions long before the details of the fossil record were known, so stop throwing out red herrings! Man up and get with the program! Consider also that macroevolution is the ONLY good explanation we have for this data, an explanation that fits in well with our long list of evidence given in the OP outline. If you think that you have any good alternative models for this fossil data, then by all means let's have it! That leaves just one question.

John, do you intend to participate in this debate?

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
You call it disingenuous to

You call it disingenuous to treat phylogenetic trees as hypotheses, I call it scientific (see attachment).

I've been participating so far; even though it makes little sense to ask me to argue against my own point. That said, three of your four predictions seem repetitive. P1 says the older the strata, the more primitive the fossil; P2 says the younger the strata the more recent the organism; and P4 says that the distribution along these two points proceeds from ancient to modern. So with your permission, I'll just summarize these points into one prediction: the age of the strata correlates with the stage of evolution.

Now that the redundancy of your four predictions is boiled down to two, I'll restate my previous request: Can you substantiate the claim that macroevolution made these predictions long before the details of the fossil record were known?

I'll concede P3 to you, given that I know next to nothing about plants and the topic sounds rather boring to look up.


Attach Image/Video?: 

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

You are playing a debater's name game in your shameful, continuing effort at obfuscation. Call phylogenetic trees what you like, John, but do understand that they are finely tuned models that say a great deal about how life actually descended. To pretend that they don't relate to the real world is simply dishonest. That's why they appear in textbooks, university websites and in research papers. I strongly recommend that you study Dr. Theobald's introductory material on phylogenetic trees. By the way, do you usually insult your readers with unnamed sources?

If you give it some thought, John, it may occur to you that the four predictions we are looking at stress different points that I consider to be especially noteworthy. Quibbling over some overlap is meaningless nit-picking which wastes our time. I don't think it's going to break your bones to address each of the four predictions. Feel free to reuse data that is applicable to more than one prediction.

You repeatedly play the hurt fellow who is being asked to contradict his own position. Yet, you refuse to clearly concede the point. Apparently, you think you can have your cake and eat it too! You shamelessly continue to waste our time with this. All you have to do, John, is say "I accept the fact that macroevolution clearly predicts the fossil data with respect to the four predictions on the table."

Don't even pretend that you in this debate until you either make that statement and concede the point or make an effort to challenge those predictions! So far, you have not participated at all in this debate. However, you have blown a lot of smoke and side-tracked the issues. That becomes clearer with your every post.

"I'll restate my previous request: Can you substantiate the claim that macroevolution made these predictions long before the details of the fossil record were known?" --Breezy

Once again you shamelessly obfuscate! Consider that in Darwin's day very little was known about the fossil record. Virtually any serious survey establishing clear boundaries would have been non-existent! A few fossils were collected here and there and that was about it. Even Darwin complained about the paucity of known fossils! Now you want historical documentation proving that the predicted data was unknown then. Here we see another attempt to derail the debate into endless side alleys. Moreover, it is shamelessly irrelevant!

"I'll concede P3 to you, given that I know next to nothing about plants and the topic sounds rather boring to look up." --Breezy

Pathetic! So, you are going to concede this point just because you are bored and lazy! Why are you even debating macroevolution if you are not prepared? This is not a minor part. Okay, I'll accept the fact that you concede that macroevolution's prediction here fully accords with the data. That still leaves the other 3 predictions to deal with.

Once again, John, do you intend to fully participate in this debate? Hint: Either concede the other three points or challenge them. Don't obfuscate.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
I cannot accept the fact that

I cannot accept the fact that macroevolution predicts the fossil data with respect to the four prediction, until you present the evidence that macroevolution did make these predictions long before the details of the fossil record were known. These are not attempts to derail the debate into endless side alleys. We follow a methodology in science, we write up our predictions and results and publish them in journals for other scientists to look at.

So go find me the document that made these predictions, so I can take a look, and we can move on.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

Dragging the anchor again? Surely, you must know that Darwin was vexed by the fact that the Cambrian fossils seemingly appeared from nowhere. Obviously, nothing was known of the multi-celled Ediacaran fossils or the small, shelly fossils. The recovery of primitive prokaryote fossils lie years into the future. Obviously, my first prediction for macroevolution is a genuine prediction for many fossils.

Macroevolution also makes the even stronger prediction that, under rare conditions, whole communities of ancient life would be found together in Cambrian strata. The fabulous discovery of the Burgess Shale fossils in British Columbia, Canada certainly qualify as a genuine prediction. Macroevolution also predicts a logical order of evolution, and we can see (from the OP) that the prokaryotes come first, simple eukaryotes next, complex eukaryotes next, simple, true multi-cellular fossils after that, and then the Burgess Shale Cambrian fossils. Since all of these fossils were unknown in Darwin's time, this sequence is the fulfillment of a true prediction by macroevolution. Note that It would not make sense in any other order. Of course, if I wanted to waste time I could dig up documentation for all kinds of fossils discovered after Darwin, fossils that confirm the four predictions over and over.

John, your point is largely a quibble. (What else is new?) For the sake of argument, let's pretend that all of the fossil data given for the 4 predictions was known to Darwin. It still follows that we have a model that is wonderfully consistent with that very important data. The model is also highly credible in that it is strongly supported by DNA evidence, by biogeography, by cladistics, and by vestigial organs--not to mention the other evidence given in Dr. Theobald's outline.

At the other end of the ring we have nothing! Our champion faces nobody! Neither you nor anyone else has produced any credible, alternative models to macroevolution. Under those conditions your point about ad hoc predictions (aside from being false as I've shown for several major fossil groups) is not particularly relevant.

No, I'm not going to waste time chasing irrelevant, historical documentation for something that should be obvious. All you have to do is to get some idea as to the percentage of fossils discovered after Darwin to grasp the irrelevancy of your point! Any of them could be used. Can you actually be ignorant of this fact or are you up to your usual debating tricks? Looks like the usual cloud of smoke to me.

John, do you plan to participate in this debate? Hint: Come to grips with the predictions about the fossil record that I have presented or concede the point in an open and honest manner.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
"No, I'm not going to waste

"No, I'm not going to waste time chasing irrelevant, historical documentation for something that should be obvious."

As you wish good sir.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

Leaving so soon? Is it getting a little hot in here for you good sir? You have certainly chosen a pathetic excuse to exit given that you don't even have a model for the 4 predictions I started with! Notice how those predictions flow naturally from macroevolution. Your quibbling over fossil dates is nothing but a red herring, John. It's even sad given that the vast majority of fossils have been discovered since Darwin--and they fall into the same basic categories.

John, what did you do with those fossils I cited that clearly made the first prediction a real prediction? Why, you ignored them! Come to think of it, you have ignored the vast majority of the material I have developed. Others have had the same experience. John 61X Breezy just ignores the tough questions in favor of smart-mouth replies!

Well, John, I can't make you debate the issues. It still takes two to debate. But I have called your bluff and demonstrated that you have nothing to say here. Perhaps you will go through the rest of your life with this delusion about evolution, but that is not my problem. Good-bye John!

Well folks, we are deeply sorry to report that the fight of the century is a no show! Mr. Breezy is nowhere to be seen. Management expresses its deepest apologies. Refunds will be available at the main windows. Free, German beer will be available in the bar!

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Greensnake

@ Greensnake

*Gets up from couch, stretches back, eats last of the candy snakes, and looks guiltily at the popcorn on the floor* " Come on TM *kicks sleeping metal carcase" OW!" "Looks like the same ending as the last few times we saw this with Breezy as the failed protagonist. It really is getting boring, no answers, no truths, seriously I am beginning to doubt the whole veracity of this Breezy character. Not watching again it always ends with him running away." * TM grunts and licks popcorn off the floor* " mmmm, tastes of vegemite"

David Killens's picture
Yup, different song, same

Yup, different song, same dance. I must admit though, I admire John's tenacity and courage. He does not cut and run.

I like plain popcorn with just salt and butter.

arakish's picture
Everything I have read has

Everything I have read has convinced me.

Breezy is the next William Lane Craig.

Hell, for all we know, he might be his son...


ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Hmm I'm not sure what more

Hmm I'm not sure what more you want. If you're going to call something a prediction, but you can't provide the reference of when those predictions were formulated, I have nothing to respond to.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

You could have responded to the 1st prediction in the light of the additional data I gave you. Your objection obviously doesn't apply there. The 1st prediction is a logical inference that arrived with Darwin's "Descent with Modification" or macroevolution. Precambrian and Burgess Shale fossil data came after Darwin.

You could have also responded by supplying your own model to challenge macroevolution with respect to this data. Was that so tough to figure out, poor fellow?

Don't you get a little tired, John, of attacking that straw man! Those 4 major predictions are logical inferences one may draw from macroevolution, a model that goes back to Darwin if not before. Isn't it amazing how the major facts of the fossil record line up with macroevolution? Haven't you noticed? Whether or not a given set of fossils provides a legitimate test does not rule out the fact that we have a rational explanation for those facts. Don't you wish that you had a rational explanation for those fossil facts? Moreover, I maintain that these 4 predictions (you conceded the 3rd) are valid predictions for the reasons I have already given.

Of course, you are not going to strain yourself answering the hard questions. You never do as others can attest. You chief skill is obfuscation and an ability to simply ignore most of what an opponent says. That is, you are good at running away as many forum members can testify on the basis of their own experiences.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
"You could have also

"You could have also responded by supplying your own model to challenge macroevolution with respect to this data.

Perhaps, but given how this was supposed to be a debate on the validity of macroevolution, presenting an alternative not only digresses from that, it also opens up the door to a straw man. Macroevolution isn't true on the basis of my alternative being wrong, and neither does macroevolution become falsified on my alternative being valid. Only its own claims can falsify macroevolution.

This may upset you, but the way theories are set up, I can concede 99 predictions to you, but if on the 100th your prediction fails, then your theory has a problem. So, I personally have no issues with conceding these four prediction to you, on the grounds that you can demonstrate they were in fact prediction.

This is not an obfuscation. Theories are not formulated in an observation-free environment. All theories are post hoc explanations of whatever observation they were designed to explain. So to be sure these four predictions were proper a priori deductions (not inferences) from macroevolution, I basically need to see your receipts.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

Are we now to believe that presenting a credible alternate model is a useless gesture? You're a trip, John! It's not about the validity of a model; it's about the best model, the best explanation. That's how science actually works. A model can be valid up the kazoo, but if another is clearly superior then science goes with that. Therefore, presenting a better model is an especially effective way to undermine a theory. Usually it goes hand-in-hand with some serious flaws that are detected in the older model.

I predict that we will never see your model for the simple reason that you have no scientific alternative. Your attack on macroevolution is a very strange one. You make no attempt to refute the strong predictions macroevolution makes about the fossil record. That was the first point of our "debate."

The thing that irritates me, John, is your abuse of science combine with your extreme arrogance. (Do I need to document that?) I don't think you understand what you are conceding here!

"Theories are not formulated in an observation-free environment." Gee! Who would have ever guessed! By the way, I've already addressed your third objection. Don't strain yourself.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
There are enough competing

There are enough competing theories out there on any given topic to show that competition doesn't lead to disqualification. Consider the theories of human intelligence: you have Spearman (1904) who theorized a single general factor of intelligence; you have Guilford (1982) who theorize up to 150 separate factors of intelligence; you have Carroll (1993) who views intelligence as a hierarchy; you have Neisser (1979) and his theory that intelligence is a culture construct.

Each theory has its strengths, and each theory has its weakness. More importantly each theory has its place, providing a tool for answering different questions. Even the heliocentric model, cannot be properly said to have overthrown the geocentric model: "So which is real, the Ptolemaic or Copernican system? Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true. As in the case of our normal view versus that of the goldfish, one can use either picture as a model of the universe, for our observations of the heavens can be explained by assuming either the earth or the sun to be at rest" (Hawking, 2010).

-Carroll, J. B. (1993). Human cognitive abilities. New York: Cambridge University Press.
-Guilford, J. P. (1982). Cognitive psychology's ambiguities: Some suggested remedies. Psychological Review, 89, 48-59.
-Spearman, C. E. (1904). 'General intelligence' objectively determined and measured. American Journal of Psychology, 15, 201-293.
-Neisser, U. (1979). The concept of intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & D. K. Detterman (Eds.), Human intelligence: Perspectives on its theory and mea- surement (pp. 179-189). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
-Hawking, S., Mlodinow, L. (2010). The grand design. New York: Random House Publishers.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

Gosh, John, I don't know what to say. I was talking about a competing model that was clearly superior to the original. I'll stand on what I said.

As to your discussion of solar system models, I think that what is meant by saying that the earth orbits the sun is that, if viewed from Sirius with a really powerful telescope, we would see the earth going around the sun. What do you think?

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

For a guy who has no clue as how to explain the fossil data, you sure are rabid in your efforts to go after macroevolution--the one idea that just about explains every major pattern in the fossil record. If there were a problem with macroevolution, it would be with one or more of its predictions, the very thing you absolutely refuse to look at! Well, these 4 predictions about the fossil record (and many more) have been verified again and again. That's why macroevolution, taken as descent with modification, is called the FACT of evolution.

I do get the feeling that you have some intelligence kicking around somewhere. It is a shame that it should be led astray by religious fantasies.


ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Hmm, which I absolutely

Hmm, which I absolutely refuse to look at, even though I've been asking repeatedly for you to show me the sources of these predictions, so that I may look at them. Perhaps it is you who doesn't want me to look them.

Dave Matson's picture
John 61X Breezy,

John 61X Breezy,

The source of these predictions, dear sir, is the model of macroevolution itself. Inferences made from it are the predictions. I hope that clears things up.

Sushisnake's picture


"...I think its worth noting from the outset that phylogenetic trees are hypotheses"

Yep. Phylogenetic trees are well tested, well evidenced hypothetical models. Without a time machine, we just can't go back and watch those phylogenetic tree branches grow, so we have to infer the trees from the evidence we have. Some phylogenetic tree models are more reliable than others, because we have we more evidence for some than others.

Phylogenetic tree models have their reliability tested and retested in a variety of ways. A new testing method has been developed that's producing very reliable trees, apparently:

Not that the trees were unreliable under the previous testing methods. The trees are evaluated by peer review and reliable trees are accepted by scientifiç consensus.

"They get rejected and modified all the time,... "

Science corrects errors, but as Berkeley says "many trees are so well supported (and continue to be supported by newly discovered evidence) that they are very likely to represent the evolutionary relationships among the organisms included accurately. For example, the idea that birds are a twig on the dinosaurs' branch of the tree of life became widely accepted in the 1980s and 90s based on fossil and anatomical evidence. Subsequent decades have yielded evidence that further supports this hypothesis. Hundreds of feathered dinosaur fossils have been unearthed, and proteins extracted from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil were found to be remarkably similar to those of a chicken. We'd all better get used to the idea that birds are part of the dinosaur lineage, because all the available evidence suggests that it is true and that the idea is here to stay! New feathered dinosaur species will certainly be discovered and we will need to add them to the tree, but such changes are very unlikely to shake our basic understanding of the close relationship between birds and dinosaurs."

"and once in a blue moon get supported."

Care to evidence your claim that phylogenetic trees are rarely supported?

And please note, even if the phylogenetic tree/bush of life hypothesis model was thrown out tomorrow in favour of the web of life hypothesis model, it wouldn't undermine the overarching Theory of Evolution.

"They have predictive value, but are not in themselves proof of anything."

We're not talking about vague predictions of war, famine and pestilence here, John. The Theory of Evolution predicted reptiles with feathers and birds with teeth - and guess what?

Edited for clarity


Attach Image/Video?: 

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
The only way to independently

The only way to independently test phylogenies is with the fossil records. All other methods, from genetic to the mathematical approach you mentioned, serve to create the phylogenetic hypotheses. Here's a puzzle for you, when should you modify a hypothesis, and when should you reject it? I'm adamantly against modification, as it quickly leads to unfalsifiability. It also leads to the type of sentiment you displayed: When a hypothesis is correct, you take it to the support of whatever theory produced it; but when it is wrong and gets modified, you take it to the praise of science and its ability to correct error.

At no point do you seem to allow for a wrong hypotheses to knock off points from the theory.

Sheldon's picture
Now refresh our memories are

Now refresh our memories are your claims in denial of a scientific theory accepted by the entire scientific world as fact?

Yes or No?

Nyarlathotep's picture
Breezy - Here's a puzzle for

Breezy - Here's a puzzle for you, when should you modify a hypothesis, and when should you reject it? I'm adamantly against modification, as it quickly leads to unfalsifiability.

Hypothesis are guesses; when your guess doesn't work you make a new one, perhaps based on previous ones. Criticizing a guess because it is build from the carcasses of failed guesses isn't meaningful since the new guess still must sink or swim on its own, and that is the scientific method in a nutshell.

You showing us you don't even know how the game is played.

ʝօɦռ 6IX ɮʀɛɛʐʏ's picture
Hypotheses are not guess,

Hypotheses are not guesses, what on earth? You're going to have a very short career as a scientist if you're out there testing guesses. The term prediction is more appropriate.

Nyarlathotep's picture
Breezy, I hate to break it to

Breezy, I hate to break it to you but that is how science is done.

You make a guess. Compute the consequences of the guess (that is the prediction part). Then compare the consequence to experiment. That is how the game is played. (paraphrased from R P Feynman)
/e And if you really want to have your mind blown; guessing is how we solve many tough equations as well. I know this comes as a shock to some people who were taught not to guess in primary and secondary school.
/ee Using guesses to solve problems requires a way to test the guess. That is what experiment is for in science. In mathematics we have other ways to test guesses that are beyond the scope of this post.


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