Whale Evolution and the Fossil Record
"The most important point to me, is that the fossil record is most conclusively un-darwinian just where it's most complete, in marine invertebrates. And that is why it is shocking that one finds that where it's the most incomplete, and where the imagination can have free play, that's where you get the examples...
- Phillip Johnson
How many changes are required to take a dog-like mammal to a sea-like whale:
David Berlinski: The thesis is that there is a Darwinian progression and the evidence is three or four intermidiates. I'm asking you to give us your best estimate of the number of [morphological or physiological] changes required to take a dog-like mammal to a sea-like whale...
Eugene Scott: That's an absurd question. None of us on the evolution side of this argument has ever proposed that we can come up with the number of changes.'
David Berlinski: Then how on earth can you commend the mechanism if you are unsure whether it is adequate to the results.
- Fireline debate 1996
The Importance of a Number
In terms of the importance of coming up with a number, watch Richard Feynan describe how we look for new scientific laws:
Professor Miller, how many morphological changes?
David Berlinski: How many morphological changes do you think are required to effect the transition those charts of yours were said to document.
Ken Miller: ...when you look at two species that are separated by 5 million years of geological time, the number of changes must be very, very large...
David Berlinski: Give us an estimate...
Ken Miller: Recent studies of speciation in sunflowers has shown conclusively that a new species can be established...with as few as ten genetic changes.
David Berlinski: ...but those are very close. A dog-like mammal and a whale are very far...
Ken Miller: And the other end of the room is very far of the way, and it should not surprise you that I get there with one step at a time.
David Berlinski: ...if I say there are 100,000 morphological changes that are required to take a dog-like mammal living on the land to a whale...
Ken Miller: That's way too high.. The good genetic evidence is that there are about 100,000 genes in a human being. I would best guess there's somewhat fewer in whales. What you're telling me is to change from one similar organism, an organism that looks more like a whale than any terrestrial animal that has ever lived, to a whale that looks more like a terrestrial animal than any whale has ever lived, would require every gene to change.
David Berlinski: I haven't talked about genes. I said morphological changes, changes to the organism...
Number of Morphological Changes (Back of the Envelop Estimate)
The interesting argument about the whale (which is a mammal after all) [is that] it belongs to the same group of organisms as a dog, a human being, a chimpanzee or a tiger. [As such,] if its origins were land based originally, then we have some crude way of assessing quantitatively (not qualitatively but quantitatively), the scope of the project of transformation.
The project is very simple. Let’s put it in vividly accessible terms. You’ve got a cow. You want to teach it how to live all of its life in the open ocean, still retaining its air breathing characteristics. What do you have to do from an engineering point of view to change the cow into a whale? This is crude, but it gives you the essential idea.
Now, if the same question were raised with respect to a car, and you asked what would it take to change a car into a submarine, we would understand immediately it would take a great many changes. The project is a massive engineering project of redesign and adaptation.
Well, the same question occurs with respect to that proverbial cow. Virtually every feature of the cow has to be changed, it has to be adapted. But since we know that life on earth and life on the water are fundamentally different enterprises, we have some sense of the number of changes.
You know, any time that science avoids coming to grips with numbers, and somehow immersing itself in perhaps an unavoidable, but certainly unattractive, miasma. Here’s a chance actually to put some numbers on calculations. We’re not talking about genetics. We’re talking about simple numbers.
The skin has to change completely, it has to become impermeable to water. That’s one change. Breathing apparatus has to change. A diving apparatus has to be put in place. Lactation systems have to be designed. The eyes have to be protected. Hearing has to be altered. Salivary organs have to be changed. Feeding mechanisms have to be changed (after all a cow eats grass, a whale doesn’t).
As I say, I’ve tried to do some of these calculations. The calculations are certainly...not hard. But they’re interesting, because I stopped at fifty thousand...morphological changes. And don’t forget these changes are not independent, they’re all linked. If you change an organism’s visual system you have to change a great many parts of its cerebellum, its cerebrum, its nervous system.
All of these changes are coordinated. So when we’re talking about an evolutionary sequence such as this...we can see [that] a different environment is going to impose severe design constraints on a possible evolutionary sequence.
How are these constraints met, if there are roughly fifty thousand? If there are two million constraints, how were those met? And what does this suggest about what we should see in the fossil record? To my way of thinking, if Darwinian hypotheses are correct, it should suggest an enormous plethora of animals intermediary between, say, between Ambulocetus and the next step...
- David Berlinski
A Look at the Intermediate Forms (key segment starts at 2 minutes in)
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