Re: re-whales from rodents

Stephen E. Jones (
Thu, 26 Aug 1999 07:28:08 +0800


On Sat, 21 Aug 1999 09:44:03 -0700, Arthur V. Chadwick wrote:

AC>Johnson says "Nobody is proposing that an ancestral rodent (or whatever)
>became a whale or a bat in a single episode of speciation...." Please.
>Johnson is a lawyer! Does he know the difference between a whale and a
>rodent? Do you really expect him to? I think the emphasis ought (and quite
>properly so) to be on the point he is attempting to make, and not on the
>specific details of the paleontology. Lets argue about the point he is
>making, and not about whether he did or did not grab the correct ancestor.
>That borders on ad hominem argumentation. Now if he were a vertebrate
>paleontologist, then we could (if we had the facts straight ourselves),
>take him to task if he had made a mistake.

I must have missed the start of this post. But unfortunately I must disagree
with Art's "Johnson is a lawyer" defence of Phil Johnson (although there is
one sense of this that I may agree with Art-see below).

As I have pointed out before in a debate with Glenn, when Johnson wrote
in Darwin on Trial:

"Consider the problem posed by Stanley's example of whales and bats, a
mid-range case involving change within a single class. Nobody is proposing
that an ancestral rodent (or whatever) became a whale or a bat in a single
episode of speciation, with or without the aid of a mutation in its
regulatory genes. Many intermediate species would have had to exist, some
of which ought to have been numerous and long-lived. None of these
appear in the fossil record." (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial", 1993, pp53-

he was picking up an earlier thought of Stanley who used the words
"rodent like":

"Stanley uses the example of the bat and the whale, which are supposed to
have evolved from a common mammalian ancestor in little more than ten
million years, to illustrate the insuperable problem that fossil stasis poses
for Darwinian gradualism:

`Let us suppose that we wish, hypothetically, to form a bat or a whale...[by
a] process of gradual transformation of established species. If an average
chronospecies lasts nearly a million years, or even longer, and we have at
our disposal only ten million years, then we have only ten or fifteen
chronospecies to align, end-to-end, to form a continuous lineage
connecting our primitive little mammal with a bat or a whale. This is clearly
preposterous. Chronospecies, by definition, grade into each other, and each
one encompasses very little change. A chain of ten or fifteen of these might
move us from one small rodent like form to a slightly different one, perhaps
representing a new genus, but not to a bat or a whale!' (Stanley S.M, "The
New Evolutionary Timetable", 1981, p71) (Johnson P.E., "Darwin on
Trial," 1993, p51).

Johnson is well aware that it was not a literal "rodent" because a year
before the first edition of Darwin on Trial, in a more scholarly article he
used the more exact "rodent-like":

"It isn't merely that grand-scale Darwinism can't be confirmed. The
evidence is positively against the theory. For example, if Darwinism is true
then the bat, monkey, pig, seal, and whale all evolved in gradual adaptive
stages from a primitive rodent-like predecessor."(Johnson P.E., "A Reply
to My Critics," in "Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism,"
1990, reprint, p35)

Darwin on Trial was a non-technical book of *popular science* and
Johnson is evidently using the word "rodent" in a non-technical sense.

If Art is using the "Johnson is a lawyer" argument in the sense that Johnson
doesn't know enough about science to know that mammals did not arise
from a literal rodent, then I must disagree with Art. I am a layman who
knows far less about science than Phil Johnson, and even I know that
mammals are not claimed to have descended literally from rodents! But if
Art is saying that "Johnson is a lawyer" in the sense that Johnson was not
trying to give a more precise technical terms that a scientist might, then I
would agree with Art.


"It might be thought, therefore, that evolutionary arguments would play a
large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is
difficult enough to study what is happening now. To try to figure out
exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus
evolutionary arguments can usefully be used as hints to suggest possible
lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all
too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already
very well understood." (Crick F., "What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of
Scientific Discovery", [1988], Penguin Books: London UK, 1990, reprint,
Stephen E. Jones | |