• save boissiere house
  • Top Posts

  • The World is Talking, Are You Listening?
  • a

  • Festival of the Trees
  • Scoutle

    Connect with me at Scoutle.com

Movie night at the Sam Noble – “Darwin’s Dilemma”

Intelligent design advocates are fascinated with Darwin.  Granted, anyone who knows a little about the man probably is, and all creationists appear to fixate on him just a little.  They spend a lot of time arguing with Darwin, as if any perceived “victory” over Darwin somehow undermines evolutionary biology.  But while people like Phillip Johnson and William Dembski exude a real dislike of Darwin, it seems like the trend these days is to make positive comparisons with Darwin, to suggest that they are following in his footsteps and taking his ideas to their logical conclusion.  In his talk on Monday, Stephen Meyer spent a lot of time making the point that he was inspired by Darwin (and Lyell, of course).  In Darwin’s Dilemma, this theme seems to continue (although this may simply reflect the role that Meyer had in shaping the film).

The OU IDEA Club (Intelligent Design & Evolution Awareness Club) hosted a screening of Darwin’s Dilemma last night at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History on the University of Oklahoma campus.  The screening was followed by a Q&A with Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells.

Ostensibly, the movie focuses on the “problem” of the Cambrian Explosion, the  apparently rapid radiation of complex animals during the Lower Cambrian, about 530 million years ago.  The presence of a large number of well-differentiated fossils in the Cambrian, coupled with the apparently lack of fossils in the Precambrian, was identified as a potential obstacle for the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin.  It is to this dilemma that the name of the film alludes.  In the first two thirds of the movie, much of the focus is on the discovery of the Burgess Shale in Canada, and the Maotianshan Shales in Chengjian County, Yunnan Province, China.

The start of the movie was innocuous enough.  The animations of the Burgess Shale fauna was pretty enough, although it was cartoony and felt rather dated.  The story of the discovery of the Burgess Shale was interesting, although once again, their animations (explosion on the mountainside to represent Walcott‘s investigation of the formation; fossils pulled out of the rock face when they were being discussed, and then re-inserted) were a little distracting – they felt dated, like an old video game.  (But it’s rude to complain when the movie’s free…)

There were problems with their treatment of Darwin.  The NCSE’s factsheet points out several errors that suggest a sloppy treatment of factual matters.  The movie claims that Darwin worked with Adam Sedgwick in Wales on Cambrian rocks prior to his voyage on the Beagle.  The factsheet says

In fact, according to Michael Roberts, Darwin and Sedgwick never observed Cambrian rocks together.

In addition, the footage of Wales is apparently of Ordovican volcanic rock, not Cambrian rock.  Does it matter?  Not a whole lot, but it does suggest a certain flexibility with the facts.  But does that really matter in a movie that sets out to mislead its audience?  Probably not.  The movie also repeats the common misconception that Darwin’s ideas about evolution were born while he is in the Galapagos.

But the first hint of what’s to come surfaces in the discussion of Walcott’s ideas about where Precambrian fossils might be found.

According to the movie* Walcott (the discovered of the Burgess Shale) suggested that the transitional Precambrian fossils might be found beneath the ocean floor.  I have no idea whether this was a serious prediction or not, but the movie treats it as if it were.  They say that Walcott’s hypothesis remained untested until deep-water drilling for oil has brought lots of drill cores from the bottom of the ocean, and none have revealed Precambrian fossils.  They then go on to say that ocean-floor mapping has revealed that the rocks of the ocean floor are relatively young, and the ocean floor is an entirely unsuitable place to look for Precambrian fossils.

Taking all this at face value* still leaves me puzzled.  Oil prospecting??  Why would anyone expect oil companies to drill for oil in Precambrian deposits?  Oil is a fossil fuel.  Given the paucity of Precambrian fossils, what sort of petroleum geologist would look for oil in Precambrian rocks? Why spend so much time building up a strawman, only to admit it’s a strawman?  Is it meant to convey a sense of superiority over these “poor dumb materialist geologists”?  Did they have some stock footage of an oil plantform that they had to use before it went bad?  Or was it just bad editing?

Beyond this point, the movie went sharply downhill…

- – – – – – – – – -

*Treat that with whatever skepticism you think is warranted.  It is, after all, an ID production.

About these ads

9 Responses

  1. “what sort of petroleum geologist would look for oil in Precambrian rocks?”

    Check out the the “abiotic theory of hydrocarbons.”

    Basically, oil is not a fossil fuel as once theorized. It will soon no longer be known as fossil fuels, rather prebiotic fuels or abiotic fuels. For real, the earth mantel in generating new “fuel” as we speak, possibly an endless supply of oil, how many t-rex’s do you think that it would have taken to create all of the oil that we have used up to this point?

    Now, why do you expect oil companies to drill for oil in Precambrian deposits? I’ll tell you why, oil has been found there, already. Shhhh…. this is the global warming nutcase’s best kept secret.

    • I checked out the “abiotic theory of hydrocarbons”. It seems to have little support by most modern geologists…an oddly familiar scenario to another “theory” that has been floating around recently.

      As oil is made of hydrocarbons and if the earth’s mantle is “generating new fuel as we speak…endless supply of oil”… where the hell does the new carbon come from? I didn’t know alchemy is performed deep within our planet. I think you need to re-examine your definition of a “nutcase.”

    • Yep, as SVN says, it’s a fringe idea. And petroleum geologists are, first and foremost, pragmatists. Drilling in deep water is awfully expensive.

      Now, why do you expect oil companies to drill for oil in Precambrian deposits? I’ll tell you why, oil has been found there, already

      Very interesting. While I’m sure your source for this is impeccable, you really aren’t going to convince anyone until you share that source with the rest of us.

      • http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf119/sf119p08.htm

        This is just one source. I originally read about it in “The New American” a couple of years ago.

        Precambrian oil in commercial quantities has been found in formations up to 2 billion years old (in Siberia, Australia, Michigan, for example). While some of this oil might have migrated in-to the Precambrian rocks from younger source rocks, some of it does seem indigenous and, therefore, ancient.

  2. According to the movie* Walcott (the discovered of the Burgess Shale) suggested that the transitional Precambrian fossils might be found beneath the ocean floor.

    Yes, Walcott did suggest this, but he was working in pre-plate tectonic times, when it was though that the continents were stable and did not move.

    His idea was that the Precambrian continents were much larger than the present, or even the Cambrian, continents, and so the Precambrian ‘coastlines’ – and hence shallow water marine sediments to look for fossils – were much further out to sea than the current coastline.

    So late Precambrian sediments would be far out to sea.

    This idea was ditched long before deep-sea drilling. To say that geologists were eagerly awaiting deep sea cores to look for Precambrian anything is a joke.

    In the late 1930’s the famous Australian geologist Sir Douglas Mawson had targeted the Flinders Ranges in South Australia as a likely location for late Precambrian rocks and fossils. They were found by his student Reg Sprigg in the 1940’s, but initially considered Cambrian and identified as Precambrian in the 1950s.

    So we’d already found Precambrian fossils on land well before deep sea coring began. Besides, deep sea cores contain rock younger than the Precambrian, so it could be argued that we simply haven’t cored deep enough to hit Precambrian rocks

    The Disco ‘tute uses stupid straw man argument again! Quelle surprise!

  3. It’s of no little interest that Meyer worked for a while as a geophysicist for an oil company.

  4. Interesting analysis, look forward to future episodes: bit of a cliffhanger about it going downhill from there!

    A word of caution: I’ve not been able to locate the NCSE’s factsheet, but the movie’s claims that Darwin worked with Adam Sedgwick in Wales on Cambrian rocks prior to his voyage on the Beagle are at least arguable. The wording cited from the factsheet needs to be read carefully:

    In fact, according to Michael Roberts, Darwin and Sedgwick never observed Cambrian rocks together.

    They probably didn’t observe Cambrian rocks together, as Darwin saw Cambrian rocks while on a traverse on his own, collecting information for Sedgwick, apparently after the two went their separate ways on the tour but continued their correspondence. The term itself was a matter of debate at the time, and our current divisions weren’t agreed until much later, but Darwin did apparently survey Cambrian rocks. He used the term in his early notebooks, but avoided it in ”On the Origin of Species” until the 5th edition, presumably as the distinction between Cambrian and Silurian was still unresolved. Of course in a sense all Welsh rock is Cambrian, as Cambria is a Latin term for Wales, but the geological sense is clear in modern usage. The following source is informative:

    The great Merioneth anticline between Maentwrog, Harlech, Barmouth, and Dolgellau is now called the Harlech Dome. It is mostly Cambrian sediments. The southern end of Darwin’s traverse was across this dome. His description of its rocks is therefore the first in any detail to have been done of this region. Of special historical interest is the fact that of the formations in North Wales which were classified by Sedgwick as Cambrian, including most of Denbighshire, Flintshire, Caernarvonshire, and Merioneth, only the Harlech Dome and a narrow strip in Caernarvonshire, are now considered Cambrian. It was Sedgwick’s protégé and erstwhile friend, Roderick Murchison, whose works led to the reclassification of the majority of the formations of North Wales into Silurian and Ordovician rocks. Sedgwick could not agree with Murchison’s divisions, and a bitter estrangement resulted between the two geologists, lasting from 1852 for more than twenty years. As a suitable memorial testifying to Darwin’s priority in describing the Harlech system, it might now appropriately be called “Darwin’s Dome!”

    http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=F1964&pageseq=7

  5. The movie also repeats the common misconception that Darwin’s ideas about evolution were born while he is in the Galapagos

    It’s interesting that Jonathan Wells was there, given this, since he makes an incredible stink in his book Icons of Evolution arguing that the Galapagos were an ‘afterthought” to Darwin.

    Did Wells correct this error in the Q&A?

  6. Hey from Toronto, Canada

    Just a quick hello from as I’m new to the board. I’ve seen some interesting comments so far.

    To be honest I’m new to forums and computers in general :)

    Mike

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: