So, why were Ediacaran fauna, and Hallucigenia, designed?

Darwinian evolution cannot pursue a future goal.  The Edge of Evolution 112

One cannot write about life, present or past, as if it had ever been the result of “future goals,” except by ignoring the many constraints that “Darwinian evolution” has imposed upon humans and the other organisms.  The most glaring lack of future goals is probably seen in the exceedingly great number of extinctions that have occurred–the many “designs” that evolution has tried out, and that then were callously killed off without thought or regret.

Perhaps it is not then surprising that, even in its early days, ID had trouble identifying purpose.  Paley went so far as to state the following:

For although more of this apparent chance may perhaps upon other principles, be accounted for, than is generally supposed, yet a future state alone rectifies all disorders;  (emphasis added).  Natural theology    chap. 26

The context makes the issue out to be more complex in Paley’s thinking, suffice it to say that he retains a belief in identifiable purposes which is absent in today’s ID.  One of these “purposes” seems to hark back to creation for the sake of diversity, a kind of sense of an abounding goodness that theologians like St. Augustine believed that were behind God’s creation.  But, of course, what would be the point of creating diversity only for it to be lost to extinction?  So we get this statement from Paley:

The result is, that out of the many thousands of different plants which cover the earth, not a single species, perhaps, has been lost since the creation. Natural theology    chap. 20

Paley is always useful to juxtapose against the appallingly meaningless sense of “design” that the IDists insist upon today–the latter being a misrepresentation of all meanings of  “design” meant to avoid any honest test for design that could possibly be devised.  None of the early proponents–of the concept of life having been designed–imagined calling the high level of waste and extinction documented in the fossil record a case of “design,” rather they imagined that life was designed to survive (with little or no extinction), and even to lead to a relatively beneficial state in sentient organisms.

This is why I chose to linger a bit longer on the issue of Ediacaran and Cambrian fauna, after posting about the matter here.  There are two crucial follow-up issues that ought to be mentioned.  One is the fact that evolutionary theory predicts (unlike modern ID, which can predict nothing at all in an entailed way) that more and more of the organisms we see as we move back in time will be members of extinct lines.  We see this in both the Cambrian and in the Precambrian, as none of the Ediacaran fauna can be definitely said to belong to any extant lines, and many of the Cambrian fauna also have died out.  That is not the issue to which I have been leading and wish to discuss presently, however, this being the fact that, unlike any intellectually honest design expectations, the carnage of evolution has been very great indeed, with no evident purpose behind the “design” of Ediacaran fauna at all–not even the imagined purposes that Paley and other theologians used in their discussions.

The Ediacaran fauna are a strange mix of soft and strange animals, some of whose impressions may be seen here. As I mentioned in my previous DBB post, it appears as though they all died out, after a radiation not very dissimilar from that of the Cambrian radiation.  While it remains possible that there are close affinities between some Cambrian fauna and at least some of the Ediacaran fauna, the latter assemblage of animals largely died out prior to the Cambrian radiation.

The closest that Behe comes to defining “design” is as a “purposeful arrangement of parts.”  Not only does he avoid telling us how malaria pathogens fit into any kind of “purposeful arrangement of parts,” he certainly doesn’t bother telling us the purpose of “designing” all of the hapless Ediacaran animals, only for them to be wiped out by some cause or other, quite possibly the upwelling of euxinic waters previously mentioned. Here is a diagram using long lines for living phyla, and short lines for extinct phyla, showing that many groups died out soon after they appeared. I note also that phyla are generally considered to have arisen in the Cambrian.

Hallucigenia is one of the bizarre organisms which arose in the Cambrian, only to go extinct relatively soon thereafter.

Apparently the designer has nothing much to do except to design exquisitely complex organisms, only to cause, or at least allow, them to go extinct.  The Ediacaran fauna are possibly the best example of the carelessness of life that “Darwinian evolution” is expected to have, but the Cambrian period’s animals have largely become extinct as well, albeit with many lines producing living descendents.  Yet most of the lines of even the living phyla end at extinction, with only a relatively few lines producing the “crown groups” that exist today in all of their diversity.  The non-avian dinosaurs are only one of many groups that have gone extinct, as some “dominant groups” that existed prior to them also went extinct.

Closer to ourselves, we find a host of upright apes and Homo species existing and then going extinct.  If the IDists cannot inform us about any purpose or reason for Hallucigenia or the dinosaurs existing, can they at least not tell us why australopithecines, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalis existed, only to end up on the scrapheap of history?  No? 

Well then surely we have essentially no reason to turn to “design” to explain the patterns of life that we see. 

What is sort of amazing is that Behe seems quite willing to bring up the aspects of life that tell decidedly against design, and which usually militate in favor of evolution.  Malaria is wholly unproblematic within unguided evolution, and extremely problematic for claims of design–whether because of its lack any rational design existing behind it, or due to the lack of demonstrable purpose for its existence.  And why should Behe bring up the lack of “future goals” in evolution, when all of the extinctions, evolutionarily-constrained “poor designs” existing in today’s animals, and parasitical relationships, exhibit no future goals existing behind them? 

Above all, why would Behe wish to bring up the fact that design typically uses “conceptual precursors” (although one wonders why God would), and evolution is constrained to use “physical precursors” (DBB  45)?  The only reason evolutionary theory is able to accurately predict that complex metazoan life will appear less and less familiar the further back we go is precisely because it cannot use “conceptual precursors.”  For the same reason, an honest model of design could not predict that at all.  And that is even before we note that his “irreducibly complex” biochemical pathways always betray the use of the physical precursors.

Unsurprisingly, many of these questions have been asked of the IDists repeatedly, with silence being almost the only response.  The very rare times when a fellow of the Discovery Institute have engaged any of us on the various forums have always demonstrated that they are nothing but disingenuous propagandists, with no interest in actually coming up with any answers to relevant biological questions.  All that they ever want to do is to insist that evolution “is impossible,” and that a “design” lacking answers to any of the scientific questions should replace it by default.  Behe is likely their best, but he, too, manages to avoid practically all of the questions we moderns ask, and even practically all of the issues that Paley at least attempted to address in his day. 

Nothing speaks worse of ID than the fact that it has rather fewer (zero, to be exact) relatively causal hypotheses to answer the questions of biology than existed two centuries ago.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

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2 Comments on “So, why were Ediacaran fauna, and Hallucigenia, designed?”


  1. […] should note that I wrote this not realizing that I had not, in fact, lost the post that I wrote yesterday, on the same topic. I am still learning how WordPress works. This one, however, points more directly to evolutionary […]


  2. […] should note that I wrote this not realizing that I had not, in fact, lost the post that I wrote yesterday, on the same topic. I am still learning how WordPress works. This one, however, points more directly to evolutionary […]


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