Tuesday, December 27, 2011

News from the Vendian

Headline-writing is an art most resembling free verse. Free verse is a flattering sort of writing genre, much like modern art. Anyone can do it. The two headlines I want to talk about today come, respectively, from The State Column (link) and Science News (link):

Fossilized cells found in China may challenge theory of evolution
Early animals dethroned

The actual stories beneath these leads deal with the same subject; it’s the discovery of some fossilized blobs of once living matter 570 million years old. Such blobs were once thought to be algae; then, in 1998, they were reclassified as the embryos of animals; now X-ray methods have revealed that they are neither. They appear to be some precursor creatures that divide by a process called palintomy. New cells form inside the blobs until they are compressed so much that the blob explodes and lets them out. Cell-formation by palintomy resembles cell production in an embryo, hence the 1998 reclassification. And since no animals, as such, in embryo or otherwise, have been found as far back as 570 million years ago, the current discovery is best described by the headline from Science News: Early animals dethroned. Sorry, folks. Animals came later. The State Column, however, is a political publication; its pages are as thick with news of Gingrich, Trump, Perry, Romney, and Ron Paul as those blobs are thick with would-be spores. Therefore this minor re-dating of a recent back-dating of animal origins suddenly becomes a “challenge” to the very “theory of evolution.” Goodness gracious.

The real formation of animals took place in the Cambrian period 543-490 YA (that’s years ago). Therefore the blobs date to the Vendian (650-543 YA). Darwin hoped that life could be extended back and said that “the difficulty of assigning any good reason for the absence of vast piles of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian system is very great” (Origin of the Species, Chapter X), hence the effort by some means to extend the records backwards, and the Vendian is the new frontier of that. Two steps backward, one step forward. Ain’t that a shame? For the sensitives it shakes the very foundations of reality.

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