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April 07, 2006

Moving The Goalposts Religion  Science/Technology

You may have seen the reports yesterday of the discovery of a rather spectacular fossil: a transitional form intermediate between a fish and the first four-legged land-dwelling vertebrates. Scientific American:

Paleontologists working in the Canadian Arctic have discovered the fossilized remains of an animal that elucidates one of evolution's most dramatic transformations: that which produced land-going vertebrates from fish. Dubbed Tiktaalik roseae, the large, predatory fish bears a number of features found in four-limbed creatures, a group known as tetrapods. [...]

Like all fish, Tiktaalik possesses fins and scales. But it also has a number of distinctly un-piscine characteristics, including a neck, a flat, crocodilelike skull, and robust ribs. As such Tiktaalik neatly fills the gap between previously known tetrapodlike fish such as Panderichthys, which lived some 385 million years ago, and the earliest tetrapods, Ichthyostega and Acanthostega, which lived about 365 million years ago. "Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land animals," Shubin observes. "This animal is both fish and tetrapod; we jokingly call it a 'fishapod.'"

Especially significant is the anatomy of Tiktaalik's pectoral fin, which contains the makings of a proper tetrapod arm...."Most of the major joints of the fin are functional in this fish," Shubin notes. "The shoulder, elbow and even parts of the wrist are already there and working in ways similar to the earliest land-living animals." [...]

Tiktaalik is already drawing comparisons to the iconic early bird, Archaeopteryx, for its explanatory power as a transitional fossil. But it certainly leaves room for more discoveries, especially those bridging the new gap between it and the first tetrapods, along with those that contain clues to the origin of the tetrapod hindlimb. [Emphasis added]

Creationists have long pointed to the scarcity of such "missing links" in the fossil record as (allegedly) evidence against evolution. So how do they react when such fossils are found? Here's what Robert Crowther had to say on a blog of the anti-evolution Discovery Institute (via Pharyngula):

"This latest fossil find poses no threat to intelligent design." So says Discovery Institute senior fellow and leading intelligent design theorist Dr. William Dembski, adding:

"Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred. In particular, it questions whether purposeless material processes — as opposed to intelligence — can create biological complexity and diversity."

The fossil poses no threat to Intelligent Design because nothing can pose a threat to ID. There is no conceivable finding that can disprove ID, because ID proponents can always say that whatever evolution did it did because the Intelligent Designer designed it that way. Which is why ID is not science. As Karl Popper pointed out long ago, the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it can be tested and disproved. Claims that cannot be falsified are necessarily unscientific.

Crowther goes on to say:

Even though this find does not challenge intelligent design, there may be good reasons to be skeptical about it.

These fish are not neccesarily intermediates, explain Discovery Institute scientists I queried about the find. Tiktaalik roseae is one of a set of lobe-finned fishes that include very curious mosaics — these fishes have advanced fully formed characteristics of several different groups. They are not intermediates in the sense that have half-fish/half-tetrapod characteristics. Rather, they have a combination of tetrapod-like features and fish-like features. Paleontologists refer to such organisms as mosaics rather than intermediates. [...]

According to DI Fellows a number of these fishes — Ichthyostega, Elpistostege, Panderichthys — have been hailed in the past as the "missing link." Maybe one is a missing link; maybe none are. What remains unexplained is how natural selection and random mutation could produce the many novel physiological characteristics that arise in true tetrapods. [Emphasis added]

This is just plain dumb. First of all, transitional forms should be mosaics. That's what evolutionary theory predicts. Second, scientists don't talk about "missing links", Creationists do. Scientists certainly don't talk about the missing link. What would that even mean? There are any number of transitional forms — indeed, one could argue that all species are transitional forms, since species are constantly in flux — and the idea of the missing anything is absurd.

But, that aside, the whole response shows how intellectually dishonest the Creationist position is. They decry the lack of "missing links," but whenever a transitional form is found they move the goalposts and say, you may have found that one, but there are still others you haven't found. But of course the fossil record will forever be incomplete. Only an infinitesimal fraction of creatures are fossilized when they die. Even so, the fossil record is constantly being added to and refined. You'd have to be a Creationist not to see that.

Posted by Jonathan at April 7, 2006 10:37 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


I feel sorry for creationists. They're missing out on the splendor of such fascinating science; the unfolding of our mysterious past right before our very eyes.

I feel sorry for creationists. Especially those who believe it's possible to spend an eternity in hell, damned forever. Is there a greater burden then this threat? Would a God of purity use fear to control man?

I feel sorry for creationists. They don't see that everything they need is inside them and how glorious the human spirit is, standing on it's own as well as being apart of everything else, without the rigid rules and judgment of religion.

I just feel sorry for creationists.

Posted by: Jeff at April 8, 2006 12:13 AM

oh no! i have to believe in evolution now! they found more bones!! wow

somthing died! oh wait, does that mean that the "Aquada" boat slash

car, proves that boats turn into cars if you give them a couple

trillion years? hmm mabye people will think that in the future, if the

car/boat survives a million years in ice, then the next species will

think so.
Im curious, so i dont waste my freakin life having no point other then

to live life to the fullest(even though i know that im just telling

myself that to make me think im happy ) is there any better proof that

evolution is real? because i was forced to go to your church ever sence

middle school biology, while they try to convince me that nothing

creates everything. and i believed that for 7 years, because i had

nothing else to believe. but I guess ill have to go to the christians

because their only ones sceptical enough to go against the theory of

evolution. what evolutionist preacher is going to tell me about the

flaws of his religion anyway, i havent found one yet.
you have found some truth to strengthn your belief in your god, but did

you need it? no your faith is sufficient enough. the problem is will,

not truth or faith. you have to want it first. and what you may want is

no god. you get what you want . You dont live untill you find somthing

to die for. ill pray that god shows himself true in your life as he did

in mine.

-i care what happens to you, but he cares more

Posted by: wayne at April 10, 2006 03:00 AM


It's good you have something to believe in. Truly sorry to hear about a middle school class you once attended that temporarily cast doubt in your life.

Ponder - if you choose - that I literally care as much about you as your God cares about me. And that I do so simply because I want to; because of my will.


Posted by: Jeff at April 13, 2006 04:34 PM