Friday, April 07, 2006

Discovered: the missing link that solves a mystery of evolution

Discovered: the missing link that solves a mystery of evolution, The Guardian, Alok Jha, April 6, 2006 Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals, showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago. [See also ABC, ABC/Reuters, BBC, Independent, Nature News, San Francisco Chronicle, The Times, etc.] Palaeontologists have said that the find, a crocodile-like animal called the Tiktaalik roseae and described today in the journal Nature, could become an icon of evolution in action - like Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil that bridged the gap between reptiles and birds. [This sounds like a beat-up. Paleontologists have long ago found tetrapod fossils such as Ichthyostega (~365 mya) and Acanthostega (~360 mya) that "bridged the gap" between fish and amphibians.]

As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power. [You know you have your opponents rattled when they continue to tell deliberate falsehoods to support evolution. This science journalist, Alok Jha, must know that some "proponents of intelligent design" like Mike Behe (and me) accepts "common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor)":

"Evolution is a controversial topic, so it is necessary to address a few basic questions at the beginning of the book. Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. Although Darwin's mechanism-natural selection working on variation-might explain many things, however, I do not believe it explains molecular life. I also do not think it surprising that the new science of the very small might change the way we view the less small." (Behe M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," Free Press: New York NY, 1996, pp.5-6)

That means ID (unlike proponents of separate creations) has no problem with fish and land vertebrates (i.e. amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds) sharing a common tetrapod ancestor and therefore filling in "gaps in the fossil record" with fossils intermediate (both temporally and morphologically) between fish and land vertebrates.

ID's only interest in "the many gaps in the fossil record" (my emphasis) is that the pattern of the "extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record":

"The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record: `The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory. [Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species," Senate: London, Facsimile of 1872 Sixth edition, 1994, pp.312-313]'" (Gould S.J., "Evolution's Erratic Pace," Natural History, The American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 1977, pp.12-16, p.12)

continues to disconfirm Darwinism (which denies design).

Indeed there is no claim in any of these article that this fish-to-amphibian transition, incorporating the many changes (including a fins-feet transition) necessary to move from a completely aquatic, to a completely terrestrial, way of life, was accomplished by the natural selection of random micromutations. In fact the words "random," mutation", "selection" and "Darwin" do not even occur in any of the articles.

Indeed, this is evidence for my "Construction Project Design Argument," which I have argued for in discussion groups (e.g. Calvin Reflector Dec 03, 2000, Dec 30, 2000 1/2 & 2/2 and intend to present in my future book, "The Design Argument".]

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, said: "Our emergence on to the land is one of the more significant rites of passage in our evolutionary history, and Tiktaalik is an important link in the story." [It is interesting how evolutionists just tack on "evolutionary" to "history" (and to everything they wish to claim for evolution), but labelling something "evolutionary" does not make it so. If Christianity is true (which it is) then it actually is creationary history!]

Tiktaalik - the name means "a large, shallow-water fish" in the Inuit language Inuktikuk - shows that the evolution of animals from living in water to living on land happened gradually, with fish first living in shallow water. [There is no evidence that this transition "happened gradually" in the Darwinian sense of "slight, successive, favourable variations:

"As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can act only by short and slow steps. Hence the canon of `Natura non facit saltum,' [nature does not make leaps] which every fresh addition to our knowledge tends to confirm, is on this theory intelligible." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection," Senate: London, Facsimile of 1872 Sixth Edition, 1994, Reprinted, 1995, pp.413-414)]

The animal lived in the Devonian era lasting from 417m to 354m years ago, and had a skull, neck, and ribs similar to early limbed animals (known as tetrapods), as well as a more primitive jaw, fins, and scales akin to fish. [This is more evidence of a line of fish being prepared in advance and progressively modified by an Intelligent Designer (who I assume to be the God of the Bible) for life on land. It fits my Progressive Mediate Creation model at least as well (if not better), than Darwinism's `blind watchmaker' model. Even Dawkins had to admit that "legs originally evolved for movement in water, not on land":

"But what did Concestor 17 look like: the ancestor that amphibians share with reptiles and ourselves? Certainly more like an amphibian than an amniote, and more like a salamander than a frog - but probably not much like either. The best fossils are in Greenland which, during the Devonian Period, was on the equator. These possibly transitional fossils have been much studied, among them Acanthostega, which seems to have been wholly aquatic (showing that `legs' originally evolved for movement in water, not on land), and Ichthyostega." (Dawkins R., "The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution," Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston MA, 2004, p.297)

which is as good a disconfirmation of `blind watchmaker' evolution and confirmation of Intelligent Designer progressive creation as one could expect. By the way, Dawkins also does not claim in his Ancestors' Tale, that the fish-amphibian (including fins-feet) transition was accomplished by the natural selection of random micromutations!]

The scientists who discovered it say the animal was a predator with sharp teeth, a crocodile-like head, and a body that grew up to 2.75 metres (9ft) long. "It's very important for a number of reasons, one of which is simply the fact that it's so well-preserved and complete," said Jennifer Clack, a paleontologist at Cambridge University and author of an accompanying article in Nature. [The "crocodile-like head" sounds like it is too specialised to be on the main line for the transition from fish to amphibians.]

Scientists have previously been able to trace the transition of fish into limbed animals only crudely over the millions of years they anticipate the process took place. They suspected that an animal which bridged the gap between fish and land-based tetrapods must have existed - but, until now, there had been scant evidence of one. [It is interesting how evolutionists, with rare exceptions, only admit there is "scant evidence" of a transition when they find one! But just one fossil still means that if there was "scant evidence" of a transition, then there still is. ]"Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land-living animal both in terms of its anatomy and its way of life," said Neil Shubin, a biologist at the University of Chicago, and a leader of the expedition which found Tiktaalik. [It sounds to me that this is still on the fish side of the transition. ]

The near-pristine fossil was found on Ellesmere Island, Canada, which is 600 miles from the north pole in the Arctic Circle. Scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University led several expeditions into the inhospitable icy desert to search for the fossils. The find is the first complete evidence of an animal that was on the verge of the transition from water to land. [Note the words, "on the verge of the transition from water to land". So we have this line of fish species whose bodies were being progressively remodelled (one of the Nature articles notes that "The transition between fishes and limbed vertebrates, or tetrapods required changes to virtually the entire body") to prepare one of their far-distant descendant species to make the transition from water to land"!]

"The find is a dream come true," said Ted Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences. "We knew that the rocks on Ellesmere Island offered a glimpse into the right time period and were formed in the right kinds of environments to provide the potential for finding fossils documenting this important evolutionary transition." When Tiktaalik lived, the Canadian Arctic region was part of a land mass which straddled the equator. Like the Amazon basin today, it had a subtropical climate and the animal lived in small streams. The skeleton indicates that it could support its body under the force of gravity. [So why did only one line of fish develop within fully functional fins the bones that would eventually become limbs and digits in all land vertebrates? Just another lucky blunder by the `blind watchmaker'?:

"The tetrapods probably evolved from an otherwise extinct group of lobefins called the osteolepiforms. Among osteolepiforms are Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys, both dating from the late Devonian, about the time when the first tetrapods were starting to emerge onto the land. Why did fish first develop the changes that permitted the move out of water onto the land? Lungs, for example? And fins that you could walk on rather than, or as well as, swim with? It wasn't that they were trying to initiate the next big chapter in evolution!" (Dawkins R., "The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution," Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston MA, 2004, p.298)

Or a deep laid subtle plan by an Intelligent Designer/God?]

Farish Jenkins, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University said: "This represents a critical early phase in the evolution of all limbed animals, including humans - albeit a very ancient step." [Note "of all limbed animals, including humans." It never seems to occur to evolutionists that if the `blind watchmaker' got this wrong, we (along with all land animals) would not be here and nor would the theory of evolution! It occurred to me on my previous list, CED, that God has deliberately designed the universe to be like an ambiguous Rorschach inkblot test in which the pattern we see, is what we want to see, which in turn reflects what is really in our heart." There is plenty of evidence for far-sighted design, but the evolutionist does not want to see that, because they know intuitively that the Designer would be God (even though that cannot be proved).]

Tiktaalik also gives biologists a new understanding of how fins turned into limbs. Its fin contains bones that compare to the upper arm, forearm and primitive parts of the hand of land-living animals. "Most of the major joints of the fin are functional in this fish," Professor Shubin said. "The shoulder, elbow and even parts of the wrist are already there and working in ways similar to the earliest land-living animals." [See above on why would one line of fish, start turning its fin bones into limbs? It is not as though this was advantageous because those transitional forms, having accomplished their task, have gone extinct. I have in the past claimed (on a discussion list) that this transition is an example of a " structure of one species" (namely fins becoming legs) "formed for the exclusive good of another species" (namely all land vertebrates to come for the next ~400 million years) and therefore an annihilation of Darwin's theory:

"Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in a species exclusively for the good of another species; though throughout nature one species incessantly takes advantage of and profits by, the structures of others. But natural selection can and does often produce structures for the direct injury of other animals, as we see in the fang of the adder, and in the ovipositor of the ichneumon, by which its eggs are deposited in the living bodies of other insects. If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, p.186)

However, neither Darwin, nor Darwinists, would ever accept that their theory had been falsified. They would no doubt imagine some immediate advantage for these incipient legs-to-be, even though: 1) those fish that had that `advantage' all went extinct; and 2) those fish that did not have that `advantage' are doing very well with their `disadvantage'!]

Dr Clack said that, judging from the fossil, the first evolutionary transition from sea to land probably involved learning how to breathe air. "Tiktaalik has lost a series of bones that, in fishes, covers the gill region and helps to operate the gill-breathing mechanism," she said. "The air-breathing mechanism it had would have been elaborated and having lost the series of bones that lies between the head and the shoulder girdle means it's got a neck, it can raise its head more easily in order to gulp the air. "The flexible robust limbs appear to be connected with pushing the head out of the water to breathe the air." [So why would a fish remodel its entire system just to be able to "breathe air"? When it still had gills? It is more likely that (unlike Darwinian adaptationism's "form followed function") in this case, "function followed form". That is, the changes were progressively made to one line of fish's breathing (and just about every other) system by an Intelligent Designer towards a far-distant goal that of vertebrates emerging onto the prepared land to ecologically fill it (Genesis 1:22, 28). ]

H Richard Lane, director of sedimentary geology and palaeobiology at the US National Science Foundation, said: "These exciting discoveries are providing fossil Rosetta stones for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone - fish to land-roaming tetrapods." ... [He's right about the "milestone - fish to land-roaming tetrapods" but not about the "evolutionary"-see above!]

PS: See below where Mivart pointed out the problem, "on the Darwinian hypothesis" of "the preservation and development of the first rudiments of limbs to be accounted for-such rudiments being, on the hypothesis in question, minute and functionless". He also points out how "we find in many fishes the pair of fins, which correspond to the hind-limbs of other animals, placed so far forwards as to be either on the same level with, or actually in front of, the normally anterior pair of limbs" and "This is a, wonderful contrast to the fixity of position of vertebrate limbs generally". In other words, why "(on the Darwinian hypothesis)" would those two pairs of fins, which correspond to the four limbs of land vertebrates, begin to grow only there, before they would be any immediate use to the fish species in which it first began. And why would a `blind watchmaker' invent such an elaborate solution, if all the fish needed to do was stiffen up its existing fin-bones, in order to serve as a prop in the water? I will add this quote and comment to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 13.5.1. "Amphibians ... Fin-leg transition"]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"Another difficulty seems to be the first formation of the limbs of the higher animals. The lowest Vertebrata are perfectly limbless; and if, as most Darwinians would probably assume, the primeval vertebrate creature was also apodal, how are the preservation and development of the first rudiments of limbs to be accounted for-such rudiments being, on the hypothesis in question, minute and functionless? In reply to this it has been suggested ... that a mere roughness of the skin might be useful to a swimming animal by holding the water better, that thus minute processes might be selected and preserved, and that, in the same way, these might be gradually increased into limbs. But it is, to say the least, very questionable whether a roughness of the skin, or minute processes, would be useful to a swimming animal; the motion of which they would as much impede as aid, unless they were at once capable of' a suitable and appropriate action, which is against the hypothesis. Again, the change from mere indefinite and accidental processes to two regular pairs of symmetrical limbs, as the result of merely fortuitous favouring variations, is a step the feasibility of which hardly commends itself to the reason, seeing the very different positions assumed by the ventral fins in different fishes. If the above suggestion made in opposition to the views here asserted be true, then the general constancy of position of the limbs of the Vertebrata may be considered as due to the position assumed by the primitive rugosities from which those limbs were generated. Clearly only two pairs of rugosities were so preserved and developed, and all limbs (on this view) are descendants of the same two pairs, as all have so similar a fundamental structure. Yet we find in many fishes the pair of fins, which correspond to the hind-limbs of other animals, placed so far forwards as to be either on the same level with, or actually in front of, the normally anterior pair of limbs; and such fishes are from this circumstance called `thoracic' or `jugular' fishes respectively, as the weaver fishes and the cod. This is a, wonderful contrast to the fixity of position of vertebrate limbs generally. If then such a change can have taken place in the comparatively short time occupied by the evolution of these special fish forms, we must certainly expect that other and far more bizarre structures would (did out some law forbid) have been developed, from other rugosities in the, manifold exigencies of the multitudinous organisms which must (on the Darwinian hypothesis) have been gradually evolved during the enormous period intervening between the first, appearance of vertebrate life and the present day. Yet, with these exceptions, the position of the limbs is constant from the lower fishes up to man, there being always an anterior pectoral pair placed in front of a posterior or pelvic pair when both are present, and in no single instance are there more than these two pairs." (Mivart St.G. J., "On the Genesis of Species," Macmillan & Co: London, Second edition, 1871, pp.43-45. Emphasis original)


PaulEdward Snyder said...

I hope you don't mind a comment from what you seem to think to think an adversary. I've read your response to "the missing link" and also your response to "the evolution of faith" and I'm unable to assertain just exactly what you are suggesting as the explanation for our origin. Do you advocate the creation of life and of our ancestors 10,000 approximate years ago or do you advocate intelligent design?

I'm an evolutionist, but I am also a person of faith. I do not believe God exists; I believe He created existence. I suppose that makes me a supporter of the clockmaker theory, but I believe God is much more than that and I believe He is present in His creation. I believe that He is a master craftsman and that His creation is unfolding, evolving, as He created it to unfold.

I believe that, since God is the ultimate craftsman, there is no need for Him to interfere in that unfolding. Whether He does participate or not, I do not of course know. I do know that I feel His presence. I also know that this feeling is irrational.

Being irrational does not bother me. It is part of who I am. I intuit God. I have not ben able to logically ascertain His presence and I feel no need to do so. I am a person of faith. I have a relationship with God. This I know. It is not something I need to justify.

I am intrigued by Intelligent Design, but I do not consider it a rational conclusion. It is a step beyond the rational. It is intuitive. Science has its place and I appreciate that. It has proven extremely helpful, but it affects me only superficially. God's presence is fundamental. It affects me at a much deeper level. Consequently, I use scientific discovery when it is useful, but I do not let it affect me fundamentally.

You seem to see the situation much differently. I would appreciate your input, but I do not expect it. I do feel better having expressed myself. Thank you for that opportunity.

Stephen E. Jones said...


I hope you don't mind a comment from what you seem to think to think an adversary.

Thanks for your comment.

>I've read your response to "the missing link" and also your response to "the evolution of faith" and I'm unable to assertain just exactly what you are suggesting as the explanation for our origin.

My position is Progressive Mediate Creation [], i.e. that God: 1) created *immediately* (i.e. ex nihilo) the raw materials of the Universe; and 2) thereafter He worked *mediately* (i.e. through existing materials, either supernaturally or naturally).

>Do you advocate the creation of life and of our ancestors 10,000 approximate years ago or do you advocate intelligent design?

This is a false dichotomy. Many advocate both. However, as the title block of my blog says, " I am an Australian Christian old-Earth creationist/IDist biologist who accepts common ancestry."

>I'm an evolutionist, but I am also a person of faith.

A "person of faith" is meaningless (since *every* person is a "a person of faith" in *something*.

Even an atheist has "faith" that God does not exist). It is what a person has "faith" *in* that is the important thing.

>I do not believe God exists; I believe He created existence.

That is self-contradictory. God has to exist to be "God", "He", and create.


>Being irrational does not bother me.

You can be "irrational" with my blessing. Just don't expect me to waste my scarce time responding to your "irrational" comments.


Stephen E. Jones

PaulEdward Snyder said...

Thank you for answering my questions. I won’t waste any more of your time, but I do appreciate your taking the time to enlighten me.