October 9, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

A Turtle Missing Link: Are We Missing Something?

Everyone knows the iconic drawing of the parade of human evolution (see 09/23/2008 commentary); now, its turtle counterpart is making the rounds.  An article on New Scientist shows the march of progress from lizard to turtle.  The title says, “Fossil reveals how the turtle got its shell.”  Something is missing from the article, though: a picture of the fossil.  There is also no clear placement of this fossil in a lineage preceding turtles.
    Finding a description of the fossil requires weeding through a number of claims about turtle evolution: e.g., “Over millions of years, rows of protective armour plates gradually fused together and to the reptile’s vertebrae, eventually creating a complete shell” and “Turtles ultimately originated from something that looked like an armadillo.”  (Note: armadillos are mammals.)  Nevertheless, the article owned up to the fact that the chain is missing, not just the link: “A newly identified fossil could explain one of evolution’s biggest mysteries – the origin of the turtle’s shell.”  And whatever the value this fossil provides in solving this mystery, the fragments only “suggest that the earliest turtles didn’t have much of a shell at all.”
    So what is the empirical evidence in the story?  Two paleontologists from natural history museums, Walter Joyce from Connecticut and Spencer Lucas of New Mexico, found pieces of a thin-shelled turtle in Triassic strata.  Not only is the shell very thin, the dorsal rib bones are not attached to it.  Another paleontologist, who called this a “crucial new discovery,” said, “This new guy is an animal that belong [sic] to the lineage of turtles.”  Guillermo Rougier (U of Louisville) continued, “it’s a proto-turtle in a way.
    The evolutionary story begins to weaken on close inspection.  This same paleontologist had found other Triassic turtles with complete shells.  Wikipedia, which is usually staunchly pro-evolution, had to fill in the origin of turtles with guesswork: “The earliest known fully-shelled turtle is the late-Triassic Proganochelys, though this species already had many advanced turtle traits, and thus probably had many millions of years of preceding ‘turtle’ evolution and species in its ancestry.”
    In the New Scientist article, no mention was made if the new fossil precedes the earliest one.  And surprisingly, it ends with an admission that turtles, like so many other animal lineages, appear abruptly in the fossil record and persist for millions of years.  There may be dramatic variations on the theme, but no transmutation into another body plan.
    The article also failed to account for the possibility that this fossil was a mutant or degenerate descendent of a fully-shelled ancestor.  Considering this specimen to be a turtle on the half shell (i.e., missing link), also seems poorly supported if there is no compelling hypothesis for why the turtle lineage embarked on the pathway to shelldom in the first place:

Exactly why turtles evolved their shell remains a mystery, Joyce says.  A full shell might offer added protection and stability.  And the proof could be in the pudding – their body plan is the world’s oldest, changing little over 200 million years.  “For some reason just being a turtle is an idea that came along and just really works,” he says.

Joyce apparently thinks that chance is a perfectly adequate scientific explanation.  The “idea” just came along; it worked, so it remained unchanged for 200 million years. 

Joyce’s comment is so worthy of the SEQOTW prize, he gets to share it with Gill Bejerano (see next entry).  Can you believe what the Darwinists get away with in science these days?  If we are to understand this article, chance came up with an idea (stop right there).  Does your pet rock ever come up with ideas?  How about the dust devil sweeping over the highway?  Furthermore, this idea came by pure chance.  Here we have the Darwinians resorting to the Stuff Happens Law again (see 09/15/2008 commentary).  Then they tell us that such ideas, emerging by chance, are so good, so wondrously engineered, that “for some reason” naturalism knows what, chance decides they “work” very well.  So here Lady Luck is not only an inventor but the judge of the invention.
    How do we know this is a great idea?  Well, they say, the proof is right there: in the pudding.  This opens up a whole new method of divination (07/26/2008 commentary) for the Darwinian soothslayers (Note: sooth means truth).  We’ll call it puddingoscopy.  Lady Luck looks into her pudding and finds proof, Joyce says.  The angle of the folds and bubbles, the color and texture, or some other attributes of unknown character, provide her with clues.  An “idea” flashes into her mind.  Her imagination tells her it will “work.”  She fleshes out the details, records it in genetic information, and there it remains: a best-seller for 200 million years.
    What we’re witnessing here is not the origin of turtles, but rather the origin of new chapters in Darwin’s Just-So Storybook (09/30/2008).  This one, “How the Turtle Got Its Shell,” is always printed in hardback: perhaps for protection and stability.  “For some reason, just being a turtle is an idea that came along and just really works.”  “Just”?  In science, plagiarizing intelligent design for Lady Luck should be considered very unjust.  CEH declares a citizen’s arrest (see 09/30/2007 commentary).

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