Fossil Finds Feed Facile Fables
Remarkable fossils continue to come to science’s attention, yielding clues about past ecological conditions. Once in awhile, whole fossil specimens – even graveyards of many organisms – are uncovered, but most fossils are mere fragments. Placing fossils into interpretive stories requires knowledge of other fossils and comparisons with living species. Even then, the history of life is not directly observable. Fossils, being silent, can only show their current state; the lack of access to the past, combined with ignorance of all the clues, leaves room for alternative interpretations. Evolutionists, in their desire to fit fossils into a preconceived story, sometimes go far beyond what the actual fossil evidence is capable of saying – and some of their explanations border on the miraculous.
Insect ancestors: Some beautifully-preserved imprints of bizarre insects have been found in South America. PhysOrg promised that these “Mysterious fossils provide new clues to insect evolution,” even though they look just as complex as living species, with wings and all: “Equipped with wing venation of a mayfly, breast and wing shape of a dragonfly, and legs of a praying mantis, these winged insects look like a patchwork of various animals.” The new species, named Coxoplectoptera, resembles living mayflies, but the article said that they “significantly differ from both mayflies and all other known insects in anatomy and mode of life,” even though their mode of life (a “major enigma”) is not observable; the “Mode of embedding and some of their characters clearly suggest a fluvial habitat,” they decided.
Somehow, these specimens also promised to provide “clues to the long-standing controversial debate of the evolutionary origin of the insect wing,” even though these fossil insects already had fully formed, functioning wings. Can evolutionists watch wings evolve in a fossil sequence? Apparently not; “The scientists presume that wings originated from thoracic backplates, while leg genes were recruited for their developmental control.” That’s a lot of beneficial mutations. “Overall,” the skeptical reader is reassured, “the exciting discovery of Coxoplectoptera contributes to a better understanding of insect evolution.” Live Science called the new insect “an ancient Frankenstein insect”; its coverage of insect evolution was filled with speculation, debate, and unanswered questions.
Jaws: PhysOrg reported a claim that “Vertebrate jaw design locked 400 million years ago” (a case of theoretical lockjaw?). Dr. Phillip Anderson of the University of Bristol unraveled previous evolutionary assumptions:
“Surprisingly, our results indicate that long-held assumptions concerning the replacement of jawless fishes by newly evolved jawed forms are likely wrong. The variety of feeding mechanisms in early jawed animals appears to have had little to no affect on the diversity of jawless fishes, which shared ecological space with the jawed fishes for at least 30 million years before beginning to notably decline. When the jawless fishes do decline, we see no indication that their jawed cousins took up new functional roles, calling into question old ideas of ecological replacement.
“Furthermore, jawed vertebrates achieved a stable diversity in their feeding apparatus early in their evolution, and maintained this diversity in the face of major environmental changes during the Devonian period. Previous studies have suggested that the rise of major jawed vertebrate ecological diversity is tied to a documented oxygenation event 400 million years ago, but our results place the first burst of diversification of jawed vertebrates well before that.”
- Patagonia eucalyptus: Fossil leaves, flowers, fruits and buds from a eucalyptus tree have been found in Patagonia. PhysOrg gave the date three significant figures, saying they are 51.9 million years old, “making them the oldest scientifically validated Eucalyptus macrofossils and the only ones conclusively identified as naturally occurring outside of Australasia.” Even the subgenus was recognizable; this “makes that subgenus older than previously thought.” Eucalyptus are extinct in South America today. “The evolutionary history of Eucalyptus and its relatives has been poorly documented from the fossil record,” the article confessed. Nevertheless, the research team claims they “were able to accurately date the fossils and then place them in a phylogenetic context in relation to living plants,” so that “the findings may now be used as a reference point to test the results of recent molecular dating studies that have calculated the age of the eucalypts.” The article did not state that these fossils were any less complex or well-adapted than living trees, nor did it suggest that they were a transitional form.
- Tetrapod revisions: A new paper in PLoS One tries to revamp the origin of tetrapods. The paper by David George and Alain Blieck referred to the tetrapod tracks found in Poland. Surprisingly, they did not mention the famous Tiktaalik fossil that had yielded TV specials and a book by its discoverer, Neil Shubin, titled Your Inner Fish (01/16/2008). Tiktaalik was later discredited as the forerunner of tetrapods, being younger than the Polish fossil tracks (01/06/2010). Instead of new fossils, the authors claim that the driving force to develop feet was higher oxygen. Here is their thesis in their own words:
The results have shown that tetrapods evolved from marine environments during times of higher oxygen levels. The change in environmental conditions played a major role in their evolution. According to our analysis this evolution occurred at about 397-416 MYA during the Early Devonian unlike previously thought. This idea is supported by various environmental factors such as sea levels and oxygen rate, and biotic factors such as biodiversity of arthropods and coral reefs. The molecular data also strongly supports lungfish as tetrapod’s closest living relative.
- Brazil crocodile: A partial crocodile skull has been found in Brazil with really big teeth and a dog-shaped head. According to PhysOrg, evolutionists surmise it was 70 million years old and lived in a dog-like ecology, galloping on elongated limbs. Do they know all this? The article ended, “Though their importance for crocodyliform evolution is widely recognized, there are still a lot of questions about the internal relationships of the group not yet studied, but which all three researchers plan to explore.”
- Texas crocodile: Another crocodile snout has been found in Texas. What does it mean? Science Daily said it was thought to originate in Europe, and looks similar to a living species in India, but appears to be a Texas native that is 96 million years old – the oldest member of its group. This implies it evolved not in Europe, but in North America. How it got to India was not explained. The discovery team said of this monster that was probably 25 feet long, “this actually changes a lot about what we thought we knew about this group.” The article also said that of hundreds of species of crocodiles in ancient times, only 23 species remain on earth today. This one must have died in the water. That’s puzzling, since they are good swimmers. It had to have been buried very quickly, the researchers said.
- Duckbill dinosaur: Two specimens of a new hadrosaur species were found within a year and 650 miles apart – one in Montana, one in Utah. According to PhysOrg, these are the oldest duckbills known, 79.3 million years old on the evolutionary timeline. The headline announced, “New duck-billed dinosaur gives scientists clues to evolution of head ornamentation and provinciality,” and was “named by scientists who expect the discovery to shed new light on dinosaur evolution.” What light, specifically, does it shed? “The new fossil hints that the two different styles of hadrosaur headgear evolved independently from an ancestor that did not possess ornamentation.” But the find is also “suggesting that earlier species of duck-billed dinosaurs roamed over a much larger region of North America than their successors four million years later.” Does this imply some kind of law of nature, that the more elaborate the headgear, the smaller the range? Maybe the Darwin mobile plan adds roaming charges on fashion models.
- Dinosaur growth: How did dinosaurs grow so large? A report on Nature News, “Dinosaurs: Rise of the Titans,” addresses the question. “The sauropods were the biggest creatures ever to walk the planet,” reporter Frederic Heeren began. “But the keys to their success emerged in their tiny ancestors.” He began with the wow factor:
From tail to snout, they stretched as long as four London double-decker buses parked end-to-end. The largest grew from 10-kilogram hatchlings to 100,000-kilogram adults. Their legs alone weighed several tonnes. No land creatures before or since have ever attained the size of the sauropod dinosaurs.
Obviously, these titans “had a suite of specializations that enabled them to reach such immense proportions,” including long necks, wide-opening jaws, rake-like teeth, sturdy bones with hollowed-out vertebrae that balanced sturdiness with light weight, and a faster-than-normal growth rate. “Palaeontologists have long thought that these anatomical novelties arose with the large sauropods – that a burst of evolutionary specializations coincided with the explosion in size,” Heeren said. Such miracle stories are no longer necessary, he claimed, because “a slew of discoveries in recent years reveals that many important changes first showed up long before, among the relatively puny forerunners of sauropods known as the early sauropodomorphs.”
How could these upright-walking midgets be the ancestors of four-legged Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus? It’s a story of pre-adaptations, Heeren argued: “they achieved their gigantic size because they evolved from small-bodied ancestors that already had these features.” For instance, their learning to like plants “kick-started the increase in body size,” one evolutionist claimed. This seems a strange idea, considering that gophers eat plants but are not anywhere near the size of sauropods. It also seems unconvincing that diet alone would cause a whole suite of anatomical novelties to arise. That sounds just as much an evolutionary miracle as before. Heeren fills in his story with particular fossil discoveries, but ends up with a kind of Lamarckian story: the need or desire of the animals produced the necessary body changes: e.g., “That kind of feeding required long necks, which would have been impossibly heavy if they were built with solid vertebrae.” Apparently Darwin (or Lamarck) was there to meet the requirement. Even if pneumatic vertebrae are found in earlier sauropodomorphs, it begs the question how or why those animals “evolved” them if they didn’t have long necks and London-bus-sized frames.
Heeren hedged his bets on his story. After mentioning Leonerasaurus, a creature with rake-like teeth similar to those of sauropods, he let the air out of the bag: “Researchers note that Leonerasaurus and other known sauropodomorphs were not the ancestors of sauropods.” Then he confessed, “Because the fossil record is so spotty, it is usually impossible to identify direct ancestors.” Then, begging the readers’ credulity, he added, “But the prosauropods and near-sauropods of the Jurassic preserve information about adaptations that appeared among the unknown ancestors of sauropods.” His final paragraph presents the new Stuff Happens Theory of Wonka Ticket Evolution:
The sauropod story shows the importance of pre-adaptations – traits that are neutral or serve some purpose but later become co-opted to fill a new function. Such traits constrain the future evolutionary pathways of a lineage, but with hindsight they can seem fortuitous for something that researchers consider an important attribute, such as gigantism. “The evolution of sauropods does look like kind of a crapshoot in which everything fell into place,” says [Matthew] Wedel [Western U of Health Sciences]. “Sauropods seem to have somehow gotten the evolutionary Wonka ticket of all the features that they needed to grow big.”
Dinosaur displays: A couple of monumental displays of dinosaur fossils were featured in recent news. This week in California, a 14,000 square foot Dinosaur Hall opened at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, with 300 fossils and 20 skeletons of many species, including three T. rex specimens. PhysOrg reported that the permanent exhibit features Thomas, one of the most complete T. rex skeletons in the world. “The skeleton of a two-year-old T. rex – believed to be the youngest specimen in the world – is mostly a reconstruction, as all that was found were parts of the skull,” the report added. As for the ongoing public fascination with dinosaurs’ “enormous size, their weirdness, the fact that animals like these ones were alive, walked right there, in our own backyard in a way, millions of years ago,” curator Luis Chiappe commented, “The fact that they’re not animals that live in our imagination – they are real animals, and yet they were almost magical because of their appearance – all this makes them very popular.”
On the other side of North America, an exhibit at the American Natural History Museum in New York puts flesh on the dinosaur bones. “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs,” curated by Mark Norell, showing till January 2, 2012, features reconstructions of the internal anatomy of giant sauropods. In Nature, reviewer Brian Switek confessed, “Naturally, reverse-engineering the anatomy and physiology of animals from prehistoric bones involves speculation and informed guesswork. What sauropod hearts looked like must be inferred from those of birds and crocodiles, and the physiological functions of the air sacs in sauropod bones are still debated.” The exhibit apparently doesn’t take sides on the debate about whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold-blooded.
- Dinosaur impact: The belief that dinosaurs went extinct from a meteor impact received indirect support from the discovery of a fossil ceratopsian in Montana. Found just 5 inches below the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary, it appears to be “one of the last dinosaurs to exist before the mass extinction that gave way to the age of mammals.” The reason that this supports the impact theory, according to PhysOrg, is that “The finding indicates that dinosaurs did not go extinct prior to the impact and provides further evidence as to whether the impact was in fact the cause of their extinction.” This supposition is explained in more detail by the BBC News. In Live Science, Charles Q. Choi announced, “Dinosaurs Became Extinct in Single Blow, Fossil Suggests.”
Turtle impact: One problem with the meteor impact theory for the extinction of the dinosaurs is that smaller, less hardy animals survived. Live Science promised to explain to its readers, “How Tough Turtles Survived Dino-Killing Meteor.” The answer, in a shell: their aquatic lifestyles, burrowing habits and slow metabolisms allowed them to enter a state of hibernation till the earth’s habitability returned. “Essentially, since their bodily processes were so slow, needing very little energy, they could survive on sparse resources during and after the wipeout of dinosaurs.”
For support, they produced turtle fossils from 75 to 60 million years ago, spanning the period before and after the presumed impact. They didn’t discuss how mammals, with terrestrial habitats, survived, nor how marine reptiles, with aquatic habitats, went extinct. Maybe it’s just a tragic story. “But this story of survival has a sad ending. After enduring more than 85 million years on Earth, the baenid turtles ultimately died out around 40 million years ago, probably when North America hit a dry spell during the late Eocene Epoch.” Question: were there no other dry spells in 85 million years?
Feather evolution: Nature printed a book review by Alan Brush on Thor Hanson’s new work, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle. Is it a work of fiction or science? “Thor Hanson's storytelling is enhanced by his infectious excitement,” Brush said. At least it was not one-sided: “he interviews the leading proponents on all sides of the controversies that surround the origin and evolution of feathers and the birds that produce them.” Apparently, no creationists were included in the set of “all sides”. Hanson’s book talks about the wonders of feather construction, the photonic structures that produce iridescent colors, the aerodynamic and insulating properties of feathers, and their spectacular decorations.
For his evolutionary storytelling, Hanson discussed the alleged “feathered dinosaurs” from China, the “‘ground-up’ and ‘tree-down’ theories of how the first birds took to the air, and the alternative ‘wing-assisted incline running’ hypothesis” of Ken Dial (06/26/2011). Brush thought the book is “comprehensive, accurate, timely and engaging” if somewhat negligent for omitting discussion of genetic links between feathers and scales; but overall, it provides “a compelling introduction to one of nature’s wonders,” he opined.
Human footprints that can’t be: Our last entry updates thinking about the Laetoli footprints – trackways found in African volcanic ash in 1976, dated to the time of Australopithecus but looking like they were made yesterday by modern barefoot beachgoers (02/03/2006, 03/22/2010). Without blinking an eye over why a tree-loving ape should have feet fit for modern Nikes, PhysOrg trumpeted, “Ancient footprints show human-like walking began nearly four million years ago.” Sure enough, “Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that ancient footprints in Laetoli, Tanzania, show that human-like features of the feet and gait existed almost two million years earlier than previously thought.” Apparently eager to outdo PhysOrg, Live Science posted a risque picture of two nude apes, telling the world with nary a blush, “Our Ancestor Climbed Like an Ape but Walked Like a Man.” Reporter Jennifer Walsh felt no need to dodge tomatoes for that. She continued, “Our ancestors may have spent most of their time in the trees, but their feet were made for walking 2 million years earlier than thought. Footprints made in Tanzania, East Africa, by our hominin ancestors some 3.5 million years ago suggest they walked with an upright gait that is distinctly human.”
Walsh’s article admits that earlier evolutionists had tried to argue that the prints were made in an ape-like way. After all, they had to be, for the story of human evolution to be true. A spokesperson on the team was not helpful. “Our findings are very different. They support the opposite interpretation that they are very modern footprints in many respects.” Comparing footprints of modern humans and chimpanzees, Robin Crompton [U of Liverpool] found the Laetoli prints to be “quite definitely well within the modern human range, I’m sure of that.” Very surprising, considering that Lucy’s tribe was supposed to be the only hominid ancestor around at the time and spent most of the time in the trees. “This is a very early date for human-like walking.” Stretching credulity further, Crompton added, “This is a clear indication that walking on two feet evolved not on the ground but in the trees.”
PhysOrg’s coverage of the story has more quotes from Crompton and others struggling to rescue evolution from the evidence, such as Bill Sellers [U of Manchester] admitting, “The shape of the human foot is probably one of the most obvious differences between us and our nearest living relatives, the great apes,” and then trying to argue that the evolution somehow gave the tree-habituated Australopithecus fully modern human feet before sending Lucy down to the ground to begin her long march to the Science Building.
Fossils don’t tell tales. Humans do. Other recent fossil stories: giant prehistoric marsupial in Australia (PhysOrg), pterosaurs not driven to extinction by birds (Science Daily), some pterosaurs as large as giraffes (Live Science), and a Colorado mastodon graveyard so big the scientists had to call for reinforcements (Live Science).
Don’t you get sick of this Gumby habit of the Darwin Party? Try as it might, the Evidence cannot break their Gumby story, because it bends and stretches to accommodate any discovery. Add to it the Darwin Party’s reckless drafts on the bank of time, and their masterful invocation of the Stuff Happens Law, and they cannot lose. This is why they can claim with a straight face that no evidence is inconsistent with evolution. It’s like claiming the measurement fits the blueprint, but you used a tape measure made of rubber. Modern human footprints two or three million years earlier than thought? No problem; we just stretch the theory to accommodate it. No ancestors to sauropods? No problem; we’ll invent a new tool called “pre-adaptation” for Tinker Bell to use. Impossible to believe so many functional adaptations could come together at once to produce an ancestor to sauropods? No problem; we’ll just announce that they won the Evolutionary Wonka Ticket. Darwin wins again! Isn’t evolution great? (Ironically, you can find ads in some of the stories above for Wonka bars.)
They want it all. They want it now. They want the Science Department, the media, the courts, the textbooks, and if they don’t get it all now, they’re going to scream. If this is how they want to behave in Willy Wonka’s Science Factory, the sensible Oompa Loompas know just what to do: send the bad eggs down the garbage chute with Veruca, their heroine. Everybody sing:
Oompa Loompa doompadee doo
I've got another puzzle for you
Oompa Loompa doompadah dee
If you are wise you will listen to me
Who do you blame when theory’s a brat
Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?
Blaming the bones is a lion of shame
You know exactly who's to blame:
The father Charlie Darwin!
Oompa Loompa doompadee dah
If you're not spoiled then you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do.