August 12, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Surprising Fossils Upset Evolutionary Expectations

Here are some notable fossil finds that tell stories, not necessarily the Darwin kind.

Big dino (New Scientist): Picture seven elephants lined up in a row. That’s how long this beast was. The biggest Titanosaur ever found has been dug up in Patagonia. At 62 tons and 35 meters, this dinosaur may knock the blue whale off the list for largest animal that ever lived. See BBC News for more on the history of the discovery and how its size, though downgraded since its discovery in 2014, still makes it the largest dinosaur known. (Note: for this and the following news items, just because something exists does not mean it evolved.)

Jurassic winged mammal (Science Daily). “160-million-year-old fossils suggest a new model of life — gliding — for the forerunners of mammals, in an evolutionary parallel to modern mammal gliders,” this article says.  This overturns a common belief that mammals only became important and diverse after the dinosaur extinction event. “These new fossil gliders are the first winged mammals, and they demonstrate that early mammals did indeed have a wide range of ecological diversity, which means dinosaurs likely did not dominate the Mesozoic landscape as much as previously thought.” I.e., evolutionists were wrong again. Another problem for Darwin: these animals resembled modern flying squirrels. “Who would have thought even the mammaliaform forerunners had developed modern mammal-like gliding and took to [the] air?” the same scientist said in Live Science. The BBC News also notes the same two surprises: these volant mammals appear earlier than expected, and they look modern.

Armor race (Current Biology). The “evolutionary arms race” meme is invoked for a new armored dinosaur discovered in Alberta, but the discoverers did not watch this beast evolve. What should be more interesting is the fact that it was “exceptionally preserved”, complete with “integumentary structures as organic layers, including continuous fields of epidermal scales and intact horn sheaths capping the body armor.” In fact, the paleontologists were even able to infer some of this ankylosaur’s coloration and decorative patterns. Very little is said about evolution except inferences about predator-prey selection pressures which the authors believe caused the coloration.

The discovery of a three-dimensionally preserved ankylosaurian provides new evidence for understanding the anatomy, soft tissue outline, and arrangement of dermal armor in thyreophoran dinosaurs….

The dorsal integument is well preserved as an organic film derived from the keratin sheaths over the osteoderms, integumentary scales, and the epicuticle of hinge regions between scales. The distribution of the film correlates well to the expected distribution of melanin, a pigment that has been found to preserve in a number of vertebrate integumentary structure.

Oldest diving bird (Science Daily). The first and oldest diving bird fossil has been found by amateurs in Japan. Although the evolutionists claim that this fossil “provides better understanding in the early evolution of this group and the origin of diving in birds,” the fossil’s alleged age (84-90 million years) puts an advanced lifestyle—diving—in an early bird that lived alongside dinosaurs.

Hesperornithiformes were toothed, foot-propelled diving birds and one of the most widely distributed groups of birds in the Cretaceous of the northern hemisphere. These birds had extremely reduced forelimbs and powerful hind limbs, suggesting that they were flightless sea-going predatory birds. Most of hesperornithiform fossils have been discovered from North America so far. The discovery of Chupkaornis, the oldest Asian hesperornithiform, suggests that basal hesperornithiform had dispersed to the eastern margin of Asia no later than 90 million to 84 million years old.

Tetrapod troubles (Nature). Scientists re-analyzed the only known fossil of Lethiscus, a reputed crown-group tetrapod, and gave some bad news. Their study “strongly refutes the consensus” view that “the tetrapod stem group is a relatively homogenous collection of medium- to large-sized animals showing a progressive loss of ‘fish’ characters as they become increasingly terrestrial.” Na-ah-ah. Bad work, consensus:

These results show that stem group tetrapods were much more diverse in their body plans than previously thought. Our study requires a change in commonly used calibration dates for molecular analyses, and emphasizes the importance of character sampling for early tetrapod evolutionary relationships.

Two guys from the University of Calgary try to put a happy face on the story by announcing, “Ancient fossil holds new insights into how fish evolved onto land“, but admit that the study “forces a radical rethink of what evolution was capable of among the first tetrapods.” Note to evolutionists: you guys didn’t predict that. You thought evolution happened slowly in a straight line from fish to landlubber. Not. “Lethiscus shows immediate, and dramatic, evolutionary experimentation.

Pliosaur problem (Phys.org). Here’s another back-to-the-drawing-board admission about a large marine reptile: “A new species of a fossil pliosaur (large predatory marine reptile from the ‘age of dinosaur’) has been found in Russia and profoundly change [sic] how we understand the evolution of the group, says an international team of scientists.” They appeal to convergence again.

Darwin Flubber in fish (Phys.org). Is “convergence” an explanation or a rescue device? “Distant fish relatives share looks,” this article says, attributing the similarities between distant fish relatives to “convergent evolution” as if that is some kind of law of nature instead of a falsification of Darwinian theory.

James Cook University scientists have found evidence that even distantly related Australian fish species have evolved to look and act like each other, which confirms a central tenet of evolutionary theory.

Dr Aaron Davis from the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) at JCU said the phenomenon, known as convergent evolution, happens when different fish adopt similar lifestyles and evolve through time to look very similar….

Convergent evolution is one of the fundamental predictions of evolutionary theory.

But Kevin Padian admitted in Nature, “We can catalogue examples all day, but is there any real theory of convergence? We cannot assert that some lineages are ‘fated’ to converge on these features.” In other words, convergence is not a natural law that organisms are under obligation to follow. Instead, convergence should be understood as one of the ingredients of Darwin Flubber.

Fossils exist in the rocks. Evolution exists in the imagination. C. S. Lewis complained about that. In C. S. Lewis: Anti-Darwinist, Jerry Bergman summarizes his view, saying, “Evolutionary naturalism, Lewis explained, is ‘not the logical result of what is vaguely called “modern science”‘, but rather is a picture of reality that has resulted, not from empirical evidence, but from imagination” (p. 97). 

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