TIKTAALIK:

A 'FISHAPOD' TOO FAR FOR ID/GOD OF THE GAPS?

John H Williams

(Investigator 109, 2006 July)


"GOD SAID IT. THAT SETTLES IT!"

"God said it. That settles it!" This quotation was made to an observer at a Creationist Mega-Conference in 2005.

It underlines the futility of presenting evidence and rational argument when dealing with fundamentalists, who've long had to put a spin on key scientific revelations. Their most favoured 'explanation' being a God of The Gaps, they've maintained a quaint belief that there were no transitional fossils, thereby leaving evolution 'unproven'.
 

SCALES, FANGS, GILLS, A 'NECK', FORELIMBS, 'WRIST' & 'FINGERS'

The recent find of a new fossilised species, a 'fishapod' named Tiktaalik roseae which lived in the equatorial floodplains of the Devonian c. 375 mya, and found 1000 km north of the Arctic Circle, at Ellesmere Is, Canada, presents creationists with yet another headache. (Time Magazine 17/4/06, based on an article in Nature, March, 2006 by Dr Neil Shubin and his Chicago University colleagues).

Again the apparent absence of transitional species is shown to be wrong.

In the same Time article, Prof Kenneth Miller of Brown University is quoted: "The argument that there are no transitional forms has been untenable for at least two decades."
 

CLUTCHING AT STRAW

Time Magazine (8/5/06) printed four critical letters of its Tiktaalik coverage:

Interesting arguments with elements of denial, ignorance, and Michael Behe's Black Box Ideas (given short shrift in Investigator 95/26 and 98/18 by Dr Bob Potter). Spurgeon's quote was standard issue for 19thC evangelists, not so relevant in 2006, but 'the more things change, the more they remain the same'!

There can be only one version of how we came to be, and to bolster faith-based dogma, creationists will, in my opinion, continue to clutch at straws. However, a degree of scepticism, in this as in other finds, is to be encouraged.
 

6,000 YEARS LEAVES NO TIME FOR EVOLUTION

Naturally, the evolutionary process wasn't observed, and, given aeonic time, and the complexity of biological change, the implied linear transition from species A to species C, via transitional species B is a massively simplistic.

The 'availability' of only six thousand years precludes significant evolutionary change, thus requiring a creationist, anti-evolution ethic, which, in its various forms, is hard at work desperately bailing out and reassuring its groupthink that the emperor is wearing clothes.
 

"IN THE CASE OF RAPTURE THIS CAR WILL BE UNMANNED"

I have an old school friend whose adopted son is an Evangelical Pentecostal Minister in Indiana, and whose wife has the above quotation as a bumper sticker!

Despite the ever-present reality, millions believe the world is in End Times, at the end of which there'll be a seductive-sounding Rapture, when some will be raised, and the rest razed (The Rupture).

Mortality is too much of a full stop for many Earthlings, who are longing for a colon, while the Evangelicals – no hint of a question mark – are ready any day for the !!
 

YOUNG EARTH 'STRATIGRAPHY'

Young Earth 'scientists' have their own 'geological column', during which a lot happened in a rather short time, with names of periods such as Noachian and Pelagian, all based on the literal reading of Genesis.

Where does this 'fishapod', part fish and part tetrapod, with the anatomical characteristics of both, fit within their scheme?

It doesn't, unless it made an appearance before the Garden of Eden, then it may have gone extinct shortly after all members of the species swam thousands of kilometres to the sub-Arctic: seemingly pointless and unIntelligent for a Designed creature.
 

JIGSAW PUZZLE KEEPS FILLING

Tiktaalik is "one more piece in a rapidly-filling jigsaw puzzle", a "crucial link between fish and the appearance of amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs and birds", exactly the sort of transitional animal predicted by Darwin.

He would have been pleased with another recent discovery of a well preserved 92 myo snake in Patagonia, by Cornell University paleontologists. This 1.5m long creature, named Najash rionegria, a contemporary of the dinosaurs, is helping to resolve a long herpetological debate about whether snakes derived from land or sea animals. This fossil's skeleton has hips and back legs, suggesting that it evolved from burrowing land dwellers (Source: Nature 20/4/2006, reported on in the UK's Guardian Unlimited 20/4/06).
 

MORE YET TO BE DISCOVERED

This rare find of Tiktaalik, a 'fish with fingers', reminds us of the as yet unearthed significant fossil finds which will augment the current store of geodata, and which will continue to enhance our understanding of our geological 'ancestry'.

I conclude with this fine quote from Bruce Alberts, President of the (US) National Academy of Science:

"In evolution, as in all areas of science, our knowledge is incomplete. But the entire success of the scientific enterprise has depended on an insistence that these gaps be filled by natural explanations, logically derived from confirmable evidence. Because ID theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science."


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