The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has been around in some form since 1970, when Henry M. Morris, and Nell and Kelly Segraves organized the Creation Science Research Center in Santee, California.
Recently I came across this item on the ICR Web site. It had the following title:
Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis in the Science Classroom?
It was posted by David Buckna and included the following:
Michigan State physiology professor Robert S. Root-Bernstein wrote regarding his introductory course on evolution: “I encourage [students] to be skeptical—as long as their skepticism is based on logic and evidence. . . . Questions are what drives science, not answers. . . . Take nothing for granted, I counsel my students: that is what makes a scientist” (“Darwin’s Rib,” in Discover, September 1995, pp. 38–41).
Taking a cue from professor Root-Bernstein that “questions are what drives science, not answers,” what follows is a partial list of questions that could be used to critically examine and evaluate evolutionary theory.
These questions would make good classroom discussions, initiated by either teacher or student, or good student research assignments.
There follows a list of 33 questions that, presumably, creationist should ask in a biology class. So far I’ve had a quick look at them, and most of them are already quite familiar to me and to others. If these ever came out on a CD the disk might be titled The Best of the ICR. I call them the best of the ICR, because this kind of thing is about the best the ICR can come up with.
Following are the 33 questions I have pasted directly from the ICR site, and I will attempt to give an evaluation of each in turn. Here they are, starting with number 1:
1. Microsoft programmers utilized complex codes to create the Windows 95 software. The genetic code, which is more sophisticated, controls the physical processes of life and is accompanied by elaborate transmission and duplication systems. How does evolution, using natural processes and chance, solve the problem of complex information sequencing without intelligence?
The formation of the question is a bit misleading. It starts out with “How does evolution…” and goes on from there. A better framing would have been to start with “How does modern biological science…” and proceed as before.
The complete details of the various steps toward the development of the genetic code mechanism are not known. What can be surmised is that molecular reproduction processes operating under fundamental principles of chemistry produced like molecules, and from time to time variations in the process resulted in molecules that were better at reproduction. The current coding of genetic information in the double-helix DNA molecule is sufficiently workable that it supports thriving life forms and is amenable to “progressive” biological evolution. By “progressive evolution” I mean evolution that develops new features better suited for survival in the existing environment.
2. Evolutionists believe the Cambrian explosion of new life began about 525–550 million years ago. Stephen Jay Gould writes: “. . . an elegant study, published in 1993, clearly restricts this period of phyletic flowering to a mere five million years.” (Scientific American, October 1994, p. 89.) What is the approximate number of beneficial mutations which must have occurred per year during this 5-million-year period, given that billions x billions of information bits would have to be encoded? What percentage of mutations in multicellular organisms have been recognized as beneficial? List any you find.
This seems to be a multi-part question. First, I reject the suggestion in the question that “billions x billions” of novel information bits needed to be encoded. If David Buckna insists on that number he is going to first be required to justify it. Let’s assume the “approximate number of beneficial mutations” being asked are mutations within a single population.
Since “beneficial” is not a quantitative value, counting beneficial mutations is problematic. Also, consider that a beneficial mutation may not turn out to be beneficial to the population. If a fish hatchling possesses a genetic mutation that renders it able to swim faster than its siblings, the mutation will provide no benefit if the hatchling is immediately eaten by a frog. The same mutation will need to occur multiple times before it becomes “fixed” in the population. At the same time other mutations may in parallel produce the ability for the fish to swim faster, so one of them may become fixed in the population long before any of the others do.
Finally, since the term “beneficial” is vague, my computation will be equally vague. Few (close to zero) beneficial permutations will be required per year over a 5 million year period. Regarding the percentage of mutations that are beneficial, the fraction is very small, close to zero. And that is sufficient to explain the Cambrian Explosion.
3. Within the field of biogenesis studies, there are a number of models which posit that the early, prebiotic earth must have had a reducing atmosphere (without oxygen or ozone). How could life begin to evolve without ozone to protect the earliest life forms from harmful UV radiation?
Ironically, that question has just been answered by a previous post of mine. The post included a quote from an exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
By 470 million years ago, Earth’s landscape was turning green with plant life. Soon this new world would be home to ancestors of today’s insects and other species that could live on land. Other animals would follow.
Life was moving onto land. Why now?
First, the ozone layer—formed when oxygen began to accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere—provided protection from the sun’s harmful radiation. Only water had provided this protection before.
4. Both “left-handed” and “right-handed” amino acids occur naturally. Life forms contain proteins consisting principally of “left-handed” amino acids. Assuming a simple protein molecule of 172 amino acids, what is the mathematical probability that all 172 amino acids would be “left-handed”?
This question seems to have no bearing on the validity of modern theories of biological evolution. Furthermore, asking that question, unless the asking has been done facetiously or in jest, exhibits ignorance of some basics of organic chemistry. I’m not going to answer that question directly. Instead I’m going to cite an article on chemical chirality from Wikipedia.
For this reason, the d/l system remains in common use in certain areas of biochemistry, such as amino acid and carbohydrate chemistry, because it is convenient to have the same chiral label for all of the commonly occurring structures of a given type of structure in higher organisms. In the d/l system, they are nearly all consistent – naturally occurring amino acids are all l, while naturally occurring carbohydrates are nearly all d. In the R / S system, they are mostly S, but there are some common exceptions.
If David Buckna insists on a more detailed explanation he is going to need to read the Internet article or any number of other references on chemical chirality.
5. Megatons of amino acids would be required to reach the necessary concentrations for protein synthesis in a vast primordial ocean. Puddles and ponds have a limited duration. Does evolution address this problem?
Strictly speaking, “evolution” does not address this problem. “Evolution” is not a field of science. “Evolution” is a natural phenomenon. What would address this problem would be the study of abiogenesis.
Additionally, this is not a question that would challenge modern theories of biological evolution. Biological evolution involves only the evolution of living things, not the origins of the first living things. Evidence of primordial cell life exists and remains a challenge to alternative postulations regarding the origins of current life forms.
“Megatons of amino acids” is a term David Buckna has introduced into the discussion without any demonstration of its relevance. It is also likely this question has no bearing on the matter of abiogenesis. For a pedestrian’s view of abiogenesis the reader is directed to the entry on Wikipedia, which contains the following:
The chemical processes that took place on the early Earth are called chemical evolution. Both Manfred Eigen and Sol Spiegelman demonstrated that evolution, including replication, variation, and natural selection, can occur in populations of molecules as well as in organisms. Spiegelman took advantage of natural selection to synthesize Spiegelman’s Monster, which had a genome with just 218 bases. Eigen built on Spiegelman’s work and produced a similar system with just 48 or 54 nucleotides.
Chemical evolution was followed by the initiation of biological evolution, which led to the first cells. No one has yet synthesized a “protocell” using basic components which would have the necessary properties of life (the so-called “bottom-up-approach“). Without such a proof-of-principle, explanations have tended to be focused on chemosynthesis. However, some researchers are working in this field, notably Steen Rasmussen and Jack Szostak. Others have argued that a “top-down approach” is more feasible. One such approach, successfully attempted by Craig Venter and others at The Institute for Genomic Research, involves engineering existing prokaryotic cells with progressively fewer genes, attempting to discern at which point the most minimal requirements for life were reached.
David Buckna’s inaccurate use of language has been noted here. Throughout my responses I will continue to point this out whenever it appears.
6. Molecular biologist Michael Denton (Senior Research Fellow, University of Otago in New Zealand) in his book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, states there is not a trace of evidence on the molecular level for the traditional evolutionary series. Other molecular biologists agree/disagree with his conclusion. Why?
Buckna states that “[o]ther molecular molecular biologists” agree there is no evidence at the molecular level for the “traditional evolutionary series.” This appears to have been taken from page 284 of Denton’s book.
There is not a trace at the molecular level of the traditional evolutionary series: cyclostome → fish amphibian → reptile → mammal. Incredibly, man is as close to lamprey as are fish! None of the higher jawed vertebrate groups is in any sense intermediate between the jawless vertebrates and other jawed vertebrate groups.
This is accompanied by the following comment and diagram:
The figure below gives the percent sequence difference between the haemoglobin of the lamprey and a variety of jawed vertebrates, taken from a sequence difference matrix of the vertebrate globins in the Dayhoff Atlas of Protein Structure and Functions:4
The footnote references Dayhoff, M.D. (1972) Atlas of Protein Sequence and Structure, National Biomedical Research Foundation, Silver Spring, Maryland, vol. 5, Matrix 1, p D-8.
As far as “the traditional evolutionary series” goes, Buckna is literally correct. However, the reason he is correct is not anything that would make an argument against biological evolution.
Buckna’s “[o]ther molecular biologists agree” appears to be a reference to young Earth creationist Duane Gish. Gish was one of the stalwarts of the ICR, possessing both a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and also recognized skills as a debater. He spent a great part of his time at the ICR debating practicing scientist. That never meant his arguments were well-grounded however, and this was one of those with little ground.
The problem with this argument is that it starts with a false assumption and then proceeds to demonstrate the assumption is false. The reason this argument is a non-starter is that there is no expectation of a progression of differences from a modern cyclostome to modern human. What the differences show is that carp (a jawed fish), amphibian (a descendant of a jawed fish), bird (a descendant of a jawed fish), marsupial (a descendant of a jawed fish) and human (a descendant of a jawed fish) all belong to the same line of descent that split with the jawless fish line of descent a long time ago.
I have previously posted on this. Those interested can follow the link and dig deeper into the discussion.
7. How does evolution explain the emergence and development of sexual reproduction given that both male and female physiology would have to mutate simultaneously?
Again, “How does evolution…” Buckna needs to get right with his terminology.
In the mean time, I can answer that question: It’s not a coincidence that males and females of a species remain sexually compatible throughout a long chain of evolutionary development. Any instance of sexual incompatibility drops immediately from the gene pool, never to be seen again. It’s Charles Darwin’s basic principle of natural selection.
I can only hope the next question is going to be that easy.
8. True or False? Life appears abruptly and in complex forms in the fossil record and gaps appear systematically between various living kinds.
Well, not quite. Life appears gradually and not in such “complex forms” as Buckna might wish to infer. The earliest life forms detectable in the fossil record were single-cell.
The second part of Buckna’s question is whether there are gaps in the fossil record. I have covered this in a previous post. Skip down to the part where I tell I was born in 1940.
I was born in 1940. People have told me that, and I have documentary evidence. My father was born in 1908. His father was born in 1867. His father was born in … Actually I don’t have that evidence handy, but it is around somewhere. The main thing is I don’t need the evidence. I know my grandfather must have had a father. And his father had a father, and so on. I’m going to extrapolate this back 10,000 years. I am sure that 10,000 years there was a male human being from whom I eventually descended. Anything else would be a violation of some basic principles of biology. However, not only do I not have any fossils of all these ancestors, I don’t even have documentation. Yet neither I nor any sensible person will deny that this chain of ancestors once existed.
9. Document from the fossil record the transitional forms leading up to the first fish, from their assumed invertebrate ancestors.
Since I am entirely clueless on this matter, I’m going to just quote from an Internet source. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
The first ancestors of fish, or animals that were probably closely related to fish, were Pikaia, Haikouichthys and Myllokunmingia. These three genera all appeared around 530 Ma. Pikaia had a primitive notochord, a structure that could have developed into a vertebral column later. Unlike the other fauna that dominated the Cambrian, these groups had the basic vertebrate body plan: a notochord, rudimentary vertebrae, and a well-defined head and tail. All of these early vertebrates lacked jaws in the common sense and relied on filter feeding close to the seabed.
10. Jellyfish consist entirely of soft body tissues. How do evolutionists explain the existence of jellyfish fossils, in view of their argument that soft body tissues of missing intermediate forms did not fossilize?
Again, “How do evolutionists explain…” How about, “How do scientists explain…”
Once more Buckna posits something that is not true. There is no “argument that soft body tissues …do not fossilize” See this:
“The fossil record is biased against soft-bodied life forms such as jellyfish, because they leave little behind when they die,” said study member Bruce Lieberman of the University of Kansas.
These jellyfish left their lasting imprint because they were deposited in fine sediment, rather than coarse sand. The film that the jellyfish left behind shows a clear picture, or “fossil snapshot,” of the animals.
11. The coelacanth fish was thought to be extinct for 70 million years, until one was caught off the coast of Madagascar in 1938. How do evolutionary biologists evaluate the discovery?
Again, there are no “evolutionary biologists.” There are just biologists. Evolution is a major component of modern biology. In Buckna’s thinking all biologists are “evolutionary biologists.”
Biologists were delighted to find a living specimen of the coelacanth. To answer Buckna’s implied question, coelacanth was thought to be extinct because we had seen no living specimens of it. We only had fossils to study until one (and then more) was discovered.
12. Describe one undisputed example of a creature that was transitional between fish and amphibian.
Strictly speaking, this is going to be an impossible task. As soon as I describe an “undisputed example” somebody else is able to step forward and say, “I dispute that.” Then my example is no longer “undisputed.”
That said, please feel free to dispute this:
Creationists claim that there are no transitional forms. This claim is made over and over as if it were a mantra. The plain fact is that there are transitional sequences but they never discuss the details. This is a sequence of fossils which occupy the transition from fish to amphibian.
378 MYR ago- Panderichthys–These are lobe-finned fish. Panderichthys was a rhipidistian,osteolepiform fish. The skull bones of these fish are bone for bone equivalents to the skull bones of the earliest tetrapods. (Carroll 1988, p. 160). These are the only fish whose fin bones fit the tetrapod pattern of humerus, ulna and radius in the forelimb and femur, tibia and fibula in the hindlimb. (Thomson, 1991, p. 488), Yet these limbs still have fins on them (Coates, 1994,p. 174). Their brain case is so much like that of the earliest tetrapod, they were originally classified as tetrapods until a complete skeleton was found. Then is was proven that they were really still fish. (Ahlberg and Milner, 1994, p. 508). This fish also had lungs and nostrils (Vorobyeva and Schulze, 1991, p.87) but also had gills. These things really looked like tetrapods until you see the fins. The teeth had infolding enamel which is identical to that of the earliest tetrapods. Unlike all fish but like the tetrapods, the Panderichthys have lost the dorsal and anal fins, leaving 4 fins in the place where legs would be in the Tetrapods.(Ahlberg and Milner, p.508). This contradicts Gish’s claim that there is no fossil which shows loss of fins. (Gish, 1978, p. 78-79). Unlike fish, Panderichthys had a tail, like the amphibians with the fins stretched out along the top (Carroll, 1995, p. 389; Carroll, 1996, p. 19).
13. There are innumerable evolutionary enigmas, such as eyes, bat radar, and pterodactyl wings. In each case, all the component parts would have to evolve simultaneously in order to function properly. Discuss three other structures which defy evolutionary explanation.
The question presumes 1) eyes, bat (sonar) and pterodactyl wings defy “evolutionary explanation” and 2) there really are three other structures which defy explanation. David Buckna is going to first have to make the case for features that do defy explanation before I can begin to address his “question.”
14. Describe one insect that was transitional between a non-flying insect and a flying insect.
The evolution of the insect wing is described here:
Insect wings are adult outgrowths of the insectexoskeleton that enable insects to fly. They are found on the second and third thoracic segments (the mesothorax andmetathorax), and the two pairs are often referred to as the forewings and hindwings, respectively, though a few insects lack hindwings, even rudiments. Insect wings do not constitute appendages in technical parlance, as insects only have one pair of appendages per segment. The wings are strengthened by a number of longitudinal veins, which often have cross-connections that form closed “cells” in the membrane (extreme examples include Odonata and Neuroptera). The patterns resulting from the fusion and cross-connection of the wing veins are often diagnostic for different evolutionary lineages and can be used for identification to the family or even genus level in many orders of insects.
I acknowledge this is not a description of an insect that is transitional between a non-flying insect and a flying insect. However, this and other sources describe the evolutionary development of flying insects, and this should be a sufficient answer to this “question.”
15. During the Industrial Revolution, dark-colored peppered moths appeared in larger numbers during environmental changes. Did a new species emerge, or did it already preexist? Is this macroevolution?
No development of a new species was involved in this example. This case only illustrates the response of a population to “adaptive pressure.”
16. “Bird-like” dinosaurs such as Struthiomimus were “lizard-hipped,” while dinosaurs such as the low-slung, four-legged Ankylosaurus were “bird-hipped.” How do paleontologists who believe dinosaurs evolved into birds, account for these characteristics?
For once, I’m stumped by David Buckna’s question. I will have to look that up.
OK, I did that, and here is what I found.
Struthiomimus (meaning “ostrich mimic”, from the Greek στρούθειος/stroutheios meaning “of the ostrich” and μῖμος/mimos meaning “mimic” or “imitator”) is a genus of ornithomimid dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada and Wyoming, USA. Ornithomimids were long-legged, bipedal, ostrich-like dinosaurs with toothless beaks. The genus Struthiomimus currently contains three species. The most well-known species, Struthiomimus altus, is one of the more common small dinosaurs found in Dinosaur Provincial Park; its abundance suggests that these animals were herbivores or omnivores rather than pure carnivores.
Ankylosaurus (/ˌæŋkɨlɵˈsɔrəs/ ang-ki-lo-sawr-əs or /æŋˌkaɪlɵˈsɔrəs/ ang-ky-lo-sawr-əs, and which means “fused lizard”) is a genus of ankylosaurid dinosaur, containing one species, A. magniventris. Fossils of Ankylosaurus are found in geologic formations dating to the very end of the Cretaceous Period (between about 68–66 Ma ago) in western North America.
Although a complete skeleton has not been discovered and several other dinosaurs are represented by more extensive fossil material, Ankylosaurus is often considered the archetypal armored dinosaur. Other ankylosaurids shared its well-known features—the heavily armored body and massive bony tail club—butAnkylosaurus was the largest known member of the family.
I was unable, in my brief Internet search, to find any link between Struthiomimus and “lizard-hipped.” “Bird-hipped” has been associated with Ankylosaurus, but:
Ornithischia (/ɔrnɨˈθɪskiə/ or-ni-thiss-kee-ə) or Predentata is an extinct order of beaked, herbivorous dinosaurs. The name ornithischia is derived from the Greek ornitheos (ορνιθειος) meaning ‘of a bird’ and ischion (ισχιον) meaning ‘hip joint’. They are known as the ‘bird-hipped’ dinosaurs because of their bird-like hip structure, even though birds actually belong to the ‘lizard-hipped’ dinosaurs (the saurischians).
And I guess that answers David Buckna’s question. Here’s some more:
The evolution of birds is thought to have begun in the Jurassic Period, with the earliest birds derived from a clade of theropodadinosaurs named Paraves. Birds are categorized as a biological class, Aves. The earliest known is Archaeopteryx lithographica, from the Late Jurassic period, though Archaeopteryx is not commonly considered to have been a true bird. Modern phylogenies place birds in the dinosaur cladeTheropoda. According to the current consensus, Aves and a sister group, the orderCrocodilia, together are the sole living members of an unranked “reptile” clade, the Archosauria.
Phylogenetically, Aves is usually defined as all descendants of the most recent common ancestor of a specific modern bird species (such as the House Sparrow, Passer domesticus), and either Archaeopteryx, or some prehistoric species closer to Neornithes (to avoid the problems caused by the unclear relationships of Archaeopteryx to other theropods). If the latter classification is used then the larger group is termed Avialae. Currently, the relationship between dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx, and modern birds is still under debate.
On 31 July 2014, scientists reported details of the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs.
17. Is it possible to document from the fossil record the series of transitional forms that led up to any dinosaur species?
The short answer is, “yes.”
The long answer is available from the Wikipedia entry for the evolution of dinosaurs. Here are some excerpts:
Dinosaurs evolved within a single lineage of archosaurs 232-234 Ma (million years ago) in the Ladinian age, the latter part of the middle Triassic. Dinosauria is a well-supported clade, present in 98% of bootstraps. It is diagnosed by many features including loss of the postfrontal on the skull and an elongate deltopectoral crest on the humerus.
The process leading up to the Dinosauromorpha and the first true dinosaurs can be followed through fossils of the early Archosaurs such as the Proterosuchidae, Erythrosuchidae and Euparkeria which have fossils dating back to 250 Ma, through mid-Triassic archosaurs such as Ticinosuchus 232-236 Ma. Crocodiles are also descendants of mid-Triassic archosaurs.
Dinosaurs can be defined as the last common ancestor of birds (Saurischia) and Triceratops (Ornithischia) and all the descendants of that ancestor. With that definition, the pterosaurs and several species of archosaurs narrowly miss out on being classified as dinosaurs. The pterosaurs are famous for flying through the Mesozoic skies on leathery wings and reaching the largest sizes of any flying animal that ever existed. Archosaur genera that also narrowly miss out on being classified as dinosaurs include Schleromochlus 220-225 Ma, Lagerpeton 230-232 Ma and Marasuchus 230-232 Ma.
Spondylosoma may or may not be a dinosaur; the fossils (all postcranial) are tentatively dated at 235-242 Ma.
The earliest confirmed dinosaur fossils include saurischian (‘lizard-hipped’) dinosaurs Nyasasaurus 243 Ma, Saturnalia 225-232 Ma, Herrerasaurus 220-230 Ma, Staurikosaurus possibly 225-230 Ma, Eoraptor 220-230 Ma and Alwalkeria 220-230 Ma. Saturnalia may be a basal saurischian or a prosauropod. The others are basal saurischians.
Among the earliest ornithischian (‘bird-hipped’) dinosaurs is Pisanosaurus 220-230 Ma. Although Lesothosaurus comes from 195-206 Ma, skeletal features suggest that it branched from the main Ornithischia line at least as early as Pisanosaurus.
18. (a) Were the feathers of Archaeopteryx identical to modern flying birds? (b) Are there any undisputed true birds in the fossil record that had teeth? (c) Archaeopteryx had claws on its wings. Name three modern birds that have claws on their wings (either in the juvenile stage or as an adult).
This is a three-part question:
a) Archaeopteryx feathers were very similar to the feathers of modern birds. See the entry for Archaeopteryx on Wikipedia.
b) Once again, the term “undisputed” makes this answer impossible. However, provided nobody disputes me, paleontological studies demonstrate the prior existence of birds with teeth.
The Cretaceous saw the rise of more modern birds with a more rigid ribcage with a carina and shoulders able to allow for a powerful upstroke, essential to sustained powered flight. Another improvement was the appearance of an alula, used to achieve better control of landing or flight at low speeds. They also had a more derived pygostyle, with a ploughshare-shaped end. An early example is Yanornis. Many were coastal birds, strikingly resembling modern shorebirds, like Ichthyornis, or ducks, like Gansus. Some evolved as swimming hunters, like the Hesperornithiformes – a group of flightless divers resembling grebes and loons. While modern in most respects, most of these birds retained typical reptilian-like teeth and sharp claws on the manus.
c) An example of a modern bird with claws on its wings is the hoatzin.
The hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), also known as the stinkbird, or Canje pheasant, is a species of tropical bird found in swamps, riparian forests, and mangroves of the Amazon and theOrinoco Delta in South America. It is notable for having chicks that possess claws on two of their wing digits.
Another reference mentions birds with claws.
Young Turacos also have wing claws which they lose as they mature, as do Yellow Rails . Ratites (ostrich, rhea, apteryx, etc) have wing claws as adults. Loons, storks, screamers, galliforms, Secretary Birds, owls, and finfoots, have small, non-functional claws. It turns out that in many – possibly most – species of birds, occasional individuals have wing claws.
19. Evolution teaches that mammals evolved from reptiles. All mammals have three bones in the ear (and the Organ of Corti) and a single bone on each side of the lower jaw. All reptiles have a single bone in the ear and on average six bones on each side of the lower jaw. Speculate how intermediate forms could have managed to hear and chew, while the necessary restructuring was taking place and the Organ of Corti was being developed.
Once again with Buckna, “Evolution teaches…” The fact is that mammals did evolve from reptiles. The “question” asks us to “speculate.” Let’s do more than that.
A good explanation is given in an item posted on the University of California at Berkeley evolution Web site. Here is an excerpt:
Like birds, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and most fishes, the earliest synapsids had a bone in the back of the skull on either side called the quadrate that made the connection with the lower jaw via a bone called the articular. But mammals today, including humans, use two different bones, called the squamosal and the dentary, to make this connection. How did this new jawbone configuration evolve?
For reasons we don’t fully understand, several lineages of synapsids — including the one that would eventually give rise to the mammals — began to evolve changes in the jaw joint. Originally the quadrate and articular bones formed the jaw joint, but these synapsids (e.g., Probainognathus) evolved a second pair of bones involved in the jaw articulation. The squamosal bone was positioned alongside the quadrate in the upper jaw, and the dentary was positioned alongside the articular in the lower jaw.
Here are a couple of pictures that go along with the explanation:
20. Has any creature been identified as a direct ancestor of primates? Has any creature been identified as the common ancestor of man and apes? Explain your answers.
The answers are “yes” and “yes.” Here is a short explanation.
The first primate-like mammals, or proto-primates, evolved in the early Paleocene Epoch (65.5-55.8 million years ago) at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. They were roughly similar to squirrels and tree shrews in size and appearance. The existing, very fragmentary fossil evidence (from Asia, Europe, North Africa, and especially Western North America) suggests that they were adapted to an arboreal way of life in warm, moist climates. They probably were equipped with relatively good eyesight as well as hands and feet adapted for climbing in trees. These primate-like mammals (Plesiadapiformes) will remain rather shadowy creatures for us until more fossil data become available.
Some pictures of primate ancestors:
From Nova: Dryomomys 55 million years ago We’ve now arrived at one of your very earliest precursors, Dryomomys. Something like this creature begot something that begot something that, after that eternity of time, begot
Strictly speaking, a fish is a common ancestor of man and apes. Closer ancestors are the creatures pictured above.
21. Evolutionist Dr. Charles Oxnard (Professor of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia) completed the most sophisticated computer analysis of australopithecine fossils ever undertaken, and concluded that they have nothing to do with the ancestry of man whatsoever and are simply an extinct form of ape (see Oxnard’s The Order of Man, Yale University Press, 1984). How have paleoanthropologists responded to his conclusions?
The short answer may be that paleoanthropoloogists have not responded. A short search did not find any on-line challenge to Oxnard’s findings.
However, there does not seem to be any residual doubt of australopithecine’s role in the ancestry of man.
Most scientists maintain one of the australopithecine species evolved into the Homo genus in Africa around two million years ago. However there is no consensus on which species:
“Determining which species of australopithecine (if any) is ancestral to the genus Homo is a question that is a top priority for many paleoanthropologists, but one that will likely elude any conclusive answers for years to come. Nearly every possible species has been suggested as a likely candidate, but none are overwhelmingly convincing. Presently, it appears that A. garhi has the potential to occupy this coveted place in paleoanthropology, but the lack of fossil evidence is a serious problem. Another problem presents itself in the fact that it has been very difficult to assess which hominid represents the first member of the genus Homo. Without knowing this, it is not possible to determine which species of australopithecine may have been ancestral to Homo.”
There remains the question of why David Buckna considers this to be relevant.
22. Stern and Susman write in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology 60:279-313 (1983) that the hands and feet of Australopithecus afarensis are not at all like human hands and feet; rather, they have the long, curved fingers and toes typical of arboreal primates. How, then, do some insist that the footprints Mary Leakey uncovered in strata (dated at 3.5 million years old) in Laetoli were made byAustralopithecus afarensis, though these prints are indistinguishable from modern man? (Tuttle, Natural History, 64)
Buckna has fallen back on a well-worn volley ball of physical anthropology. The issue is much batted about on the Internet, with lots of evidence of creationist abuse. My advice, take a look at a published paper that directly addresses the issue. Here’s the abstract:
Am J Phys Anthropol. 1987 Apr;72(4):485-514.
Hominid footprints at Laetoli: facts and interpretations.
The history of discovery and interpretation of primate footprints at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania is reviewed. An analysis of the geological context of these tracks is provided. The hominid tracks in Tuff 7 at Site G in the Garusi River Valley demonstrate bipedality at a mid-Pliocene datum. Comparison of these tracks and the Hadar hominid foot fossils by Tuttle has led him to conclude that Australopithecus afarensis did not make the Tanzanian prints and that a more derived form of hominid is therefore indicated at Laetoli. An alternative interpretation has been offered by Stern and Susman who posit a conforming “transitional morphology” in both the Tanzanian prints and the Ethiopian bones. The present examines both hypotheses and shows that neither is likely to be entirely correct. To illustrate this point, a reconstruction of the foot skeleton of a female A. afarensis is undertaken, and the results are compared to the Laetoli tracks. We conclude that A. afarensis represents the best candidate for the maker of the Laetoli hominid trails.
- [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
23. Nebraska Man (based solely on a fossil tooth) became a significant image in America during the time of the Scopes trial (1925); later, scientists discovered the tooth came from a pig. A report in Nature (August 17, 1995) states that analysis of an incomplete shin bone from a creature dubbed Australopithecus anamensis suggests it walked upright “between 3.9 and 4.2 million years ago.” How should we treat discoveries which have not yet faced the rigors of scientific validation?
For once this is a worthy question and an implied recommendation. We should treat such discoveries with heaps of skepticism, especially if the findings lie far afield of established knowledge.
Having said that, let’s see what this is all about. I could not pull up the full paper from Nature, but here is the abstract:
Nature 376, 565-571 (17 August 1995) | doi:10.1038/376565a0; Accepted 1 August 1995
New four-million-year-old hominid species from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya
Meave G. Leakey*, Craig S. Feibel†, Ian McDougall‡ & Alan Walker§
- *National Museums of Kenya, PO Box 40658, Nairobi, Kenya
- †Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-0270, USA
- ‡Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
- §Departments of Anthropology and Biology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
Nine hominid dental, cranial and postcranial specimens from Kanapoi, Kenya, and 12 specimens from Allia Bay, Kenya, are described here as a new species of Australopithecus dating from between about 3.9 million and 4.2 million years ago. The mosaic of primitive and derived features shows this species to be a possible ancestor to Australopithecus afarensis and suggests thatArdipithecus ramidus is a sister species to this and all later hominids. A tibia establishes that hominids were bipedal at least half a million years before the previous earliest evidence showed.
First glance: this does not seem to be a lot about the “analysis of an incomplete shin bone.” There seems to be more to it than that. Looking elsewhere, The Smithsonian has more to say. This is from a page titled What does it mean to be human?
Australopithecus anamensis has a combination of traits found in both apes and humans. The upper end of the tibia (shin bone) shows an expanded area of bone and a human-like orientation of the ankle joint, indicative of regular bipedal walking (support of body weight on one leg at the time). Long forearms and features of the wrist bones suggest these individuals probably climbed trees as well.Where Lived:
Eastern Africa (Lake Turkana, Kenya and Middle Awash, Ethiopia)When Lived:
About 4.2 to 3.9 million years agoYear of Discovery:
1995History of Discovery:
In 1965, a research team led by Bryan Patterson from Harvard University discovered a single arm bone (KNM-KP 271) of an early human at the site of Kanapoi in northern Kenya. But without additional human fossils, Patterson could not confidently identify thespecies to which it belonged. In 1994, a research team led by paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey found numerous teeth and fragments of bone at the same site. Leakey and her colleagues determined that the fossils were those of a very primitive hominin and they named a new species called Australopithecus anamensis (‘anam’ means ‘lake’ in the Turkana lanaguage). Researchers have since found other Au. anamensis fossils at nearby sites (including Allia Bay), all of which date between about 4.2 million and 3.9 million years old.Height & Weight Supplemental Information:
This species was possibly the size of female chimpanzee, yet there is also evidence of strong male-female body size difference (sexual dimorphism).
We don’t know everything about our early ancestors—but we keep learning more! Paleoanthropologists are constantly in the field, excavating new areas with groundbreaking technology, and continually filling in some of the gaps about our understanding of humanevolution.
Below are some of the still unanswered questions about Australopithecus anamensis that may be answered with future discoveries:
- Is Au. anamensis a separate species from Au. afarensis? Many scientists think thefossil material of Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis represents a single lineage that evolved through time.
- Is Au. amanensis a direct descendant of the 4.4 million year old species Ardipithecus ramidus?
Leakey, M.G., Feibel, C.S., McDougall, I., Walker, A., 1995. New four-million-year-oldhominid species from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya. Nature 376,565-571.
Other recommended reading:
Leakey, M.G., Feibel, C.S., McDougall, I., Ward, C., Walker, A., 1998. New specimens and confirmation of an early age for Australopithecus anamensis. Nature 393, 62-66.
Ward, C. Leakey, M., Walker, A., 1999. The new hominid species Australopithecus anamensis. Evolutionary Anthropology 7, 197-205.
White, T.D, WoldeGabriel, G., Asfaw,B., Ambrose, S., Beyene, Y., Bernor, R.L., Boisserie, J.-R., Currie, B., Gilbert, H., Haile-Selassie, Y., Hart, W.K., Hlusko, L.J., Howell, F.C., Kono, R.T., Lehmann, T., Louchart, A., Lovejoy, C.O., Renne, P.R., Saegusa, H., Vrba, E.S., Wesselman, H., Suwa, G., 2006. Asa Issie, Aramis and the origin of Australopithecus.Nature 440, 883-889.How They Survived:
Australopithecus anamensis individuals had thickly-built, long, narrow jaws with their side rows of teeth arranged in parallel lines. Their strong jaws combined with heavily enameled teeth suggest Au. anamensis individuals may at times have eaten hard, abrasive foods, but they likely were plant-eaters in general, relying on both fruits and tough foods such as nuts. The sites where remains of Au. anamensis have been found were forests and woodlands that grew around lakes.Evolutionary Tree Information:
Jaw remains suggest that this species was the direct ancestor of Australopithecus afarensis, and possibly the direct descendent of a species of Ardipithecus.
A team led by Meave Leakey found the A. anamensis type specimen, mandible KNM-KP 29281, in Kenya in 1994. In 2006, Tim White’s team found A. anamensis fossils in the Middle Awash, Ethiopia, including the largest hominin canine yet discovered and the earliest Australopithecus femur.
Want to read about the tibia (shin bone) KNM-KP 29285?
It would appear that A. anamensis is a cut above Nebraska Man.
From its initial description, Hesperopithecus was regarded as an inconclusive find by a large portion of the scientific community. Examinations of the specimen continued, and the original describers continued to draw comparisons betweenHesperopithecus and apes. Further field work on the site in the summers of 1925 and 1926 uncovered other parts of the skeleton. These discoveries revealed that the tooth was incorrectly identified. According to these discovered pieces, the tooth belonged neither to a man nor an ape, but to a fossil of an extinct species of peccary called Prosthennops serus. The misidentification was attributed to the fact that the original specimen was severely weathered. The earlier identification as an ape was retracted in the journal Science in 1927.
It’s possible Buckna is going for some low-hanging fruit here. Let’s see what’s next.
24. In 1982, Dr. Lyall Watson stated: “The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin!” (Science Digest, vol. 90, May ’82, p. 44.) Is Watson’s statement still valid today?
The short answer is “no” unless we are talking of a very large coffin. Let’s take a quick look at some of these fossils. Here’s a short list:
As there are thousands of fossils, mostly fragmentary, often consisting of single bones or isolated teeth with complete skulls and skeletons rare, this overview is not complete, but does show some of the most important finds. The fossils are arranged by approximate age as determined by radiometric dating and/or incremental dating and the species name represents current consensus; if there is no clear scientific consensus the other possible classifications are indicated. Deprecated classifications may be found on the fossil’s page.
25. If coal formation was a slow, vertical accumulation of sediments over vast ages (a) why are fossil trees sometimes found upside down in coal seams? (b) why are marine fossils such as tubeworms, sponges, and corals often found in coal beds?
Oops. Just when I thought the fruit couldn’t grow any lower.
This is another two-part question. I will provide two answers without even going to the Internet for assistance.
a) Coal seams are are formed by non-fossilized plant material. There is nothing in the formation of coal that prevents the inclusion of separately fossilized tree trunks.
b) Some coal seams were submersed for a time beneath shallow seas. In such a situation there is nothing to prevent limestone and other fossilized sea life from inntruding into the seams.
26. Oil and gas, trapped within permeable sedimentary rock, remains at high pressure. If trapped for millions of years, why wouldn’t these pressures have dissipated?
Another oldie-but-goody and also nothing to do with biological evolution. The layers containing the oil and gas are sealed from above by impermeable layers of limestone. The matter of “high pressure” not a big issue. The zones above and to the sides of the oil and gas deposits are also at high pressure. It’s pressure differential, not absolute pressure that would drive the oil or gas to migrate.
27. Does the retrograde motion of Venus, Uranus, and Pluto support or contradict the theory of solar system formation?
The short answer is “no.” Also, this has nothing to do with biological evolution.
For readers who would like an extended discussion:
So why is the rotation of Venus backwards? Astronomers think that Venus was impacted by another large planet early in its history, billions of years ago. The combined momentum between the two objects averaged out to the current rotational speed and direction.
Uranus has an axial tilt of 97.77°, so its axis of rotation is approximately parallel with the plane of the Solar System. This gives it seasonal changes completely unlike those of the other major planets. Other planets can be visualized to rotate like tilted spinning tops on the plane of the Solar System, whereas Uranus rotates more like a tilted rolling ball. Near the time of Uranian solstices, one pole faces the Sun continuously whereas the other one faces away. Only a narrow strip around the equator experiences a rapid day–night cycle, but with the Sun low over the horizon as in the Earth’s polar regions. At the other side of Uranus’s orbit the orientation of the poles towards the Sun is reversed. Each pole gets around 42 years of continuous sunlight, followed by 42 years of darkness. Near the time of the equinoxes, the Sun faces the equator of Uranus giving a period of day–night cycles similar to those seen on most of the other planets. Uranus reached its most recent equinox on December 7, 2007.
Compared with most of solar system’s planets and moons, the Pluto-Charon system is tipped on its side in relation to the sun. Also, Pluto’s rotation is retrograde compared to the other worlds — it spins backward, from east to west.
28. On March 25, 1996, Comet Hyakutake (classified as a short-period comet) made its closest swing by Earth, at a distance of about nine million miles. According to English astronomer Raymond A. Lyttleton and others, what’s the maximum lifetime for a short-period comet?
I’m trying to figure out what this (and the rotation of planets) has to do with evolution. But here is the answer:
The short-period comets have a life expectancy of 50,000 to 500,000 years. This poses the question of why we still have in our planetary system (which is allegedly billions of years old) so many short- period comets. To solve the problem, a theoretically present Oort cloud is proposed which allegedly continuously supplies new comets.
29. The Oort Cloud was first theorized by Dutch astronomer Jan Oort in 1950 to account for the existence of short period comets. Since 1950, has any portion of the postulated Oort Cloud ever been directly observed?
Again, no relation to biological evolution. But here is an answer to the question: The Oort Cloud has not been directly observed. The most apparent indication of the Oort Cloud is the behavior of near-Sun comets.
Most of the comets seen close to the Sun seem to have reached their current positions through gravitational perturbation of the Oort cloud by the tidal force exerted by the Milky Way. Just as the Moon’s tidal force deforms Earth’s oceans, causing the tides to rise and fall, the galactic tide also distorts the orbits of bodies in the outer Solar System. In the charted regions of the Solar System, these effects are negligible compared to the gravity of the Sun, but in the outer reaches of the system, the Sun’s gravity is weaker and the gradient of the Milky Way’s gravitational field has substantial effects. Galactic tidal forces stretch the cloud along an axis directed toward the galactic centre and compress it along the other two axes; these small perturbations can shift orbits in the Oort cloud to bring objects close to the Sun.The point at which the Sun’s gravity concedes its influence to the galactic tide is called the tidal truncation radius. It lies at a radius of 100,000 to 200,000 AU, and marks the outer boundary of the Oort cloud.
30. Are new stars forming today? Are new planets which circle faraway stars beyond the solar system actually being discovered?
Another question unrelated to biological evolution. The answer to both questions is “yes.”
31. If the universe is billions of years old, orbital mechanics require that spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters should have blurred or spun apart long ago. How do Big Bang advocates explain their present shape? Is there any direct evidence for the “missing mass” of the universe (Cold Dark Matter)?
Again, nothing related to biological evolution. Besides, I covered this one about twenty years ago. Then I recapped it last week. Here’s an excerpt:
1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.
Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.
The footnote cited is to an item in a book by Arthur N. Strahler Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).
32. In his book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Dr. Michael Behe defines an “irreducibly complex” system as a single system composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where removal of any one part causes the system to effectively cease functioning. Give an example of a system (living or non-living) that could be considered “irreducibly complex,” and explain why.
I will deal only with biological systems. Not only has Michael Behe been unable to discover “irreducibly complex” features, neither has any other biologist. See my previous review in the November 1999 issue of The North Texas Skeptic.
33. In his 1981 address to the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Dr. Colin Patterson (Senior Paleontologist, British Museum of Natural History) asked: “Can you tell me anything you KNOW about evolution? Any one thing? Any one thing that is true?” The answer he got was silence. Can you state any one thing about evolution you know to be true? How do you know it is true?
The answer to the first question is “yes.” I can state a number of things I know to be true. In answer to the second question I can state for a fact that biological evolution has taken place. Organisms on this planet today are direct descendants of organisms that lived here millions of years ago and were nothing like present-day life forms.
And that concludes my short review of David Buckna’s 33 “questions.”