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Notes to the Paleontologist's Tale




1 On origin-of-life research, see Schopf 2002; Cook 2005; Westall 2005; Poole 2002. There are no fossil examples of a transition from nonlife to life, as the Earth's oldest known exposed sediments (the best type of rock in which to look for evidence of past life) are less than 4 billion years old, the life forms preserved in them already evolved well beyond the earliest cell or LUCA (last universal common ancestor) (Westall 2005; on LUCA, see Poole 2002). Some researchers question the biological origin of what paleontologist William Schopf (1993) has identified as traces of microorganisms in rocks from Australia radiometrically dated at 3.5 billion years (Garcia-Ruiz et al. 2003; Kerr 2003; Brasier et al. 2002; Kerr 2002b); others dispute the claim that bits of graphite in rock on an island off Greenland are biomarkers or traces of life that are 3.85 billion years old (Fedo and Whitehouse 2002; Kerr 2002d; Zuilen, Lepland, and Arrhenius 2002a and 2002b). On fossil sterols, molecules that could only be made by eukaryotes (organisms with cells that include a nucleus), that are 2.7 billion years old, see Brocks et al. 1999 and Knoll 1999. On eukaryote evolution, increase in oxygen levels, and the rise of metazoan (multicellular) life, see Pennisi 2004c; Brocks et al. 1999; Knoll 1999; Kerr 2005a; Hedges et al. 2004.

2 Futuyma 1982, 207.

3 On the Cambrian explosion (referring to a rapid diversification of animal phyla about 540 million years ago in the Cambrian Period), see Erwin et al. 1997; Nash 1995; Gould 1989, 53-60. There is evidence of an extended period of metazoan diversification well before the Cambrian (see Wray et al. 1996; Kerr 1998b; Fortey 2001). The first "large" fossils of animal life date from the Precambrian Ediacaran Period (Shen et al. 2008; Knoll et al. 2004; Monastersky 1998c; Hoffman et al. 1998; Hoffman 1999). See Conway Morris 1998 and 1989, Gould 1989, and Andrew MacRae's Burgess Shale Fossils on the soft-bodied Burgess Shale fauna of the Middle Cambrian. Land plants may have evolved by 700 million years ago, producing a rise in atmospheric oxygen that could have contributed to the Cambrian explosion (Heckman et al. 2001; Pennisi 2001e; ScienceDaily; on plants, see "The Biochemist's Tale," note 39).

4 Eldredge 1982, 46-47.

5 See Conway Morris 1989 and Ellis 2001.

6 Trilobites ("three-lobed ones"), extinct marine arthropods with external skeletons, are the most numerous of Cambrian fossils. See Sam Gon III's A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites; see also Fortey 2000 and Rich et al. 1997, 192-212.

7 Abrupt appearance is a term used by evolutionists (e.g., Olson 1965, 94; Valentine and Campbell 1975, 673; Ayala and Valentine 1979, 266; Godfrey 1983, 201; Conway Morris 1989, 339) to refer to the suddenness with which new forms appear in the fossil record due to the record's scarcity of transitional forms. The term was appropriated by creationists in the 1980s to refer to creation. See Ecker 1990, 15-18; Bennetta 1988a, 25-26, and 1988b, 20; and "General Prologue," note 15.

8 Gish 1986. Duane T. Gish, with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, was vice president of the ICR for over 20 years, retiring in 2005 at the age of 84. Gish was the "clear victor," in the ICR's view, in almost 300 debates with evolutionary scientists (H. Morris 2005a). For an unflattering look at Gish, see Joyce Arthur's Creationism: Bad Science or Immoral Pseudoscience?, which includes Gish's response to Arthur, and Arthur's response to Gish.

9 Gish 1985, 69.

10 In Gish's words (1985, 23-24), the Genesis creation accounts relate "simple historical facts."

11 Similarly the ICR's John Morris tries to discredit evolutionary theory via the "sudden appearance" during the Cambrian Explosion of "nearly every phyla (basic body type) that ever lived"--failing to point out that at the end of the Cambrian not a single land creature yet existed. See J. Morris 2001a. On abrupt appearance, see note 7 above.

12 Futuyma 1979, 81; Cloud 1988, 321; Simpson 1967, 21-22; Gould 1989, 228; Cloud 1988, 334; Eldredge 1982, 47. See "The Biochemist's Tale," 331-338, note 39.

13 Maynard Smith 1975, 107; Simpson 1967, 20-22.

14 Colbert 1980, 5.

15 See Monastersky 1996c; McGowan 1984, 75-76; Colbert 1980, 5-7; Romer 1966, 11; Stebbins 1982, 275; Strahler 1987, 405. Present-day sea squirts in their larval form are very similar to Amphioxus and thus also reflect the invertebrate-vertebrate connection (McGowan 1984, 76).

16 Fenton and Fenton 1989, 341; Strahler 1987, 343. A fossil chordate older than Pikaia (525 million years old) is the 535-million-year-old Cathaymyrus diadexus from southwest China (Shu et al. 1996; Monastersky 1996b).Vertebrates may have evolved from Amphioxus- or Pikaia-like chordates in Ediacaran times if not earlier. (See Shu et al. 1999; Zimmer 1999; Monastersky 1999c.)

17 The fossil fish Tiktaalik ("large shallow water fish") roseae, dating back 375 million years, was found in Arctic Canada by biologist Neil H. Shubin and colleagues. Intermediate between fish with fins and tetrapods with limbs, Tiktaalik had "a mobile neck, a functional wrist joint, and other features that presaged tetrapod conditions" (Daeschler et al. 2006; see also Shubin et al. 2006 and Wilford 2006). On the discovery in Pennsylvania of a 365-million-year-old tetrapod humerus or forelimb (ANSP 21350) transitional between fin and limb, see Shubin et al. 2004 and Clack 2004. On the early tetrapod Acanthostega, dating from some 360 million years ago, see Zimmer 1995.

The coelacanth (pronounced see-la-canth) is a fish that has long been considered "our closest living fishy relative" (Wallace et al. 1981, 642). However, a mitochondrial DNA study reported in September 1997 indicates that lungfish, not coelacanths, are our closest living gilled kin (Roush 1997). A so-called "living fossil," the coelacanth was thought to be extinct until a surviving species was discovered off East London, South Africa in 1938. Since 1952 nearly 200 catches have been made in the Comoro Islands near Madagascar, and what is now thought to be a second species of coelacanth was found in 1998 off Indonesia. (See Weinberg 2000; Milius 1999a; Gordon 1998; Fricke 1988; online see Perkins 2001d and the Coelacanth Rescue Mission's The Fish Out of Time page).) The ICR (H. Morris 1985, 82-83) wonders how coelacanths could have "become amphibians" if they are the same now as when the fish-to-amphibian transition supposedly began. This ignores the fact that the coelacanth was only a "cousin" of the fishy form (now exemplified by Tiktaalik) thought to be ancestral to amphibians.

ICR president John Morris has ridiculed the idea of man having "fishy ancestors" by speaking as if no intermediate forms (which creationists claim donít exist anyway) were involved: "Everyone knows that fish donít become people. Even in a billion years a fish wonít turn into a person" (J. Morris 1998a).

18 Dixon et al. 1988, 48. For a study of Ichthyostega's highly specialized ear, suggesting this early tetrapod was more aquatically adapted than previously thought, see Clack et al. 2003.

On the transitional tetrapod Pederpes, see Clack 2002a and Perkins 2002a. On the fossil sarcopterygian (lobe-finned fish) Styloichthys changae, close to the last common ancestor of tetrapods and lungfish, see Zhu and Yu 2002. For more on tetrapods, see Clack 2002b.

The earliest known vertebrate actually to live on land was the lizard-like tetrapod Casineria, which lived some 340 million years ago in the early Carboniferous Period (Paton et al. 1999; Monastersky 1999a). On the amphibians, see the UC Museum of Paleontology's page Introduction to the Amphibia.

19 Wallace et al. 1981, 644.

20 Gish 1995a, 97.

21 See "The Paleoanthropologist's Tale," lines 84-90.

22 Kitcher 1982, 113.

23 See "The Paleoanthropologist's Tale," lines 31-35. On reptiles, see Those Diverse Diapsids. On the dinosaurs, see Dinosaur Links and Dinosauria On-Line. On ichthyosaurs ("fish lizards"), extinct marine reptiles contemporaneous with the dinosaurs, see Perkins 2002c.

24 Gish 1995a, 150. In 1998, paleontologists in South Africa discovered the first complete fossil of the ferocious gorgon, a mammal-like reptile that went extinct 250 million years ago at the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. (See press release and Ward 2004.) In the late Triassic, the mammal-like reptiles or therapsids gave rise to mammals, and became extinct during the Jurassic (McGowan 1984, 135; Strahler 1987, 317-321; Ecker 1990, 126-127). On the evolution of mammalian middle ear bones from bones that were attached to reptilian jaws, see Luo et al. 2007 and Perkins 2007.

25 Gish 1995a, 150. See Monotremes: Egg-Laying Mammals.

26 The status of Archaeopteryx as the earliest known bird has been challenged by the 1983 discovery of a 225-million-year-old fossil named Protoavis texensis ("first bird from Texas") by paleontologist Sankar Chatterjee (1998). There is disagreement, however, as to whether Protoavis is really a bird or just an interesting reptile (Anderson 1991). For an investigation of Archaeopteryx's brain using a CT scanner to reconstruct the braincase (concluding that Archaeopteryx really was a bird brain), see Dominguez Alonso et al. 2004.

Birdlike fossil footprints in Argentina dating back 212 million years (55 million years older than the remains of Archaeopteryx) were apparently left by birds, their ancestors, or some dinosaur group with avian characteristics (Melchor, de Valais, and Genise 2002; Perkins 2002b). On the origin of birds, see Chiappe and Witmer 2002; Feduccia 1999; Padian and Chiappe 1998; Witmer 1997a; A. Gibbons 1997c; Ruben et al. 1997; Burke and Feduccia 1997; Monastersky 1997d and 1997e; Hinchliffe 1997; the UC Museum of Paleontology's Are Birds Really Dinosaurs?; and note 27 below. On the evolution of similar color patterns among distantly related bird species (parallel evolution), see Mundy et al. 2004 and Hoekstra and Price 2004. On bird speciation and biogeography, see Newton 2003. On penguin evolution, see Perkins 2004.

On the reptilian pterosaurs, the first known vertebrates to fly, see Unwin 2005; Kellner and Campos 2002; Monastersky 2001; and the Pterosaur FAQ's. That pterosaurs were egg-layers has been confirmed by the discovery in China of a pterosaur embryo "exquisitely preserved" in its egg (Wang and Zhou 2004).

27 "Just how much more intermediate does something have to be?" (Miller 1982, 9). On Archaeopteryx, see Mayr et al. 2005; Shipman 1998; Wellnhofer 1988; and "All About Archaeopteryx" by Chris Nedin.

In recent years a majority of paleontologists have espoused the view that birds descended from theropod (bipedal) dinosaurs. This view has been based on such fossil finds as the theropod dinosaur Unenlagia (literally "half-bird") in Patagonia (Novas and Puerta 1997; Rothschild, Tanke, and Carpenter 1997); the small dromaeosaur Bambiraptor feinbergi ("the most birdlike dinosaur yet discovered") in Montana (Holden 2000a); a small Thescelosaurus ("marvelous lizard") dinosaur with a fossilized four-chambered heart (supporting the argument that dinosaurs were warm-blooded), more like hearts of birds and mammals than of reptiles (Fisher et al. 2000; Morell 2000a; ScienceDaily); the basal troodontid dinosaur Sinovenator changii, indicating early structural modifications toward avians (Xu et al. 2002); the troodontid Mei long ("soundly sleeping dragon" in Chinese), a specimen found in a bird-like sleeping posture (Xu and Norell 2004); and a number of fossil dinosaurs found in China (Sinosauropteryx prima, Beipiaosaurus inexpectus, Sinornithosaurus, Protarchaeopteryx robusta, and two species of Caudipteryx) with feathers, protofeathers, or featherlike filaments (Ji et al. 1998; Xu et al. 1999; Appenzeller 1999; Normile 2000a). (Feathers perhaps originally evolved for warmth, and were later used for mate-luring display in addition or prior to adaptation for flight [ Monastersky 1998b; Perkins 2001].) (On the possibility of "wing-assisted incline running" and the evolution of flight, see Dial 2003 and Pennisi 2003a.) On feathered dinosaurs, see also Ji et al. 2001; Norell et al. 2002; and Xu et al. 2004. On the gigantic bird-like dinosaur Gigantoraptor erlianensis found in China, see Xu et al. 2007. A minority view has been that birds did not descend from dinosaurs but that both evolved from a common primitive ancestor among the Archosauria, the large reptilian group that includes birds and dinosaurs.

Mention should be made of a dinosaur-to-bird link hoax. Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, a species from China announced not in a scientific journal but in National Geographic (Sloan 1999), proved to be a case of "fossil fakery," initially reported as involving attachment of a dromaeosaurid dinosaur's tail to a bird fossil ( Monastersky 2000a). Subsequent study has shown that bones of up to five different fossil animals went into making the fake, including specimens of at least two species previously unknown to science (Perkins 2001b). The fossil's fraudulence, incidentally, was exposed by evolutionists, not creationists. Science worked. (See Stear 2000.)

28 Gish 1995a, 141.

29 Ibid., 138-139.

30 McGowan 1984, 124.

31 Eldredge and Gould 1972; see also Gould 2002.

32 Mayr 1954; 1988, 442-444, 461-462. On speciation (the arising of a new species) and the central role of reproductive isolation, see Coyne and Orr 2004. Speciation through geographic isolation is called allopatric speciation. On sympatric speciation, or speciation without isolation--as through "assortative mating" (individuals mating preferentially with like individuals[Bearhop et al. 2005])--see Dieckmann and Doebeli 1999; see also Kondrashov and Kondrashov 1999 and Tregenza and Butlin 1999. For a study suggesting that speciation can occur rapidly in large populations through sexual conflict, see Martin and Hosken 2003. On isolation and speciation, see also "The Biochemist's Tale," 120-132 note 8.

On the evolution, between two populations of salmon in the wild, in only 60-70 years, of reproductive isolation--a process that leads to speciation (as species by definition do not interbreed [see "The Biochemist's Tale," 155-156])--see Hendry et al. 2000; Barton 2000; ScienceDaily.

33 Eldredge and Gould's theory does not deny that gradual change (phyletic gradualism) occurs as Darwin described it. The theory holds that gradual change alone is not sufficient to account for new species, and that most change occurs through "rapid" (geologically speaking) speciation (Eldredge and Gould 1972, 197; Gould 1984, 24).

34 Gould 1980, 213. Punctuated equilibrium should not be confused with so-called "hopeful monsters," the late geneticist Richard Goldschmidt's notion of genetic macromutations, causing sudden major changes or evolutionary saltations in morphology or structure (see Godfrey 1983a, 209-211). See Prothero 1992 on punctuated equilibrium.

35 Henry Morris (2000a), writing about the "internal wars" and "squabbles" among evolutionists, particularly between "the neo-Darwinians and the punctuationists," predicted that someday "the House of Evolution will fall," for "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand" (Mark 3:25; italics in original).

36 Debate has been called "the life blood of science" (Cazeau 1982, 34). For examples of current evolutionary debate (in addition to phyletic gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium), see Ruse 2001; notes 4, 26, and 27 above; and "The Paleoanthropologist's Tale," lines 72-75, 99-110, and notes 25-26. For creationists to accuse evolutionists of arguing among themselves, says Eldredge (1982, 52), is to accuse them "of doing science." For a perfect example of this creationist tactic, see Sherwin 1997.




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