A Blog of Reason From a Godless Liberal

What Does ‘Missing Link’ Mean for Atheists?

In cool, creationism, evolution, Science on May 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

‘Missing Link’ Fossil Hailed as New Rosetta Stone

Creationists must be in full denial mode. I’m sure it won’t be long before they put out an anti-science rebuttal attacking any ‘holes’ they can (crocoduck). News broke yesterday that scientist have described a 95% complete fossil that looks to be a clear missing link between our lemur ancestors and the road to primates.

Scientists have discovered an exquisitely preserved ancient primate fossil that they believe forms a crucial “missing link” between our own evolutionary branch of life and the rest of the animal kingdom.

The 47m-year-old primate – named Ida – has been hailed as the fossil equivalent of a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the critical early stages of primate evolution.

This news hurts a standard creationist argument against evolution, that there are no transition fossils (even though there are). The 47-million year old fossil was a little girl (estimated to be between 6-9 months old), and shows a divergence in our lineages.

The unprecedented preservation of Ida meant working out how she died was more like a modern day crime scene investigation than the informed guess-work that palaeontologists usually make do with. The team noticed that she had a broken wrist that had begun to partially heal. The injury did not kill her, but they speculate that it contributed to her premature demise.

“It might be that her mother dropped her once or that she fell down from a tree earlier in her life,” Smith said. She survived the accident, but her climbing abilities would have been impaired. Unable to drink from water trapped by tree leaves, she would have had to venture down to the lake to drink. This would have proved to be a fateful decision.

Crucially though, Ida is not on the lemur line because she lacks two key characteristics shared by lemurs – a grooming claw on her second toe and a fused set of teeth called a tooth comb. Also, a bone in her ankle called the talus is shaped like members of our branch of the primates. So the researchers believe she may be on our evolutionary line dating from just after the split with the lemurs.

Sadly, I doubt this find will have any significant effect on the creationism verse evolution debate (I use debate as loosely as possible). Creationists have an established history of ignoring strong evidence, distorting the scientific method, plugging their ears, and being generally lame. So would anyone think one more piece of the puzzle going to change their views? I sure the hell don’t. Don’t get me wrong, this fossil certainly doesn’t hurt, as more evidence (for or against) is never a bad thing. Creationist are only interested in evidence when it supports their predetermined view.

So why then, if it won’t change the debate, does this matter to an atheist? Well, it bolsters our agrument. I’m sure it will be useful in persuading more reasonable theists (oxymoron?). It provides us with important details about our evolutionary history. Dr Jørn Hurum, the paleontologist from Oslo University’s Natural History Museum said, “This will be the one pictured in the textbooks for the next hundred years,” which means that school children all over the country (execpt Texas) will see it for generations. I don’t know about you, but this picture certainly sparks my imagination, even as an adult. Finally, this fossil makes being a creationist that much more laughable.

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  1. Yeah, we’ll never satisfy the creationist “demand” for a perfect “missing link” fossil, mainly because what they want to see doesn’t exist because what they think happens…doesn’t happen.

    They’ll want to see evidence of one animal giving birth to a different animal. Kent Hovind used to harp on this ALL the time and I think Ray Comfort still does. Not that those two are a good reflection of ALL creationism. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about people who insist on deluding themselves by holding onto unfounded religious beliefs NO MATTER what it’s that they will do ANYTHING to reconcile them with new discoveries. Hell, a lot of them even go so far as to go find weird verses from their scripture to show how they “knew” about it back then. Just the other day I had some dumb twat on YouTube quoting some Bible verse at me about how “the life of a creature” being in the blood. She then said that was “discovered” that blood was vital to life in 1600-something, but wow look the Bible knew about it all along! Hah! The guy she was referring to is the guy who discovered the way the circulatory system worked. I’m sure that people even thousands of years before the time the Bible was written had at least made the link between people bleeding, then dying.

    Anyway, my point is this won’t make that much of a dent in the staunch creationists.

  2. I've read a little about this via the AP News Wire and now here. Based on that I went out to the most ridiculous of religious-right-wing "newspapers" (WorldNetDaily.com) and found the following: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=98642

    Short answer here… they are indeed doing everything in their power to cocoduck it.

    Should this concern us? Maybe a little. Any time we have a concerted band of loonies trying to undermine real science and advancement I think we have a cause to be at least a little concerned. I really am not surprised though, not even a little bit.

  3. As a business man, it’s tiring to have to avoid discussions. Even in my family I’ve been called a Scientologist by a sister for supporting scientific explanations. If we choose to speak openly about interesting things like this we end up losing respect with people in life that matter for our lives.
    This discovery is important because it’s a validation of a theory. In college we talked about the mammal branch going back to a Newt. It’s just too bad that the term Missing Link is always used. As science changes and new (yet predictable) forms show themselves the term is used again and again. which looks like the last fossil was discredited. There are no single ‘transitional” or “missing link” fossils.
    For me the continued poking holes in the God of Gaps leaves me talking at the end of a debate when my opponent has resorted to “Hmph”. I love hearing hmph (translation : Uncle!)

  4. It matters to me because I am interested in our past, our ancestry. The knowledge we gain of finding where we come from doesn’t hurt anyone, really. To be open minded to world around us and sensitive to the evidence before us, we can only grow to be better as a race. If I were close minded and denied any evidence provided to me, I would be severely harming, not just myself, but anyone close to me by spreading that type of poison. . .

  5. I thought Ray Comfort was the missing link… in his blog he vigorously denies the importance of this new “missing link” discovery:

    http://raycomfortfood.blogspot.com/

    I figured any one that thick headed had to at least be a former subspecies of the hominid variety.

  6. It is a spectacular fossil. A one in a million find to get a fossil with fur and other soft tissue preserved in that manner. But I don’t believe the hype about it – it’s probably NOT as important as everyone is making it out to be, just like Swine Flu was not as big a deal as everyone made it out to be.

  7. Missing link is a bogus term. Life is in a constant state of change and mutation. There isn’t necessarily a clear line between one species and another. This of course makes it very difficult to present something as a legitimate missing link.

  8. I like the comment made by Dawkins (or was it Hitchens?) that Christians are always talking about the ‘missing link’, but whenever science identifies a link between two fossils, the Christians just say, now there’s two more missing links! The scientists can’t win! With every fossil they find they create another two ‘missing links’ for the Christians to whinge about.

  9. “Missing Link” is an old 30’s and 40’s term they liked to talk about in old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  10. I read that article in Ray’s blog. He used an article from the NEW YORK POST as a reference. THE POST. You know, the TABLOID with the headlines like “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.”

  11. It’s a meaningless term used for media hype. All fossils are transitional forms of some sort or other, or “links”. Scientists just keep finding more species to fill in more and more gaps. Creationists will continue to lie about it.

  12. For filling the holes of evolution story Fossil records are no more required. Brains and bodies of human like speice living in the third world easily fill any missing link space.

  13. @Kristy:

    We shouldn’t have to “win” against wilfully uneducated people who don’t care to understand real science. Unfortunately…incredibly intelligent people like Eugenie Scott of the NCSE have had to devote their CAREERS to combatting this deliberate, idiotic misinformation being spread about science.

    As the weasily guy from Ferris Bueller said, “I weep for the future…”

    But yeah…the idea that science has to “win” against idiots who don’t understand it is absurd…

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