Transitional Forms as Evidence for Evolution: Tiktaalik and cdesign proponentsists

I just finished watching tonight’s episode of NOVA, “Judgment Day”, about the Dover intelligent design trial. What I liked best about it was the way it highlighted the predictive power of evolutionary theory, something often denied by creationists of various sorts.

When we hear about the discovery of a transitional form or ‘missing link’ like Tiktaalik, it would be possible to presume that this discovery came about by accident. In fact, the paleontologists who found the fossil were looking for just such a transitional fossil, having chosen that particular place to look for fossil evidence of the branching off of amphibians from fish based on the age of the rocks exposed in that area and Darwinian evolution. In other words, Darwin’s theory makes predictions and they are confirmed (in contrast with intelligent design, which the Dover trial showed clearly knows precisely what experiments to do in order to test its claims, and yet never does them).

This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. This was not simply a find that happened to fit with evolution. This is a case where evolutionary theory made a prediction about where one should look for certain kinds of transitional forms, scientists looked there, and found precisely what evolutionary theory predicted they should. This evidence is as strong as when a witness in a criminal case confesses the stolen loot is hidden in a particular place, the police go search there, and they find it.

Kenneth Miller put it clearly and succinctly in “Judgement Day” when he said ” Any theory that can stand up to 150 years of contentious testing is a pretty darn good theory. And that’s what evolution is.”

A similar example of a prediction made by mainstream evolutionary theory was that the view that humans, having one less chromosome than other primates, had lost one as two chromosomes had fused into one. In one particular human chromosome, one finds not merely a match of genes with two chromosomes found in other primates, but also evidence of the telomeres from the ends of the chromosomes having been incorporated into the midst of the new chromosome formed by the fusion. It is worth noting that the result of this was presumably not mild and gradual. Occasionally such major changes have presumably occurred. We are all mutants, after all.

Another important transitional form mentioned in the documentary was that uncovered in earlier editions of the intelligent design/creationist textbook Of Pandas and People. I had known from reading the book Monkey Girl that they had found manuscripts written just before and just after the judicial decision that outlawed the teaching of creationism in public science classrooms, in which the one before said “creationism” and this was changed in the edition immediately after the decision to “intelligent design”. What I hadn’t known was that there were “transitional forms” providing evidence of this evolutionary process of textbook design. In the version immediately after the judicial decision, there were places where hasty changes had led to forms such as cdesign proponentsists (see, that wasn’t a typo in the title of this post!). The intention had been to highlight the whole word “creationists” and replace it with “design proponents”, but the person making the substitutions had failed to highlight the whole word creationists, and thus ended up making a hodge-podge of the two using this cut and paste method. The evidence for deception on the part of the proponents of intelligent design and creationism in the Dover case is every bit as strong and clear as the evidence for evolution.

A sad irony of the viewpoint of the religious fundamentalists who think they know what is best for science education is that they claim to trust teenagers to weigh the evidence and draw their own conclusions, and yet cannot accept it when the vast majority of those who, having done just that not only as teenagers but in careers in science, overwhelmingly find themselves persuaded by the evidence for evolution.

The transitional forms are consistently found where Darwinian evolution predicts they will be, whether in arctic Canada or creationist literature.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    I haven’t seen that NOVA yet, but I followed the case rather closely while it was being tried. If you ever get the chance, read the judges ruling in its entirety. It’s brutal in its censure of the creationists.As I don’t watch television, I’ll have to wait until it shows up on google or youtube or something.

  • TomS

    A typo, I believe – that should be “cdesign proponentsists”. One more “s”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12664579974608517882 Faithful Progressive

    Yes, the predictive power of evolution as been established by modern genetics and much more. As a Christian believer, I have no idea why evolution is such a threat to our fundamentalist friends…the only conclusion I can reach is that they really have very little faith and need to put blinders on to keep it. But then I can not understand people who try to interpret beautiful Biblical poetry literally either.Regards, FP

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14949411893531888555 geoffrobinson

    I’m confused about the predictive power of evolution. It predicts everything and anything. Junk DNA? Knock-out experiments? Is there any sort of biological function which could in principle falsify Darwinism? No. Darwin-of-the-Gaps will be appealed to.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don’t think you are confused. I do think you are trying to obscure the issue by sleight of hand. I mentioned a specific case of evolutionare theory predicting that the development from fish into amphibians would have happened around a certain time. Scientists looked in rock from that time, and found what evolution predicted. What, apart from your very strong desire not to believe, counts against this extremely strong evidence of evolution’s scientific legitimacy and predictive power?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01098950427329538284 N.B.

    I’m really disappointed that I missed the airing of this, having heard so much about it, but I’m sure I can find it somewhere on the tubes.On the other hand, seeing the pre-screening of the new Beowulf movie in 3D was definitely worth it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09982867322659167014 The Factician

    I was disappointed with NOVA in one regard. They played up the Tiktaalik fossil discovery as if this was the final nail in the coffin. When they said that the Dover trial came at a turning point at which we really finally understand evolution, I thought of half a dozen things that they were going to discuss from my own field of molecular genetics. The truth is that there are constantly new and exciting data coming out that support evolution. There isn’t just the Tiktaalik fossil, there are new discoveries every day that are adding to the strength of the theory of evolution. While it gives more dramatic weight to their subjects to paint the Tiktaalik fossil as unique in that regard, I think it does the rest of us a great disservice (and the public at large). That said, I thought the NOVA special was fantastic. I particularly liked the bit about “Why have I never heard this stuff before?” “It’s because there are cdesign proponentists who are working hard to keep it out of the textbooks.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14949411893531888555 geoffrobinson

    “I don’t think you are confused. I do think you are trying to obscure the issue by sleight of hand. I mentioned a specific case of evolutionare theory predicting that the development from fish into amphibians would have happened around a certain time. Scientists looked in rock from that time, and found what evolution predicted. What, apart from your very strong desire not to believe, counts against this extremely strong evidence of evolution’s scientific legitimacy and predictive power?”First, evidence for common descent is not evidence for the whole shooting gallery of Darwinian thought. Secondly, your comments of “from time to time” don’t cut it. The Cambrian Explosion and appeals to punctuated equilibrium should be enough to put that to rest. If the “time to time” description was correct, Gould would never have come up with punctuated equilibrium.If evolution was true, I could reconcile it with my faith. The science just isn’t there. And the Darwinian paradigm rests on philosophical assumptions based on naturalism. There must be a natural explanation, therefore there is a natural explanation.There could possibly be an answer to irreducible complexity arguments, hand wave, and proclaim Behe defeated.Darwin of the Gaps.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06198312723247416995 Forthekids

    Readers might consider some of the issues that were left out of the NOVA flick, as well as those that were extremely misleading…LINK HERE.”Monkey Girl” was an as biased account of the trial as well. I’ve read the book and listened to the author lecture. Here is a lecture review.Since you

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05904417073935434187 Smokey

    geoffrobinson wrote:”First, evidence for common descent is not evidence for the whole shooting gallery of Darwinian thought.”geoff, you’re deluded. James was pointing out that this was a clear prediction of where a specific transitional fossil would be found, not that this was evidence of common descent.If you’re a Christian who obeys the Ninth Commandment, you made a false statement for which you will apologize and that you will retract, but I suspect that you have complete contempt for the Commandments when they interfere with your political agenda.”If evolution was true, I could reconcile it with my faith. The science just isn’t there.”You’ve clearly never looked for science if you don’t understand that science is about rigorous testing of one’s own hypotheses, something NO ONE on your side has the faith to do.”And the Darwinian paradigm rests on philosophical assumptions based on naturalism.”But the same assumptions underly your phony claim that “the science just isn’t there.” You’re a flaming hypocrite.”There must be a natural explanation, therefore there is a natural explanation.”Yet we’re the people who have the integrity to admit when we don’t know something, not you.”There could possibly be an answer to irreducible complexity arguments, hand wave, and proclaim Behe defeated.”Scientific disagreements aren’t decided by arguing. They are decided by producing new evidence, something Behe abandoned long ago.Fact: Every system that Behe has claimed met his definition of IC turned out not to.Fact: Behe has changed his definition of IC.Fact: The claim that a structure that meets the definition of IC is a mere hypothesis that Behe is afraid to test.Fact: Creationists and ID proponents regularly lie about this, and pretend that Behe’s untested hypothesis is a fact.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14949411893531888555 geoffrobinson

    “Fact: Every system that Behe has claimed met his definition of IC turned out not to.”Really? That’s news. There have been step-by-step explanations of all those systems? Any references?”You’ve clearly never looked for science if you don’t understand that science is about rigorous testing of one’s own hypotheses, something NO ONE on your side has the faith to do.”Given the fact that you lack the ability to mind-read, going into ad hominem like this doesn’t become you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05904417073935434187 Smokey

    I wrote:”Fact: Every system that Behe has claimed met his definition of IC turned out not to.”geoff robinson misunderstood and replied:”Really? That’s news.”Really! It was published 38 years ago, demonstrating Behe’s incompetence and/or dishonesty as a scholar.”There have been step-by-step explanations of all those systems?”No, that’s not what I wrote. Behe’s hypothesis is that they can’t evolve. I am pointing out that every system he has touted fails to meet his definition, IOW that all of them reducible.”Any references?”Science. 1969 Dec 12;166(911):1420-2Hageman factor (factor XII) deficiency in marine mammals.Robinson AJ, Kropatkin M, Aggeler PM.”Given the fact that you lack the ability to mind-read, going into ad hominem like this doesn’t become you.”No mindreading is needed if you are unfamiliar with 38-year-old publications. Moreover, the lack of faith is the only alternative explanation for the utter failure to DO science (i.e., test one’s own hypothesis), other than rank dishonesty. Do you prefer that explanation?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14949411893531888555 geoffrobinson

    Here you go smokey.http://biochemicalinterest.blogspot.com/2006/11/behes-blood-clotting-cascade-fairly.html“Critics of Dr. Behe’s proposal have pointed to one of the factors (Hageman factor) and then have pointed to an animal (dolphin) in which this factor does not reside. Usually what follows , after the clinging of champagne glasses dies down, is a comment or two about how short-sighted Dr. Behe was.The only problem with the critique is that it is wrong. Michael Behe was quite clear in his book which factors constitute the IC components of the blood clotting cascade…. and Hageman factor was not only not mentioned, it was explicitly stated as being not part of the IC components.How one overlooks ‘Leaving aside the system before the fork in the pathway, where some details are less well known, the blood-clotting system fits the definition of irreducible complexity.’ is not quite clear to me.And, if there was any uncertainty with his intentions in this statement Dr. Behe further solidifies his claim with this ‘The components of the system (beyond the fork in the pathway) are fibrinogen, prothrombin, Stuart factor, and proaccelerin.’ Why one would want to offer a critique of Michael Behe’s work without having a moderately developed understanding of it eludes me.”

  • http://www.aksiyonhayat.blogspot.com Abdullah Korkmaz

    Is this a transitional form or perfect creation witout have any half (absurd) organs? Interesting a comment to evolution understanding…We have no any transitional form in the all over the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Although I can understand that you find this threatening, you've only made an assertion, one that neither cites evidence for your viewpoint nor addresses the extensive evidence for the conclusions you dismiss. Tiktaalik is not simply a transitional form in between fish and amphibians (which it clearly is in the basic sense that it has features that place it at the border between the two categories). It was found by looking for fossils where evolutionary theory predicted amphibians would have branched off from fish. So it provides an example of an accurate prediction of the theory in both its features and in its location in the fossil record.


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