Posted tagged ‘Ida the fossil’

Ida: A Missing Link to Human Evolution?

May 24, 2009

Only if you want it to be.

Much as been made of the discovery of this “Ida”, given the Latin name Darwinius masillae, as a solid missing link between other mammals and humans.  Alex Watts from Sky News Online exclaimed, “The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years—but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.”

Based upon glowing reports of the finding, we should expect to see an ape-like fossil.  Instead, what we see is this:

 

Ida-the-missing-link-prim-001

 

So, contrary to what some media outlets are reporting, this fossil is not ape-like in any way.  Looking more like a modern day lemur. 

The actual claims of the authors of the study is that Ida is a precursor to the ape. 

The truth is that the evidence is quite underwhelming.  It’s not that big of deal.  But why are the media outlets and scientists making such a fuss over Ida?

  • It’s 95% preserved, which is unheard of as far as fossils go.  Let’s face it, it just looks really good.  It’s about the size of a racoon and even includes fossilized fur! 
  • Ida has opposable thumbs which an ABC news article stated are “similar to humans and unlike those found on other mammals.”
  • The talus bone is described as “the same shape as a humans’ “
  • It’s teeth are more similar to a monkey’s than the modern day lemur.

Is Evolution the Only Explanation?

The part that the media nor the scientists don’t want to talk about is that it looks like a modern day lemur.  The only way you conclude that a lemur-like creature is a missing link to humanity is if you first assume that humans came from lemur-like creatures. 

Ida has opposable thumbs more like humans than other mammals  . . . OK, Ida also has a tail more like other mammals than humans, walks on all fours like other mammals, is the size of a raccoon like other mammals and unlike humans.  The point is that all they want to do is talk about the similarities to humans and monkeys, but not the dis-similar characteristics including the difference in the ankle structure in Ida than in monkeys and humans (J. L. Franzen, et al., “Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology,”).

Similarities are only evidence that two species are similar, not that one evolved from another.  That similarities are evidence of evolution is an unscientific conclusion because we cannot test or falsify that conclusion.  Similarities can be just as accounted for by a Creator who makes certain species similar and Ida’s differences from modern day lemurs can be just as easily accounted for by variation within a created kind.

The Problem with Ida is . . .

The science isn’t very sound.  Let’s forget the unscientific conclusions made by assuming evolution to give evidence of evolution.  Even the evidence that Ida is a evolutionary link to humans is disputed within the scientific community.

You don’t have to listen to me, just other news outlets that are more honestly reporting the story of Ida.

University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich told the Wall Street Journal: “There was a TV company involved and time pressure. We’ve been pushed to finish the study. It’s not how I like to do science.”

Responding to Professor Gingrich’s comments . . .

“That rings all sorts of warning bells,” University of New England paleoanthropologist Peter Brown cautioned “It’s nice it has fingernails, something we have, as do most primates . . . but they’ve cherry-picked particular character[istics] and they’ve been criticized (by other scientists) for doing that.” (The Australian)

“On the whole I think the evidence is less than convincing,” said Chris Gilbert, a paleoanthropologist at Yale University. “They make an intriguing argument but I would definitely say that the consensus is not in favor of the hypothesis they’re proposing.”

“The PR campaign on this fossil is I think more of a story than the fossil itself,” said anthropologist Matt Cartmill of Duke University in North Carolina. “It’s a very beautiful fossil, but I didn’t see anything in this paper that told me anything decisive that was new.”

“It’s not a missing link, it’s not even a terribly close relative to monkeys, apes and humans, which is the point they’re trying to make,” [Carnegie Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology Chris] Beard said.

Those three quotes are from a LiveScience article.

“There is no phylogenetic analysis to support the claims, and the data is cherry-picked,” says paleontologist Richard Kay . . . of Duke University. Callum Ross, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois agrees: “Their claim that this specimen should be classified as haplorhine is unsupportable in light of modern methods of classification.” (ScienceNOW)

In another article by BBC News Chris Beard said:  “I would be absolutely dumbfounded if it turns out to be a potential ancestor to humans.”

Conclusion

It’s clear that even within the scientific community the more sober-minded scientists, unphased by the media hype, remain skeptical and critical of the claims of Ida and the science behind it.  We must also remain skeptical of the arguments employed, assuming evolution to prove evolution, and the unscientific methods of exploring only one option to explain similarities.

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