Tiktaalik (Your Inner Fish)

Because there are not enough songs about fossil organisms…

And you have to love the name of the band as well…

More scientific ignorance from Dr. John Morris

Dr. John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research is at it again. Apparently not content with advertising his abject ignorance of zoology as he did a few months ago when he listed tunicates (phylum chordata) along with sea stars as members of the phylum echinodermata, he is now letting everyone know that he is equally incompetent to comment intelligently on the subject of paleontology (I know, I am as shocked as you are).

More specifically he has come out attacking the classic fossil evidence for the evolution of the horse in the September (2008) issue of ICR’s Acts & Facts.

Morris: Horse evolution prominently appears in textbooks as a supreme example of the evolution of one body style into another. All students remember the “horse series” sketches, tracing the development of a small browser named Hyracotherium (formerly known as Eohippus) with four toes on the front feet and three on the rear, into the large one-toed horse of today. Intermediate steps included the three-toed Mesohippus, a modified horse with one toe touching the ground [Emphasis mine]


Wrong right off the bat. The fact is that with Mesohippus all three toes touch the ground as can be seen in the above photo of a mounted fossil at the Chicago Field Museum. This is especially true when it is taken into account that Mesohippus probably would have had pads on its feet similar to those found in tapirs.

Tapir hooves

Tapir hooves

Read on»

You can tune a piano but you can’t tunicate…

The May (2008) issue of the Institute for Creation Research‘s monthly newsletter Acts & Facts contains an article by the current President of ICR, Dr. John Morris, titled “Evolution’s Biggest Hurdles“. The article is ostensibly about enumerating unsolved questions in evolutionary theory but instead what it does is highlight a deeply rooted set of character flaws in the “creation science” movement and its leaders: intellectual laziness (and/or dishonesty) combined with a lack of basic scientific literacy and colossal hubris.

While I understand that this article is a relatively short, non-technical piece, this does not in my opinion excuse the glaring omissions of relevant evidence about its supposed subject. Nor does the fact that Dr. Morris has a background in geological engineering forgive the zoological ignorance it displays. I am not a zoologist. I don’t have any degrees, but still I was able to immediately spot some of the rather glaring zoological errors and omissions in what Dr. Morris wrote. For someone who has been involved in the creation/evolution debate as long as Dr. Morris has it is difficult to fathom how he could not be better informed on such basic issues.

Read on»

A horse is a horse, unless of course…

…the horse is of course the famous Eohippus.

One of my favorite corners of the alternate universe that is creationism is where creationists get to talking about (denying) horse evolution. The fossil record for horses and their relatives (rhinos, tapirs and some extinct groups) is so well documented it is amusing seeing how creationists rationalize their way around the evidence and when I find something about horses on a creationist site I often take a look to see what sort of silliness they’ve gotten up to.

Case in point: Answers in Genesis put up a short piece on their site recently titled “Not Just Horsin’ Around” which directs their readers to a site called “eQuest 4 Truth.com”. They report that the owner of the website (Rebekah Holt) started it to “… steer young people away from the incorrect information that they receive in many public school textbooks and encyclopedias” and that the site “…helps refute the claim that the modern horse evolved from a much smaller, non-horse ancestor.”

On the site is a page titled “Horse Evolution – Fact or Horse Manure?” written by creationist Arthur Biele, who, judging by a Google search on his name, has been pestering people with nonsense in various internet discussion forums for years. His article here attacking the evidence for horse evolution is a barely readable hodgepodge of unsupported assertions, factual errors and standard quotes from “The Creationist Joke Book™”.

Given that there is so much creationist nonsense out there on the web I normally wouldn’t have taken as much time as I did to dissect it but since Answers in Genesis put their seal of approval on it I figured it would be worth the time.

OK, we’re off to the Eohippus races…

Read on»

I’m still here…

Sorry for the lack of new posts but I am working on about three different things right now (and remember I have a day job ;) ). One is a big post on fossil horses, another post has to do with ICR and tunicates and lastly I am supposed to be helping on a rewrite of the Talk Origins Archive FAQ on the Lewis Overthrust (hi John).

The horse piece is dragging on a bit as it involves an ongoing correspondence with people from two major museums and a major university, and I’ve had to make two trips to the local UC library to pick up relevant papers.

So please bear with me, and hopefully it will all be worth the wait.

“Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds”

Just ran across this on the science section of the NY Times web site:

Tests Confirm T. Rex Kinship With Birds

The article, by science writer John Noble Wilford, reports on results from a Harvard study to be reported in the next edition of the journal Science.

In the first analysis of proteins extracted from dinosaur bones, scientists say they have established more firmly than ever that the closest living relatives of the mighty predator Tyrannosaurus rex are modern birds.

The research, being published Friday in the journal Science, yielded the first molecular data confirming the widely held hypothesis of a close dinosaur-bird ancestry, the American scientific team reported. The link was previously suggested by anatomical similarities.

This, if it bears out, it is further evidence supporting the evolutionary relationship between theropodcomparative anatomy. dinosaurs and birds that has been strongly suggested by the evidence from

The anti-dino/bird faction amongst scientists (Martin, Feduccia etc.) will no doubt claim that this is merely yet another example of the many (supposed) convergences between dinosaurs and birds. Creationists will probably deny, deny, deny.

Remember to stay tuned on this though. This is only the popular level report, the peer reviewed material is yet to be seen; and it is only the first such study. More studies, if possible, will be needed to confirm this finding.

They apparently did some similar tests on mastodon bones:

Similar molecular tests on tissues from the extinct mastodon confirmed its close genetic link to the elephant, as had been suspected from skeletal affinities.

Perhaps not terribly surprising, but still interesting nonetheless.

Expelled’s intelligent design theory – this IS your daddy’s creationism (Part II)

Part 2 of 2 (click here for part 1)

L.G.Modern high-speed supercomputers have now used large-scale number crunching to calculate the eons of time and probabilities that are required to develop a cell through chance and mutation. The result? The odds are essentially zero, no matter how many millions or billions of years pass. (p.6)

I flat out call bullshit on this one. I want to see references. First I doubt the claim that anyone has wasted the time on a supercomputer. Second I am unaware of anyone arguing that the first cell developed simply through “chance and mutation”. No one knows the process by which the first cell formed, therefore no probabilities can be attached its likelihood.

Read on»

Comb jellies and sponges and creationists, oh my!

Denyse O’Leary of Post-Darwinist is giddy over some evidence reported in the latest issue of Nature that the lineage leading to living comb jellies may have diverged from common ancestors of later animal life before that of the lineage leading to living sponges. She believes that this is somehow problematic for evolutionary theory since it was previously thought based on their morphology that sponges would have diverged earlier.

Read on»

Dealing with a YouTube antievolutionist

Here is a blast from my not too distant past for your entertainment and edification. About a year ago (I hadn’t stated blogging yet) I ran across a video on YouTube by an evolution denier who goes by the handle Philos71. In that video he bashes the fossil evidence for evolution and acts like he is reading a quote from a popular field-guide type book on fossils, and I felt compelled to respond. First is his video and then below the fold are my two response videos (which he blocked on YouTube), enjoy…

“Unfortunately” the author of the original video removed it from YouTube.  However my response videos remain below:

View on»

Streaming video from the journal Nature

I received an e-mail from Nature.com advertising their streaming video page, and thought I’d pass it along. They have videos on a number of interesting scientific topics, here is a sampling:

Whale Evolution” featuring cetacean paleontologist Hans Thewissen.

Language Evolution” on how languages change over time.

Hominid evolution and development” a multi part video on paleoanthropology.

Check it out…