The Missing Link? Or Just One More Species Appearing Suddenly In the Fossil Record?
The scientists are exploding with excitement in this NY Times article, claiming to have found once again "the missing link." The WaPo article is here. Is it a transitional fossil? We really do not know. We have no specific and clear evidence that it evolved from something or evolved into something. Maybe it did; maybe it did not. Truly valuable "transitional fossils" would be a series that shows one species turning into another species. This does not. This fossil might just be one more unique species that went extinct, as many now consider Archaeopteryx to be.
This fossil does make somewhat more plausible the theory that fish evolved into land animals. How plausible that theory is depends on looking at all the evidence. How you judge the plausibility of various possibilities involves the subjective evaluation of the evidence. And that in turn depends on one's worldview and subjective bias.
The quoted scientists' confidence that this "proves" macroevolutionary theory merely shows how eager they are to find evidence that supports their theory, which in turn supports their worldview. It also shows their weak logic and their unwillingness to even consider a more skeptical evaluation. There are many other possibilities that are apparently not even considered by these scientists.
Of course, the article does not mention one other thing: this fossil is one more confirmation of the overall pattern in the fossil record: sudden appearance of species and stasis. As Stephen J. Gould noted:
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:
1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.
2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and "fully formed."
(Gould, Stephen J., "Evolution's Erratic Pace," Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5, May 1977, p.14).
That is one of the big evidentiary problems that Darwinian theory has, and this fossil find provides more evidence (if not terribly significant) of the sudden appearance aspect of this problem. Gould's attempt to explain away this problem with the overall fossil record was his theory of punctuated equilibrium, but is this the most plausible explanation? Is this letting the evidence speak for itself, or cramming it into a theoretical box? Reasonable scientists disagree.
As Phillip Johnson said in Darwin On Trial in the context of evaluating Archaeopteryx, another fossil that many claimed "proved" Darwin's theory:
Persons who come to the fossil evidence as convinced Darwinists will see a stunning confirmation, but skeptics will see only a lonely exception to a consistent pattern of fossil disconfirmation. If we are testing Darwinism rather than merely looking for a confirming example or two, then a single good candidate for ancestor status is not enough to save a theory that posits a worldwide history of continual evolutionary transformation. p. 81.
The New York Times also fearlessly takes on Doug LaPointe of Calvary Academy, in Lakewood, NJ. The article references his web site and ruthlessly demonstrates how this fossil contradicts one point that he makes there. Wow. The Times has met its equal and does OK. Compare the Times article with the Post article. The New York Times certainly earns the title: "The Voice of the Darwinian Cheerleading Squad."
Watch out, Doug. They really have your number this time.