Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Is All This Fuss Over Living Fossils?

Living Fossils - Those words seem to contradict each other but they do exist and they fit perfectly within the theory of evolution. So how can anything be living and a fossil at the same time? A ‘living fossil’ is an organism that is living today, but who's form also appears within the fossil record. There are many examples of this. 

Why do creationists think living fossils are bad for evolution?

The blog written at Creation.com is a great example of what creationists are saying about living fossils. It features Dr. Carl Werner, who does have a doctoral degree in medicine, but...within only a few paragraphs of this blog, its obvious he has no evolutionary understanding . So watch what happens below....Werner will start off by morphing the definition of ‘living fossil” to suite his view of creation.
“...If evolution did not occur (animals did not change significantly over time) and if all of the animals and plants were created at one time and lived together (humans, dinosaurs, oak trees, roses, cats, wolves, etc), then one should be able to find fossils of at least some modern animals and modern plants alongside dinosaurs in the rock layers. I set out to test this idea without any foreknowledge of any modern organisms in the rock layers. My results...showed that many modern animals and plants are found with dinosaurs—far more than I ever expected to find”
Right off the bat he claims that evolution requires that all animals change significantly over time, and that if evolution didn't occur, than "one should be able to find fossils of at least some modern animals and modern plants alongside dinosaurs in the rock layers." Now Im predicting that anything following this paragraph will pretend that animals alive today that are found within "dinosaur layers" will be used as evidence for creation. This now means any old lineage that is found within the fossil record that is still alive today is a' living fossil', and now 'living fossils' are damaging to evolution. They try to trick people who accept evolution into thinking that living fossils should not exist if evolution happened, and if they are ever found they should be considered evidence for creation. This is absolutely and horrifically wrong.

Let us quickly look at what an actual living fossil is 

To explain what a living fossil really is, I will start with the common question from creationists. “If we came from monkeys, why are monkeys still here?” This question makes no sense through the lens of biological evolution, but why? Simply put, evolution does not work like that! This question is based on orthogenesis, the idea that organisms evolve in a uni-linear fashion with no branches. According to this false view, all individuals of a species must evolve together into the next form, ever progressing to a higher step on a sort of ‘ladder’ until they reach Homo sapien (who is considered the highest step on the ladder). This view is 100% incorrect and I believe it is a large reason why people do not accept evolution. The orthogenesis view dooms you in all future evolutionary understandings.  

Evolution works very differently and it can be understood as a densely branching bush with many short branches. Starting with a population of the same species, you branch off from the starting point (Species 1), or parent group, and each branch (Species 2, 3, 45) continues to change over time to adapt to its environment. Parent groups (Species 1) often go extinct, but they can sometimes maintain their general form for millions of years, as they are adapted for their environment that has remained unchanged for long periods of time. Just because a population branches off does not mean that the original line must disappear. 

We did not come from monkeys, but we do share a common ancestor with them and we are all considered primates. Almost every different group today owes its existence to something that evolved in the past that is preserved in the fossil record in some form or another. Most fish found today evolved from groups found in the Devonian (‘Age of Fish’) 400+ million years ago and many forms have come about since that time. A fish with a general ‘fishy body’ and way of life can be considered a type of living fossil. 

Major body plans found in the animal kingdom are preserved through time, such as the five digit plan found in all mammals and reptiles. Lizards developed around 200 million years ago, and though the group has developed a large variety (mosasaurs vs. chameleon), all lizards today can be seen as a type of living fossil of the first lizards who evolved their general body plan.

Mammals did come from reptiles, but that does not mean that the reptile tree 300 million years ago did not form branches that continued to be reptilian, as we obviously still have reptiles today. Amphibians developed from fish, but we still have fish…Forms persist through time in a variety of amounts, from a fossil being seemingly identical morphologically to a modern relative, to a modern organism having almost none of the fossil’s features externally. 

Claims by Creation.com & Dr. Werner

Its time to drag ourselves through the claims made on the Creation.com blog.
“We found fossilized examples from every major invertebrate animal phylum living today including: arthropods (insects, crustaceans etc.), shellfish, echinoderms (starfish, crinoids, brittle stars, etc.), corals, sponges, and segmented worms (earthworms, marine worms). “The vertebrates—animals with backbones such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals— this same pattern.”
There is a difference between saying all are modern animals and saying every major invertebrate animal phylum. All he is saying is we found organisms belonging to each of today’s major groups, which is already predicted by evolutionary theory as the major overlying groups DID evolve during or before the dinosaurs. Each invertebrate group mentioned actually developed way before the dinosaurs. And lastly he states that the major groups of vertebrates are found with dinosaurs, which isn’t saying much at all, as again each is exactly what evolution predicts.

If these groups were NOT in the fossil record, THAT would actually be an issue for evolution. And if the mammalian group was found before the dinosaurs instead, then it would also be an issue. But alas, the major groups of the invertebrates and vertebrates are exactly where they should be according to the appearance of each of their forms.

Below this massive paragraph, I will list the groups claimed so people who don't want to hurt their brain can avoid reading the actual blog's words. 
Cartilaginous fish (sharks and rays), boney fish (such as sturgeon, paddlefish, salmon, herring, flounder and bowfin) and jawless fish (hagfish and lamprey) have been found in the dinosaur layers and they look the same as modern forms. Modern-looking frogs and salamanders have been found in dinosaur dig sites. All of today’s reptile groups have been found in the dinosaur layers and they look the same or similar to modern forms: Snakes (boa constrictor), lizards (ground lizards and gliding lizards), turtles (box turtles, soft-shelled turtles), and crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles and gavials). Contrary to popular belief, modern types of birds have been found, including: parrots, owls, penguins, ducks, loons, albatross, cormorants, sandpipers, avocets, etc. At the dinosaur dig sites, scientists have found many unusual extinct mammal forms such as the multituberculates but they have also found fossilized mammals that look like squirrels, possums, Tasmanian devils, hedgehogs, shrews, beavers, primates, and duck-billed platypus. I don’t know how close these mammals are to the modern forms because I was not able to see most of these, even after going to so many museums. In the dinosaur rock layers, we found fossils from every major plant division living today including: flowering plants, ginkgos, cone trees, moss, vascular mosses, cycads, and ferns. Again, if you look at these fossils and compare them to modern forms, you will quickly conclude that the plants have not changed. Fossil sequoias, magnolias, dogwoods, poplars and redwoods, lily pads, cycads, ferns, horsetails etc. have been found at the dinosaur digs.”

  • Cartilaginous fish (sharks and rays), boney fish (such as sturgeon, paddlefish, salmon, herring, flounder and bowfin)
  • Jawless fish (hagfish and lamprey) 
  • Modern-looking frogs and salamanders
  • Snakes (boa constrictor), lizards (ground lizards and gliding lizards), turtles (box turtles, soft-shelled turtles), and crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles and gavials)
  • Modern types of birdsparrots, owls, penguins, ducks, loons, albatross, cormorants, sandpipers, avocets,
  • Extinct mammal forms, multituberculate
  • Modern mammals, squirrels, possums, Tasmanian devils, hedgehogs, shrews, beavers, primates, and duck-billed platypus
  • Every major plant division living today, flowering plants, ginkgos, cone trees, moss, vascular mosses, cycads, and ferns. 
  • Modern plants, Fossil sequoias, magnolias, dogwoods, poplars and redwoods, lily pads, cycads, ferns, horsetails 

Here we go. Once again, he states all of these as if they are points against evolution.

Sharks and rays, bony fish, and jawless fish: Evolved over 100 million years before the dinosaurs. This is exactly what we should find if evolution was true.

Frogs and salamanders: These once again, predicted by evolution, should should be found before, all the way through, and after the dinosaur fossil record. The frog and salamander body plan evolved before reptiles and are possibly an intermediate step between aquatic and fully land capable organisms. Fits perfect.

Snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodilians: Organisms that belonged to their ancestral groups all evolved either before or during “dinosaur layers”. Snakes, Turtles, and lizards developed their form before the dinosaurs, so the presence of Titanoboa, a 48 foot long boa constrictor during the time of TRex fits perfectly. The crocodiles developed around the same time as the dinosaurs and are actually close relatives and should be found evolving and existing together for millions of years.

Modern types of birds: The late Cretaceous is 65 million years ago, around the time of the extinction of dinosaurs. Virtually all living birds today are Neognaths, which developed before 75 million years ago, right in the middle of the dinosaurs. None of the listed birds are not supposed to be found here. At the end of the Cretaceous is exactly where bird evolution takes off, and is exactly where we would find common bird forms found today. Any of those birds found during the earlier Permian or Triassic periods would be an issue for evolution but once again these have not been found.

Mammals: Mammal species are and should be found during the age of dinosaurs. Our ancestors actually out competed dinosaur ancestors during the Permian, but the general mammalian form evolved during the Triassic at the same time of the first dinosaurs. During the time of the dinosaurs the mammals were rodent like, and a quick Google search of Triassic or Jurassic mammal fossils will get you some. Mammals absolutely evolved alongside the dinosaurs, so the presence of them causes no issue once again. I'm still waiting to be shown a mammal fossil that is before it is supposed to have evolved.

Plants: He keeps saying it dinosaur rock layers to make people believe that is it is possibly the oldest layers, thus groups today should not belong. The preservation of a form in a plant that evolved before the dinosaurs causes no issue with the theory of evolution. We are still waiting for any of the above mentioned plants to be found in any earlier period. Any.

Other dumb claims I have the patience to address

“I did not find fossils of every organism living today in the dinosaur layers, rather I found representative examples from all of the major animal phyla living today and all of the major plant divisions living today. Taking it one step further, within these bigger groups, I frequently found representatives of all of the major groups or classes within a phylum. For example, for echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, etc.) I found fossils of all of the major types living today. Same with the insects and the crocodilians, etc. I did not find any large mammals. The largest mammal discovered in a dinosaur layer so far (live size) is 30 pounds (13 kg). Nevertheless, with so many living fossils, both plants and animals, from all of the major phyla and all of the major plant divisions, it points to stasis (lack of change), not evolution. I should also note that if you look at the serious problems with the fossil layer system (the geological column as presented by geologists today), the absence of the bigger mammals can easily be accounted for, but I will save this for a later day.”
Almost all living phyla today developed way before or during the “dinosaur layers” and they are never found BEFORE their phylum developed. The existence of forms today that still resemble ancestral forms during the dinosaur period is the perfect example of evolutionary branching. If a population of an individual branch does not need to change, natural selection will probably leave its form intact. I am getting repetitive!
"I asked Dr Werner how evolutionary scientists deal with this evidence, given these remarkable findings. Dr Werner remarked, “If you whole-heartedly believe in a theory, you will always be able to sustain that belief—even in the face of contradictory evidence—by adding a rescue hypothesis to that theory. For example, if a scientist believes in evolution and sees fossils that look like modern organisms at the dinosaur digs, he/she might invent an hypothesis to ‘explain’ living fossils this way: ‘Yes I believe that animals have changed greatly over time (evolution), but some animals and plants were so well adapted to the environment that they did not need to change. So I am not bothered at all by living fossils.’ This added hypothesis says that some animals did not evolve. But if a theory can be so flexible, adding hypotheses that predict the opposite of your main theory, one could never disprove the theory. The theory then becomes unsinkable, and an unsinkable theory is not science.”
This is just mindnumbing. The theory does not state that all organisms must evolve new body forms at all times. The theory DOES state that random mutations will cause changes within each generation, but most mutations do nothing and continue to get passed on. Over time, even in the most conserved body forms we know of, DNA changes build up and create genetic difference, even if not expressed externally. These random mutations are evolution potential. And it is this potential that when tapped into leads to a large diversity.
“It is becoming more and more difficult for the evolutionary model to stand in the face of this great number of living fossils. Adding the many other problems with evolution (fossil record, origin of first life, geological layering problems, similarities of non-related animals, etc.), you can declare with confidence that yes, the theory is finished. If a few larger mammals were found in the dinosaur layers, it should be over even for the die-hard believers of evolution, but people tend to go to their grave with the theories they learned in college. A new generation might well look at all of this and ask, ‘What were they thinking?’”
Finding a large mammal form in the dinosaur layers would not contradict evolution. Finding a large mammal like form would be a slight curiosity at best because of predators and competition. Finding a chimpanzee before the dinosaurs however… Well that wont be happening.

So, does this explain real living fossils like the horse shoe crab?

It absolutely does! Once a form develops that works well in an environment, if their niche does not change much and their ability to survive and thrive there hasn't been removed, sometimes a form changes very little from what it was when it first evolved.

Horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs (Crustacea) , but are more closely related to spiders in scorpions (Chelicerata). The horseshoe crab has six pairs of appendages, five pairs for walking and one pair used for pushing sediment to burrow. The horseshoe crabs first showed up around 425-450 million years ago, and ever since they have generally maintained this external form. We do not know anything about the internal features or DNA of the fossil horseshoe crabs, but nevertheless, it is amazing how the morphology has remained almost unchanged since it arrived. Amazing, not unexplained. 

The fact that a species over time can remain the same when unprovoked by environmental changes fits perfectly with evolution and is the complete opposite of the view of orthogenesis. No living fossil is an issue for the theory of evolution, as the forms that are found today that resemble ones in the past are always perfectly in the right order in the fossil record. We do not find horseshoe crabs before the Cambrian because they could not have developed before their ancestors, the arthropods. Finding horseshoe crabs after they evolved fits perfectly well with the theory of evolution, only finding them before they were supposed to have evolved would be contradictory. This has yet to happen… I wonder why!

This can be applied to all of the living fossils I mentioned, ones I didn't , as well as ones we find in the future.

So do living fossils actually evolve?

We must dive into what it means to evolve. As I stated above, evolution is not based on the orthogenesis view where there is only one branch that continues developing into man. Evolution is a change in the inherited things of a population over many generations. This can be noticeable external body form changes such as differences in hair color, shape of teeth, color of eyes, size of body, length of feet, etc…or it can be internal changes including new biological pathways, changes in metabolism, increase in brain neurons, number of sweat glands, and all other internal mechanisms. Evolution can also be invisible to the outside through the process of silent mutations that cause no noticeable change but get passed on. Over time populations develop unique sections of DNA that are only found within their species or within ones descended from them. Even if an organism has not changed externally from its ancestor in the fossil record, you can be certain that changes in their DNA have occurred. If we could compare the fossil ancestors to their living fossil counterparts, we would find mutations that have been building up ever since the group developed. These mutations could be changing internal processes or be completely silent, but nevertheless mutations did happen that were passed on and accumulated over time, and thus biological evolution is still at play.

So whether or not the horseshoe crab has maintained its form since it evolved 425 million years ago really does not matter because even if it has stayed 100% morphologically the same, it is still perfectly aligned with the theory of biological evolution.