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Apr 11 2013

There are no transitional fossils!

739px-Australopithecus_sediba_and_Lucy

So goes the creationist mantra, perhaps sung to hymnal-like notes on an organ or flute or something both deliciously neolithic and middle eastern. But if there were transitional fossils, and we happened to have an example of a transitional fossil specimen bridging the gap between modern humans and more ape-like ancestors, we’d want something roughly 2 to 3 million years old with features from both clades. Say for example:

WSJ – In six research papers published in Science, an international team described how the hominids had almost-human hands attached to apelike arms, a rib cage that was narrow like an ape’s at the top but more humanlike lower down, and a spine that likely had the same number of vertebrae as a human.

Fossils from this ancient offshoot of the human family tree, called Australopithecus sediba, were discovered in 2008 at Malapa, near Johannesburg, South Africa. … The sediba fossils encompass the most extensive set of early prehuman remains ever found, the scientists said. So far, they have identified partial skeletons of a male, a female and a juvenile, and remains of several infants of the species, preserved in some instances right down to traces of tartar clinging to their teeth.

“Almost every bone or every area of anatomy is the most complete of its kind ever found in the early hominid record,” said Dr. Berger. “You end up with this really mosaic combination of ape and humanlike in a way we would have never predicted.”

Actually, we have now created two more gaps on either side of the A. sebida! Like a sort of doudle Russian doll it can never be a complete record!

10 comments

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  1. 1
    jakc

    every fossil is transitional. our desire to see discrete species leads many to believe that one day in the long-ago past, a homo erectus couple had a homo sapien baby. it’s a silly idea of course, but creationist arguments about transitional fossils, like so many creationist arguments, stem from a lack of understanding what human evolution is about

  2. 2
    stever

    You can’t have a rational argument with a Biblical literalist. These people are masturbating with a sack of macadamias, and need to be treated exactly like flat-Earthers and people who seriously defend the Stork Theory of human reproduction. If you insist of banging your head against that wall, turn the “No transitional fossils!” argument around: Where are the really old mammalian fossils? Creationist dogma holds that every present species was created at the same time, so there should be remains of lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) in undisturbed Cambrian strata. But be prepared to be told (Seriously!) that furry mammals floated on the Flood, and didn’t get buried in the sediment until God teleported most of the water away.

    BTW, it’s beginning to look like the Flood legend resulted from the tsunami raised by a large meteoric impact. Details that didn’t make sense, like the flood coming before the weeks of torrential rain, would get “corrected” in generations of oral history. Google “holocene impact working group.”

  3. 3
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @jakc:

    Every living thing is transitional, technically. We are all transitional forms, somewhere between humans and whatever will come after (if we don’t make ourselves extinct before we evolve.)

  4. 4
    jamessweet

    every fossil is transitional.

    Another way to look at it is that no fossil is transitional. Unless you subscribe to the dubious “hopeful monsters” theory, every organism born is a member of fully-formed (though not always well-delineated) species in its own right. It’s not like there’s “stable organisms” and “transitional organisms”. There are no transitional fossils because every species is its own.

  5. 5
    haitied

    @#3 With that logic though we might as well stop putting things in categories altogether and just give everything a proper individual name. My brother and I are certainly not different species, the word species has a meaning. We use words like transitional because things change and those fossils are evidence of said changes over the course of millions of years. Although at the time of birth any organism can’t really be called transitional, when looking back through time it’s an accurate was of categorizing these changes.

  6. 6
    Kevin

    The problem is that the process happens so gradually that no one notices. Oh, that baby girl has the longest fingers. Oh, isn’t little Ooog the smartest little ape in the clan. Oh, isn’t that great that Ooog and Jooog got together to have smart little babies…

    The boundary between species is darned difficult to discern at the time it’s happening. Because never was there a mother who didn’t recognize her infant as one of her “kind”.

  7. 7
    haitied

    sorry I meant 4 >.> I can’t count

  8. 8
    Tim DeLaney

    The analogy that I find most effective is the transition between Caesar’s Latin and the modern Italian language. Nobody in his right mind would expect to find a transitional form between the two. It is completely obvious that Italian is descended from Latin, and almost certainly true that ancient Romans could not converse with modern Romans. To extend the analogy, the two are different linguistic “species”. Yet, somehow, each generation on the Italian peninsula could understand the one before, and converse with the one after.

    Likewise, we can find similarities between any two languages if we go back far enough. We find the same structure (nested hierarchy) in the history of language as we find in the history of life.

  9. 9
    abusedbypenguins

    What about brain size? The religious have large heads but inside it’s like a woodpecker. Small brain surrounded by fluid to act as a shock absorber. Like when muslems bang their heads on the floor, a 500cc brain can’t take too much damage before suicide bombing programming takes over. A 500cc brain can’t take too much speaking in tongues and snake handling before it requires more guns for comfort. So, yes there are transitions, visit your local church and observe.

  10. 10
    mikecline

    Aren’t all fossils transitional fossils? So then are any fossils “transitional” if they all are? I think some terms like this feed misconceptions about evolution and are a wild goose chase to satisfy doubters, doubters who likely wouldn’t be convinced even if you had a specimen of every single individiual in a “lineage” or even a hidden camera time-lapse video of evolution.

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