Tiktaalik makes another gap

Paleontologists have uncovered yet another specimen in the lineage leading to modern tetrapods, creating more gaps that will need to be filled. It’s a Sisyphean job, working as an evolutionist.


This creature is called Tiktaalik roseae, and it was discovered in a project that was specifically launched to find a predicted intermediate form between a distinctly fish-like organism, Panderichthys, and the distinctly tetrapod-like organisms, Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. From the review article by Ahlberg and Clack, we get this summary of Tiktaalik‘s importance:

First, it demonstrates the predictive capacity of palaeontology. The Nunavut field project had the express aim of finding an intermediate between Panderichthys and tetrapods, by searching in sediments from the most probable environment (rivers) and time (early Late Devonian). Second, Tiktaalik adds enormously to our understanding of the fish-tetrapod transition because of its position on the tree and the combination of characters it displays.

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Anencephalic on parade

I mentioned that I was getting a curious number of hits for the term “anencephaly” the other day, and was wondering what was prompting it. Readers have been sending me strange and obscure bits of news that might be relevant, such as this account of an unusual birth in Nepal.

The neck-less baby with its head almost totally sunk into the upper part of the body and with extraordinarily large eyeballs literally popping out of the eye-sockets, was born to Nir Bahadur Karki and Suntali Karki at the Gaurishnkar Hospital in Charikot.

The article has pictures (if the description above makes you cringe, don’t look), and also reflects a very different attitude: it looks like people put the dead baby in a tray and had a parade, with crowds of gawkers. They also had a refreshingly pragmatic attitude towards the whole unfortunate event.

Nir Bahadur, the father, says he does not feel any remorse for the newly-born baby’s death. “I am happy that nothing happened to my wife,” he said.

That’s an excellent point of view, I think, much more sensible than that of old Senator Fetus Fondler. Our country could do with a little less embryo worshipping and a little more moving on with the important things in life, too.

And, by the way, I think “Suntali” is a really lovely name.

In which I agree with Tom DeLay

Yes, it’s true: DeLay has said something with which I find myself in accord.

Last Tuesday Mr. DeLay spoke at “The War on Christians” conference during which he agreed with the central theme – that there is, indeed, a “war on Christians” in America today. He went on to say that America treats Christianity like a “second-rate superstition.”

I don’t agree with the first bit, of course: there is no “war on Christians”, although I think maybe there should be a rather more work on putting Christianity in its proper place (in the home and in people’s entirely personal beliefs, and out of government, the workplace, and public education). I am happy to see, though, that someone else has noticed that religious beliefs are just glorified superstitions.

There are important questions remaining. DeLay seems to be aware of a rating scale for superstitions with which I am unfamiliar. What distinguishes a second-rate from a first-rate superstition? Is the scale like the burn scale, where a third-rate superstition would be much, much worse than a first-rate superstition, or is it more embarrassing to believe in a first-rate superstition?

Working out the details of his scoring system for superstitions would be a good project for Mr DeLay in his retirement. I daresay he’d even be able to work on writing it up from a jail cell.

Silly ol’ Jack Chick


A reader sent me a note about this rather well known and deeply stupid poster from Jack Chick…I’d already seen it and addressed it some time ago, but I thought I’d bring back this old article.

Jack Chick, the author of the infamous Big Daddy anti-evolution tract, has an amusing poster he’s peddling.

(click to view in a larger size)

It purportedly illustrates a series of frauds in the reported evolutionary history of human beings. The text is too tiny to read at this size, but it’s listed at Chick’s site, and I reproduce it below, along with my response.

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Suicide is not the highest form of self-interest

We have a little war going on in this thread. Some people are arguing that we shouldn’t assume human beings are the most important creatures bar none around, while other people are angry that Eric Pianka would have such high regard for other organisms on Earth and would urge us to make room and restrict our population.

I’m personally more sympathetic to the egalitarian view that denies humanity a privileged position, except in our own personal esteem, but OK, let’s play the game. Let’s assume that human beings are the most important, most precious, most essential species on the entire planet—heck, the entire Universe. We must do everything in our power to guarantee their safety and prosperity. I will simply and unilaterally defer to the other side’s opinion.

Now what?

What should we do to maximize the health and happiness of the human race? What are the selfish, self-centered actions that we ought to carry out to make the largest number of people maximally happy for the longest period of time?

I’m afraid that even with my immense concession, your best answer is to listen to the “enviro-wackos”. They’re the ones thinking in the long term about sustainability and diversity. They’re the ones trained to understand all the interactions going on on a healthy planet, who not only appreciate the totality of life here, but are even aware of the rich species diversity here. They’re the ones who realize you can’t pave the planet and use the oceans for a sewer, and expect humanity to survive.

Do you even understand the argument? I’m not saying that we need to preserve the snail darter because it is a valuable organism in and of itself, but because we are screwing over ourselves when we smash and poison our environment to such a degree that as innocuous a creature as a small fish is unable to survive. I’m being greedy, not altruistic. It’s a position both sides ought to understand.

People are trying to argue that we are not currently overpopulated, which is ludicrous. We’re seeing rapid habitat destruction and a wave of extinctions all around the globe; we’re seeing environmental catastrophes that are killing people. If we were in a sustainable balance with our fellow species, we would not be seeing these ongoing and irreversible losses. If your priority is humanity über alles, are you working to conserve energy and slow global warming? Why not? Do you realize that pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and overfishing the oceans and deforesting the tropics is going to reduce the number of people who can live here in peace and prosperity?

It’s exasperating to see so many people pretending that holding humanity in the highest esteem means you’ve got the right to trash your home…your only home.

Calling Dick Wolf!

Hey, I’d watch it: an an academic police procedural. It also sounds like my life right now. Although I did clear away half the piles of clutter on my desks last week, I once again foolishly scheduled exams in both of my courses for the very same week, so I’m frantically scribbling up exams and planning to field lots of student questions for the next few days, and then this weekend I’ll have another big stack of stuff to grade.

Only about five more weeks to the end of this term…