To: All Msg #48, Oct0293 06:57PM Subject: +quot;Review+quot; of Denton book In article: 19
From: Jerry Brennan
To: All Msg #48, Oct-02-93 06:57PM
Subject: "Review" of Denton book
Organization: Channel 1(R) * 617-864-0100 Info * 617-354-7077 Modem
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jerry Brennan)
In article: <1993Sep28.email@example.com> sbradley posted:
An Essay Review by Michael T. Ghiselin, based on
"Evolution: A Theory In Crisis" by Michael Denton
PMJI, but did Ghiselin really write that as you posted it? It appears
that after some brief posturing as a "professional scholar", he quickly
starts pouring on the personal attacks, e.g. "an author who is
obviously incompetent, dishonest, or both". He then discusses a couple
of issues, and then switches back to personal attacks, e.g. "Denton's
book may be read as an able piece of propaganda", "So I do recommend the
book, but only as an example of how reason is getting abused these
Is that what professional scholars do for a living? I wonder; what's
the going rate for vituperative sandwiches? They get served for free on
However, if we leave aside the extraneous, the arrogant, and the
obnoxious parts of the "review", there is some mention of issues.
MTG writes: " Denton alleges that few if any intermediates have been
found between taxonomic groups. But he gerrymanders the evidence so as
to rule out the kind of intermediate that most of us would consider a
decent example. Consider the following diagram, which represents a
genealogy among objects denoted by letters:
E D C
\ \ /
\ \ /
According to one not unreasonable usage, the lineage BD is
"intermediate" between AE and C. So D in a sense would fall between E
and C. (Invertebrate chordates such as sea-squirts and Amphioxus, which
have notochords but not vertebrae, would thus be intermediate between
vertebrates and other invertebrates.) Of course, E, D, and C do not
represent a direct, ancestor-descendant relationship. A, B, and C do,
and this is the only sense of an intermediate that Denton will accept.
When dealing with extant creatures, we would only expect a certain
amount of change to have occurred between, say, B and D. Furthermore, if
we found a fossil specimen of B, we might have trouble deciding whether
it really was a specimen of B, in the sense of occupying the exact point
of bifurcation, or whether it was located along AB or BC, or perhaps
some minor branch not shown on the diagram. Furthermore, if we look at
a fossil such as B, we find that it has some properties present in C and
D, but not in A -- Archaepteryx, as close an intermediate as one could
wish between birds and dinosaurs, is a good example. But all this is
precisely what we would expect, given the fact that the objects are
united by descent with modification.
So these arguments turn out to be flagrant instances of the fallacy of
irrelevant conclusion: they do not bear upon the question of whether we
have been able to document intermediate conditions such as must have
existed if evolution has in fact occurred."
Pardon that lengthy quote, but leaving out parts of it would lose some
of the flavor. MTG includes two assertions of Denton's views: "Denton
alleges that few if any intermediates have been found between taxonomic
groups", and "A, B, and C do, and this is the only sense of an
intermediate that Denton will accept." I expect these assertions may at
least be subsets of Denton's views. All of the rest of the quote is
MTG's! If there is some gerrymandering of the data going on, it is MTG
doing it, not Denton. If "these arguments turn out to be flagrant
instances of the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion", they are MTG's
arguments, not Denton's.
Regarding the A, B, and C "sense of an intermediate": this is the sense
required to substantiate a theory of descent with modification. Not
only are A, B, and C required, but if the "modification" is large, such
as from reptile to bird, lots of those /// and \\\ are also required. I
think Denton and Darwin would both require them. Darwin seemed to have
faith that they had occurred. Denton seems not to have such a faith.
But MTG's arguing that "To refute the proposition that no intermediates
occur, we need only show that *one* does occur" is simple strawman
bashing. Not just one ancestral intermediate is sufficient to bridge a
large gap, and the occurrence of just one supposedly ancestral
intermediate in a large gap can leave in doubt whose ancestor is whose.
In any case, it seems that MTG is in quite a lather trying to persude
people *not* to read Denton's book. Is getting people not to read
opposing views something that professional scholars do for a living?
From: Seth J. Bradley
To: All Msg #56, Oct-02-93 11:42PM
Subject: Re: "Review" of Denton book
Organization: Intel Corporation
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Seth J. Bradley)
In article <40.36159.1773.0NE19568@channel1.com> email@example.com
(Jerry Brennan) writes:
>PMJI, but did Ghiselin really write that as you posted it? It appears
>that after some brief posturing as a "professional scholar", he quickly
>starts pouring on the personal attacks, e.g. "an author who is
>obviously incompetent, dishonest, or both". He then discusses a couple
This is an accurate description of Denton, shared by many in the scientific
community. I tend to be charitable, therefore feel that simply "incompetent"
is sufficient. Please note that while others may agree with me, my opinions
of Denton and his work are mine only, and are not to be considered
representative of my employer or of anyone else.
>of issues, and then switches back to personal attacks, e.g. "Denton's
>book may be read as an able piece of propaganda", "So I do recommend the
>book, but only as an example of how reason is getting abused these
Considering the blatant and obvious errors Denton makes in such well-
established fields as statistics, one must come to the conclusion that
Denton is either incompetent or else producing a piece of purposeful
propaganda. Again, lets be charitable and choose "incompetent".
>Is that what professional scholars do for a living? I wonder; what's
>the going rate for vituperative sandwiches? They get served for free on
The article is presented exactly as it appeared in Creation/Evolution.
Yes, Ghiselin is excessively vituperative. And yes, Denton's book is
rather shoddy, exceeded in this regard only by the ICR-type publications.
Some less acrimonious reviews have been published in Creation/Evolution, etc.
Here is a partial listing of articles, if you are interested, I suggest
you check them out:
Mark Ridley, "More Darwinian detractors," _Nature_ 318(14 Nov 1985):124-125.
Niles Eldredge, _Quarterly Review of Biology_ 61(Dec 1986):541-542.
'Molecular Clocks and Evolution'
NCSE Reports 10(5), pp. 14-16 (Article)
'Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Review)'
Thwaites, William M.;
NCSE Reports 9(4), pp. 14,17 (Book Review)
'The Illogic of Creationism .. based on Evolution: A Theory in Crisis'
Ghiselin, Michael T.;
Creation/Evolution Newsletter 7(4), pp. 1,12-13 (Review)
'Protein Sequences and Denton's Error'
Creation/Evolution Journal (XXVI), pp. 1-7 (Article)
You can get all of these materials from the National Center for Science
Education (NCSE / P.O. Box 9477 / Berkeley, CA 94709).
The Ghiselin review was almost unique in being lengthy and not including
non-ASCII representable diagrams. I've personally read Denton's book cover
to cover, and as simply a well-read amateur, I was able to find at least one
glaring error or truely awful misrepresentation per chapter, and often
several. The Ghiselin article hardly scratches the surface in this regard.
>Pardon that lengthy quote, but leaving out parts of it would lose some
>of the flavor. MTG includes two assertions of Denton's views: "Denton
>alleges that few if any intermediates have been found between taxonomic
>groups", and "A, B, and C do, and this is the only sense of an
>intermediate that Denton will accept." I expect these assertions may at
>least be subsets of Denton's views. All of the rest of the quote is
From my reading of Denton's book, Ghiselin accurately represents Denton's
>MTG's! If there is some gerrymandering of the data going on, it is MTG
>doing it, not Denton. If "these arguments turn out to be flagrant
>instances of the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion", they are MTG's
>arguments, not Denton's.
Not if, as I claim, Ghiselin is accurately representing Denton.
>Regarding the A, B, and C "sense of an intermediate": this is the sense
>required to substantiate a theory of descent with modification. Not
>only are A, B, and C required, but if the "modification" is large, such
>as from reptile to bird, lots of those /// and \\\ are also required. I
>think Denton and Darwin would both require them. Darwin seemed to have
>faith that they had occurred. Denton seems not to have such a faith.
>But MTG's arguing that "To refute the proposition that no intermediates
>occur, we need only show that *one* does occur" is simple strawman
>bashing. Not just one ancestral intermediate is sufficient to bridge a
>large gap, and the occurrence of just one supposedly ancestral
>intermediate in a large gap can leave in doubt whose ancestor is whose.
Fortunately for evolutionary science, and unfortunately for Denton and
his supporters, a large number of excellent transitions have been discovered
since Darwin's day. I'm appending a out-of-date copy of the transitional
fossils FAQ. If you'd like a more up to date copy, see the Intro FAQ.
>In any case, it seems that MTG is in quite a lather trying to persude
>people *not* to read Denton's book. Is getting people not to read
>opposing views something that professional scholars do for a living?
He is accurately presenting Denton's work as shoddy and deceptive
scholarship. If the reader of the review wishes to read poorly written
material, they are free to do so, but its helpful to know this in advance.
If you could point me towards a scientific creationist text that isn't
shoddy, I'd be very happy to read it. So far, all such material I've
run across has been truly awful. Denton's book is probably the best of
the lot, but that's not saying much. I state this so strongly because
I've been reading scientific texts, with a heavy emphasis on the historical
sciences, for over 20 years, and it greatly pains me to see this body of
knowledge so shamelessly mistreated.
Here is the transitional fossil FAQ for your reading pleasure (if someone
has an up to date copy, I'd like it e-mailed to me, please):
I've recently been re-reading Colbert's _Evolution of the Vertebrates_,
and was reminded of the old "there aren't any transitional fossils"
complaint that pops up on t.o. every now and then. That argument has long
been obsolete and inaccurate, as a brief glance at the fossil record shows.
I thought it might be of interest to have a list of some of the transitional
vertebrate fossils known, so that future t.o.discussions of the fossil record
can be somewhat more up-to-date and interesting (I can dream, can't I?).
A couple people have asked me to post this as a f.a.q. file to t.o. So here
goes. First, I'll present a *partial* list of known transitional fossils,
compiled from Colbert's _Evolution of the Vertebrates_ (ref at end). Also
at the end I have a short note about the significance of "transitional
The fossils mentioned in this list are from species and/or genuses thought to
represent transitions from one vertebrate group to another. This list is
necessarily highly incomplete, because:
a) I skipped entire sections of Colbert's text (rodents, bovids, dinosaurs,
teleosts, and more).
b) Colbert's text is *not* an encyclopedic list of all known fossils, but
instead has detailed descriptions of *particular* fossils that Colbert
thought were representative of that group at that time, or that were
otherwise of special interest.
c) Colbert's text is from 1980 and thus somewhat outdated. I've added in
some recently discovered bird, whale, horse, and primate fossils. Please
let me know of other recent discoveries.
[We start off with primitive jawless fish.]
Transition from primitive jawless fish to sharks, skates, and rays:
Cladoselachians (e.g., _Cladoselache_).
Hybodonts (e.g. _Hybodus_)
Heterodonts (e.g. _Heterodontus_)
Hexanchids (e.g. _Chlamydoselache_)
Transition from primitive bony fish to holostean fish:
Palaeoniscoids (e.g. _Cheirolepis_); living chondrosteans such as
_Polypterus_ and _Calamoichthys_, and also the living acipenseroid
chondrosteans such as sturgeons and paddlefishes.
Primitive holosteans such as _Semionotus_.
Transition from holostean fish to advanced teleost fish:
Leptolepidomorphs, esp. _Leptolepis_, an excellent holostean-teleost
Elopomorphs, both fossil and living (tarpons, eels)
Clupeomorphs (e.g. _Diplomystus_)
Osteoglossomorphs (e.g. _Portheus_)
Transition from primitive bony fish to amphibians:
Paleoniscoids again (e.g. _Cheirolepis_)
_Osteolepis_ -- one of the earliest crossopterygian lobe-finned fishes,
still sharing some characters with the lungfish (the other group of
lobe-finned fish). Had paired fins with a leg-like arrangement of bones,
and had an early-amphibian-like skull and teeth.
_Eusthenopteron_ (and other rhipidistian crossopterygian fish) --
intermediate between early crossopterygian fish and the earliest
amphibians. Skull very amphibian-like. Strong amphibian-like backbone.
Fins very like early amphibian feet.
Icthyostegids (such as _Icthyostega_ and _Icthyostegopsis_) --
Terrestrial amphibians with many of _Eusthenopteron_'s fish features
(e.g., the fin rays of the tail were retained). Some debate about
whether _Icthyostega_ should be considered a fish or an amphibian;
it is an excellent transitional fossil.
Labyrinthodonts (e.g., _Pholidogaster_, _Pteroplax_) -- still have some
icthyostegid features, but have lost many of the fish features (e.g.,
the fin rays are gone, vertebrae are stronger and interlocking, the
nasal passage for air intake is well defined.)
Transition from amphibians to reptiles:
Seymouriamorph labyrinthodonts (e.g. _Seymouria_) -- classic labyrinthodont
skull and teeth, with reptilian vertebrae, pelvis, humerus, and digits;
Cotylosaurs (e.g. _Hylonomus_, _Limnoscelis_) -- slightly amphibian
skull (e.g. with amphibian-type pineal opening), with rest of skeleton
The cotylosaurs gave rise to many reptile groups of tremendous variety. I
won't go into the transitions from cotylosaurs to the advanced anapsid
reptiles (turtles and possibly mesosaurs), to the euryapsid reptiles
(icthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and others), or to the lepidosaurs (eosuchians,
lizards, snakes, and the tuatara), or to most of the dinosaurs, since I don't
have infinite time. Instead I'll concentrate on the synapsid reptiles (which
gave rise to mammals) and the archosaur reptiles (which gave rise to birds).
Transition from reptiles to mammals:
Pelycosaur synapsids -- classic reptilian skeleton, intermediate between
the cotylosaurs (the earliest reptiles) and the therapsids (see next)
Therapsids (e.g. _Dimetrodon_) -- the numerous therapsid
fossils show gradual transitions from reptilian features to
mammalian features. For example: the hard palate forms, the teeth
differentiate, the occipital condyle on the base of the skull doubles,
the ribs become restricted to the chest instead of extending down the
whole body, the legs become "pulled in" instead of sprawled out, the ilium
(major bone of the hip) expands forward.
Cynodont theriodonts (e.g. _Cynognathus_) -- very mammal-like reptiles.
Or is that reptile-like mammals? Highly differentiated teeth (a classic
mammalian feature), with accessory cusps on cheek teeth; strongly
differentiated vertebral column (with distinct types of vertebrae for
the neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and tail -- very mammalian), mammalian
scapula, mammalian limbs, mammalian digits (e.g. reduction of number of
bones in the first digit). But, still has unmistakably *reptilian*
Tritilodont theriodonts (e.g. _Tritylodon_, _Bienotherium_) -- skull
even more mammalian (e.g. advanced zygomatic arches). Still has
reptilian jaw joint.
Ictidosaur theriodonts (e.g. _Diarthrognathus_) -- has all the mammalian
features of the tritilodonts, and has a *double* jaw joint; both the
reptilian jaw joint and the mammalian jaw joint were present, side-by-side,
in _Diarthrognathus_'s skull. A really stunning transitional fossil.
Morganucodonts (e.g. _Morganucodon_) -- early mammals. Double jaw joint,
but now the mammalian joint is dominant (the reptilian joint bones are
beginning to move inward; in modern mammals these are the bones of
the middle ear).
Eupantotheres (e.g. _Amphitherium_) -- these mammals begin to show the
complex molar cusp patterns characteristic of modern marsupials and
eutherians (placental mammals). Mammalian jaw joint.
Proteutherians (e.g. _Zalambdalestes_) -- small, early insectivores with
molars intermediate between eupantothere molars and modern eutherian
Those wondering how egg-laying reptiles could make the transition to
placental mammals may wish to study the reproductive biology of the
monotremes (egg-laying mammals) and the marsupials. The monotremes
in particular could almost be considered "living transitional fossils".
[see Peter Lamb's suggested marsupial references at end]
Transition from reptiles to birds:
_Lisboasaurus estesi_ and other "troodontid dinosaur-birds" -- a bird-like
reptile with very bird-like teeth (that is, teeth very like those of
early toothed birds [modern birds have no teeth]). May not have been
a direct ancestor; may have been a "cousin" of the birds instead.
_Protoavis_ -- this is a *highly controversial* fossil that may or may not be
an extremely early bird. Not enough of the fossil was recovered to
determine if it is definitely related to the birds, or not. I mention it
in case people have heard about it recently.
_Archeopteryx_ -- reptilian vertebrae, pelvis, tail, skull, teeth, digits,
claws, sternum. Avian furcula (wishbone, for attachment of flight
muscles), forelimbs, and lift-producing flight feathers. _Archeopteryx_
could probably fly from tree to tree, but couldn't take off from
the ground, since it lacked a keeled breastbone (for attachment of large
flight muscles) and had a weak shoulder (relative to modern birds).
"Chinese bird" [I don't know what name was given to this fossil] --
A fossil dating from 10-15 million years after _Archeopteryx_.
Bird-like claws on the toes, flight-specialized shoulders, fair-sized
sternal keel (modern birds usually have large sternal keel); also
has reptilian stomach ribs, reptilian unfused hand bones, & reptilian
pelvis. This bird has a fused tail ("pygostyle"), but I don't know how
long it was, or if it was all fused or just part of it was fused.
"Las Hoyas bird" [I don't know what name was given to this fossil] --
This fossil dates from 20-30 m.y. after _Archeopteryx_. It still
has reptilian pelvis & legs, with bird-like shoulder. Tail is
medium-length with a fused tip (_Archeopteryx_ had long, unfused tail;
modern birds have short, fused tail). Fossil down feather was found with
the Las Hoyas bird.
Toothed Cretaceous birds, e.g. _Hesperornis_ and _Ichthyornis_. Skeleton
further modified for flight (fusion of pelvis bones, fusion of hand
bones, short & fused tail). Still had true socketed teeth, which are
missing in modern birds.
[note: a classic study of chicken embryos showed that chicken bills can
be induced to develop teeth, indicating that chickens (and perhaps other
modern birds) still retain the genes for making teeth.]
Now, on to some of the classes of mammals.
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to primates:
Early primates -- paromomyids, carpolestids, plesiadapids. Lemur-like
clawed primates with generalized nails.
_Notharctus_, an early Eocene lemur
_Parapithecus_, a small Old World monkey (Oligocene)
_Propliopithecus_, a small primate intermediate between _Parapithecus_
and the more recent O.W. monkeys. Has several ape-like characters.
_Aegyptopithecus_, an early ape.
_Limnopithecus_, a later ape showing similarities to the modern gibbons.
_Dryopithecus_, a later ape showing similarities to the non-gibbon apes.
_Ramapithecus_, a dryopithecine-like ape showing similarities to the
hominids but now thought to be an orang ancestor.
_Australopithecus_ spp., early hominids. Bipedal.
_Homo erectus_. Numerous fossils across the Old World.
_Homo sapiens sapiens_. This is us. (NB: "Cro-magnon man" belongs
here too. Cro-magnons were a specific population of modern humans.)
_Homo sapiens neanderthalensis_ (not on the direct line to _H. sapiens
sapiens_, but worth mentioning).
[I haven't described these fossils in detail because they're fairly well
covered in any intro biology text, or in any of several good general-
interest books on human evolution.]
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to rodents:
Paramyids, e.g. _Paramys_ -- early "primitive" rodent
_Paleocastor_ -- transitional from paramyids to beavers
[yick. I was going to summarize rodent fossils but _Paramys_ and its
friends gave rise to 5 enormous and very diverse groups of rodents, with
about ten zillion fossils. Never mind.]
Transitional fossils among the cetaceans (whales & dolphins):
_Pakicetus_ -- the oldest fossil whale known. Only the skull was found.
It is a distinct whale skull, but with nostrils in the position of a
land animal (tip of snout). The ears were *partially* modified for
hearing under water. This fossil was found in association with fossils
of land mammals, suggesting this early whale *maybe* could walk on land.
_Basilosaurus isis_ -- a recently discovered "legged" whale from the
Eocene (after _Pakicetus_). Had hind feet with 3 toes and a tiny remnant
of the 2nd toe (the big toe is totally missing). The legs were small and
must have been useless for locomotion, but were specialized for swinging
forward into a locked straddle position -- probably an aid to copulation
for this long-bodied, serpentine whale.
Archaeocetes (e.g. _Protocetus_, _Eocetus_) -- have lost hind legs entirely,
but retain "primitive whale" skull and teeth, with forward nostrils.
Squalodonts (e.g. _Prosqualodon_) -- whale-like skull with *dorsal*
nostrils (blowhole), still with un-whale-like teeth.
_Kentriodon_, an early toothed whale with whale-like teeth.
_Mesocetus_, an early whalebone whale
[note: very rarely a modern whale is found with tiny hind legs, showing
that some whales still retain the genes for making hind legs.]
Transitional fossils from early eutherian mammals to the carnivores:
Miacids (e.g. _Viverravus_ and _Miacis_) -- small weasel-like animals
with very carnivore-like teeth, esp. the carnassial teeth.
Arctoids (e.g. _Cynodictis_, _Hesperocyon_) -- intermediate between
miacids and dogs. Limbs have elongated, carnassials are more
specialized, braincase is larger.
_Cynodesmus_, _Tomarctus_ -- transitional fossils between arctoids
and the modern dog genus _Canis_.
_Hemicyon_, _Ursavus_ -- heavy doglike fossils between the arctoids
and the bears.
_Indarctos_ -- early bear. Carnassial teeth have no shearing action,
molars are square, short tail, heavy limbs. Transitional to the
modern genus _Ursus_.
_Phlaocyon_ -- a climbing carnivore with non-shearing carnassials,
transitional from the arctoids to the procyonids (raccoons et al.)
Meanwhile back at the ranch,
_Plesictis_, transitional between miacids (see above) and mustelids
(weasels et al.)
_Stenoplesictis_ and _Palaeoprionodon_, early civets related to the
miacids (see above)
_Tunguricits_, transitional between early civets and modern civets
_Ictitherium_, transitional between early civets to hyenas
_Proailurus_, transitional from early civets to early cats
_Dinictis_, transitional from early cats to modern "feline" cats
_Hoplophoneus_, transitional from early cats to "saber-tooth" cats
Transitional fossils from early eutherians to hoofed animals:
Arctocyonid condylarths -- insectivore-like small mammals with classic
mammalian teeth and clawed feet.
Mesonychid condylarths -- similar to the arctocyonids, but with blunt
crushing-type cheek teeth, and flattened nails instead of claws.
Late condylarths, e.g. _Phenocodus_ -- a fair-sized animal with
hoofs on each toe (all toes were present), a continuous series of
crushing-type cheek teeth with herbivore-type cusps, and no collarbone
(like modern hoofed animals).
Transitional fossils from early hoofed animals to perissodactyls:
[Perissodactyls are animals with an *odd* number of toes; most of the
weight is borne by the central 3rd toe. Horses, rhinos, tapirs.]
_Tetraclaeonodon_ -- a Paleocene condylarth showing perissodactyl-like
_Hyracotherium_ -- the famous "dawn horse", an early perissodactyl, with
more elongated digits and interlocking ankle bones, and slightly
different tooth cusps, compared to to _Tetraclaeonodon_. A small, doggish
animal with an arched back, short neck, and short snout; had 4 toes
in front and 3 behind. Omnivore teeth.
[The rest of horse evolution will be covered in an upcoming "horse
fossils" post in a few weeks. To whet your appetite:]
_Orohippus_ -- small, 4/3 toed, developing browser tooth crests
_Epihippus_ -- small, 4/3 toed, good tooth crests, browser
_Epihippus (Duchesnehippus)_ -- a subgenus with _Mesohippus_-like teeth
_Mesohippus_ -- 3 toed on all feet, browser, slightly larger
_Miohippus_ -- 3 toed browser, slightly larger [gave rise to lots of
successful three-toed browsers]
_Kalobatippus_ -- 3 toed browser w/foot intermediate between Mio. & Para.
_Parahippus_ -- 3 toed browser/grazer, developing "spring foot"
_'Parahippus' leonensis_ -- a _Merychippus_-like species of _Parahippus_
_'Merychippus' gunteri_ -- a _Parahippus_-like species of _Merychippus_
_'Merychippus' primus_ -- a more typical _Merychippus_, but still very
_Merychippus_ -- 3 toed grazer, spring-footed, size of small pony
(gave rise to tons of successful three-toed grazers)
_Merychippus (Protohippus)_ -- a subgenus of _Merychippus_ developing
_Pliohippus_ & _Dinohippus_ -- *one*-toed grazers, spring-footed
_Equus (Plesippus)_ -- like modern equines but teeth slightly simpler.
_Equus (Hippotigris)_, the modern 1-toed spring-footed grazing zebras.
_Equus (Equus)_, the modern 1-toed spring-footed grazing horses & donkeys.
[note: very rarely a horse is born with small visible side toes, indicating
that some horses retain the genes for side toes.]
Meanwhile back at the ranch,
Hyrachyids -- transitional from perissodactyl-like condylarths to tapirs
Heptodonts, e.g. _Lophiodont_ -- a small horse-like tapir, transitional
to modern tapirs
_Protapirus_ -- a probable descendent of _Lophiodont_, much like modern
tapirs but without the flexible snout.
_Miotapirus_ -- an almost-modern tapir with a flexible snout, transitional
between _Protapirus_ and the modern _Tapirus_.
Hyracodonts -- early "running rhinoceroses", transitional to modern rhinos
_Caenopus_, a large, hornless, generalized rhino transitional between the
hyracodonts and the various later groups of modern & extinct rhinos.
Transitional fossils from early hoofed animals to some of the artiodactyls
Dichobunoids, e.g. _Diacodexis_, transitional between condylarths
and all the artiodactyls (cloven-hoofed animals). Very condylarth-like
but with a notably artiodactyl-like ankle.
_Propalaeochoerus_, an early pig, transitional between _Diacodexis_ and
_Protylopus_, a small, short-necked, four-toed animal, transitional between
dichobunoids and early camels. From here the camel lineage goes through
_Protomeryx_, _Procamelus_, _Pleauchenia_, _Lama_ (which are still alive;
these are the llamas) and finally _Camelus_, the modern camels.
_Archeomeryx_, a rabbit-sized, four-toed animal, transitional between the
dichobunoids and the early deer. From here the deer lineage goes through
_Eumeryx_, _Paleomeryx_ and _Blastomeryx_, _Dicrocerus_ (with antlers) and
then a shmoo of successful groups that survive today as modern deer --
muntjacs, cervines, white-tail relatives, moose, reindeer, etc., etc.
_Palaeotragus_, transitional between early artiodactyls and the okapi &
giraffe. Actually the okapi hasn't changed much since _Palaeotragus_ and
is essentially a living Miocene giraffe. After _Palaeotragus_ came
_Giraffa_, with elongated legs & neck, and _Sivatherium_, large ox-like
giraffes that *almost* survived to the present.
So, there's a *partial* list of transitional fossils.
This really only scratches the surface since I left out all groups that have
no surviving relatives, didn't discuss modern amphibians or reptiles, left
out most of the birds, ignored the diversity in modern fish, didn't discuss
the bovids or elephants or rodents or many other mammal groups....I hope this
gives a taste of the richness of the fossil record and the abundance of
transitional fossils between major vertebrate taxa.
By the way, notice that this list mostly includes transitional fossils that
happened to lead to modern, familiar animals. This may unintentionally give
the impression that fossil lineages proceed in a "straight line" from one
fossil to the next. That's not so; generally at any one time there are a
whole raft of successful species, only a few of which happened to leave
modern descendents. The horse family is a good example; _Merychippus_ gave
rise to something like 19 new three-toed grazing horse species, which
traveled all over the Old and New Worlds and were very successful at the
time. Only one of these lines happened to lead to _Equus_, though, so that's
the only line I talked about. Evolution is not a ladder, it's a branching
And now, for those of you who are still with me...
I have a few comments about "transitional fossils" in general. When _The
Origin Of Species_ was first published, the fossil record was poorly known.
At that time, the complaint about the lack of transitional fossils bridging
the major vertebrate taxa was perfectly reasonable. Opponents of Darwin's
theory of common descent (the theory that evolution has occurred; not to be
confused with the separate theory that evolution occurs specifically by
natural selection) were justifiably skeptical of such ideas as birds being
related to reptiles. The discovery of _Archeopteryx_ only two years after
the publication of _The Origin of Species_ was seen a stunning triumph for
Darwin's theory of common descent. _Archeopteryx_ has been called the single
most important natural history specimen ever found, "comparable to the
Rosetta Stone" (Alan Feduccia, in "The Age Of Birds"). O.C. Marsh's
groundbreaking study of the evolution of horses was another dramatic example
of transitional fossils, this time demonstrating a whole sequence of
transitions within a single family. Within a few decades after the _Origin_,
these and other fossils, along with many other sources of evidence (such as
developmental biology and biogeography) had convinced the majority of
educated people that evolution *had* occured, and that organisms *are*
related to each other by common descent. (Whether evolution occurs by
natural selection, rather than by some other mechanism, is *another question
entirely* and is the topic of current evolutionary research.)
Since then *many* more transitional fossils have been found. Typically, the
only people who still demand to see transitional fossils are creationists who
have been reading 100-year-old anti-evolution arguments, and who are either
unaware of the currently known fossil record or are unwilling to believe it
for some reason. When presented with a transitional fossil, such
creationists often then want to see the transitions between the transitions -
- or, as Pilbeam complained, "as soon as you find a missing link,
you've just created two more missing links". Alternatively,
creationists will often state that the two groups being bridged by the
transitional fossil are really the same "kind" (a term that has *no* meaning
in modern biology) and that therefore "real evolution" hasn't occurred. This
often leads to a weasely backtracking in which *no* transitional fossil,
however dramatic, no matter what disparate groups it connects, will ever be
accepted by a creationist. Biologists justifiably find this attitude
irritating, and any creationist taking this tack can expect to have testy
biologists demanding that he/she clearly define "kind" before the discussion
goes any further.
Creationists also sometimes say "All right, so you have a transitional fossil
from X to Y -- but you don't from Y to Z!" It is unreasonable to expect the
fossil record to be absolutely complete. It is highly unlikely for *any*
organism to get fossilized, and to demand a perfect sequence of fossils of
all species from all times and all locations, perfectly preserved in rocks
that are not plowed under or eroded away, and not taken by private collectors
and sold for thousands of dollars at some auction or used as a doorstop or a
paperweight, but instead are exposed just as one of the few working
paleontologists in the world happens to walk by -- well, we're lucky
that the known fossil record is as good as it is. Remember that even if only
*ONE* transitional fossil were known, it would be a tremendous support for
evolutionary theory. (Thus the tremendous impact of _Archeopteryx_ in 1861).
We now know of HUNDREDS of transitional fossils. It is logically absurd to
demand that a *particular* gap be filled, and if it can't be filled to then
say that evolution has been falsified -- meanwhile ignoring all the gaps that
*have* been filled.
I'll leave it at that. This has been a partial list of transitional fossils
among some of the major taxa of vertebrates. This list has been brought
to you by the numbers 1 and 7 and the letter E.
"Chinese bird fossil: mix of old and new". 1990. Science News 138: 246-247
[this fossil was described at the 1990 annual meeting of the Society of
Vertebrate Paleontology, so there's probably a paper on it in the collected
Colbert, E. 1980. _Evolution of the Vertebrates_, 3rd ed. John Wiley &
Sons, New York.
[note: a 4th edition is now out.]
Gould, S.J. 1983. _Hen's Teeth And Horse's Toes_. W.W. Norton, New York.
[The title essay discusses evidence that some species retain old genes
for traits that they no longer express -- teeth in chickens, side toes in
Feduccia, A. 1980. _The Age Of Birds_. Harvard University Press,
Gingerich, P.D., Smith, B.H., Simons, E.L. 1990. Hind limb of Eocene
_Basilosaurus_: evidence of feet in whales. Science 249:154.
_The Lonely Bird_. 1991. Science News 140:104-105. [an article on the
controversy surrounding _Protoavis_. A monograph on _Protoavis_'s skull was
published in June 1991 in Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. London, if anyone cares;
this was the first publication on _Protoavis_, which was found years ago but
has been jealously guarded by its discoverer for some time.]
Milner, A.R., and S.E. Evans. 1991. The Upper Jurassic diapsid
_Lisboasaurus estesi_ -- a maniraptoran theropod. Paleontology 34:503-513.
[this is the bird-like archosaurian reptile]
Sanz, J.L., Bonaparte, J.F., and A. Lacassa. 1988. Unusual Early Cretaceous
birds from Spain. Nature 331:433-435. [This is about the Las Hoyas bird.
Also see Science News 133:102, "Bird fossil reveals history of flight", for
a brief synopsis.]
Horse references will be in horse post.
Marsupial references (suggested by Peter Lamb):
 Mervyn Griffiths, "The Platypus", Scientific American, May 1988 pp 60-67.
 Mervyn Griffiths, "The Biology of the Monotremes", Academic Press,
New York a.o., 1978
 Terence J.Dawson, "Monotremes and Marsupials: the other Mammals",
Arnold, London, 1983
Kathleen Hunt / U.W. Zoology / firstname.lastname@example.org
Seth J. Bradley, Senior System Administrator, Intel SSD-CT
Internet: email@example.com UUCP: uunet!scic.intel.com!sbradley
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