We evolved, thank god

Monday 15 May 2006

New find confirms water-land transition, evolutionary theory

-- the proponents of creationism are reeling. Science has finally landed a vital clue that will help it demolish the argument that the theory of evolution cannot be valid, because it has not been able to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts. In the first week of April, palaeontologists reported the discovery of the fossil of an animal that had probably planted the first feet on land, literally. The animal fossil, named Tiktaalik, was unearthed by a team of us scientists in Ellesmere Island in Arctic Canada. The animal, though quite similar to fish in many anatomical respects, had several features more suited to a land animal: a flexible neck, a crocodile-like head as well as strong and bony fins that would surely have transformed into legs. It is the prime candidate for the animal that made the water-land transition.

The four billion years, during which life evolved on earth, saw several marvellous metamorphoses. One of the most spectacular was the evolution of terrestrial creatures -- with limbs, fingers and toes -- from aquatic organisms. Today, this group, collectively called tetrapods, encompasses everything from birds to frogs to mammals, humans included. Scientists have always been sure of the power of the theory of evolution to explain these metamorphoses, as opposed to the mess of superstition that is at the heart of revealed creationism or its latest avatar, intelligent design, both of which argue that "animals can't evolve into new species". Intelligent design seeks to argue that the evolution of life forms can be better explained by the existence of an intelligent designer, not by natural selection, because life is too complex an entity to have evolved by chance.

The creationists' main 'theoretical' weapon has always been the lack of evidence to prove how life crossed the water-land barrier, believed to have happened some time between 380 and 365 million years ago. So far, scientists had failed to find a decent fossil that offered a clear snapshot of a complete transitional form, even though there were several fossil fragments to show isolated body parts in transition from fins to legs, or gill-breathing to air-breathing. Tiktaalik blows intelligent design away. The argument is rested.

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