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An ancestor – or an interesting old relative?: A vexing evolution question

In family terms, is the woman in that ancient photo your great-great aunt or your great-great-grandma?

In a Wired article of enduring interest (“Ancestor Worship,” February 22, 2011), science writer Brian Switek recounts the chances of getting it wrong, with an episode from the life of Darwin’s bulldog, T. H. Huxley,

In his 1870 address as the president of London’s Geological Society, the naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley reminded his colleagues that creatures which appeared to be perfect transitional forms between one species and another might – upon accumulation of further evidence – turn out to be cousins or uncles rather than fathers. A fossil animal with transitional features undoubtedly attested to the reality of evolution, “But the mere discovery of such a form does not, in itself, prove that evolution took place by and through it.”

Huxley learned this the hard way a few years later. During his 1870 address, he proposed that paleontologists had directly connected the modern horse Equus to at least two of its fossil predecessors – the three-toed horse Hipparion and the even older fossil equid Anchitherium. Both of these horses were found in Europe – confirming that horses were animals of the Old World – but a stunning collection of fossil horses collected by American paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh proved Huxley wrong. Marsh’s collection confirmed that horses originated in North America, and the supposed transitional forms Huxley cited were species that had dispersed to Europe at different times. Huxley saw these fossils for himself when he visited Marsh at Yale’s Peabody Museum during an 1876 speaking tour, and he immediately changed his lecture to include Marsh’s discoveries.

The factors that led Huxley to misread the evolution of horses have also confounded the study of human origins. The most obvious is the elusiveness of the creatures that fill out the evolutionary transition. Fossil humans are very rare. The earliest humans, especially, lived in forests where their bodies were much more likely to be destroyed than quickly preserved. As a result, we are always working with an imperfect record, and therefore it is easy to take a species that appears to fill a gap in our knowledge and promote it as ancestor of something else. More.

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9 Responses to An ancestor – or an interesting old relative?: A vexing evolution question

  1. This is something that has really interested me since I read the article on Wikipedia about human origins. I would cite to it but no Wikipedia today because of SOPA! But I seems to remember that it was an open question whether or not Homo Erectus was a direct ancestor of humans. And I couldn’t get an answer to my question: What is the evidence that homo erectus is an ancestor as opposed to an “uncle” or “cousin.”

  2. Oh Goody, perhaps we can watch Lenski chase his tail in a circle for another 50,000 generations! :)

    Mutations : when benefits level off – June 2011 – (Lenski’s e-coli after 50,000 generations)
    Excerpt: After having identified the first five beneficial mutations combined successively and spontaneously in the bacterial population, the scientists generated, from the ancestral bacterial strain, 32 mutant strains exhibiting all of the possible combinations of each of these five mutations. They then noted that the benefit linked to the simultaneous presence of five mutations was less than the sum of the individual benefits conferred by each mutation individually.
    http://www2.cnrs.fr/en/1867.htm?theme1=7

  3. So what do you think, BA77? Was the Designer in there tweaking those yeast cells?

  4. champ, the mutations (which they’ve not published yet, just as with the ‘best’, most beneficial, 50,000 generation mutations, will be found to fall under the principle of Genetic Entropy. Just as with every other adaptation from a parent species that has been studied thus far! :)

    “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain – Michael Behe – December 2010
    Excerpt: In its most recent issue The Quarterly Review of Biology has published a review by myself of laboratory evolution experiments of microbes going back four decades.,,, The gist of the paper is that so far the overwhelming number of adaptive (that is, helpful) mutations seen in laboratory evolution experiments are either loss or modification of function. Of course we had already known that the great majority of mutations that have a visible effect on an organism are deleterious. Now, surprisingly, it seems that even the great majority of helpful mutations degrade the genome to a greater or lesser extent.,,, I dub it “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”: Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain.(that is a net ‘fitness gain’ within a ‘stressed’ environment i.e. remove the stress from the environment and the parent strain is always more ‘fit’)
    http://behe.uncommondescent.co.....evolution/

  5. “champ, the mutations (which they’ve not published yet,… will be found to fall under the principle of Genetic Entropy.”

    They aren’t published, but you KNOW they’ll adhere to your beliefs….what faith !!!

    And again, Behe lists a number of gain of functional mutations, and I could provide you more. But those never happen, right? Cause fsci can’t increase naturally? And if you saw it happen, then it is design?

  6. DrREC, and as with Petrushka, you completely ignore the fact that the supposed ‘gain of function’ mutations in Behe’s paper are preceded by artificially induced mutation events by the researchers. And that the supposed ‘gain of function’ mutations are really compensatory mutations, computed by the ‘natural genetic engineering, of the cell (Shapiro). Compensatory mutations that never exceed the functional complexity that was originally in the cell!,,, Being forthright with the evidence is not much of a concern with you or Petrushka, or other neo-Darwinists is it DrREC???

  7. Of note:

    Genetic Entropy – Dr. John Sanford – Evolution vs. Reality (note in description) – video
    http://vimeo.com/35088933

    new video:

    Dr Jay Richards (co-author of Privileged Planet) speaks on Signs of Design from Physics and Astronomy
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOorbq5sM3E

  8. I have always noticed the whole this fossil related to that fossil thing as very odd way of figuring out trails of biology.
    Especially when they can invoke convergent evolution as needed.
    How can any bone be proved to be related to other bones?
    I am confident evolution is false and so confident better analysis of the methodology of fossil connections would show no reasoning to demand confidence in their conclusions.

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