Zimmer and Shubin on Tiktaalik

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Zimmer interviews Shubin on Bloggingheads discussing how Tiktaalik was correctly predicted and eventually found by the researchers. The video which lasts over 50 minutes discusses many aspects of the find and also touches on Dover. Remember that Dover involved a creationist book called Of Pandas And People which implied that fossils like Tiktaalik had never been found and likely would never have been found.

Another gap closed.

Enjoy the video.

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If you read the overview on limb evolution that I wrote yesterday, I think you maybe interested in watching this 51 minute conversation between Carl Zimmer and Neil Shubin that the Panda’s Thumb pointed too. ... Read More


Thanks for the link. It was fascinating talking to Shubin, even though we’ve spoken many times in the past. One little correction: it’s Bloggingheads, not Bloggerheads.

Last week, I bought and read Shubin’s book. It’s a great read, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in any aspect of biology or earth science.

Another gap closed.

And two more opened.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. :)

Over at DI’s ENV blog, their resident junior whackdoodle, Casey Luskin, is whining again about Tiktaalik. If you need some comic relief, go take a look at it.

Luskin’s whining shows how powerful science can be to debunk ID’s nonsense.

“another gap closed”

…rendering their creator just that much less omnipotent.

Stupid people playing a stupid game they can’t possibly win.

Yet it amazes me how they don’t see it that way…how their game weakens the importance of the very god they need to foist upon us.

Updated some minor errors in the article. Carl, thank you for your contributions to make science more accessible to all of us. Such fascinating research will capture the hearts and minds of countless people and shows how science is productive and predictive, contrary to those ‘other theories’.

Luskin may still be smarting how Ken Miller destroyed the ID position during the Kitzmiller trial, exposing both the vacuity of ID and the productivity of evolutionary theory. No wonder Luskin has to downplay scientific findings. Is that what we as parents want our children to be exposed to? Ignorance as an explanation rather than accepting the obvious conclusions?

From the Nova Transcript

But intelligent design takes a different view, as the movement’s own literature shows. Intelligent design teaches a history of life in which organisms appear abruptly, are unrelated, and linked only by their designer.

NICK MATZKE: What’s really being advocated is the idea that organisms poofed into existence through the miraculous act of an intelligent designer, i.e., God. That’s the view that intelligent design promotes.

NARRATOR: So how can scientists be so sure Darwin’s tree accurately represents the history of life on Earth?

As it turned out, the latest in a large body of evidence to refute intelligent design and support evolution was coming to light just as this case was unfolding.

NEIL SHUBIN: I remember thinking to myself, when all this was going on, “Wait’ll they get a look at this, because it’s just so beautiful.”

NARRATOR: Darwin believed that evidence for his idea of common ancestry would be unearthed in the form of transitional fossils. For example, if, over millions of years, fish gave rise to land animals, as evolutionary theory predicts, we should find fossils of extinct creatures that are part fish and part land animal.

In 1999, paleontologist Neil Shubin and his colleagues set out to find just such a creature.

NEIL SHUBIN: What evolution enables us to do is to make specific predictions about what we should find in the fossil record. The prediction in this case is clear-cut. That is, if we go to rocks of the right age, and the rocks of the right type, we should find transitions between two great forms of life, between fish and amphibian.

NARRATOR: Many scientists think life began in the water, at least three and a half billion years ago. More recently, about 375 million years ago, the tree of life branched as primitive fish evolved into amphibians, such as today’s frogs and salamanders, which live part of their lives on land.

Armed with this prediction, Shubin and his colleagues organized an expedition to one of the most desolate places on Earth, the Canadian Arctic, about 500 miles from the North Pole, where rocks of just the right age are exposed. Here, they hoped to fill a gap in the branch of the evolutionary tree that leads from primitive fish to animals with four limbs, or “tetrapods,” by finding a fossil of an animal that shared characteristics of both.

But after three summers of digging through hundreds of tons of rock in this harsh environment, they had found little of interest. They returned the next year for one last try.

NEIL SHUBIN: Money was running out. This was it. We were told this was our last year up there. And then, in 2004, in the third day of the season, a colleague of mine was removing rock and discovered a little snout sticking out the side of the cliff, just exactly like this. And he removed more rock and more rock and more rock, and it became clear this was a snout of a flat-headed animal. And that’s when we knew. Flat-headed animal at 375-million years old? This is going to be something interesting.

NARRATOR: They called it Tiktaalik, which means “large, fresh water fish,” in the language of the local Inuit people. And it’s one of the most vivid transitional fossils ever discovered, showing how land animals evolved from primitive fish.

NEIL SHUBIN: Over here you have a fish of about 380-million years old. And, just like any good fish, it has scales on its back and fins. You compare that to an amphibian, and you find a creature that doesn’t have scales, and it’s modified the fins to become limbs, arms and legs. And the head’s very different. It has a flat head with eyes on top and a neck.

What we see when we look at the fossil record, at rocks of just the right age, is a creature like Tiktaalik. Just like a fish, it has scales on its back, and fins. You can see the fin webbing here. Yet when we look at the head, you see something very different. You see a very amphibian-like thing, with a flat head, with eyes on top. It gets even better when we take the fin apart. When we look inside the fin, as in this cast here, what you’ll see is bones that compare to our shoulder, elbow, even parts of the wrist—bone for bone. So you have a fish, at just the right time in the history of life, that has characteristics of amphibians and primitive fish. It’s a mix.

NARRATOR: And just as evolutionary theory predicts, Tiktaalik suggests a tree of life, with one species giving rise to another over millions of years.

The discovery of Tiktaalik was still being written up at the time of the trial, so it couldn’t be used as evidence. But Shubin’s colleague, paleontologist Kevin Padian, showed the judge examples of other fossils with transitional features that support Darwin’s tree of life.

And these are not minor contributions of science, they caught the attention of not only the media present but also the presiding judge. Where Pandas had taken the position that there are insurmountable problems for evolutionary theory to explain the transitions, science showed exactly the contrary.

KEVIN PADIAN: And where the Pandas book says we can’t go from A to B, there are no fossils and we don’t know how to study them, actually, we’ve gone from A to B and to C, D, E, F and G. We have the fossils; we have the transitional features; we have the ways of analyzing them with many different lines of evidence. And we’re looking for the picture that accounts for the most lines of objective evidence.

NARRATOR: With each fossil, Padian refuted Pandas claim that different life forms appear suddenly, by showing how fossils of extinct organisms bridge the gaps between species, resulting in a picture of gradual evolution, just as Darwin proposed.

KEVIN PADIAN: The reporters in the courtroom were just amazed that we knew all this stuff. And how come they hadn’t learned about this stuff before? And the reason is it’s not in textbooks because the creationists fight so hard to keep it out. That’s been a big influence.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD: The court took a break. And I remember the judge saying something like, you know, “biology class adjourned,” you know, “for lunch.” And he was, you know, smiling. And it was clear that we had the judge interested in science.

Let this be a lesson to Florida creationists who wants to keep such knowledge out of its text books.

Ignorance is not a very redeeming quality, and worse, it makes us Christians look foolish (St Augustine)

Very good interview. Thanks for bringing up the embryo/evo-devo bits. I was shocked to hear one group does paleontology (sp) and embryology (or whatever it’s called, heh).

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on January 25, 2008 12:23 AM.

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