Stephen Jay Gould published the collection of essays
Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes way back in 1984, 22 years ago; so when the National Geographic recently published an article headlined
Dolphin With Four Fins May Prove Terrestrial Origins I was less than suprised, except by the exaggerated claims for the significance of the find. As Jan Haugland wrote recently about the same story,
I wonder if the scientists or whoever wrote the press release have exaggerated the importance of this discovery for added publicity. It is surely an interesting find, but the land ancestry of whales was not something that needed much further evidence
Indeed. There’s already overwhelming evidence that whales and dolphins descend from land-based animals not the least of which is the fact that mammals arose on land and cetaceans are mammals.
C – the undeveloped hind legs of a baleen whale, from Meyers Konversionlexikon 1888
Some of the more impressionable – or forgetful – news sources seem to think this is a great breakthrough, though:
The ABC radio news announcer introduced it as A sign, that maybe, once, mammals that live in the ocean, once walked on land”
Maybe? Ya don’t say? Wow, I never woulda thunk it!
comment on Pharyngula
The trouble with vestigial organs or better yet, atavisms, is that creationists decline to interpret them sensibly. For example, the Young-Earth creationists at AnswersInGenesis have no problem shrugging off supposed vestigial limbs, or throwbacks, or atavisms, having already successfully ignored modern physics, cosmology, geology, paleontology, and just about every other area of science that suggests the Earth’s older than about 10,000 years. When it comes to evidence from biology, creationists, like the Red Queen, easily believe six impossible things before breakfast:
This teaching is based on an assumption that is then passed off as science, an assumption that the ancestry and function of the structure is known.
young-Earth creationists, AnswersInGenesis
With such ideology-driven idiocy, anybody suggesting that an odd dolphin might prove to anyone still needing proof the fact of evolution by Natural Selection is woefully deluding themselves. The blogger Tom Coates, for example, writes:
If there are people that are unconvinced, there is something that needs to be demonstrated. Taking advantage of news stories to do this seems to be an obvious thing to do
Tom Coates, plasticbag.org
Which seems to seriously misunderstand the nature of creationism. There’s already a wealth of evidence and it hasn’t worked.
In passing, Coates takes an opportunity to take a swipe at Americans:
In the meantime, sir (sic), you should know that half of America doesn’t believe in evolution. Coates appears either to be unaware of a BBC poll:
Just under half of Britons accept the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life, according to an opinion poll
the BBC, Britons unconvinced on evolution
or else is rather dishonestly having a go at Americans in particular because that’s what a certain type of liberal European likes to do.
I think Tom Coates, unfortunately, champions of a strain of thinking that represents facts as postures to adopt that signify an allegiance to a political position. I think that’s why Tom tries to alarm his audience about the US while he ignores the apparently similar problems at home.
Incidentally, should you leave a comment on Coates’s weblog you might find yourself the recipient of an uninvited email like this:
Please fuck off!
Please continue fucking off!
And when you’ve finished fucking off, could you please fuck off some more!