For all the headlines and proclamations, this “missing link” story includes an amazing amount of hot air.
A story we first previewed on May 16 has since rocketed to the heights of media hype as a team of scientists reveals “Ida,” the latest and greatest supposed missing link. But does Ida actually support “the evolution of early primates, and, ultimately, modern human beings,” as one news outlet reported?
Another reporter raved, “The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years—but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York.”
Formally identified as Darwinus masillae (in honor of Charles Darwin), the fossil originated in Germany and is purportedly 47 million years old. One scientist gave the find the nickname Ida (after his daughter).
Despite the hype, Ida looks nothing like a transitional “apeman,” instead looking quite like a modern lemur.
As for a more level-headed explanation of the evolutionary excitement, the Wall Street Journal reports:
Anthropologists have long believed that humans evolved from ancient ape-like ancestors. Some 50 million years ago, two ape-like groups walked the Earth. One is known as the tarsidae, a precursor of the tarsier, a tiny, large-eyed creature that lives in Asia. Another group is known as the adapidae, a precursor of today's lemurs in Madagascar.
Based on previously limited fossil evidence, one big debate had been whether the tarsidae or adapidae group gave rise to monkeys, apes, and humans. The latest discovery bolsters the less common position that our ancient ape-like ancestor was an adapid, the believed precursor of lemurs.
Thus, rather than an apeman-like missing link that some media sources have irresponsibly implied, the real story is quite underwhelming and should in no way faze creationists. Let’s first review the facts:
- The well-preserved fossil (95 percent complete, including fossilized fur and more) is about the size of a raccoon and includes a long tail. It resembles the skeleton of a lemur (a small, tailed, tree-climbing primate). In no way does the fossil (see the picture, right) resemble a human skeleton.
- The fossil was found in two parts by amateur fossil hunters in 1983. It eventually made its way through fossil dealers to the research team.
- Ida has opposable thumbs, which the ABC News article states are “similar to humans’ and unlike those found on other modern mammals” (i.e., implying that opposable thumbs are evidence of evolution). Yet lemurs today have opposable thumbs (like all primates). Likewise, Ida has nails, as do other primates. And the talus bone is described as “the same shape as in humans,” despite the fact that there are other differences in the ankle structure.
- Unlike today’s lemurs (as far as scientists know), Ida lacks the “grooming claw” and a “toothcomb” (a fused row of teeth) In fact, its teeth are more similar to a monkey’s. These are minor differences easily explained by variation within a kind.
Given these facts, it may seem incredible that anyone would hail this find as a “missing link.” Yet British naturalist David Attenborough claims:
“Now people can say, ‘Okay, you say we’re primates . . . show us the link.’ The link, they would have said until now, is missing. Well, it is no longer missing.”
Unbelievably, Attenborough claims his interpretation is “not a question of imagination.”
The Creationist Interpretation
The principles that inform creationists about Ida are some of the same that allow creationists to interpret fossil after fossil hailed as “transitional forms”:
- Nothing about this fossil suggests it is anything other than an extinct, lemur-like creature. Its appearance is far from chimpanzee, let alone “apeman” or human.
- A fossil can never show evolution. Fossils are unchanging records of dead organisms. Evolution is an alleged process of change in live organisms. Fossils show “evolution” only if one presupposes evolution, then uses that presupposed belief to interpret the fossil.
- Similarities can never show evolution. If two organisms have similar structures, the only thing it proves is that the two have similar structures. One must presuppose evolution to say that the similarities are due to evolution rather than design. Furthermore, when it comes to “transitional forms,” the slightest similarities often receive great attention while major differences are ignored.
- The remarkable preservation is a hallmark of rapid burial. Team member Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo said, “This fossil is so complete. Everything’s there. It’s unheard of in the primate record at all. You have to get to human burial to see something that’s this complete.” Even the contents of Ida’s stomach were preserved. While the researchers believe Ida sunk to the bottom of a lake and was buried, this preservation is more consistent with a catastrophic flood. Yet Ida was found with “hundreds of well-preserved specimens.”
- If evolution were true, there would be real transitional forms. Instead, the best “missing links” evolutionists can come up with are strikingly similar to organisms we see today, usually with the exception of minor, controversial, and inferred anatomical differences.
- Evolutionists only open up about the lack of fossil missing links once a new one is found. Sky News reports, “Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin's theory of evolution,” while Attenborough commented that the missing link “is no longer missing.” So are they admitting the evidence was missing until now (supposedly)?
So it’s clear what Ida is not. As for our conclusion on what Ida is, we wrote in News to Note:
Because the fossil is similar to a modern lemur (a small, tailed, tree-climbing primate), it’s unlikely that creationists need any interpretation of the “missing link” other than that it was a small, tailed, probably tree-climbing, and now extinct primate—from a kind created on Day 6 of Creation Week.
Yet as Hurum commented, “This fossil will probably be pictured in all the textbooks for the next 100 years.” So while the media rush may at first be a bid to promote the documentary and book, the ultimate result is one more trumped-up “missing link” presented to future generations as evidence of evolution.
The Real Story of this “Scientific Breakthrough”
While Ida has hit the mainstream media—and will even be featured on Good Morning America Wednesday—what is the real story? Has Ida been exposed to good scientific review? To the contrary, the Guardian reports:
Jørn Hurum, at the University of Oslo, the scientist who assembled the international team of researchers to study Ida is relaxed about using the phrase “missing link” to describe Ida. “Why not? I think we could use that phrase for this kind of specimen,” he said. “People have a feeling that if something is important it is a missing link.”
In the paper published in PLoS ONE from the Public Library of Science on the fossil the author is more circumspect. “Darwinius masillae is important in being exceptionally well-preserved and providing a much more complete understanding of the paleobiology of an Eocene primate than was available in the past,” the authors wrote.
“The species could represent a stem group from which later anthropoid primates evolved the line leading to humans, but we are not advocating this here.”
The paper’s scientific reviewers asked that they tone down their original claims that the fossil was on the human evolutionary line.
One of those reviewers, Professor John Fleagle at Stony Brook University in New York state said that would be a judgment for the scientific community. “That will be sorted out or at least debated extensively in the coming years once the paper is published,” he said. (Emphases added)
So despite the treatment most media reports are giving Ida, the research team behind Ida was asked to remove their speculation from their peer-reviewed paper! Even so, the Guardian also reports, “There is even talk of Ida being the first non-living thing to feature on the front cover of People magazine.” Indeed, it seems that the pitch of Ida as the missing link is full-out sensationalism by people who are bypassing the scientific community with a direct-to-the-public appeal on behalf of Darwinism.
Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported:
Despite a television teaser campaign with the slogan “This changes everything” and comparisons to the moon landing and the Kennedy assassination, the significance of this discovery may not be known for years. An article to be published on Tuesday in PLoS ONE, a scientific journal, will report more prosaically that the scientists involved said the fossil could be a “stem group” that was a precursor to higher primates, with the caveat, “but we are not advocating this.”
All of this seems a departure from the normal turn of events, where researchers study their subject and publish their findings, and let the media chips fall where they may.