Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Intelligent Design and Human Evolution

The Dover trial is in the hands of the judge and in Kansas the fundies have approved the destruction of their education system. Meantime, Dembski is hallucinating loudly about the stunning legal strategy he provided the Thomas More Law Center (giggle), apparently we have him to thank for the endless amusement obtained from reading the transcripts of the trial - available here.
I think the scientists came off just a little bit better the Dembski's people (giggle).

At any rate, now seems to be a good time to continue my series on Intelligent Design and Human Evolution.

The Fossil Record of Non-Hominid Primates

As I pointed out, in a very simplistic overview here, here and here the study of primate evolution is quite rich with many theories, debates and fossils. How does Luskin describe this? First, it is immediately obvious that Luskin does not really understand the material he is writing about. For example he states that the "...standard primate phylogeny, constructed by comparing DNA sequences of living primates..."(pg. 4). Well, no, actually primate phylogeny was created based on fossil evidence. When biochemical and anatomical studies of living primates started being used it led so some conflict with the paleontological evidence. Then he sites the Encyclopedia Britannica to support his contention that primates fossils from 40 mya are rare. Then he goes into a discusion of some the work by R. D. Martin. For example, he states that Martin found that "...many characteristics linking adapid fossils with simians are so common in mammals, and primates inparticular, that they cannot serve as conclusive evidence of an evolutionary link." (pg. 4) Anyone who read my post on defining primates will immediately recognize this. Luskin here completely misunderstands the discussion. After this, which completely dismisses a large amount of primate evolution, Luskin moves on to anthropoid origins. Which consists of a few remarks about Parapithecus and Aegyptopithecus. So lets talk about anthropoids. The earliest evidence of anthropoids comes from the Oligocene deposits in the Fayum, Egypt. So far seven genera and 12 species have been named as follows:

Family Parapithecidae

Family Propliopithecidae
(both of which are catarrhines - or old world monkeys)

Family Cebidae
Tremacebus (a new world platyrrhine from Patagonia)

Family incertae sedis
Branisella (found in Bolivia)
Dolichocebus (found in Patagonia)

Infraorder incertae sedis
Amphipithecus (found in Burma and considered to be a transitional fossil linking adapids and higher primates)
Pondaungia (found in Burma, also considered to be a transitional fossil linking adapids and higher primates)

Family Tarsiidae

Not to mention the the most recent find.

There are quite a few anthropoid features in the Fayum primates (metopic suture that fuses early in life, almost complete postorbital closure, fused mandibular symphysis, etc) as well as some primitive retentions (some have nontubular ectotympnics and relatively small brains). There are four competing phylogenies for the above groups, which I won't go into, suffice to say there is more to anthropoid origins than Luskin would have you believe (and I haven't even mentioned the origins of new world monkeys).

Tomorrow: Early Hominid Fossils and Taxonomy.