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No brontosaurus?

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Subject: No brontosaurus?
Author:  SKEPTIC Discussion Group <SKEPTIC@JHUVM.HCF.JHU.EDU> at smtp
Date:    29/6/1995 4:05 PM

 From: Stephen Carville - pagan@delphi.com

 "York H. Dobyns" <ydobyns@TUCSON.PRINCETON.EDU> writes in response 
 to my citing Archaeopteryx as transitional fossil:

 >Actually, there's a subtler and even more pernicious form of the "no 
 >transitional forms" argument out there: you get rid of transitional 
 >forms by defining them away. For example, Archaeopteryx is clearly, 
 >to a reasonable observer, transitional between dinosaurs and birds; 
 >skeletally it's a small dinosaur, but it had feathers, and the 
 >feathers on its arms were configured into weak but marginally 
 >functional wings.

 >However, among modern life forms feathers are an unambiguous 
 >diagnostic for birds, and are frequently used as such in 
 >introductory biology texts: all birds have feathers, and only birds 
 >have feathers. So a creationist can use a definition like that as 
 >though it were a logic gate, and declare: "Archeopteryx had 
 >feathers, ergo it was a bird. QED.  No transitional forms. Any 
 >dinosaurlike fossil we find, ever, will either have scales, and 
 >therefore be a dinosaur, or have feathers, and therefore be a bird. 
 >No transitional forms." The fact that some of these "birds" have 
 >teeth, long tails, and clawed fingers on their wings is conveniently 
 >ignored among the triumphant trumpeting.

 You're right, and given the level of knowledge in the usual audience 
 it can actually work.  I mentioned Archie because it was the first 
 and was discovered so soon after publication of _On the Origin of 
 Species_ that it's impact on the evolution debate was profoundly 
 greater than if it has been discovered last year.  There are 
 hundreds of examples of transitional forms to pick from now even 
 without mentioning the lines that eventually died out.  I just 
 recently found out about Diarthrognathus which had a double jaw 
 joint - the reptilian and mamallian jaw joints were side-by-side.
 In Morganucodon, the double joint was present but the mamallian jaw 
 was dominant and the reptilian part had begun to migrate inward 
 where it's believed it would eventually become the bones of the 
 middle ear.  These are both stunning transitional forms and much 
 harder to dismiss with a two valued feathers vs. scales argument.

 Remember too, I'm just a dilletante at this stuff, think what a real 
 expert could do.

 I donlt know for sure but I would think that the knowledgable 
 creationist (how's _that_ for an oxymoron?) would avoid the no 
 transitional forms argument.  It's just too easy to drop 10 or 20 
 examples out of hundreds available and make them look stupid(er). 
 Some of the whale fossils are really extraordinary and the evidence 
 for horse evolution is better documented than Madonna's sex life. 
 In formal debates creationists are out to win points with an 
 audience that is usually not very literate on the subject so they 
 concentrate on overwhelming their opponent with a 10 inacuraccies
 per minute format (if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffled 
 them with bulls**t).  This is one reason I agree with Jim Lippard 
 that the formal debate setting is not the place to take them on 
 unless you can actually get them to debate the tenets of 
 "creationism" instead of merely attacking "evilution"

 Stephen Carville - pagan@delphi.com
 When elephants fight, it is the the grass that suffers.