New Fossil Hype Fits Old Pattern


Even evolutionary paleontologists are largely convinced that the media’s recent promotion of a new “missing link” is a monumental overstatement. There is little doubt that the hype surrounding the fossilized lemur “Ida” is primarily bluff and bluster.1 But her media campaign may actually be a more significant story than the fossil itself. Why is the publicity about Ida such a radical mismatch with the data?2

It has been fairly common for the evolutionary establishment to strongly promote a particular fossil as a “missing link” only to later quietly acknowledge it as an evolutionary “dead end” or even a fraud. Historically, most―perhaps all―fossils or natural phenomena that were claimed as representations of Darwinian evolution have eventually been recognized by both creation and evolutionary researchers to be bad examples that offered no evidentiary support for descent with modification.

For instance, every argument used to validate evolution in the famous 1925 Scopes trial was later proven fallacious, and none of them are used today by knowledgeable people.3 All supposedly “vestigial” organs are now known to be functional and useful, the Piltdown man turned out to be a fraud, and embryonic recapitulation—made popular by a series of manipulated drawings by Ernst Haeckel—has been thoroughly refuted by embryology.

Ramapithecus was once considered “the link,” but it was determined to be nothing more than an extinct orangutan-like creature. Homo habilis has likewise outlived its celebrity status. The majority of paleontologists who recognize that it is really just a collection of both ape and human skull fragments are too uncomfortable to present it as a transitional form in textbooks.

A perusal of material available on www.icr.org will also show that other evolutionary icons unrelated to the human developmental story have collapsed under the weight of scrutiny. Peppered moths and Darwin’s finches remain the same moths and finches, and archaeopteryx was just a bird.

Therefore, it seems necessary that in the face of this continued parade of failures, new “evidence” promoting evolution must constantly be manufactured. This is clearly the case with Ida. Darwin’s faithful followers seem desperate for a new icon, especially during his bicentennial this year. The paleontologist behind the Ida campaign even admitted, “You need an icon or two in a museum to drag people in.”4

Ida’s appeal undoubtedly lies in her pristine preservation. But this is really bad news for her promoters, since the fossil is so complete that there is no doubt about its utter lack of transitional features. Already, articles in Science and New Scientist have described Ida as just an extinct lemur and not a “missing link.”2, 5 She was even found in the wrong rock layer: “Ida is much younger than both good fossils of lemurs and good fossils of monkeys.”6 However, her campaign seems to have gathered too much momentum for little things like facts to get in its way.

Even as creation scientist Duane Gish correctly predicted that extinct apes like the popular “Lucy,” called australopithecenes, were destined to become an evolutionary dead end,7 the same forecast can be made for Ida. Australopithecus’ status as a missing link officially fizzled 16 years after Gish’s prediction.8 However, its removal from the evolutionary lineup was not prominently publicized, but instead crept into the technical literature with no fanfare.

Ida is following the same well-worn chain of events. She has been promoted as a “missing link” with widespread media hype. After further study, however, this claim will be quietly rescinded. The most damaging result of this backward publish-the-story-first-and-ask-scientific-questions-later routine is that evolution is promoted whether or not the discovery provides any evidence to support it. This is not the way ideal science is conducted—it’s closer to propaganda.

References

  1. Thomas, B. and F. Sherwin. Ida: Separating the Science from the Media Campaign. ICR News. Posted on icr.org May 22, 2009.
  2. Beard, C. Why Ida fossil is not the missing link. New Scientist. Posted on newscientist.com Mary 21, 2009, accessed May 21, 2009.
  3. Morris, J. 1995. Did the Evolutionists Present a Good Case at the Scopes Trial? Acts & Facts 24 (8).
  4. Dr. Jørn Hurum, quoted in Randerson, J. Fossil Ida: extraordinary find is ‘missing link’ in human evolution. The Guardian. Posted on guardian.co.uk May 19, 2009, accessed May 19, 2009.
  5. Gibbons, A. "Revolutionary" Fossil Fails to Dazzle Paleontologists. ScienceNOW Daily News. Posted on sciencenow.sciencemag.org May 19, 2009, accessed May 20, 2009.
  6. Roach, E. Experts: Fossil find exciting but lacks significance. Baptist Press. Posted on bpnews.net May 20, 2009, accessed May 20, 2009.
  7. Gish, D. 1990. The Amazing Story of Creation. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 85.
  8. Ancient ape ruled out of man's ancestral line. University of Leeds press release, December 8, 2006.

Image Credit: PLoS

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on May 27, 2009.