Ida Fossil is Irrelevant

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Ida fossil is irrelevant claims Scientific American August 2009 in an article entitled “Weak Link: Fossil Darwinius Has Its 15 Minutes”. Ida is the nickname of a remarkably well preserved fossil of a small mammal whose discovery was announced to the world in May 2009 with a blaze of publicity and extraordinary claims including the “the eighth wonder of the world,” “the Holy Grail,” and “a Rosetta Stone”. The lemur-like fossil creature was given the scientific name Darwinius masillae and was claimed to be the evolutionary link between primates and humans.

However, behind the media circus, fossil experts have made more sober assessments of the animal. The fossil is dated at 47 million years old – too long ago in the evolutionary timetable to have direct relevance to human evolution. The creature belongs to an extinct group of animals called adapids, which some (a minority) evolutionists believe to have given rise to anthropoid apes or “higher primates”. However, palaeontologists point out that Ida does not have a distinctive feature of the anthropoids: a bony wall at the back of the eye socket, even though she had an anthropoid-like teeth and jaw, and does not have a grooming claw (a distinctive feature of lemurs but not anthropoids).

Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago commented “I am utterly convinced that Darwinius has nothing whatsoever to do with the origin of higher primates.” Most primate fossil experts believe anthropoids evolved from a group of tarsier-like creatures known as the omomyiforms, not from adapids. According to Richard Kay of Duke University, adapids “are related to the strepsirrhine group of living primates that include lemurs from Madagascar and galagos (bush babies) and lorises from Africa and Asia. They are decidedly not in the direct line leading to living monkeys, apes and humans.” Scientific American concludes: “If the detractors are right, Ida is irrelevant to the question of anthropoid - and thus, human - origins.”

Another critical review of the publicity that accompanied Ida is a book review of The Link, the popular science book that was part of the media blitz, in American Scientist September-October 2009. In an article entitled “The Weakest Link” Chris Beard, Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, writes: “The idea that adapiforms might somehow be ancestral to anthropoids was taken seriously as recently as a couple of decades ago. However, I think it is fair to say that this hypothesis now lies well outside the scientific mainstream, and the discovery and description of Ida have done little to rehabilitate it.”

Scientific American, American Scientist

Editorial Comment: “Attenborough publically apologises that he led the public astray!” - now when do you expect to see this on the front page of your daily newspaper?

Ida is not the worst example of overblown claims about fossil proof of evolution – at least Ida’s fossil is genuine, unlike Archaeoraptor and Piltdown Man. However, the outrageous claims about this fossil indicate the desperation of scientists and journalists to use any excuse to promote evolution in the public eye. This time they went overboard and it is good to see that even secular evolutionary scientists are critical of the methods used by Ida proponents. Let’s hope that the contrast between overblown claims and the more reasoned assessment of this fossil will stimulate some people to recognise that the evidence for evolution is hot air rather than hard facts. (Ref. palaeontology, prosimians, propaganda)

Evidence News, 7 October 2009

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