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June 15, 2005
The Weekly Transitional
Filed in: Current Affairs, Science, Transitional Forum

In a recent (but short-lived) debate (see the comment section), Commissar Stephen trotted out the gradualist 'evidence' for transitional fossils to support evolutionary theory: The Talk.Origins Transitional Vertebrate Fossil FAQ. This is an impressive work primarily produced by Kathleen Hunt, who (at the time of the FAQ - circa 1997) was working on her Ph.D. in the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington.

The species referenced in this FAQ are supposed to be 'transitional forms' - i.e. (in these cases) vertebrates that demonstrate by their morphology that they are 'between' modern species or past, extinct species and thus prove "general lineage", "species-to-species transition", and "transitions to New Higher Taxa". 'Gaps' in the fossil record are primarily defended by Ms. Hunt by invoking 'punctuated equilibrium' or as some have given appelation: 'the hopeful monster theory' originally promulgated by Gould.

As I have stated, my view is that evolutionary gradualists point to 'sharks' and say 'not-sharks' and 'bears' and say 'not-bears', etc.. I propose that these 'transitional fossils' are not transitional at all - they are either 'sharks' or 'bears' or some species, extinct or living that may share familial, taxonomic characteristics with other species - but do not represent some 'in between' form achieving greater 'fitness' by natural selection.

There has been at least one other work that debunks the Talk.Origins FAQ - but as it has been pointed out, it isn't complete and it really doesn't examine all of the presented species in the FAQ on a case by case basis.

So, what am I going to do here in my latest quixotic quest? I'm going to take each proffered species from the FAQ on a case by case basis and examine just what that particular animal is. I'm only going to examine specifically identified species.

My key thesis is this: If the proffered transitional shares characteristics with modern, living species, then it's just one of 'those kinds of animals'.

I'm also going to argue that a piece of a toe bone, a piece of a fibula, and a piece of a skull, all found within 300 yards of each other - does not constitute sufficient evidence to construct an animal or determine its taxa.

This post is the first installment (I'm targeting doing these once a week):

From the FAQ, first species:

Cladoselache (late Devonian) -- Magnificent early shark fossils, found in Cleveland roadcuts during the construction of the U.S. interstate highways. Probably not directly ancestral to sharks, but gives a remarkable picture of general early shark anatomy, down to the muscle fibers!

Commissar Stephen added these characteristics that suggest that this is 'not-shark':

No anal fin, two dorsal fins
***Terminal mouth*** (like a fish)
Jaws fused to its braincase
Fins were stiff and simplistic
no claspers (external fertilization?)

Here's my analysis of Cladoselache:

Cladoselache

Those characteristics supposedly establish Cladoselache as a shark predecessor - but it shares such characteristics for the most part with living shark species - and is referred to as a 'shark' in the literature.. There are currently something over 400 species classified as 'shark' - and they are a quite diverse fauna. In the shark family, the squatiniforms, pristiophoriforms, and squaliforms all have no anal fin and two dorsal fins, a number of species have a terminal mouth -

Frilledshark

the frilled shark (a living species which has even been suggested to be closely related to Cladoselache - and has a 'more primitive' tail) - and the whale shark are examples, the subclass bradyodonti is comprised of cartilaginous species of chimaeras and ratfishes (and you'll forgive me for grouping the cartilaginous species together) which for the most part have the upper jaw fused to the braincase. Certainly, the lack of claspers is a surprizing feature of this shark, but it can't be claimed as some sort of evolutionary predecessor, because xenacanths and Diademodus either 'preceeded' or were 'contemporary' of Cladoselache and they had claspers. Perhaps the lack of claspers is a good reason that this species is extinct :) In any event shark species are variously oviparous, ovoviviparous, and viviparous - so an oviparous reproduction mode for this species would be reasonable. Fin renderings in some of these links allow for flexible and complex characteristics.

Cladoselache2

Of course, Cladoselache is cartilaginous, has no significant rib cage, has a streamlined body plan, a number of gill slits on the side, dermal denticles covering the body, and rows of replaceable teeth - which is the gross definition of - a shark. Cladoselache: fascinating, interesting, unique ... shark.



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