Creation v. Evolution Watch: Fossilized Transitional Ancestor of the Seal Discovered in Canada

A missing link between seals and land mammals. The animal is named “Puijila darwini”:

The official Canadian Museum of Nature website exploring this new find is here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to Creation v. Evolution Watch: Fossilized Transitional Ancestor of the Seal Discovered in Canada

  1. Jared K. says:

    To quote this video at around the 2:00 mark:

    “In the scientific literature it is fairly accepted that the most likely center of origin for pinnipeds . . . would’ve been on the west coast of North America. . . We’ve actually found this animal in the high arctic and so this stirs things up. . .”

    Perhaps someone prior to this discovery once insisted:

    “The evidence is simply overwhelming that the ancestors of all modern pinnipeds today came from the North American west coast, and were most closely related to the northern elephant seals of San Simeon(who are still living there today). Put differently: “Adam and Eve pinniped”—or the first modern pinniped ancestors of all living pinnipeds today—whatever name you give them—were American—and not arctic. Period. And to deny this in the 21st century, and to teach something otherwise to your children, is not just a gross distortion of history, but Americophobic.”

    Not to deny the data on Adam and Eve in your earlier post, but only to make the point that scientific inferences to these types of ancient places of origin are inherently slippery.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Your point is well taken. I do think, however, that there is a law of diminishing returns here. In other words, some things are so improbable (in terms of being overturned) that it makes sense to use the factive verb (we “know” this, we have “discovered” that etc.). With regard to seal evolution being from the west coast of North America, and not the Arctic, there is probably not the concurrence of evidence that there is with regard to human evolution. But genetic, linguistic, and fossil evidence all seem to concur strongly on human origins in Africa, and probably southwest or southeast Africa. One visual clue to all of this has even been long noted in anthropologists’ descriptions of the African San people. Many of them have curiously Asian features that were obviously selected for as some of their distant ancestors moved further north and east. It would be surprising, indeed, to find a newpaper article, 20 years from now, that says: “Oops. Scientists discover that the earth is just six thousand years old!” or “Oops, we thought humans came out of Africa, but it was actually Mesopotamia!” or “Oops! Only 60,000 people died during the Holocaust!”

    Some things are well enough established in history and science that we can say that we “know” what happened, and some things aren’t. With regard to human evolution, the concurrence of evidence points in a compelling direction.

    —Santi

  3. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    You said: “Scientific inferences to these types of ancient places of origin are inherently slippery.”

    I just wanted to address the metaphor of “slippery” that you’ve used here. Slippery suggests a degree of tenuousness, and an inability to stand up with belief concerning a thing, that I cannot accept with regard to many important things. There is nothing inherently slippery about some historical events. Some things, by a convergence of pieces of evidence, we can know beyond a reasonable doubt. I think that the fact that plants and animals have changed over time, that the earth is old, that about 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, that there were no bees and flowers at the time of the dinosaurs, that the moon is the product of a collision between earth and a planetoid, and that humans came out of Africa are examples of things that we know, and that are not, by any reasonable evidential standard, “inherently slippery.” The convergence of evidence is too compelling for reasonable doubt about them.

    —Santi

  4. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    I’ve always loved Thoreau, and he said, in Walden, what I’m trying to say (and he did it much more concisely):

    “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

    —Santi

  5. Jared K. says:

    Santi,
    I appreciate your responses, and I am not trying to sound like some global skeptic. From what little I know about it, the out-of-Africa theory seems to be supported by fairly strong evidence, particularly from mitochondrial dna.

    My only reservation is that I don’t want to dig in my heels and say that we know beyond all reasonable doubts, and beyond all plausible future discoveries, that this theory of human origins (describing a relatively small population of hominids from some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago well after the time when we know that numerous other hominids had migrated to all other areas of the world) is end of the discussion on the question of where homo sapiens first appeared. That is, I wouldn’t say that we have the same strong degree of confidence about this that we do with other matters—like the old age of the universe, for example.

    It reminds me a bit of the quote attributed to Lord Kelvin in 1900: “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

    I’m only saying that it seems to me that the work of the ancient physical anthropologist involves piecing together fragments of evidence and building models that rely on inference-stacked-upon-inference. I’m not denying that the earth is old, or that evolution happened, or that humans originated somewhere other than a literal garden of eden in Iraq, I’m only suggesting that this surely is one of the most speculative areas of the hard sciences that there is. I admit that there is good evidence for the theory and this is the best model we currently have, but surely there is a great deal that we don’t even understand about the American Civil War era, let alone about something that happened 150,000 years ago.

    I would defend the out-of-africa theory if confronted by some young-earth-creationist, because it represents the best science we have at the moment, but I would not hold it so certain that we may rule out the likelihood of discovering it to be substantially wrong down the road—I don’t think the evidence is that strong. But maybe that is because I am not trained in physical anthropology, I dunno.

    I don’t think we are that far off on this, I guess I just don’t have quite the level of confidence that you do.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Fair enough. I think that your skepticism is healthy. It may be that, a century from now, scientists might say something different about this than they do now. But I think it is highly improbable. Why? Because the claim is very narrow. The claim is this: All MODERN HUMANS LIVING TODAY share genetic markers that trace back, in their most concentrated fashion, to the San people of southeast Africa. And it also just so happens that the San people speak a click language that anthropologists and linguists say is characteristic of our earliest language families. That’s quite a convergence of independent pieces of evidence.

    Also, the claim is NOT that human-like primates (from homo-Hablilis in Asia to Neanderthals in Europe) are not part of the human family tree. They obviously are species BRANCHES that we share with a common ancestor. But fully modern humans—people with a genetic composition scarcely different from yours and mine—trace back to the ancient ancestors of the San people. The San show genetic markers that are common with more living humans than any other peoples. By a process of elimination, MODERN “Adam and Eve” must have been Africans whose descendents moved out of Africa and spread through Europe and Asia. It’s a narrow claim about recent human evolutionary history, not an overriding claim about the history of all Homo species across the planet.

    Obviously, the first “Adam” and the first “Eve” had ancestors too. What the DNA tells us is how far back the common modern human line goes. If the San people had gone “extinct”, say, 500 years ago, scientists would have focused in on another group of people. In other words, the genetic commonalities between living groups of humans would have traced elsewhere. But this is as far back as we can go with regard to modern human beings. And that is the San people—whose genetic signature shares the most commonalities with all other human groups now living. The linguistic evidence simply supports that the DNA evidence is reliable.

    —Santi

  7. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    One more thing here. We talk about a mitochondrial DNA “EVE” and a paternal DNA “ADAM”—but from what I’ve read, these two individuals who have managed to send their DNA up through the modern human line without elimination through the millenia WOULD HAVE LIVED AT DIFFERENT TIMES. In other words, the two individuals probably didn’t know each other, or live at the same time. They came from Africa, yes, and they fall into a certain geographic range, but their lives may have been separated from one another by, say, a couple of hundred years. It really makes no real sense, in short, to speak of ADAM and EVE (except as short hand for the DNA of the single male and the single female that modern humans can trace their ancestry to, and whose DNA maternal and paternal line has managed to reach all the way to now).

    —Santi

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