This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward
Evolution is a hard pill to swallow. We grow up in cultures that constantly shovel the idea that we are something special in the grand scheme of things. Many belong to faiths which suggest we are not at all linked to the natural world around us.
This being said, I will once again go on record saying that I do not “believe” in evolution. Rather, I understand why evolution is correct given its tremendous amount of evidence backing it up.
The “it’s just a theory” argument is absurd and unfounded, so let me clear this up right away, if you use that argument, you have absolutely no idea what constitutes a theory and you’re probably meaning a “hypothesis,” which evolution is not.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace published their theory of evolution over 150 years ago, a theory that has gained momentum as our understanding of genetics and heredity advanced.
Darwin’s ideas became firmly cemented in the scientific cannon with only one troublesome argument made by its detractors, “Where are the transitionary fossils?” This was a big, big problem if evolution through natural selection was true, but since I’m writing this article, you can guess what I’m going to say next, they do indeed exist.
These “missing-link” fossils, while rare, are the gavel smash on the case for natural selection. Why we have only recently been able to uncover these specimens is a testament as how unbelievably hard it is to make a fossil. To become one, you must first die in an area that is suitable for fossilization to occur i.e. somewhere wet where your body can quickly become covered up before something comes along and eats you.
Next your body should be undisturbed as the process of mineralization of your bones takes a ridiculous amount of time. Finally after you become a fossil, in order to be discovered, plate tectonics and erosion must allow your remains to be thrust upwards instead of downwards to be destroyed in the furnace of the Earth’s mantle.
This show’s that fossil’s are actually incredibly rare, yet we can use the scientific method to predict where a certain species’ remains ought to be found, this is exactly what happened a few years ago.
Dr. Neil Shubin, a fish paleontologist who teaches human anatomy at the University of Chicago Medical School (pretty cool, right?), worked with a small team of scientists in an effort to locate a transitionary fossil from the Devonian period (375 million years ago). This is the time where life was thought to began leaving the oceans to walk on land. This hypothesis could only be proven if this half fish, half amphibian truly existed.
To prove their hypothesis, Shubin poured over geological surveys to find an exposed rock formation from the Devonian period, which they found in Northern Canada.
Leading this expedition, Shubin and his team dug for weeks in polar-bear-infested territory until just before the end of their journey, something remarkable happened. Jutting out of a rock as if surfacing for a long overdue breath of air was the head of a transitionary fossil they named Tiktaalik.
This half fish, half amphibian had the anatomy necessary to both swim and move about on land, definitive proof for Darwin’s century-old theory of evolution through natural selection.
Let’s end by marveling on how awesome that discovery is, a true testament to how exhilarating science can be. They had an idea, did the math, formulated a plan, executed it and proved their hypothesis. I don’t know about you, but that’s a whole lot cooler than what mother goose taught me.