Saturday, November 06, 2010

Dan Margoliss on Glenn Beck and Evolution

Dan Margoliss of the Morning Star UK has an issue with Glen Beck, who took a pot shot at evolution the other day:
"I think [evolution's] ridiculous," Beck said recently on his radio show. He went on to make a number of statements to bolster his claim that Darwinian natural selection is nonsense - but his claims showed only how little he knows of the subject.
Well, he wouldn't be the first conservative talk show host that completely botched evolutionary theory. Fox news regularly has on people like Kirk Cameron who doesn't know the first thing about the subject. Along the way, though, Margoliss writes something involving the human fossil record that, I will venture, is completely unknown to this group of evolution-haters:

We are Homo sapiens. The species before us was Homo erectus. If you were to revive a Homo erectus and put him next to a modern human being, it would be easy to tell the difference which was which.

However, if you were to revive all of our preceding generations and put one member of each in line, until it reached the generation of our recently revived ancestor Homo erectus, you'd have a problem of classification.

It would be virtually impossible to mark where Homo erectus ended and where Homo sapiens began. Each generation would be slightly more like the next species than the previous one.

Evolution is a process of gradual change - very gradual - over thousands of generations. It's not as if a Homo erectus gave birth to a Homo sapiens. Every single generation is, in a sense, intermediate.

It's precisely because whole generations are missing that we are able to label the different species. Otherwise we'd have no idea where to draw the line between humans and our ancestors.

Some would argue that Homo erectus did not give rise to Homo sapiens and that Homo sapiens neandertalensis is a separate species, but I will follow Wolpoff on this lead.

When Kirk Cameron stood there in front of the cameras and said he couldn't possibly believe in evolution because he had never seen "one of these, a crockaduck," I thought he was joking. Then I realized that this level of knowledge about evolutionary theory is commonplace.

The human fossil record is so good and there are so many transitions that we have trouble telling one species apart from another. Is the Bodo cranium (shown here on the left) late Homo erectus or is it archaic Homo sapiens? I have seen it classified as both. The point is that evolution happens in mosaic fashion, regardless of whether you employ a systematics model or a phenetic one. The fossil record is what it is and for humans and their precursors, it is quite good.

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