Casey: Why Are There Still Walking Lungfish?

The The University of Chicago Medical Center reports this news item: A small step for lungfish, a big step for the evolution of walking, which says:

The eel-like body and scrawny “limbs” of the African lungfish would appear to make it an unlikely innovator for locomotion. But its improbable walking behavior, newly described by University of Chicago scientists, redraws the evolutionary route of life on Earth from water to land.

[T]he African lungfish can use its thin pelvic limbs to not only lift its body off the bottom surface but also propel itself forward. Both abilities were previously thought to originate in early tetrapods, the limbed original land-dwellers that appeared later than the lungfish’s ancestors.

The observation reshuffles the order of evolutionary events leading up to terrestriality, the adaptation to living on land. It also suggests that fossil tracks long believed to be the work of early tetrapods could have been produced instead by lobe-finned ancestors of the lungfish.

This has, of course, other evolutionary implications. The article says:

The discovery suggests that many of the developments necessary for the transition from water to land could have occurred long before early tetrapods, such as Tiktaalik, took their first steps on shore. Lobe-finned ancestors of the lungfishes as well as tetrapods could have evolved hindlimb propulsion and the ability to walk on the substrate at the bottom of a lake or marsh millions of years before limbs with digits and land-dwelling animals appeared.

Okay, now for the fun part. Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist, has written about this at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

Casey’s article is Do Amphibian-Like Fish Necessarily Confirm Darwinian Evolution? Not at All. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us, and his links omitted. He discusses the new lungfish research and then says:

In other words, modern lungfish have certain walking abilities that were previously thought to be unique to the fish that allegedly led to tetrapods (i.e. 4-legged vertebrates) some 370-400 million years ago. … Now obviously living “walking” lungfish in 2011 aren’t in the process of evolving into tetrapods. According to neo-Darwinian theory, that transition supposedly took place about 370 million years ago. Living lungfish are supposedly descended from lungfish that have remained lungfish for hundreds of millions of years.

This sounds a lot like “Why are there still monkeys?” But let’s read on:

My point has nothing to do with the facile and incorrect “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” argument. Rather, I’m rebutting those who cite specific similarities between fish and amphibians at specific periods as providing special evidence for evolution.

Actually, it has everything to do with the goofy monkey question. Casey can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that some ancient species, although long ago they may have been ancestral to a great variety of evolutionary descendants, nevertheless persist and still exist today, along with their mutated cousins. He continues:

Perhaps we shouldn’t mistake 370 my [he means "million years"] old fish with amphibian-like characteristics as necessarily providing some kind of special evidence of a transition between fish and amphibians.

No? Why not? He goes on:

Evolutionary paleontologist Neil Shubin [who discovered Tiktaalik, a fish-tetrapod transitional fossil], quoted in the article, spins it this way:

[Casey's purported quote of Shubin's "spin":] What we’re seeing in lungfish is a very nice example of how bottom-walking in fish living in water can easily come about in a very tetrapod-like pattern.

What’s wrong with that? Casey explains:

What we’re also seeing is a very nice example of how fish with tetrapod-like walking behavior need not have anything to do with a transition from fish to tetrapods.

What’s his point? Is he saying that evolution from fish to tetrapods must have been the handiwork of the magic designer? Moving along:

Few scientists were previously interested in carefully investigating the walking abilities of lungfish. Why is Shubin suddenly interested in them now? Shubin’s motivation is revealed at the end of this article:

[Casey's purported quote:] These findings might also make us rethink whether recently discovered approximately 380-million-year-old tracks were in fact made by early tetrapods. They could have been created by other kinds of fish instead.

What does that mean to Casey? He tells us:

Ah, now it all makes sense. Last year on ENV we talked about how tetrapod tracks in Poland from 397 million years ago challenged Shubin’s claims (and the claims of many others) that the discovery of Tiktaalik in “rocks of just the right age” fulfilled “specific predictions” of evolutionary biology. … To be more specific, the tracks implied that tetrapods lived about 20 million years before Tiktaalik, meaning that Tiktaalik‘s placement in the fossil record was no longer “just the right age” for it to be a direct transitional form between fish and amphibians.

Okay, we get it. This is part of Casey’s war on Tiktaalik (see Discovery Institute: Tiktaalik — a “Fraudulent” Transitional Fossil). Then he drives his point home:

This is why Shubin is interested now in studying lungfish to see how they might also produce walking tracks. He’s hoping to show that perhaps these Polish tracks don’t prove tetrapods predated Tiktaalik after all. So Shubin’s motive for this research has everything to do with preserving the status of Tiktaalik — a fossil he discovered, wrote books about, and from which he won much of his fame — as a direct transitional form between fish and amphibians.

Casey’s article goes on a bit, but you get the general idea: Shubin and his Tiktaalik discovery are somehow discredited, and by implication that means the magic designer — blessed be he! — is the only answer to this otherwise incomprehensible puzzle. And although he attempted to deny it, his argument is based on the goofball question: “Why are there still walking lungfish?”

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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14 responses to “Casey: Why Are There Still Walking Lungfish?

  1. One can draw certain analogies between living organisms and businesses. Both living things and businesses exist in some sort of environment, and they grow and prosper if and while the environment can support them. If the environment changes, they may adapt or they may go extinct. If a new environment (business opportunity) opens up, a new life form (business) may arise, but the ancestor may carry on as long as the old environment still supports it. Studebaker Brothers used to make horse-drawn wagons, but they switched to making automobiles when that market was booming. Does that mean that nobody builds horse-drawn wagons anymore? Not at all – just ask the Amish. Similarly, just because some lungfish evolved into non-aquatic creatures doesn’t mean that there’s no longer an environment that supports lungfish — obviously, there are still habitats that support them.

    Religuous business-folk should be able to understand this analogy — even the Amish!

  2. Why is Luskin making these arguments? Luskin is a lawyer and has no credentials in any evolutionary discipline. If he were to direct his queries to the actual investigators themselves, he might get his answers.

    However, I don’t think Luskin is interested in any answers from REAL scientists. Instead, he wants to ask high school children so that they will come to the oogity boogity conclusion.

  3. Ceteris Paribus

    The provenance of a paleontologically focused news release issued by the University of Chicago Medical Center may seem weird. But some economist once quipped that the University of Chicago was founded as a Baptist institution, which employs a Jewish faculty, to teach economics to their atheistic graduate school students.

  4. Isn’t Casey the one that complained about the lack of civility amongst ID critics just recently? Just asking…

    Dr. Shubin’s research is quite interesting, and it was thoughtful of Casey to bring it to our attention. He’s obviously interested in the critical stage of tetrapod evolution in which the transition from marine to land-dwelling creatures occurred. His article seems to add another piece of data to the puzzle, and builds on the sequence of events. Very early lungfish-like tetrapods may have evolved locomotion similar to modern lungfish which involved pushing themselves along the bottom of ponds or swampy areas, leaving tracks which have been preserved. Descendents, such as Tiktaalik, with stronger limbs, eventually took the next step of moving onto banks, out of the water, either in search of insects or other food, or to escape predators. “Walking on the bottom” is a completely sensible stage in the process. Lung-fish demonstrate that the method is useful for fish in that habitat, and could therefore have also occurred in similar creatures 370-400 million years ago.

    It’s hard to imagine that Casey is so dense as to not understand what Shubin is claiming. I think he understands it perfectly well, and perhaps that is why he has to work so hard to malign Shubin and lie about the findings.

  5. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Its like someone saying “hey, modern chimps have opposable thumbs. But human hands are supposed to have evolved, so that disproves evolution!”

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, he goes and shoots himself in the foot about the whole Tiktaalik thing. Casey is trying to argue that Tik was not the first species to have a tetrapodal gait. But, you can’t claim Tik inherited that trait from an earlier species without, you know, admitting Tik descended from an earlier species. Spectacular Pyrrhic victory there, Casey – using evolutionary cladistics to try and claim Shubin didn’t discover the first evolved tetrapod, but rather a later one.

  6. Even if there were tetrapods prior to Tiktaalik this does not invalidate it as a probable transitional form. There may have been and likely were other “false starts” and there easily could have been other “walking fish” prior to and leading up to Tiktaalik. Tiktaalik merely demonstrates that at the time we think the transition to tetrapods was occurring, there were indeed organisms transitional from true fish to true tetrapod. Could there have been earlier critters making the transition? sure, why not? It’s interesting to note the “lung” appears to have evolved in 4 separate lineages at different times. Similar pressures can and do make similar solutions.

  7. The ever civil Attack Gerbil, Luskin, writes so slandarously:

    So Shubin’s motive for this research has everything to do with preserving the status of Tiktaalik — a fossil he discovered, wrote books about, and from which he won much of his fame — as a direct transitional form between fish and amphibians.

    According to Luskin, Shubin’s motives as a scientist are based in greed and pride. Nice one, Luskin, a great demonstration of mendacious intellectual pornography as was ever written! And you wonder why people dispise you, Luskin? Really?

  8. Stargazer: “However, I don’t think Luskin is interested in any answers from REAL scientists. Instead, he wants to ask high school children so that they will come to the oogity boogity conclusion.”

    He’s very interested in answers from scientists because that just gives him more data and quotes to take out of context to promote unreasonable doubt. What he is deathly afraid of is questions about his alternate “theory.” Fortunately he gets almost none, because critics invariably prefer to “take the bait.”

    What screams to be exploited in this latest rant is that he appears to accept that Earth was teeming with life 300-400 MY ago. YECs and young-life OECs would not appreciate that no matter how much they crave oogity boogity. Worse, he does not challenge Behe, who has made it clear that all those changes that occurred due to “design” and not “Darwinism” occurred in-vivo from – gasp! – common ancestors.

  9. Why is there still a walking Casey Luskin???

  10. My Polypterus ornatipinnis is a fish that can breathe air and crawl on land short distances. There’s lots of fish that can do that.

    It looks like a snake with feet.

    Casey is moving goalposts–this is a standard argument of creationists. First they argue that a development is so unlikely that it could not have evolved. Then, when shown it is not unlikely at all, they retreat to saying that even if it’s likely or unlikely you have to prove that the specific examples we see are descended from other specific examples. But they never admit the goalpost shift.

  11. Unfortunately for Luskin and the rest of the orcs at the Disco Tute, he’s been misrepresenting science for too long to be accorded a pass that he simply misread an article or didn’t understand it. No, as a professional Christian propagandist he knows full well what he is doing and plies his deceitful lies deliberately.

    The story of the discovery of Tiktaalik is not diminished one whit by Luskin’s desperate whining. Shubin’s team and grad students worked in the inhospitable wilds of Elsmere Island for five years hacking through 375 million years old Devonian deposits looking for remains of an unknown creature they thought would represent a transitional form between marine and terrestrial life.

    Their funding had run out and they had only a few days of field work remaining before they would have to regroup, reassess their strategy and possibly abandon the site. They had discovered some scree containing Devonian era fish remains and were working to identify the source outcrop when they discovered the “snout.”

    Fish don’t got no snouts.

    However, in the remaining time all they could do was hack out some large blocks and hope something could be recovered during restoration. And the rest is history and a good read in Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.”

    The point is that Shubin’s team discovered a transitional form between fish and tetrapods in exactly the right era rocks where one would expect to find such a creature. The point is that Shubin’s team spent five years in northern Canada where there were Devonian outcrops specifically because evolutionary theory predicted that if a transitional form existed, it might be found in those rocks. They went to that spot on purpose.

    What is disturbing and slanderous is how Luskin and the DI has from the moment of Tiktaalik’s announcement endeavored to diminish the extraordinary work performed by dozens of researchers over nearly a decade, through lies, misrepresentation and propaganda. What Luskin does is reprehensible and he and the DI need to be held up to the light of ridicule and mockery at every opportunity.

  12. Doc Bill said:

    What Luskin does is reprehensible and he and the DI need to be held up to the light of ridicule and mockery at every opportunity.

    Don’t forget the occasional fart in their direction.

  13. I’m sure all their mothers are hamsters and their fathers stink of elderberry!

  14. Now tell them to go away, or we shall taunt them a second time!