Bad news for Creationists: archeologists have discovered yet another transitional fossil

May 1, 2009 | By | 69 Replies More

Archeologists in Canada have discovered the fossil of a previously unknown species that shows features of both land- and water-dwelling mammals.  Though not a direct ancestor of modern seals, the fossil nevertheless gives clues to how today’s water-dwelling mammals evolved.

One begins to wonder how complete the fossil record needs to be before Creationists admit they’ve been wrong all along.  Something tells me no amount of completeness will ever satisfy them.


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Category: Evolution, Religion

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (69)

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  1. Tony Coyle says:

    typos appear to be rife… apparently I'm non-demoninational

  2. Well, since the "lives" most oft "remembered" are always of really cool or famous or fascinating people, I think "lie" is just as appropriate.

  3. Tony Coyle says:


    If the average person is generally susceptible to such superstition, and the average rational person is not so susceptible, does that make the average rational person distinctly above average in terms of the general population (in ability to process information reliably), and that all those non-rational people are therefore generally below average?

    Run on sentences are so much fun, don't you think? (I should have used more (and (multiply) nested) parentheses, though!)

  4. Tony Coyle says:


    Maybe they do remember past lives as 'night-soil collectors' and such – but they are just too shy (or polite) to admit it? That must be it, surely!

  5. Hank says:

    Quoth Tony:

    "If the average person is generally susceptible to such superstition, and the average rational person is not so susceptible, does that make the average rational person distinctly above average in terms of the general population (in ability to process information reliably), and that all those non-rational people are therefore generally below average?"


    • Erich Vieth says:

      But Hank, your exceedingly pithy "yes" could not possibly have packed so much meaning had Tony not set you up so well with his impressive run-on question.

  6. Tony Coyle says:

    Why thank you. I'm even better at run on mouth (but then, I am a consultant…)

  7. Karl says:

    Tony, congradulate Hank.

    Hank, high five Tony.

    I am forced to agreee with you that you both have this "processing of peer reviewed materials stuff" down into a flawless insight of your above averageness.

    If you really believe those who don't trust what you espouse is because they can't process the information you wouldn't call them deluded. You would teach us how to develop/use your skills that make you above average. You certainly wouldn't mock someone you were trying to impress with your superiority unless you were at your wits end in dealing rationally with the person. Would Spock have rediculed Kirk for his human "illogical" responses? Would an above average processor of information need to intimidate others to their point of view?

    To me, it takes a stronger mind to resist from being overwhelmed by someone else's perspective than to jump on the band wagon becuase it agrees with one innate warped way of looking at the world that eliminates that which you don't understand by calling it non-existent.

  8. Tony Coyle says:

    Karl. It's called snark. sarcasm. humor. tongue in cheek.

    Three things:

    Facts DO have a liberal bias.

    Formal does not mean humorless.

    The only thing that tastes like butter is butter.

    To your last point – you equate a 'strong mind' with 'stubborn'. You also can't help but suggest that any other perspective than yours is somehow 'warped'.

    I definitely equate a 'strong mind' to being 'open to persuasion'

    Note that persuasion requires evidence. This is not about snake oil and nostrums. This is about conversion of a firmly held position with another different position, equally firmly held.

    If my position is already strongly supported by existing evidence, you need to demonstrate not only that your new approach satisfies that evidence too – but that it ADDS to the explanation, provides a better fit to the data, provides better or more accurate predictive power, and so on. If you have new evidence that does not fit current frameworks – then the frameworks need to be revised. You do need to demonstrate that your new evidence breaks the current paradigm. Otherwise you are simply engaging in baseless attacks. Otherwise, that's science. Constantly in flux. Constantly improving in predictive power. Constantly growing in breadth and depth.

    Simply wishing something to be so does not make it so. Just because you believe it in your heart does not constitute strong evidence.

    So — the statement I made (and Hank confirmed) was definitely snark, but it has (like all good humor) an element of truth.

    What do we mean by above average? From a rationality perspective, we mean a better than average ability to think, observe, and deduce rationally. So despite the statement being snark – it is also demonstrably true (for some definitions of average).

    Of course – this is purely one dimensional, and I would never stoop to painting people as being better of worse than others based on a single attribute (such as being gay, or moslem, or black, or asian, or southern, or a yankee, or a brit, or irish, or a catholic, or a jew, or …)

    I hope you get my point.

  9. I'm afraid I don't see "Rational" as a factor in intelligence. Sorry. I know several extremely intelligent people who are deeply invested in nonsense. One of the smartest people I've ever met has developed a remarkable theory conflating the second coming with UFOs. The details are amazing. I am in awe. If he were writing fiction, he might be considered brilliant rather than a nutjob.

    Noam Chomsky once made a good argument that "average" people—and by this he meant blue-collar, no college education—are often more skeptical than better educated people. He was referring specifically to politics, of course—his argument being that those who had been "through the system" have at some point accepted that system as a given, but those on the outside will examine it more critically.

    In any event, the acceptance of superstition and the level of intelligence, to me, are not equivalent. The ability to learn new things, maybe, but if you never have a chance to do that, what good is higher intelligence? No, this is the point where "belief" comes into it. When you look at the arguments and writings of the very religious etc, you must recognize a high degree of intellectual capacity—they have simply funneled it in a direction that runs counter to what others would see as reasonable.

    More intelligence does not guard against being wrong.

    The "average rational person" may well not be the brightest on any scale. Reason is a learned skill. It's application may depend somewhat on I.Q. but the fact that some people choose to believe the weirdest shit doesn't make them dumb.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      "More intelligence does not guard against being wrong."

      Think of hundreds of thousands of the highly educated people with business and legal degrees, many of them working on Wall Street, who have brought the country to its knees financially. High degree of "intelligence" certainly doesn't capture everything necessary to make a person wise or successful.

  10. Karl says:

    Intelligence means nearly nothing regarding your ability to stem your selfish tendencies.

    Some of the richest, most powerful people have these because of how they have manipulated the system to their advantage. Does that make them smart, immoral or some combination of the two?

    There are some intelligent people who choose to avoid direct agreement with the values of others simply because of their own moral stances, not because of their intelligence.

    Anyone can rationalize anything that they want to believe as more likely to be true than its antithesis be they actual lies or even clearly debatable issues.

    This is not intelligence, it is the influence of self and will upon the mind of a person. Thoughts are as easily manipulated by selfish desires than nearly everyone is willing to admit.

  11. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    Karl, You seem to be focusing on the combination of intelligence and hubris that marks those with sociopathic leanings.

    There are also those that combine intelligence with humility, those whose concept of morality is founded in the concept of improving life for everyone and not just themselves. These are the people that understand the meaning of stewardship. They acknowlege that their actions affect not only themselves but others and that seeking power, fame and wealth at the expense of others will eventually be bad for all.

    This "all hail the imperious leader" mentality is the legacy of monarchy. Whether the monarch is called King, Prince, or chairman of the board, doesn't matter. If the leader fails to address the needs of those who toiled to create his empire, the empire collapses.

  12. Karl writes:—"Thoughts are as easily manipulated by selfish desires than nearly everyone is willing to admit."

    Which "everyone"? For my part, I never claimed otherwise.

    Raw intelligence is not the issue. It is the application of it that makes a difference, and in this regard those who don't apply it tend—tend, mind you—to be less smart in action. You can have an I.Q. of 140 but if you do not move yourself to any kind of self knowledge, you'll likely be a moral idiot.

    Knowing, however, a bit about yourself and the potential for self-deception is the first step in avoiding the pitfalls.

  13. Tony Coyle says:

    Not to pile on Karl, but he does seem to bring it upon himself.

    Niklaus – $0.05 psychoanalysis of our friend.

    Karl is an authoritarian's wet dream. He is a perfect 'bottom'. (Freud would have found him a fabulous case study)

    His fears of 'selfishly applied intelligence' stem, I believe, from his own personal fears (cf his frequent comments on 'self-control' and 'moral fortitude' and 'abstention'). Without an external authority to tell him exactly what to do, Karl has no moral or ethical compass. He fears that everyone else is exactly as himself (projection) and thus fears those of us who declare our independence from his ultimate authority (god) since we are obviously simply a terrible accident waiting to happen.

    I feel sorry for anyone so burdened by fear that it controls their lives to the exclusion of everything else. The fact that Karl's particular delusion is shared by so many others allows it to flourish, and allows the sufferers to see themselves (in the way of many afflicted) as sane, and the rest of us as people requiring to be 'saved from ourselves'.

    It's a pity. He does appear to have a brain behind the fundamentalist window-dressing. What a waste.

  14. Karl says:

    Snarkishness, from how I have seen it, leads to more and more rationalizations to defend ones ideas and the construction of one sided truth out of matters that are actually values and ideas and not hard and fast facts or science.

    Again I state,

    This is not intelligence, it is the influence of personal perspective and will upon the mind of a person. Thoughts are as easily manipulated by selfish desires than nearly everyone is willing to admit.

  15. Karl says:

    There are only accidents, there is only animalistic conditioning to those who believe in nothing else than their physical existence.

    I guess people who choose to believe in "a higher power" need look no further than the rationality of the atheists.

    Care to enlighten me on just which variety of atheists have the "rationality" to ignore their emotional connections to life?

    Which ones are the pure logisticians that can take the premises and draw the right conclusions?

    Which ones can actually re-evaluate the nature of their premises once they've decided a specific course of action, or developed an habitual lifestyle.

    Which atheists have really eliminated all of the possibilities and which ones have only convinced themselves that they have?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: Cognitive scientists have not looked to old fashioned "rationality" to explain human cognition. Emotions are a big part of the equation. Cognition is not one-dimensional. Without emotion there is no such thing as rationality, as clearly demonstrated by Antonio Damasio. Therefore, you are (once again) knocking down a straw man. Wisdom is not about rationality, narrowly defined. You are trying to make the argument that atheists are one-dimensional and Christians are full-flowered humans. I don't buy it for a second. Makes me wonder whether you actually have any friends who are atheists. If you actually did, you would see that they are as multi-faceted as Believers. They have families they love, they often care about the environment and they seek to prevent human suffering.

  16. Tony Coyle says:

    Karl, you're asking me to substantiate my snarky statement.

    The claim was not about atheists being smarter. Simply, on average, more rational. Absent the elephant in the room (belief in god is not a rational belief) there is no more I can offer you. My statements made no other claim on 'the superiority of atheists'. I made no claim that atheists ignore their emotional connections to life. And you continue on your quest that there is only animalistic conditioning to those who believe in nothing else than their physical existence.

    You look at everything through your lens of 'god in everything'.

    What is it that you refuse to understand about emergent behaviors in complex system, about social behaviors driving (and supporting) empathy. We have even evolved have mirror neurons that help us to model 'the other'. (And it's been demonstrated that critters as distinct as mice and monkeys have mirror neurons)

    You continue to suggest that there is something wrong with being animalistic.


    We. Are. Animals!

    You might like to think that there is something intrinsically special and different about humans, but there is absolutely no evidence for that claim!

    We are animals. Deal with it.

    You also seem to have some weird perspective on what it means for me (and other atheists) when we talk about rational thought. Surprise! It's exactly the same as when anyone else talks about rational thought.

    As Mark pointed out recently – rational thought is not divorced from the messy reality of meat-space. None of us are 'pure intellect'. We all have biases (some of which change by the second) and are driven to various (non-zero) degrees by emotion. And none of us are rational in every circumstance.


    The more rational of us will take time to review and edit material in an attempt to remove bias. That's what I do in my professional capacity.

    I never send the first draft of an email. The first draft is always laden with visceral emotion, and that's not always a positive in business. I take the time to review and reconsider over a longer timeframe. In some cases I'll send the email as is (emotion is sometimes a useful messenger), but it is most often rewritten to dilute the emotion, while enhancing the 'rational' fact-based statements, questions, or directives.

    I don't know of anyone who suggests that any communication is emotion free, nor that atheists are any better at rational thought than non-atheists. My snarky comment was not about thought, per se. It was parenthetically about observation and evidence.

    Belief in the supernatural is, by definition, non-rational. It is not supported by any observational evidence. Philosophically you can make many cases for the supernatural, but in every single philosophical argument the case ultimately rests upon at least one unproven and unprovable assumption.

    You and I can argue rationally and with great erudition and intelligence about the supernatural. That does not make the supernatural rational – only our discussion about it. We must make an a priori claim about some aspects of reality that are not themselves amenable to rational thought, before we can have a rational discourse about the supernatural.

    And Karl – those a priori claims are different depending on your definition of 'supernatual'. I'm pretty certain you'd find little in common with a Wiccan.

    The snark was clearly and simply that people who demonstrate demonstrably non-rational behaviors (religion, woo) are therefore less rational (on average) that people who do not demonstrate non-rational behaviors.

    I know that almost everyone is capable of rational thought (in some degree or other), and that such is not a proxy for intelligence. The snark was that people must set that rationality aside for religion.

    I'm unsurprised that you don't get it.

  17. Tony Coyle says:


    Please read my response, along with Erich's comment regarding 'rational' thought. As I state above, and Erich references – rationality does not stand alone- and no-one claimed that it did. It is merely a component of cognition.

  18. Karl says:

    On this issue, I agree with you Erich as I have in the past over this matter.

    We may disagree over the source of wisdom, but we do agree it is needed.

    I'm making the point that those who think their rationality is the end all of this matter can conclude at any point they wish that their line of thinking is more approriate than any other way of thinking, and this is where the rub comes in.

    Some claim they can be altruistic and not have to worry about their emotions clouding their perspective.

    Others are glad to take the side of anyone whose line of thinking actually gives them more freedom to do what they actually want to do, whatever that may be. This is a "works for me" mindset. What the specific things are that they want to do doesn't really matter to you or them as long as they eventually get license/approval to do it.

    No one can prevent people from deciding they want to do something or from preventing them from actually trying or doing the things their hearts are set upon doing, if they want it badly enough.

    In fact strict, raw libertarians really ignore the possibility of their having an offensive view of their animalistic nature, so nothing should be kept in check through external laws and guidleines. They think every man has an inner rationality and right to do what they want.

    Realistic libertarians know at some point there must be regulated societal laws and guidelines or everyday will bring unexpected harm from those who wish to impose their will upon others, because there would be no reason to have a police force because the laws and guidelines shouldn't exist.

    Mankind would degenerate back to brutes who don't want to learn anything without an immediate survival value.

    I do not fear this happening, however I see it happening all around me.

    You see it as well Erich, but you only seem to be upset about the financial elite, the hypocritical Republicans, and religious bigots who are acting upon their libertarian views of how the work ought to work for them. They are wrong, but others who want to throw off more and more sexual restraint are to be your friends because you really do identify with them, at least in your public persona.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: There are selfish, proudly ignorant, bigoted, lazy, arrogant and destructive atheists out there. I don't deny that.

      I don't tend to pick on them at this site because they don't form an cohesive political movement, as do the fundamentalists and right-wing conservatives.

      Nor do I tend to pick on selfish, proudly ignorant, bigoted, lazy, arrogant and destructive people (atheist or not) who are not part of such politically-anchored and empowered movements. They exist and they hurting our way of live, no matter what their religious orientation, but they don't stand out as effective politically empowered movements.

  19. Karl says:

    Who do you think the selfish, proudly ignorant, bigoted, lazy, arrogant and destructive atheists out there vote for< Aren't they a part of somebody's big tent?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      There are lots of atheists of every political stripe, including neocons, Republicans, Independents and Libertarian. As far as I can tell, atheism is not a political movement. There are thousands of types of atheists. Many people who consciously consider themselves to be atheists don't go to church. Other than that, it is impossible to categorize them.

  20. Tony Coyle says:


    Do you believe in Ganesh? Kali? Shiva?


    How about Zeus? Poseidon? Cthulhu?

    Not those either?

    Then you too are atheist, with regards to those particular gods.

    I'm just atheist with regards to yours.

    Much of the world's population are in disagreement as to who their god is, and why their god is best. The rest of us just wish they would get on with it quietly and stop making such a fuss.

    a-theist. Without god. not denying. not against. not actively campaigning to eliminate. just without.

    That's all that atheists (per atheism) have in common.

    Stop trying to conflate atheism with every negative behavior and moral lapse. It can't and won't stick, and just makes you look stupid for continuing to try.

  21. NIklaus Pfirsig says:

    Tony, I have observred that Conservative Fundamentalists have a tendency to project their own mindset onto those that disagree. The argument that the masses are to self serving to do what's right for society and for the best interests everyone should submit to the morality and leadership of the clergy is in fact the exact same reasoning used by Sayyid Qutb as he founded the radical Islamist movement.

  22. Tony Coyle says:

    Oh, and Karl. This particular atheist doesn't vote!

    Not by choice, mind you. I am not a citizen, so I don't have a franchise in this country – I am ineligible to vote (I can;t even vote for the dogcatcher or the school board)

    Yet…. I pay my taxes!

    hmmm! No taxation without representation? Where have I heard that before? I'm sure someone will tell me!

  23. Karl says:

    I seriously doubt there are thousands of types of atheists, unless every atheists can declare that their variety is uncategorizable because they can always decide they don't fit any of the general types.

    Even if there is some amalgamation of types there is a limit in reality to what is claimed in theory and what exists in reality.

    Do a little investigative research and I'm sure there is a limit to the degree of "Anti-anything" that exist in terms of rational thought. Unless the concept is totally irrational from a mathematical perspective.

    In one sense there could be a "Thousand Faces of God," but these can certainly be organized into types of disbelief or skepticism.

    Why not do a survey of those who you know call themselves atheists and see what amalgamation of types they believe they are?

    Why not do a survey of those who you know call themselves atheists and see what political party they favor and which specific policies they currently favor?

    Why not take a survey of those who you know call themselves political activists and see what party they represent of late?

    Why not put together a consensus building document that really offers people freedom to explain to each other what "type of atheist" they think they are.

    That should be fairly easy to do as you have an outstanding following with this website.

    Surely you can do better than a "Heinz 57" variety statement.

    Here are some sites to do some research about the varieties and perspectives of atheists.

  24. Tony Coyle says:

    Karl. The only thing that a-theists have in common, is that they lack "belief in god(s)". They are simply non-theistic. Non deist. No god. end of story.

    There are PEOPLE who are a-theist who believe in many other things – good, bad, and indifferent. The only commonality is that they are atheist.

    You argument is based upon a logical fallacy. please stop.

    You're supposed to be a teacher – please apply some logic to the situation. You are making a stupid category error that you would decry (I hope) in a student paper.

  25. Alison says:

    All atheists are the same. All blondes are the same. All left-handed people are the same. All people who believe in ghosts are the same. All nurses are the same. All people who have MBAs in advertising are the same. All people who were raised in stable two-parent households in three-bedroom/two bath houses in primarily white suburbs with good school systems are the same.

    In any of these groups, whether they are defined by something genetic, something that is a life choice, something that was shaped by their environment, you could never possibly find thousands of different types. Plus, what they have in common is a similarity of social and political agendas, and almost identical thought processes. The homogeneity is undeniable. Pluck a thousand of them out and put them in a room, and you won't be able to tell them apart.

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