River-slosher - Missing Link?

on December 22, 2007

ScienceNOW: “Long-Lost Relative of Whales Found? A team of paleontologists publishing in Nature has “identified” a fossil that is being hailed as the missing link connecting land mammals to our supposed (and closely related) evolutionary kin of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

The animal, described as an “extinct, raccoon-sized creature that sloshed along river bottoms,” is known as Indohyus, part of a group of extinct mammals called raoellids. Known “from little more than their teeth,” raoellids have been associated with hoofed mammals. Now, paleontologists led by Hans Thewissen (of Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine) have analyzed Indohyus fossils found in Kashmir more than two decades ago that were recently freed from surrounding rock.

The evidence is always more convincing when one already believes that some creature must connect one group of animals to another group.

So, what connects Indohyus to cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises)? According to Thewissen, it’s a bony feature called the “involucrum” that covers the inner ear and whose relative thickness is prominent in “all modern and fossil cetaceans.” In addition, the limb bones of Indohyus have thick outer layers, making them dense, like manatees, hippos, and “early whales.” Tooth chemistry analysis suggests Indohyus was water-faring, though carbon isotope analysis shows that Indohyus’s diet differed from that of early whales.

While Indohyus sounds like an interesting creature, we challenge that this evidence connects it evolutionarily with cetaceans. If hippos, manatees, and cetaceans are all mammals of varying aquatic lifestyles, we would expect them to have certain features in common, since (1) God would have designed them, to varying extents, for their habitats, and (2) adaptation through pre-existing information would promote certain features compatible with watery life. As we’ve pointed out in similar situations before, the evidence is always more convincing when one already believes that some creature must connect one group of animals to another group.

Furthermore, it is important to note that not all paleontologists are particularly persuaded that Indohyus is the “missing link” that cetacean-origin experts were looking for. The ScienceNOW article notes that a team set to publish in Cladistics postulates an extinct group of carnivorous mammals called “mesonychids” as more closely related to cetaceans. Additionally, the ScienceNOW article notes that “cetaceans are so different from any other creature that researchers haven’t been able to agree which fossil relatives best represent their nearest ancestors.”

Finally—and perhaps most notable—is that there is often little mention of “missing links” until researchers claim to have found them. That is (and as in this case), evolutionists only acknowledge gaps in the fossil record once they believe they have filled them!

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