19 July 2009

Evolution Tales

Devilstower over at DKos (of all places) has a cool article about the evolution of horses, which he manages to link, in the style of Stephen Jay Gould, to the evolution of the Ford Mustang. Good storytelling, and worth a read.

Daily Kos: Mustang americanus
In 1874, Othniel Charles Marsh published a paper on the toes of horses -- a paper which is among the most widely reproduced, referenced, and adapted scientific findings in history. It may seem strange that a paper on a subject so esoteric should have such an impact, but timing is everything.

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, and quickly became the focus of praise and controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. In his book, Darwin used a variety of living and extinct creatures as evidence in support of his theory of natural selection, but admitted that the fossil record was sparse and contained many gaps.

Critics immediately seized on this point, demanding that those favoring natural selection produce specimens that provided convincing support for Darwin's theory. Without the backing of "stones and bones," they declared that natural selection was little better than informed speculation. In particular, critics pointed at the lack of "transition" specimens in the fossil record. If creatures had undergone such astounding alterations over time, as Darwin's theory required, then why were the stones so full of things that seemed to be all this or all that?
(And don't worry; it's entirely nonpolitical. Even if you hate DKos, it's worth the read, and I won't tell anyone you were hanging out at the Great Orange Satan.)

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