Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the editor

More on Archaeopteryx
Roger J. Cuffey 
Dept. of Geosciences 
Pennsylvania State University 
University Park, Pa. 16802

From: JASA 24 (March 1972): 36.

Unfortunately, Professor Moore's criticism (Journal ASA 23, 159( 1971)) of my remarks concerning how extensively the fossil record supports the scientific concept of organic evolution continues a long-established tradition for antievolution writings. He dismisses the overwhelming evidence from the many transitional fossils known to paleontologists by terming it "circumstantial", ignores its obvious genetic (ancestordescendant) implications, and insists that "after its kind" limits variability forever (rather than just applying to the parent-child situation). The result of this aproach is well-illustrated by his mention of Archaeopteryx (or the synapsid reptiles) followed by his assertion that no intermediate or transitional fossils exist.

However, Archaeopteryx is in fact a good example of such a form, intermediate between the major groups of reptiles and birds (as is another, even more reptilian, Triassic form recently discovered and currently being studied by vertebrate paleontologists). I urge readers to examine museum specimens or detailed photographs of these fossils, and see for themselves how thoroughly intermediate Archaeopteryx really is. Some of its morphologic features-such as its large eyes, forelimb modified into a wing, and feathers-are birdlike. Other characters-like its elongated bony tail, functional fingers on its forelimb, and conical teethare reptile-like. Still others-such as its breastbone, somewhat expanded hrainease, and incompletely fused forelimb bones-are intermediate. If major different types of organisms had been independently created, we should find no transitional fossils bridging the morphological (and temporal) gaps between them. Consequently the existence of Archaeopteryx (and the many other transitional fossils) is fatal to that idea, in most paleontologists' opinion.

Misunderstanding sometimes arises from the practical necessity for taxonomists to assign all organisms to higher taxa (the so-called "major types") defined originally from studies of living animals before the fossil record was investigated. Consequently, most taxonomists place Archaeopteryx into the Class Ayes because it has feathers, although placing it into the Class Reptilia because it has teeth or a bony tail could he justified as well. Such practice perhaps tends to obscure to the non-specialist how truly intermediate between Ayes and Reptilia this fossil is in its total morphological pattern. (In fact, a number of scientists have pointed out this and other problems connected with the difficulty of using a hierarchical classification system to portray adequately the morphologic and chronologic continuum so often seen in the fossil record.)

In conclusion, with the fossil record yielding many examples of transitional fossils anatomically and temporally intermediate between recognized forms at both higher and lower taxonomic levels, is it any wonder that paleontologists have concluded that organic evolution was indeed the method of creation, and that those ignoring such overwhelming scientific evidence must have nothing worthwhile to say concerning religious matters as well?

A detailed discussion of these points will be presented in the Journal Dialogue an "Scientific Evidence and Evolution." Watch for it in a later issue.)