THE CASE OF THE MISSING LINKS
Where are Darwin's Predicted Fossils?
The discovery of DNA has revolutionized the world of forensic evidence. Cold case files have been reopened. Criminals who thought they had beaten the system have been belatedly prosecuted by a swab of saliva or body fluids forgotten about for decades. And in some instances, the new evidence has exonerated innocent prisoners.
Herman Atkins was just 20 years old when his life began to fall apart. He was imprisoned in January, 1986 for wounding three people in a shooting spree in South-Central Los Angeles. Prior to his imprisonment a “Wanted” poster had been widely circulated.
Later, at a sheriff’s substation, a 23 year-old rape victim glanced at a “Wanted” poster on a nearby table that showed a young black fugitive from Los Angeles. In court, she testified that she turned to her mother and said, “That’s him,” and pointed at the picture of Herman Atkins.
A clerk from an adjoining business where the attacker stopped briefly before the rape also identified Atkins. Based primarily upon these eyewitness testimonies, the jury found Herman Atkins guilty of rape and robbery. His sentence: 47 years, 8 months in prison. Atkins spent thirteen years, three months, and six days in state prison, but not for a crime he had committed. His cold case had been reopened, and the DNA evidence had revealed that Atkins was not the rapist. On February 18, 2000 he walked out a free man, the victim of mistaken identity.
Just as DNA has revolutionized criminal forensics, the work of paleontologists has shed new light on human origins. Being an honest man, Charles Darwin made no bones (pardon the pun) about predicting that the forensic fossil evidence would ultimately prove his theory right or wrong.
But just as experts can jump to the wrong conclusion with regard to criminal evidence, so in the world of paleontology, a tooth, jaw, or piece of skull has often created premature headlines of “Missing Link Found.” Paleontologist Michael Boulter summarizes the problem with identifying fossils correctly:
It’s very hard to piece together a few broken bones from a fossilized group of differentially aged primates scattered over a desert or cave floor and to be sure that they come from the same animal….It follows that the reliability of any description that attempts to recognize an actual species cannot be totally objective.1
Boulter is alluding to the fact that, being human, most scientists look at a fossil through the lens of their own presuppositions. For example, those who wanted to make a case for humans descending from apes were quick to jump with joy over the supposed discovery of the “missing link” called Piltdown Man. Featured in the London Times, New York Times, and various science journals, they made it a textbook example of the connection between apes and humans. However, forty years later, in 1953, it was revealed as a fraud.
Frauds like the Piltdown Man are rare, and although objectivity is often lacking, there is actually a wealth of fossil evidence depicting the history of life on our planet.
So in order to see what the forensic evidence says about Darwin’s theory, we need to hear from paleontologists themselves about the evidence they have gathered during the nearly 150 years since he launched his theory. Our starting point is to clearly understand the predictions Darwin made regarding his theory and the fossils that should have resulted.
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