The story “Lizard Fossil Provides Missing Link to Show Body Shapes of Snakes and Limbless Lizards Evolved Independently” starts off on the right foot (ScienceDaily, May 19, 2011):
Until a recent discovery, theories about the origins and evolutionary relationships of snakes barely had a leg to stand on.
Not that we ever heard that then, of course. In a striking case of convergent evolution, a tiny, 47 million-year-old lizard fossil, Cryptolacerta hassiaca, offers “the first anatomical evidence that the body shapes of snakes and limbless lizards evolved independently.”:
The fossil reveals that amphisbaenians are not closely related to snakes, but instead are related to lacertids, a group of limbed lizards from Europe, Africa and Asia. “This is the sort of study that shows the unique contributions of fossils in understanding evolutionary relationships,” says Professor Robert Reisz from the University of Toronto Mississauga, the senior author of the study. “It is particularly exciting to see that tiny fossil skeletons can answer some really important questions in vertebrate evolution.”
Well, yes, but when “understanding evolutionary relationships” means “turning assumed relationships on their head,” some ask: Why should anyone believe this version as opposed to the one that is to come?
Is there any point at which we are allowed to say, “With respect, sir, we don’t think you know enough to be so sure.”?