How does a life form that is still around get to be called a fossil at all?
On what terms exactly? We human beings aren’t “living fossils” just because someone can dig up the bones of our ancestors and find out that they looked and lived a lot like us! So what is the term really doing in science anyway?
Well, anyway, at Nautilus:
The idea that some species are relics that have stopped evolving is finally going extinct.
Charles Darwin coined the term “living fossil” in The Origin of Species to describe some of the planet’s more ambiguous creatures—such as the lungfish and platypus—that evolved relatively early and “endured to the present day.” He saw these animals as living proof of the evolutionary transitions between, say, ocean-dwellers and amphibians. Darwin was careful to point out that this phrase was “fanciful,” but it was also poetic and memorable. It quickly multiplied in both academic writing and the popular press. Eventually, it came to signify creatures that had emerged long ago and had not changed for eons, preserving a primitive appearance unlike any other living thing. “Living fossil” was no longer a passing phrase; it had become a powerful concept shaping scientists’ attitudes towards modern species. If certain creatures were frozen in evolutionary time, the reasoning went, then they could be our windows to ancient epochs of life.
Ah yes. Once again, our tax dollars hard at work supporting Darwinism.
The article is written very defensively, as it must be in these times of course, to reassure us that these creatures are all really still evolving, when there is good reason to doubt that all of them are evolving in any way that matters much:
“I think the term ‘living fossil’ should be retired,” Turner says. “It does little good because it is almost always based on oversimplifications. ‘Living fossils’ often are judged based on some notion of overall morphological similarity. That was the case with crocs. If you squint, these various lineages all sort of look the same, but the details are all different. It ignores how evolution works on multiple levels. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Oaks echoes him: “Overall, I think the term hurts more than it helps people’s understanding of evolution. Just because a species looks similar to fossils from many millions of years ago certainly does not mean that it has not evolved. The term ‘living fossil’ is often used in cases that are simply explained by low diversity; just because there are only one or several species that represent a taxonomic group does not mean they are evolutionarily static.”
In the last 10,000 years, humans have evolved blue eyes, lactose tolerance, and malaria resistance, to name a few recent adaptations.
Sure. Drop us a line when something more complex happens.
Meanwhile, here at UD, we are well ahead of them, but never mind. We suggested durable species as a new term in 2011. It may have its defects as a term, but doesn’t imply that whatever we are talking about is dead.
Can someone suggest a better term?
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