Not like a worm?

Ann Coulter is back to whining about evolution again, and this week she focuses on fossils. It's boring predictable stuff: there are no transitional fossils, she says.

We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record - for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.)

Darwin postulated that whales could have evolved from bears, but he was wrong…as we now know because we found a lot of transitional fossils in whale evolution. Carl Zimmer has a summary of recent discoveries, and I wrote up a bit about the molecular genetics of whale evolution. Whales have become one of the best examples of macroevolutionary transitions in the fossil record, all in roughly the last 30 years — which gives us a minimal estimate of how out of date Ann Coulter's sources are.

But then she writes this, which is not only wrong, but self-refuting.

To explain away the explosion of plants and animals during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago, Darwiniacs asserted - without evidence - that there must have been soft-bodied creatures evolving like mad before then, but left no fossil record because of their squishy little microscopic bodies.

Then in 1984, "the dog ate our fossils" excuse collapsed, too. In a discovery the New York Times called "among the most spectacular in this century," Chinese paleontologists discovered fossils just preceding the Cambrian era.

Despite being soft-bodied microscopic creatures - precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn't fossilize and therefore deprived them of crucial evidence - it turned out fossilization was not merely possible in the pre-Cambrian era, but positively ideal.

And yet the only thing paleontologists found there were a few worms. For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

It's so weird to read that: yes, people have been predicting that the precursors to the Cambrian fauna would have been small and soft-bodied (what else would you expect), and that they would be difficult to fossilize…but not impossible, and further, scientists have been out finding these fossils. Somehow this is a refutation of evolution? What we're seeing is exactly what evolution predicted!

What we have is a good record of small shelly fossils and trace fossils from the pre-Cambrian — before there were fully armored trilobites, there were arthropod-like creatures with partial armor that decayed into scattered small fragments of shell after death, and before that there were entirely soft-bodied, unarmored creatures that left only trackways and burrows. Even in this period Coulter wants to call abrupt, we find evidence of gradual transitions in animal forms.

And then to claim that there is an absence of transitional forms because all that was found were worms! Um, if you take an animal with an armored exoskeleton or bones, and you catch it before the hard skeleton had evolved, exactly what do you think it would look like? Like a worm.

As evolution predicted. As the evidence shows.

I can't even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?

(Also on FtB)

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