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Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 13

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 13, What is a Horse?.

Once again, McCann doesn't seem to understand the whole concept of common descent, and why vertebrates would appear similar to each other.

The most casual observer will not deny the extraordinary similarity. The rearing horse, standing almost upright, so vividly resembles the man in bony structure as to suggest an entirely new line of speculation. There is no monopoly of the ludicrous, no patent rights on the ridiculous! We are not now speaking of a resemblance between man and ape, but between man and horse!

Why did man not evolute from the horse? (McCann 166)

Humans and horses look so similar because we both evolved from a common ancestor, not because we evolved from horses, or horses from us. We're cousins.

If McCann understood this a bit better, he probably wouldn't have been so dismissive in the following paragraph.

At this point the "scientists" kick the great authority on evolution, Professor Huxley, right out of the picture. Perhaps they wouldn't have been so bold if Huxley himself hadn't authorized the act. The Pal├Žotherium comes in with another creature called the Plagiolophus. One of these animals was a direct ancestor of the horse, according to Huxley. Now they admit Huxley was wrong. The critter was only a "collateral relative." (McCann 170)

or here

When they get to Link No. 8 they don't know what to do with Anchitherium and Hypohippus. The first of these fellows has been found only in Europe and the second has given so much trouble, though found in Colorado, that they have had to admit he "is off the direct line of descent." (McCann 170-171)

This is what I was alluding to in the review of the previous chapter. When we find a fossil of an ancient animal that looks similar to an animal living today, we'd like to assume that it's a direct ancestor. We like easy stories and linear relationships. But like I wrote above, evolution creates family trees that look more like bushes. Populations are constantly splitting, creating closely related 'cousin' species. Also keep in mind how spotty the fossil record is, and how much more common it is for species to go extinct than to survive. When you look at it that way, it seems obvious that any fossil you find is most likely to have come from an extinct 'cousin' species, rather than from a direct ancestor of any living animals. Recognizing that is not any admission that evolution is wrong. It's a better understanding of how evolution actually works, and a better understanding of our sampling of the fossil record.

McCann strikes me as the type who would say that the discovery of a 'missing link' just creates two gaps where before there was only one.

Again it is odd that the scientists always find plenty of specimens of the things to be connected but never a single connection. (McCann 175)

Because archaeopteryx isn't obviously intermediate between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds.

Yet again, McCann shows a misunderstanding in assuming evolution to be linear.

According to the evidence itself there was deterioration instead of advance in the evolution of the horse, for the Epihippus which came along "thousands of years" after the Protorohippus is very much smaller than its grandfather when it should be very much larger on its progressive way from a four-pounder to a creature weighing a ton. (McCann 178)

Evolution is not a ladder of progress. It's a drunkard's stagger. There's no reason why the evolution of the horse from prior ancestors would have shown a steady increase in size. Just look at the finch example I used back in Part III of this review. Looking at the evolution of a population of finches on the Galapagos, average beak size was observed to increase in some years, and decrease in others, depending on the selective pressures operating on the population at the time. There's no reason to assume that horse's ancestors would have increased in size over their entire course of evolution from something like hyracotherium.

Proceed to Chapter 14

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