The Missing Link?


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

This week I recorded and watched the History Channel documentary, “The Link,” which featured the recent scientific findings surrounding a miraculously intact primate fossil, estimated to be about 47-million years old.

The documentary was interesting, but far too long. I’ll save you some time and summarize the two-hour presentation in two sentences:  The fossil, (discovered in the Messel Shale Pit in Germany), appears to be a transitional species that shows characteristics from both the non-human and human evolutionary lines.  Though the animal has features from the prosimian (lemur) line of primates—a grooming claw, a tooth comb—it also has features from the anthropoid (monkey, ape, man) line—a talus bone in the ankle that makes standing upright possible...so it appears to be a well-preserved snapshot from our evolutionary line dating from just after the split with the lemurs, something scientists expected to find within the estimated time period.

This is certainly a significant finding, although I’m not sure it was worth all the hype it has received over the past few weeks. I’m still a little unclear about what characteristics a specimen would need to exhibit in order to undoubtedly represent a  “missing link.”

Having grown up in a conservative Christian environment that taught young earth creationism exclusively, I’m still playing catch up with my basic knowledge of evolutionary theory. Over the past few years, I’ve studied the subject, and found scientific evidence in support of evolution to be too compelling to ignore. I’m beginning to believe that Theodosius Dobzhansky was right when he said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Dobzhansky was a devout Eastern Orthodox Christian.

However, I still have quite a few friends and family members who remain committed to young earth or intelligent design paradigms...( I live in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, after all)...so I always try to give these groups a fair hearing.

I went to the Answers in Genesis Web site and found an article about how these recent findings “should in no way faze creationists” because “the fossil does not resemble a human skeleton,” because it  “was found in two parts,” and because the fossil’s lack of a grooming claw and toothcomb “are easily explained by variation with a kind.” The article concludes that “nothing about this fossil suggest it is anything other than an extinct, lemur-like creature” and that “the remarkable preservation is a hallmark of rapid burial...consistent with a catastrophic flood.” 

I’ll let you guys critique that argument.

Marlin Lavenhar once said, “...Now that we have discovered DNA and its code, we know that we are not only related to monkeys, we are related to zucchini. So let’s get over it.”

This quote makes me smile and wince at the same time. On the one hand, I think that the idea that we are interconnected to all of life is quite beautiful and spiritual...maybe even biblical. On the other hand, one has to wonder how descending from apes makes us “created in the image of God.”

Sometimes I wonder if, just as Galileo’s paradigm of a sun-centered solar system offended man’s pride, evolution is meant to remind us that we are not the center of the universe after all. Sometimes I wonder if God uses science to provide us with a healthy serving of humility every now and then.

So what do you think about the news surrounding “The Link”? Is it dangerous propaganda or a reality check?

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