Post of the Month: January 1997
by Bowen Simmons
eter Nyikos (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote:
... That doesn't excite much confidence in the FAQ archive. If you want to know what a REAL scientific prediction is like, look at before-the-fact predictions of solar and lunar eclipses.
Now, evolution being such a slow process, we can't really hope for that kind of prediction, but as a minimum I would like to see some before-the-fact predictions that such-and-such an as-yet-undiscovered phenomenon would be observed, complete with the source of that prediction.
How about this with regard to the ancestry of ants?
"Journey to the Ants", Edward O. Wilson, page 75-78:
In 1966 the missing link of ant evolution, the Ur-ant that joins the modern forms to their ancestors among the wasps, was finally discovered...Prior to this find, there had been mostly frustration. The known fossil record had stopped cold in Eocene sediments some 40 to 60 million years old; earlier rocks and amber pieces seemed to offer no clues. The few specimens from the earliest, Eocene, record at the disposal of myrmecologists were poorly preserved but clearly belonged to modern groups. They were not much different in anatomy from living forms and offered no clues as to how ants came into existance.
Creationists had taken note of this absence in their campaign to discredit the theory of evolution. Ants, they argued, are an example of a group put on earth by a single act of special creation. Those of us reconstructing the evolutionary history of ants believed otherwise. We guessed that the earliest species were simply very scarce, and that the fossil beds containing them were just poorly explored, so that in time at least a few specimens would turn up. We believed that the missing link existed in deposits of early Eocene age, perhaps 60 million years old, or further back still, into the Mesozoic Era. The Ur-ant may well have stung an occaisonal dinosaur.
the Ur-ant was discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Frey...[they] sent an amber piece containing two worker ants to Donald Baird of Princeton University. Baird, recognizing its scientific importance, passed it on to Frank M. Carpenter of Harvard University, the world authority on insect paleontology and teacher of Edward Wilson.
Carpenter called Wilson on the telephone, two floors above him in Harvard's Biological Laboratories.
"The ants are here," said Carpenter.
"I'll be down in two milliseconds," Wilson replied, adrenalin surging.
Wilson ran down the stairs and into Carpenter's office, picked up the specimen, fumbled with it and dropped it on the floor, whereupon it broke into two pieces. Fortunately, each fragment contained an ant still in place and undamaged. Both pieces were composed of clear, pale, golden matrix. When polished they provided beautiful views of the ants, wonderfully preserved, as though the insects had been entombed only the day before.
The amber was the fossilized resin of sequoia trees that grew at the Cliffwood Beach locality 90 million years agao, near the middle of the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs were still the dominant large land vertebrates.
Wilson put the fossils under the microscope and began to sketch and measure them from all sides. After several hours he picked up the telephone and called William L. Brown at Cornell University. Brown was a fellow specialist in ant classification who had for years shared his dream of finding a Mesozoic ant and thereby, perhaps, to learn the identity of the missing link to the ancestral wasps. Both men had guessed from comparisons to living species what traits the ancestral form might, or, if evolutionary theory is correct, SHOULD possess. Wilson reported that the ants were indeed as primitive as expected. They had a mosaic of anatomical features found variously in modern ants or in wasps as well as some that were intermediate between the two groups. The diagnosis of the Ur-ant was astounding: short jaws with only two teeth, like those of wasps; what appears to be the blisterlike cover of a metapleural gland the scretory organ (located at the thorax, or mid-part of the body) that defines modern ants but is unknown in wasps; the first segment of the antennae elongated to give them the elbowed look characterizing ants, yet here, in the Mesozoic fossils, only to a degree intermediate between modern ants and wasps; the remaining, outer part of the antennae long and flexible, as in wasps; the thorax with a distinct scutum and scutellum (two plates forming the middle part of the body); also a trait of wasps; and an antlike waist; yet one that is simple in form, as though it had only recently evolved.
We gave them the formal name Sphecomyrma Freyi. The generic name Sphecomyrma means "wasp ant" and Freyi honors the couple who found [them]."
I would suggest that this is a multi-faceted prediction:
I think this fits the bill: a bold prediction based on a theory, directly contested by those opposing the theory, stunningly confirmed by a discovery.
If you want confirmation that ants were regarded as a product of special creation, ask Arthur Biele. He maintained that very position on this newsgroup only last year, unaware that the battle had been lost thirty years before. Here were his words:
An evolutionist, believes that the first ant species evolved from something that was not quite an ant, and that all ant species alive today have descended from this original ant type. As a creationist, I believe that the first ant type (ant baramin) was created fully functional to be an ant and contained the information, via intelligent design, that produced the many species of ant alive today... It appears abruptly in the geologic record, with no history of evolution transition from some non-ant. The ant is found in the fossil record as a completely functioning `ant', and has remained unchanged in the 50 million years since it first appeared in the fossil record.
Article originally posted January 13, 1997
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