Wildlife & Wild Places

Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding Evolution

One of these species has had its genome sequenced, and the other has independently evolved to look very similar and live in the same environment. The anole genome will make anoles an even more powerful group in which to study evolutionary convergence. Photos by Melissa Losos (left) and Pete Humphrey (right).

The genome of Anolis carolinensis has just been published in the journal Nature, and most attention is focusing on how this genome, the first reptile to be sequenced (not including birds), differs from other vertebrate genomes, and what these differences may tell us about genome evolution. No doubt this is interesting, but the real value of this genome–in my unbiased opinion–resides in the questions we finally will be able to address about the evolutionary process, particularly in one model system of evolutionary study, Anolis lizards. Chris Schneider published a perceptive article, “Exploiting genomic resources in studies of speciation and adaptive radiation of lizards in the genus Anolis,” on this topic three years ago, and I will briefly expand on his points here (for more information on anole biodiversity and evolution, go to Anole Annals).

An anole genome will be useful for evolutionary studies in two ways. First, a long-standing question in evolutionary biology concerns the genetic basis of convergent evolution (i.e., when two or more evolutionary lineages independently evolve similar features). Do convergent phenotypes arise by convergent evolution of the same genetic changes, or do different lineages utilize different mutations to produce the same phenotype? In other words, does convergence at the phenotypic level result from convergent change at the genetic level, or can different genetic changes produce the same phenotypic response? In the last few years, molecular evolutionary biologists have produced a wealth of studies investigating whether convergent changes in coat color in rodents, eye and spine loss in fish, bristle loss in fruit flies and many other changes are the result of changes in the same gene, even some times by the very same genetic mutation. Underlying these questions are more fundamental questions about constraints and the predictability of evolution.

The anole ecomorphs, habitat specialists behaviorally and morphologically adapted to use different parts of the environment. The same set of ecomorphs (with several exceptions) have evolved independently on each island in the Greater Antilles. Figure from "Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles.".

Anolis lizards are, of course, the poster child for evolutionary studies of convergent evolution. Indeed, convergence has run rampant in this clade.  Anoles are famous for the evolution of “ecomorphs,” sets of habitat specialist types that have evolved repeatedly on each island in the Greater Antilles to occupy different habitat niches. This convergence is usually studied in terms of limb length, tail length, and toepad dimensions: arboreal species have big toepads, twig species short legs, grass species long tails, and so on, with these traits independently evolving many times. But the ecomorphs are convergent in many other traits that have received less attention: head and pelvis dimensions, sexual dimorphism in both size and shape, territorial and foraging behavior, to name a few, and the more closely we look, the more convergent traits we find. And, further, anole convergence is not entirely an ecomorph phenomenon; some traits vary within an ecomorph class, but are convergent among species in different ecomorph classes, for example, thermal physiology and dewlap color.

In other words, there’s more convergence in Anolis than you can shake a stick at, and the availability of the anole genome sequence will provide the tools to investigate its underlying genetic basis.Anolis is already a textbook example of replicated adaptive radiation; getting at the genetics of this phenomenon will provide great insight on how adaptive radiation occurs and perhaps will help explain why anoles experience such identical adaptive radiations so readily, whereas most evolutionary lineages do not. In addition, given the well understood ecological and selective context for this convergence, genomic tools may make anoles are an ideal group in which to study the interplay between selection and developmental processes in evolutionary diversification. See Thom Sanger’s recent post on the developmental basis of limb convergence for one potential example.

The anole genome will be useful for evolutionary studies in a second way. In recent years, a number of researchers have used anoles to study the process of natural selection and how it produces adaptation. Such studies have been conducted by comparing populations of the same species that live in different environments, by following populations through time to see how they change, and by measuring the action of natural selection directly by following individuals and seeing how long they live. Some of these studies have even been experimental, altering selective conditions such as the presence of predators and seeing how natural selection changes and how, from one generation to the next, the population evolves.

The anole genome now gives us powerful tools to study natural selection and evolutionary change at the genetic level. For many evolutionists, the holy grail is to identify the actual genes under selection, and watch them change in response to selection. Though still not easy, this now is practical. In addition, the genome will provide a wealth of material for other related purposes, such as establishing maternity and paternity to quantify reproductive success–a key component of evolutionary fitness–and thus determine whether some individuals produce more descendants than others.

One could argue that in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge, Anolis is the best-studied species-rich adaptive radiation. Other radiations are well known in some respects, but for few do we know so much about so many aspects of the ecology, behavior, functional morphology, and physiology for so many species, not to mention having a good understanding of phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary processes. The genetic basis of trait variation has always been the one hole in our knowledge of anole evolutionary biology. The anole genome plugs this hole in a major way, and will make anoles an even more important evolutionary case study, allowing us to learn much not only about evolution in anoles, but the evolutionary process in general.


Jonathan Losos is a professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He is also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.The focus of Dr. Losos’s research is biological diversity, how it originates evolutionarily and how it is maintained in ecological communities. Answering these questions requires synthesis of ecological, behavioral, functional, and evolutionary data, requiring work both in the laboratory and the field. The organisms of choice in these studies are lizards, and Dr. Losos’s research has taken him throughout the world, conducting studies in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Madagascar, and Australia.Dr. Losos is the former editor of the American Naturalist, a leading interdisciplinary journal in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology, and has authored or edited two books, two textbooks and more than 100 scientific papers. He is the recipient of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize, the David Starr Jordan Prize, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.Dr Losos is also a regular contributor to Anole Annals, a blog written and edited by scientists who study Anolis lizards. http://anoleannals.wordpress.com/
  • […] Gazette, National Geographic Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • […] Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding EvolutionNational GeographicOne of these species has had its genome sequenced, and the other has independently evolved to look very similar and live in the same environment. The anole genome will make anoles an even more powerful group in which to study evolutionary convergence. …Lizard genome unveiledNature.com (subscription)First lizard genome sequencedEurekAlert (press release)all 4 news articles » […]

  • […] Reading: Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding Evolution – National Geographic Tags: science Category: Science, US You can follow any responses to this entry via RSS. You can […]

  • David Clemons

    First it was Darwin & his Ape/man hypothesis< which is just educated guesswork & of which there never has ever been found a direct link between man and ape.

    And now lizards are going to prove the evolutionary process. That makes about as much sense as a series of Tornado's going through a airplane junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747 into fully functional aircraft.

    What idiocy-
    Science is proven data –everything else is just conjecture

  • Marvin

    One thing that David Clemons doesn’t point out is that there is absolutely no similarity between human DNA and chimpanzee DNA. It’s entirely different. So how can we be related? Moreover, chimps have no navels. They come from eggs!

  • onthuhlist

    Pardon me, please don’t take this personally, but Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Whew! (Sniff) That was very entertaining. The older I get, the more I enjoy watching people trying to shove square pegs into a round hole. Never gets old.

  • Jake Arpeman

    Mr. Clemons,

    Think of the facts as numbers. Then think of evolution as an equation. Some people cannot do math. Some can do it better than others. When we get to the point of astro-physics or quantum theory, you (and I) might just shake your (our) heads at all the numbers, letters and symbols. But other people can work through them to get an answer.

    You might just see a bunch of unconnected facts and marvel at the impossibility of any solution. Others can solve that problem, or even if they can’t solve it, see it for what it is. Without resorting to “it must be magic”.

    You are as open minded as you want to be.

  • Fable

    David, and man is 8,000 years old and we walked along with dinosaurs.

    Please do more reading.

  • james

    David Clemons obviously has no understanding of evolution or what Darwin believed. It is pretty obvious that humans and apes had a common ancestor down the line. It is right there in our genetic similarity. Also, he rips off and badly butchers Fred Hoyle’s flawed rational. No one said it happened overnight, and to paraphrase Dr. Sagan, the chances that a tornado could go through that same airfield and build something resembling the Wright Bros first flying machine is much higher. Evolution didn’t produce a human overnight. Stop straw manning Darwin.

  • Nurse Student

    @David Clemons
    Science is theory.

    Science prompts questions. Science is essentially a game of questions and theories to help answer those questions. And even when you think you have the answer, it only prompts another question. Darwin was at least man enough to start asking questions, unlike other braniwashed individuals that sit back and beleive everything was put here by their all powerfull imaginary friend.

    Just sayin’

  • Slappy

    When “scientists” can explain how everything came from nothing, get back to me. Until then stories like this are nothing more than evolution propaganda that is unscientific and unproven. The lizard’s complex, organized, and information filled genome provides far more proof of an Intelligent Designer than it ever will for evolution.

  • Ray

    Chimps and humans share 99.8% of the same DNA but that doesn’t prove anything. Multiple fields of science have proven there is a link between apes and man. When I say multiple i mean hundreds of different scientific disciplines all support the “theory” of evolution. You must accept the “theory” of evolution In the same way that you must accept the “theory” of gravity because the evidence is overwhelming. If not I recommend testing the theory of gravity yourself buy taking a long walk off a short pier.

  • John

    Where to begin. I spend most of my days at work looking at the DNA sequence of genes that when mutated inherited cause human disease. And the truth is, Mr Clemons and others of his mindset, for most of the genes I’m looking at I would not be able to tell if someone had put chimpanzee DNA in the sample tube prior to sequencing or human. Yes I’m afraid so. Humans and chimps are so close that we could be considered sibling species, like donkeys and horses. And I’ll bet Mr Clemons know what they can do.

  • Johnny

    Well by googling your name we can see you are an extremely religious person… I suppose all those belly laughs you somewhat arrogantly posted here are at the ridiculousness of Science, right? Just SO ridiculous!
    I guess your only explanation for the fact that the hundreds of thousands of amino acids in sequence in the DNA of every plant and animal just HAPPENED to line up in order of similarity with its closest ancestors (according to science’s current understanding of Evolution) by complete coincidence, right? Those odds by the way of happening randomly would be beyond 1:10^10… ie by 100,000 times more remote than you dialing 9 digits at random and getting ME on the phone! Hmm, I guess now that I’ve said this you will then claim that God ordered all those amino acids just *so* in all our DNA molecules on the odd chance that Watson and Crick would discover the DNA molecule so that He could show Himself through Watson/Crick’s discovery of DNA.
    And all those dinosaur bones in the ground didn’t really come from living creatures that lived millions of years ago! No, you will probably say that God put those inert odd-shaped calcium deposits that LOOK like bones in the ground just to play with human minds!
    Who’s the ridiculous one again?
    OK go back to your arrogant belly laughter now. The older you get, clearly not the *smarter* you get. What a shame to die without seeing that God/Nature’s works are amazing and more mind-blowing in their reality/complexity than your silly ghost stories. It’s your loss — God is right there to be contemplated and you are blind to the majesty. HA on you!

  • George Affleck

    If evolution marches to the tune of ‘random chance’ then should see, in the fossils, many examples of failed attempts at change.
    We should also see change in every direction, not just in expected directions.
    For example; giraffes with trunks and elephants with long necks. Dogs with 3 tails and horses with 20 toes.
    Or, at least, a few that shout – RANDOM HERE!!
    In an attempt to justify the impossible, scientists come up with buzz words like ‘convergent evolution’ to explain their type of change.
    This is nothing more than variability within the species.

  • Johnny

    Physicists DO have explanations about how things CAN appear out of nothing. If you bothered to educate yourself a little bit about quantum physics or even more recent science you would see that these are already PROVEN in the laboratory. But I guess you’d rather sit with your hands over your eyes and ears and pretend like you know everything. Do some reading before proclaiming your ignorance for all to read.
    News Flash: The Pope and Catholic Church accept the reality of Evolution… I guess you’re more Catholic than the Pope, eh? 😉

  • Weasel

    David Clemons says: What idiocy-
    Science is proven data –everything else is just conjecture
    Well that would be 100% wrong. FACT is proven. Science is never 100% it is always based on conjecture, hypothesis, observation, testing, to reach the theory stage.

    The word theory in science means something very different than in common life. A theory is nearly uncontrovertable. There may be aspects of a theory that need to be tweaked, but there can be no question about the general principles. This is by definition. A ‘theory’ with serious holes and conflicting evidence is no longer a theory.

    So, I’m guessing your background has little science or scientific method in it. No shame in that. However, without the scientific background the best you can claim is that you do not believe in the theory – not that is WRONG. You cannot counter a scientific argument with a political or faith based argument.

    If your faith requires that you reject science, that is your right.

  • David Braun

    Please keep this discussion civil. We all know that there are many impassioned opinions about evolution, but that does not mean that we should not try to keep the debate at a high level.

  • George Affleck

    David Clemons says:
    “Science is proven data –everything else is just conjecture”
    You are absolutely right David. All avenues of science must only deal with that which can be shown to be so. As such it has no authority to make guesses about origins based on its own presuppositions.
    Evolutionary theory requires long ages – therefore long ages must have taken place – therefore evolutionary theory is validated.
    All scientific evidence that suggests a younger universe than the evolutionary process can tolerate is ridiculed or labeled “faith based” or non-scientific.
    The fact that things change (and they do) does not validate evolutionary theory.

    Weasel says:
    “A ‘theory’ with serious holes and conflicting evidence is no longer a theory.”
    You are right as well. The theory of evolution is so riddled with holes and conflicting evidence that it is not worthy of taking first place as an answer for origins or for, as the article suggests, the predictability of evolution..
    I suspect that, as these holes become more known to the average person, the theory will die a natural death.

    But back to the article. It will be interesting to see how these new genetic studies are interpreted in light of ‘assumed’ convergent evolution. Please notice that adaptation within the species is not even considered.

  • Bill

    it seems that there can no longer be discussions of science on the web without angry religious arguments. how disapointing. hopefully this issue will fall out of popularity at some point and real discussion can resume.

  • […] Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding EvolutionNational GeographicThe genome of Anolis carolinensis has just been published in the journal Nature, and most attention is focusing on how this genome, the first reptile to be sequenced (not including birds), differs from other vertebrate genomes, and what these …Lizard Genome UnveiledScientific AmericanLizard Genome Probed for Clues on First Egg Births on Land, Scientists SayBloombergFirst Lizard Genome Sequenced, Promising Understanding of Human EvolutionInternational Business Timesio9 -RedOrbit -EurekAlert (press release)all 12 news articles » […]

  • Chris

    Anyone using intelligent design as a base for an argument apparantly missed the news that the phrase was invented in an attempt to sneak creationism into schools. Nothing more. Moreover, religion and science are not independent. I beleive in God, but I also understand that anything we discover, is here for us to discover. Science dosnt disprove God, or work against his message. Love each other, and that includes respect one another. Lets hope that draconian mindsets like that will be left in the dust of history. Science is our best friend, its our only hope for the future.

  • CSPJ

    @George Affleck What holes exactly? What holes are there in evolutionary theory that people will soon realize? I don’t think that will happen, except in church groups.

  • Homer Jay

    Birds descended from dinosaurs *approximately* 140 million years ago (Mya), and dinosaurs descended from reptiles approx. 225 Mya. Also, mammals come from reptiles. Given the long time gaps, morphological differences, and biochemical differences, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call birds dinosaurs instead of “reptiles”. That is of course, if one buys the theory of descent from dinosaurs, not reptiles directly.

    Regarding evolution, AFAIK all current antibiotics could not have been developed without the theory of evolution. Evolution is a “theory” to the same degree gravity is a “theory”. I like Marvin’s post though: Marvin, Chimps are plotting a coup d’etat! Only trust animals with navels! (Such as cats, e.g. — look hard.)

  • HumTum

    Well I think science and religion go side by side. God created everything including science. It’s up to us(humans) to discover all the principles of science and that is what scientist do. Look around how much human civilization has come so far. Everytime scientist look at nature to come up with ideas that leafs to new discoveries. So I think if looking at lizard helps to prove or disapprove evolution theory is not a bad idea. It is just how we as human being process things.

  • […] which is the first non-bird species of reptile to have its genome sequenced and assembled. …Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding EvolutionNational GeographicLizard Genome UnveiledScientific AmericanLizard Genome Probed for Clues on First […]

  • […] original article: Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding Evolution – National Geographic […]

  • dan

    This whole article is drenched in irony. NewsCorps owns NatGeo. NewsCorps has been the sole driver of the anti-science and thus anti-evolution narratives. Now they publish findings that could advance the theory of evolution further. Discovery and NatGeo are imposters on sustainability/sociology/ecology issues. Every show is about scary sharks, huge mining, fishing, logging projects, and how cool big stuff is. This cognitive dissonance is unacceptable and hypocritical.

  • George Affleck

    “George Affleck What holes exactly”
    Just to follow up on this question-
    Evolutionary theory is populated mostly by gaps. The gaps are filled in by conjecture and educated guesses. To their credit, scientists who know their stuff admit it.

    “Given the fact of evolution, one would expect the fossils to document a gradual steady change from ancestral forms to the descendants. But this is not what the paleontologist finds. Instead, he or she finds gaps in just about every phyletic series.” Ernst Mayr

    “All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.” Stephen J. Gould

    In the so-called Cambrian layer of the geologic column are found highly complex multi-celled organisms with no ancestors. The pre-Cambrian layer contains no intermediates.

    Protozoa are one-celled organisms. They still exist today even though they are also found in the pre-Cambrian (oldest) rocks. But the next step in complexity is with the metazoa. These organisms have over a thousand cells. Where are the 4, 8, 10, 50 etc. celled organisms that must have led up to them? Unfortunately for the theory, they don’t exist, either in the fossil record or today.

    And that’s if you can explain where the protozoa came from in the first place.

  • David Braun


    News Corporation does not own National Geographic. It is the majority stakeholder in our jointly owned television Channel. National Geographic is solely responsible for its branded editorial content, and all content under our brand conforms with our editorial standards and practices, which includes thorough fact-checking.

    Have you read our magazine’s coverage “Was Darwin Wrong?” Allow me to quote the introduction of the article: “Evolution by natural selection, the central concept of the life’s work of Charles Darwin, is a theory. It’s a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth’s living creatures. If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that it’s “just” a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is “just” a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen. Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact. That’s what scientists mean when they talk about a theory: not a dreamy and unreliable speculation, but an explanatory statement that fits the evidence. They embrace such an explanation confidently but provisionally—taking it as their best available view of reality, at least until some severely conflicting data or some better explanation might come along.

    “The rest of us generally agree. We plug our televisions into little wall sockets, measure a year by the length of Earth’s orbit, and in many other ways live our lives based on the trusted reality of those theories.”

    Read on: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0411/feature1/

  • james

    So George Affleck… your “holes” in the theory is actually just one thing, that if you thought about it, isn’t really a hole at all. You say there isn’t an unbroken chain that lets us see the gradual progression of evolution. Are you aware of how fossils work, and that it is more rare to actually find a fossil than not? The conditions have to be just right. Most bones degrade over time. We are lucky to have what we have, and in the future will find much much more. Just because we don’t have it now, doesn’t mean we won’t later. For someone who claims they need every piece of information on evolution to believe it is true, you are quick to believe in something that has absolutely zero evidence at all. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it necessitates a mystical being to create it.

    But you don’t need to see every iteration to know that it is happening anyway. Fill in these blanks… 2, 4, 6, 10, 16, 18, 24. It can be done easily. Do you need to see the 8, 12, and 14 as well? We have the evidence in our bodies. Why do we have tail bones? Why do most land animals have 4 appendages with 5 digits on each? Do some serious reading on science and evolution (I suggest Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience) rather than what your preacher tells you. And don’t tell me to read a bible, I have many times. I’ve also watched Star Wars and the Lion King, but I don’t see anything in those sources that explain what I see around me either.

  • […] Sequence Lizard Genes for First Time Unveiling Evolution SecretsInternational Business TimesLizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding EvolutionNational GeographicLizard Genome UnveiledScientific AmericanBloomberg -Science 2.0 -io9all […]

  • George Affleck

    Thanks for your comments.
    Just for the record…

    I did not say “there isn’t an unbroken chain that lets us see the gradual progression of evolution” What I said was, “Evolutionary theory is populated mostly by gaps.” It is not that the chain is broken, it is that, where there should be many examples, there are no examples of transitions between the major groups.
    This should make us ask, ‘Is there enough evidence to use the chain analogy in the first place?’ If you have 1-celled organisms and 1000-celled organisms, and no examples of intermediates, how is it possible to assume they existed to form a chain?
    I then supported the point by citing 2 of the most influential evolutionary thinkers who agree that serious gaps exist. They, as did Darwin, recognize the holes in the system. Surely you are not disagreeing with them?

    I did not mention belief, mystical beings, preachers, the Bible or the Lion King – you did. However, since you did, I would like to point out that it is only with a great amount of faith in the system that you are able to say, “…in the future will find much much more. Just because we don’t have it now, doesn’t mean we won’t later.”

    And finally, the coccyx (tailbone) is now recognized as having a use and should no longer be considered vestigial. It is the anchor point for the muscles that form the pelvic diaphragm including the muscles that hold the anus in place.

  • […] Jonathan Losos: Lizard genome promises great advances in understanding evolution […]

  • Bender

    Evolution is like the idea of the set of real numbers. The set of real numbers is only a theory with holes in it. Don’t believe me? Well, look at the evidence. Write down two numbers that you know are real and are right next to each other. Well, guess what? There are holes between them – missing numbers! If you find the two missing numbers in between your two original numbers, you will still be missing numbers between the new numbers. So, you see, the real number continuum is full of holes. Just like evolution, real numbers do not exist. They are just a “theory” that mathematicians and scientists try to push upon others. In a few years, this idea of “real numbers” will die. I called it – you watch. In fact, SCIENCE does not exist. My science books have more spaces in them than sentences. They are filled with holes! Now, excuse me while I retire to my prayer group and boast of my philosophical victory.

  • […] Gulf system could be next billion-dollar disaster High cost of insomnia may be a wake-up call Lizard Genome Promises Great Advances in Understanding Evolution Suit charges Windows 7 smartphones track users Apple Cited as Adding to Pollution in […]

  • james

    I do not see the difference between what I said and what you are saying. We do have the ability to see the progression from one cell organisms to multi-cell critters. If evolution isn’t valid, then why don’t we see all animals at all layers of the fossil record. Why no dinosaurs 2 billion years ago, where we find completely different types of life forms. Why do we only find simple organisms as far back as our fossil record allows. Why no whales for example? We will never have a complete record, but saying that there are no transition fossils is a bit ridiculous, if not a blatant lie. It isn’t that there is one “missing link” between our ape like ancestors and humans. It is a gradual process with many iterations in between. Just today there was another article on Google news showing another possible transition. Tell me when was the last time you saw a Neanderthal at McDonald’s? A Homo Erectus at Captain D’s? They are cousins/ancestors that are now extinct. If evolution is false, why did these creatures exist in the first place? Why so similar to us? Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution (just for a quick snapshot).

    Why is it that 99% of all the species to have ever lived on earth are now extinct? And if that is the case, where do all of these other species come from?

    There may be some “gaps,” but the vast amount of evidence suggests it is valid. If the Hoover Dam develops several leaks, do you now say there is no dam?

    I assume that by your denial of evolution, then you are a creationist. If I am wrong, then I apologize. But evolution has about 7.5 billion times more facts (or the high range of the number of species to have ever lived on earth) going for it than the one piece of “evidence” that creationists assert. And I don’t consider the bible to be anything other than a fairy tale.

    To me, I don’t think that you should consider evolution to be an earthly process. I think it is a Universal process. If creation is true, and we are the chosen species, why would god create other stars with other planets, and galaxies billions of light years away? Seems like a lot of misdirected effort if it was all for mans’ “dominion.” Being agnostic, I don’t deny that there may be a creator of the Universe, but I do deny that there is a creator of man. I do deny that any religion on earth is the truth. We may never know those answers, and to say we do is very arrogant. One thing I do know, however, is that if there is life out there in space, there is an evolutionary process acting on those life forms.

    Also, I’m confident that there is more to find. To suggest otherwise is a bit nutty. I’m as confident that new species will continue to be found in the future, as I am that I’ll have a faster smart phone 5 years from now. Since I wrote that last post, several new species, both fossils and living have been found. It doesn’t take any faith in the system. It is just the way it is.

  • james

    On the tailbone, it might have a use, but it is still a remnant of something we used to have and don’t have now. Any other structure could do the same thing, it just happens it is the tailbone is what performs that task. That doesn’t mean that was it’s purpose.

  • George Affleck


    If I have it right (correct me if not), I think you are asking why the fossil record shows a progression through the (assumed) millions/billions of years from simple to complex as evidenced by specific depositions in distinct layers?

    This question is based on the ‘a priori’ assumption that millions/billions of years have occurred. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, this amounts to a circular argument. ‘Evolutionary theory requires long ages – therefore long ages must have taken place – therefore evolutionary theory is validated.’ Evolutionary theory cannot prove evolutionary theory.

    There are, embedded in the folklore of every distinct population group, literally hundreds of accounts of a global flood having occurred in the relatively recent past. If there is any truth to these, this would account for all of the layers having been deposited in a short space of time. It would also explain the layered deposition of different shapes, buoyancies and weights of flora/fauna which addresses the question you asked.

    It would explain the Grand Canyon, mass extinction of marine, mammal and reptile groups, the age of the Great Barrier Reef, the lack of mud and limited salinity of the oceans, why oil/gas deposits are still under pressure, why trees have been found embedded through several geologic layers, reversed & inconsistent layers, why some dinosaur bones still have red blood cells in them, etc. In fact I can’t think of one question that can’t be easily reconciled with that kind of scenario.

    The reason it is not studied more is that it would mean stepping outside of the evolutionary box to explore other possibilities. Most scientists are afraid of what they might find or how they would be ridiculed. If evolution is such an established fact and the “evidence is so overwhelming” there should be nothing to be afraid of. The theory should welcome criticism, even from within.

    “Contrary to what most scientists write, the fossil record does not support the Darwinian theory of evolution” Ronald R. West, PhD (paleoecology and geology) (Assistant Professor of Paleobiology, Kansas State University)

    By the way, all plants & animals that exist today are represented in the fossil record. This is significant because it tells us that change is not a universal law. And, all major groups appear suddenly in the fossil record without ancestral forms.

    “The abrupt appearance of higher taxa in the fossil record has been a perennial puzzle. Not only do characteristic and distinctive remains of phyla appear suddenly, without known ancestors, but several classes of phylum, orders of a class, and so on, commonly appear at approximately the same time, without known intermediates.” James W. Valentine and Cathryn A. Campbell, “Genetic Regulation and the Fossil Record,” in American Scientist.

    In the case of lizards, the incredible ability to adapt by natural selection is built in to their DNA., but they select from the Lizard Bank of Genetic Information only and there is no known mechanism available to them to break out of that mold.

    I wish I had time to address the “Hoover Dam” analogy and the missing transitional fossils and the recent news article on A. Sediba that you alluded to.
    Maybe another time.

  • Andrew Gottscho

    George Affleck wrote: “This question is based on the ‘a priori’ assumption that millions/billions of years have occurred. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, this amounts to a circular argument. ‘Evolutionary theory requires long ages – therefore long ages must have taken place – therefore evolutionary theory is validated.’ Evolutionary theory cannot prove evolutionary theory. ”

    This is completely wrong. This is not a circular argument. There are multiple ways of dating the age of the earth, none of which involve evolution. For example, there are about a dozen different radiometric clocks that are used to date the age of rocks. These dating techniques have been utilized by thousands of scientists all over the world, and confirm the very old age of the earth. Even without this knowledge, or fossil knowledge, we would know that the earth is very old. For example, look at the big island of Hawaii: it is steadily growing before our eyes, gradually growing as it spews out lava. However if you calculate the yearly rate of lava deposition, and extrapolate this rate to determine how long it would take to build the whole island, you’ll realize that it will take millions of years. The same logic can be applied to displacement along transform faults, such as the san andreas fault in california, or the erosion of coastal cliffs. Finally perhaps the best evidence that the earth is very old comes from the sea floor, at the bottom of the atlantic. If you look at the ages of rocks in the atlantic basin, the oldest rocks are found along the margins of north america, south america, africa, and europe, while the youngest rocks are smack in the middle. Combined with reverse in polarity of the magnetic field, which record themselves in the iron-rich rocks of the seafloor, we can be 100% confident that the earth is VERY old, billions of years to be exact, but at the very least any rational person would conclude that it is at least hundreds of millions of years old. So in conclusion, the argument that the earth is old does NOT rely on evolutionary theory – it actually predates darwin (read Lyell’s principles of geology). This knowledge has been known for well over 150 years. Please stop misleading people into thinking evolution is a circular argument when the opposite is true. If anything special creation is a circular argument. Thank you.

  • George Affleck

    Reply to circular argument comment:

    I could not agree more that “There are multiple ways of dating the age of the earth, none of which involve evolution” In fact, there are thousands of methods. The problem is that only those methods which give long ages are accepted by the scientific establishment.

    Radiometric dating techniques fail the test of reliability because they rest on assumptions. 1- The number of original parent isotopes is assumed based on present-day measurements of parent/daughter ratio. 2- The rate of decay is assumed to have been constant throughout the past. 3- It is assumed that no contamination has occurred over billions of years. But, because the results generally fit the accepted evolutionary view, it is mistakenly considered ‘confirmation’ and other results are rejected.

    Your citation of Hawaii is another example of incomplete information. In order to calculate an age/time formation for Hawaii, it is necessary to assume a relatively constant lava flow rate which is impossible. It is just as plausible that 99% was formed in a cataclysmic week sometime in the recent past. Extrapolations are only reliable if all the facts are known. This applies similarly to mid-ocean ridge patterns and cliff erosion.

    The work of Coe and Prevot at Steens Mountain, published in Nature Magazine, as yet un-refuted, has shown that magnetic reversals can happen in as little as 15 days. But no hard evidence exists for interval time except assumptions based on the long-age requirements of evolutionary theory.

    If billions (even millions) of years are true, at present rates, the oceans should be choked with mud, the salt in the seas would kill everything in it, the Great Barrier Reef would be larger than the world, oil and gas deposits would have lost their pressure and the moon’s orbit should have already decayed. Carbon 14 has been detected in diamonds and ancient coal deposits. Pine pollen has been found in every layer of the Grand Canyon. Dinosaur bones have blood cells in them. Etc.

    Evolution cannot survive the scrutiny of the critical mind as it lacks integrity, demands too much faith and gives nothing in return.

  • slade

    a tornado will never produce a functional airplane .a blackhole a house , and us the next missing link. boneheads

  • slade

    science is the accurate realization of that which exists.imagination is what we braid it into without all the data

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media