An Evolutionary Horse Tale

As I have chronicled elsewhere, my interest in science and evolution came early. In fact, one of my earliest ‘Christmas memories’ was getting a tome I was to eventually read to pieces, The New Golden Treasury of Natural History. Looking at the copyright (yes, I still have a copy) it was printed about 1968, which would have made me five at the time. And being a natural history of the world, the book details in bright colored illustrations the evolutionary development of animal life over the eons, an illustration of a story that I absorbed and came to believe as the gospel.

One of the central images was a depiction of the evolution of the horse, and image that came to be ubiquitous to the evolutionary story:

Horse Evolution

Horse Evolution from The Golden Treasury of Natural History

It is a very useful image, one that clearly delineates how the horse developed from a small multi-toed creature to the sleek hoofed animal we know today.

Later, studying biology at the university, I came to understand the image was a simplistic depiction of the history of the horse, and even later, as a critic of evolution, I became skeptical of it altogether.

Yet the image persists because it is a handy snapshot that can be referred to by evolutionists when countering their detractors.

Since becoming skeptical of evolution, one of my primary criticisms has been the highly interpretive nature of the evidence. It makes me skeptical because there are no truely objective criteria for determining the relationship of one fossil organism to another; for the most part relationships between these organisms can only be guessed at since genetics of those creatures is almost never available, and in cases where genetic information is eventually made available, it often forces us to revise the picture painted by for us by evolutionists.

This is exactly what seems to have happened with our understanding of prehistoric horses – there has been comprehensive genetic study of a number of prehistoric horses, in this case over 35 different specimens were genetically analyzed to determine relationships. As is becoming more frequent, the data challenged previous assumptions based on fossil and structural interpretations:

“Overall, the new genetic results suggest that we have under-estimated how much a single species can vary over time and space, and mistakenly assumed more diversity among extinct species of megafauna,” Professor Cooper says.

That statement is fairly radical; evolutionary interpretations of fossils rely in large part on the assumption that morphological variation is a reflection of genetic modification, and that significant morphological differences represent distinct species. We have seen how such an assumption fails when interpreting dinosaur fossils, but this is genetic verification that it is a bad assumption when interpreting other sorts of fossils as well. In short, the fact that different populations vary morphologically doesn’t necessarily mean they represent different species, and thus don’t necessarily represent the evolution of a species per se, since evolution is essentially the origin of novel species over time.

Knowing this, it impacts our understanding of our historical understanding of other species, and whether variations represent mere diversity, or the actual novel evolution of new species groups – one of them being man; as Professor Cooper goes on to say:

“This has important implications for our understanding of human evolution, where a large number of species are currently recognized from a relatively fragmentary fossil record.

“It also implies that the loss of species diversity that occurred during the megafaunal extinctions at the end of the last Ice Age may not have been as extensive as previously thought.”

So in many ways this study verifies a number of assertions I and other critics of evolution have made – namely that much of the evolutionary historical narrative is based on highly speculative interpretations, and that the genome of a given population allows for a much greater diversity morphologically than has previously been assumed, which diminishes the degree to which we should see such morphological variation in the fossil record as demonstrating the evolutionary development of species. I expect that as more genetic studies are made of other taxa we will find similar results.

And I think that gives us even more reason to question evolutionary beliefs.

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