Oh, Ida, it's so nice to meet a relative -- albeit a distant one. Really distant. As in 47 million years ago.
Scientists say the fossil, dubbed "Ida," is a transitional species, living around the time the primate lineage split into two groups: A line that would eventually produce humans, primates and monkeys, and another that would give rise to lemurs and other primates.
I love the idea, better termed "reality," that my ancestors include all sorts of other creatures. Which, of course, isn't a strange idea at all, since humans obviously are animals. And animalistic.
There is, however, some controversy about whether Ida is part of the Homo sapiens family tree. Some scientists say the fossil is like an aunt from several generations ago. Others, that it is more like a third cousin twice removed.
Whatever. Ida still is a relative, and I'm glad she came to visit after so long. Forty-seven million years! Time for some inter-species togetherness.
Reality is so much better than fantasy, by and large.
Science is dedicated to learning how things really are. Religion casts its lot with imagining how things might be. Eternal life. A god who created the universe just for us. Heavenly delights offered in exchange for blind faith.
None of that makes sense.
So Christian religious fundamentalists fear reason, evidence, facts. Evolution threatens their irrational world view, where God created everything all at once -- or at least managed the design of creation with his divine will.
Over on one of my favorite blogs, Pharyngula, biologist PZ Myers has been punching holes in a creationist's arguments. I like the title of yesterdays' post: "I'll be condescending when condescension is deserved."
Who should be intellectually condescending here? I think the side that presents the evidence, actually seeks out new knowledge to test their conclusions, and actually demonstrates some knowledge and scholarship deserves to be a little uppity and arrogant. It's the people like Peter Heck, who are utterly ignorant of the science, mangle what little they know, and actively mislead people about the evidence who might deserve a little condescension. My only reservation about that is that I tend to favor treating ignorant, lying twerps with open contempt instead.
Today Myers ripped into Heck again, demolishing his ridiculous claim that there is no evidence for macroevolution (the emergence of new species) -- only microevolution (such as when a virus evolves into a new form, like swine flu).
When creationists argue that they believe in microevolution, but that macroevolution is dubious, they've got it backwards. Large scale historical change was confirmed and thoroughly documented in the 19th century! Darwin was a bridge, who explained how small scale, natural processes could produce the known variation between species, and the triumph of 20th century biology was to confirm and expand upon our understanding of how those changes occurred. Neither macro nor micro evolution are speculative. Neither one is lacking in evidence.
Ida, who could well be my distant ancestor (yours too) is more proof of evolution. Now, we can only hope that believers in creationism and intelligent design will evolve into human beings who aren't stuck in the Dark Ages of anti-scientific fundamentalist beliefs.