It might have been more educational if Richard Dawkins –or that over-simplified museum chart– had explained that paleontologists aren’t so much concerned with complete transitional fossils –or intermediates– but the transitional characteristics displayed in the fossils. Fossils are after all collections of physical traits. But Dawkins is countering creationists, who are so often ridiculously literal in their interpretation of evolution that they imagine the fossil evidence for the transition between two distinct species as an exact in-between –for example, half dinosaur and half bird. Evolutionary history, though, is bushy and convoluted; a particular species may only bear an ancestral trait(s) that’s been slightly modified, or a novel trait(s) that is in its incipient state. That a species of dinosaur had proto-feathers –and not necessarily fully functional wings– is in itself profoundly informative. No cartoonish hybrid is needed as proof of evolution. The same goes for those floating pigs of the sea, those media hogs, those cousins of the hungry hungry hippo –the whales.
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