In terms of the evolution versus creation debate, will the Tiktaalik fossil provide the necessary proof to non-believers? Dr. Shubin's team has tried to avoid commenting on the implications the fossil has for the debate, but many other scientists have not been so quiet. They say Tiktaalik should quell the criticism by creationists, people believing that all matter and life were created by God as described in the Bible, that the fossil record lacks a transitional species. However, many creationists remain unconvinced.
In the United States, creationists make up a large proportion of the population. A Gallup poll last November showed that only one third of Americans believe there is strong evidence supporting the theory of evolution and almost half believe that God created man in his present form about 10,000 years ago. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was a religion and, therefore, could not be taught in schools.
However, many anti-evolutionists, including President Bush, have promoted teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. This idea, pushed primarily by the Discovery Institute of Seattle, posits that the complexity of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent designer. Because they never specify the designer, they argue that the theory is scientific, not religious.
Most scientists are skeptical, saying that intelligent design is just creationism disguised as scientific theory. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education said to PBS, "You have this mysterious intelligent agent who, of course, is God." Of course, the debate in the U.S. over teaching evolution in schools goes back to the Scopes trial of the 1920s. The implication of discoveries like Tiktaalik for education are likely to be debated well into the future.
Therefore, most scientists are focusing primarily on the new insight into tetrapod evolution that Tiktaalik provides. This fossil fills in the gaps of prior fossil evidence, showing scientists the order in which certain structures evolved. The jaw of Tiktaalik, for example, remains very fishlike despite it having evolved limb-like structures. By knowing which features evolved first, scientists hope to learn more about the history of evolution on Earth.