HUMAN BABIES BORN with tails? That may sound like a headline from the Weekly World News, but it was the respected New Scientist magazine that recently published a cover story about the phenomenon of evolution "running backward." Entertainment value aside, the article represents a new twist in the politically charged debate about evolution.
The author of "The Ancestor Within," Michael Le Page, cited the babies with tails as a likely example of atavism, a phenomenon in which ancestral traits suddenly reappear after thousands or even millions of years. Another example, one remarked on by Charles Darwin, is the appearance in some human mouths of large, ape-like canine teeth. (Stephen King, call your office.)
It's not just humans who experience these altered states. Le Page also cites the less cringe-making example of a humpback whale with leg-like appendages that was caught off Canada's Vancouver Island in 1919.
These and other throwbacks might seem to call into question the validity of evolution, which has been on something of a roll lately, with a federal judge's decision last year against a Pennsylvania school district that wanted to teach "intelligent design" and, only this week, the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to repeal guidelines that said there was "considerable scientific and public controversy" over human origins.