Transitional Fossil Sequences and the Evolution of Life

Transitional fossils and evolution

Fossil
Image courtesy of MorgueFile.com

Creationists have always said there are ‘no transitional fossils’, much to the frustration of Darwin supporters. In return, evolutionists often produce lengthy lists of transitional fossils to destroy the creationists’ brash position. But as we will see here, these fossils sequences are less than convincing.

Human Evolution

The ape Australopithecines are surrounded by a lot of hype concerning their alleged ‘transitional’ status in human evolution. These creatures were very ape-like but may have walked upright (i.e. they were bipedal) some of the time. Their bipedalism, however, is not habitual and does not sound very convincing. This is especially so when interpretations of their posture vary greatly. Even apes today can walk upright from time to time, so there is no reason to classify the Australopithecines as anything but apes.

Ardipithecus (aka ‘Ardi’) is not transitional either. These creatures were very ape-like and sported a small brain (20% the size of a human brain). The main reason Ardipithecus is interpreted as being transitional is the supposedly human-like toe bone (proximal foot phalanx).[1] But this toe-bone occurs in non-transitional apes.[2]

The next step in human evolution after the Australopithecines is Homo erectus. In their eagerness to explain away some very young Australian Homo erectus fossils, evolutionists themselves have largely debunked the current ape-to-human sequence (or phylogeny). Because the erectus fossils are ‘so young’ (~100 to 10,000 years old), evolutionists are quick to classify them as human (they would greatly offend the native Australians if they didn’t). The very strong erectus-like features of these fossils — such as protruding eyebrows — are explained by non-evolutionary factors, such as climate, genetic factors, and others.[3] So why should we need evolution to explain ‘normal erectus’ when non-evolutionary factors can explain them just as-well?

And because there are no intermediates between the ape Australopithecines and fully human Homo erectus, the current family tree becomes imaginary.

Whale Evolution

The most important transitional fossil in the whale evolutionary sequence is Rodhocetus. It is what we should expect from a genuine transitional fossil — it had a fluked tail (as we see in today’s whales) and flipper-like ‘arms’. But there’s just one slight problem. It’s based on speculation! Dr Phillip Gingerich admitted the tail and the limbs of Rodhocetus are based on imagination. He said:

“I speculated that it might have had a fluke… I now doubt that Rodhocetus would have had a fluked tail. … Since then we have found the forelimbs, the hands, the front arms of Rodhocetus, and we understand that it doesn’t have the kind of arms that can be spread out like flippers are on a whale.”[4]

And so, the very features for which Rodhocetus is considered transitional are imaginary!

Other animals like Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, and Basilosaurus also exist, but they are not transitional at all.Pakicetus and Ambulocetus were land mammals with only minimal similarities to whales (such as positioning of ear bones etc.). As shown in our article, Similarities and Homology: No Evidence for Evolution!, very similar animals are often unrelated to each other — so such minimal similarities inPakicetus and Ambulocetus are not enough to objectively classify them as ancestors to whales.

Basilosaurus was definitely aquatic. Its main claim to fame is the small hind ‘limbs’, which were probably some kind of reproductive clasper.[5] The foremost problem with Basilosaurus is that it lived during the time of whales,[6] making the idea that it is transitional pure imagination, and not good science.

Bird Evolution

Did birds really evolve from dinosaurs?

Did birds really evolve from dinosaurs?
Image from Wikimedia Commons user, ‘Joe Ravi’

Everyone has heard of the feathered dinosaurs — ‘proof’ that dinosaurs (the theropods) evolved into birds. Creationism does not preclude feathered dinosaurs, so it would not disprove our position. Even so, these ‘feathers’ are more likely collagen fibres, says Alan Feduccia (a world expert on birds).[7] He said:

“In our new work, we show that these and other filamentous structures were not protofeathers, but rather the remains of collagenous fiber meshworks that reinforced the skin.”[8]

So the idea of feathered dinosaurs is already under attack. Remarkably, essentially all of the fossil theropod ancestors to birds lived after the birdsArchaeopteryx and Confuciusornis. This makes theropod-to-bird evolution become imaginary and not good science.

Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx is a bird often cited as the greatest transitional fossil found. The evidence for this conclusion is the supposed reptilian features of (1) teeth, (2) wing claws, and (3) a long tail. But all these features can be explained in avian terms.

(1) The teeth are not theropod-like and quite a few extinct birds had teeth.[9] The modern-day chicken still develops teeth early on in life; perhaps teeth in birds are an avian trait that has been lost. In fact, why would teeth make certain birds transitional? Some fish have teeth, some don’t. Some amphibians have teeth, some don’t. Some reptiles have teeth, some don’t. Some mammals have teeth, some don’t. Some birds have teeth, some don’t.

(2) Hoatzins, swans, ibis, ostriches, emus, and other extinct and living birds have wing claws.[10] It is useless to classify wing claws as a transitional feature when modern birds like swans have them.

(3) As Carl Werner aptly put it, the tail in Archaeopteryx is 4-5 inches long and covered with feathers while the tail of a theropod is 4-5 feet long and covered in scales.[11]

Archaeopteryx was most likely a perching bird. It had a birdlike brain, flying feathers and elliptical wings just like modern birds, and its claws were those of a perching bird.[12] Its upper and lower jaws (maxilla and mandible respectively) moved just like other birds, and it had at least two of the five air sacs present in birds — meaning it had an avian lung.

Archaeopteryx is best described as a mosaic bird.

Horse Evolution

The horse (Equus) is thought to have evolved from the Hyracotherium — a rock badger-like animal. The intermediates (Mesohippus, Parahippus, Merychippus etc.), however, are not intermediate at all. The variation between them and Equus is within the bounds of what we see in modern horses. Some of these modern horses are very tall whereas others (Fallabella) are only 16 inches tall. Objectively, there is no reason at all to classify them as transitional. They are all different variants of horse with the Hyracotheriumhaving no relation at all.

Niles Eldredge said:

“I admit that an awful lot of that has gotten into the textbooks as though it were true. For instance, the most famous example still on exhibit downstairs (in the American Museum) is the exhibit on horse evolution prepared perhaps 50 years ago. That has been presented as literal truth in textbook after textbook. Now I think that that is lamentable, particularly because the people who propose these kinds of stories themselves may be aware of the speculative nature of some of the stuff. But by the time it filters down to the textbooks, we’ve got science as truth and we’ve got a problem.”[13]

Tetrapod Evolution

Recent evidence has surfaced consigning the fish-to-tetrapod sequence to the realm of imagination. 397 million year old trackways of a lizard-like creature were found in Poland — 18 million years older than the ‘missing link’, Tiktaalik.[14] So the creatures Tiktaalik was supposed to have evolved into lived 18 million years earlier! But is this just a minor upset? The paleontological world doesn’t seem to think so! These footprints ‘force a radical reassessment’,[15] ‘could lead to significant shifts’,[16] ‘cause a significant reappraisal’,[17] ‘force us to reconsider our whole picture of the transition from fish to land animals’.[18] In fact, “We have to rethink the whole thing.”[19]

So, tetrapod evolution becomes imaginary.

Tiktaalik

Do the features of Tiktaalik indicate transitional status — overlooking the fact that tetrapod evolution is imaginary? Echoing the words of Luskin[20], in order for Tiktaalik to have a tetrapod wrist and hand, we must:

  1. Shrink Tiktaalik’s radius and reposition it so that it articulates other bones further down the limb.
  2. Evolve a radiale [a third bone alongside the ulnare and intermedium that articulates with the radius].
  3. Dramatically repattern, reposition, and transform the existing radials by lining them up, separating them out to form digits.
  4. Evolve metacarpals and phalanges so that there are real digits extending distally from the radius.
  5. Evolve the ‘lotsa blobs’, i.e. evolve other carpal bones between the radius, ulna, and the now-aligned digits to form a real wrist. In other words, evolve the bulk of the wrist-bones.

The fins of Tiktaalik provide no evidence for transitional status. They would not have been strong enough to support its weight on land. The Coelacanth has similar fins which it uses for skilful swimming — there is no reason why Tiktaalik did not do this either.

All Fossils are Transitional?

Amazingly, the argument that ‘all fossils are transitional’ comes up quite regularly. But this is no argument at all. It must assume transitional fossils exist (i.e. evolution is true) in the first place to conclude that all fossils are transitional. So one must assume evolution to prove evolution; this is reasoning in a circle. Of course, if evolution were true, every fossil would be transitional — but this cannot be used as evidence for evolution.

Conclusion

As we have just seen, the most-cited evolutionary transitions do not stand up very well at all. But of primary importance is the fact that no fossil can be counted as evidence for evolution — there is no way to tell if any of them are related. Fossils can only be consistent with evolution, at best.

But we’re sure evolutionists will continue to present these fossils as proof that transitional forms exist. Sure, within an evolutionary framework these ‘transitional’ fossils may help us to understand which path evolution took, but objectively, there is no reason to conclude evolutionary transition. The evidence simply is not strong enough.

References

  1. Halle-Selassie, Y., “Late Miocene hominids from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia,” Nature412:180, 2001. Back to text
  2. Begun, D.R., “The earliest hominins—is less more?” Science 303:1478—1480, 2004. Back to text
  3. Richard G. Klein, The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 2nd ed., p. 571; “Late Pleistocene Man at Kow Swamp,” Nature 238:308 (11 Aug. 1972). Back to text
  4. Interview with Dr Phillip Gingerich for video series, Evolution: The Grand Experiment, conducted on August 28 2001 by Carl Werner. Played in the video, Evolution: The Grand Experiment. Back to text
  5. Phillip D. Gingerich, The Press Enterprise, 1 July 1990. A–15. Back to text
  6. E-mail Interview with Dr Lawrence G. Barnes, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California, conducted on December 21, 2005 by Dr Carl Werner. Cited in Dr Werner’s book, Evolution: The Grand Experiment(New Leaf Press, Green Forest, AR, 2007), pp. 144, 246. Back to text
  7. Alan Feduccia, Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, and J. Richard Hinchliffe, “Do Featured Dinosaurs Exist? Testing the Hypothesis on Neontological and Paleontological Evidence,” Journal of Morphology 266:125–166, 2005. Published Online: 10 October 2005 (DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10382) Back to text
  8. University of North Carolina News Release no. 477, October 10th 2005. Back to text
  9. Gish, D.T., Evolution: the Fossils Still Say No! Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, p. 138, 1995. Back to text
  10. Feduccia, A., The origin and Evolution of Birds, second edition, Yale University Press, New Haven CT pp. 1-466, 1999; Gish, D.T., Evolution: the Fossils Still Say No! Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, p. 138, 1995. Back to text
  11. Werner, Carl, Evolution: The Grand Experiment (New Leaf Press, Green Forest AR, 2007), p. 155. Back to text
  12. Feduccia, A., “Evidence from Claw Geometry Indicating Arboreal Habits ofArchaeopteryx,” Science 259:790-793, 1993; Feduccia, A.; cited in: V. Morell, “Archaeopteryx: Early Bird Catches a Can of Worms,” Science 259(5096):764–765, 5 February 1993. See also, “Archaeopteryx (unlike Archaeoraptor) is NOT a hoax—it is a true bird, not a “missing link”” by Jonathan Sarfati. Back to text
  13. Dr. Niles Eldredge, curator at the American Museum of Natural History, in a recorded interview with Luther Sunderland, published in Darwin’s Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems, Master Books, El Cajon, California, USA. Back to text
  14. Bryne, J., “Four-legged creature’s footprints force evolution rethink,” LiveScience.com, <www.livescience.com/animals/100106-tetrapod-footprints.html>, 6 January 2010. See also, “Tetrapods from Poland trample the Tiktaalik school of evolution” by Tas Walker.Back to text
  15. Niedzwiedzki, G., Szrek, P., Narkiewicz, K., Narkiewicz, M and Ahlberg, P., “Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland,” Nature 463(7277):43–48, 2010; <nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7277/pdf/nature08623.pdf>. Back to text
  16. Roach, J., “Oldest land-walker tracks found—pushes back evolution,” National Geographic News, <nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/01/100106-tetrapod-tracks-oldest-footprints-nature-evolution-walking-land.html> 6 January 2010. Back to text
  17. Editor’s Summary, “Four feet in the past: trackways pre-date earliest body fossils,”Nature 463(7277), 2010; <nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7277/edsumm/e100107-01.html>. Back to text
  18. Palaentologist Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University, Sweden; “Fossil Footprints Give Land Vertebrates a Much Longer History,” ScienceDaily, <sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100107114420.htm> 8 January 2010. Back to text
  19. Palaeontologist Jennifer Clack, University of Cambridge, UK; in: Curry, M., “Ancient four-legged beasts leave their mark,” ScienceNOW Daily News, <sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2010/106/2>, 6 January 2010. Back to text
  20. Luskin, C., An ulnare and an intermedium a wrist do not make: a response to Carl Zimmer, Discovery Institute, 1 August 2008. Back to text
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