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Transitional fossils are lacking (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Transitional fossils are lacking (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CC200:

There are no transitional fossils. Evolution predicts a continuum between each fossil organism and its ancestors. Instead, we see systematic gaps in the fossil record.


  • Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 78-90.
  • Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, pp. 57-59.

CreationWiki response:

Note: Nowhere in Scientific Creationism does Morris say there are no transitional fossils. He recognized the existence of fossils that evolutionists call transitional but disagrees with the designation.

There are two main problems with the refutation of this claim. First, Talk.Origins quibbles about the meaning of the term "transitional" and thereby obscures the real issue. Second, it commits the error of assuming that transitional fossils between closely-related species are inconsistent with the creation model.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. There are many transitional fossils. The only way that the claim of their absence may be remotely justified, aside from ignoring the evidence completely, is to redefine "transitional" as referring to a fossil that is a direct ancestor of one organism and a direct descendant of another. However, direct lineages are not required; they could not be verified even if found. What a transitional fossil is, in keeping with what the theory of evolution predicts, is a fossil that shows a mosaic of features from an older and more recent organism.

The problem here is the use of the word "transitional", the adjectival form of "transition"

transition: Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another.

The use of the word "transitional" implies an ancestor / descendant relationship. If evolutionists do not mean it that way, then it is they that are redefining "transitional". Certainly when the average person hears the term "transitional form" they think ancestor / descendant, not simply a mosaic of different types. It also implies individual body parts in transition from one to the other. It seems that evolutionists are playing word games that make evolution theory seem stronger than it really is.

When the non-scientific layman hears that fossil B is "transitional between" A and C, he thinks it means A-B-C, but evolutionists may mean:

this: Evotree1.gif

this: Evotree2.gif

this: Evotree3.gif

this: Evotree4.gif

or any number of other possible combinations. Usually when a Creationist says there are no transitional fossils they are talking to layman in layman terms, not evolutionist technical terms.

While a field of study is free to define its internal terms as its practitioners see fit, when they use a common term in different way, they are obligated to distinguish between the technical and common uses of the term, but in this case it is seldom done.

The use of the word "transitional" is also loaded with evolutionary presupposition. A more appropriate term would be a "mosaic fossil".

If one assumes the common ancestor postulated evolution, then these mosaic fossils would show how different types are related even if they are out of sequence and/or not mosaic in other ways. However, when looked at from a more skeptical viewpoint, they often do not show any clear evidence of an actual transition. Sometimes the data is complete enough to make a good case that the animals are indeed related, but at other times it is not.

However, evolution requires that one type of living thing evolved into another type, via intermediates that would be transitional (in the normal meaning of the word) between the two types, and we should expect to find evidence of these amongst the fossil record. By claiming that there are "transitional" forms, but that these are not "transitional" in the normal understanding of the word, Talk.Origins has tacitly admitted that there are no such fossils, just as creationists claim!

2. Transitional fossils may coexist with gaps. We do not expect to find finely detailed sequences of fossils lasting for millions of years.

However these gaps tend to show up in patterns predicted by a creation model.

Nevertheless, we do find several fine gradations of fossils between species and genera,

Transitions between species and genera are to be expected, since the Biblical kind is most closely equivalent to family and even sometimes goes beyond it. In some cases these so-called transitional fossils are simply hybrids from interbreeding populations.

and we find many other sequences between higher taxa that are still very well filled out.

Since the Biblical kind sometimes goes beyond family, these are to be expected. The higher ones are filled out largely by fragments such as teeth. In some cases, mosaic fossils are placed in a gap, but there are usually good reasons to question the assumed relationships.

The following are fossil transitions between species and genera:

a. Human ancestry. There are many fossils of human ancestors, and the differences between species are so gradual that it is not always clear where to draw the lines between them.

This statement is somewhat deceptive. First, the use of the term "human ancestors" shows how much evolution affects their views of these fossils. While it is hard to draw lines between the varieties of humans, there is a clear line between genus Homo (human) and genus Australopithecus. Evolutionists have blurred the line between the two by classifying as Homo some fossils that should belong to Australopithecus.

Most of the fossils used by evolutionists to make this claim are fragments or at best only reassembled skulls, both of which allow room for evolutionary presuppositions to influence the reconstructions. The only real area where the line between man and ape seems to be blurred is in brain size. This occurs because the extreme low end of human brain size overlaps there extreme upper end of ape brain size.

Furthermore, a 1994 study [1] of the Australopithian inner ear drew a clear line between its facultative bipedalism, knuckle-walking, and arboreal climbing; and the obligatory bipedalism of the humans called Homo erectus.

b The horns of titanotheres (extinct Cenozoic mammals) appear in progressively larger sizes, from nothing to prominence. Other head and neck features also evolved. These features are adaptations for head-on ramming analogous to sheep behavior

Evolutionists do not have a clear reason for this trend but creation science does. If, instead of covering the 25 million years claimed by evolutionists, these animals lived shortly after the Flood, covering perhaps a few centuries at best, the change in morphology can be explained as a reaction to the availability of food. It is not unusual for an animal's appearance to be affected by the amount of available food. In the case of titanotheres, malnutrition could have stunted the growth of the animals and the production of their horn. As food became more available, the existing genetic potential to grow large and produce a large horn took over.

c. A gradual transitional fossil sequence connects the foraminifera Globigerinoides trilobus and Orbulina universa. O. universa, the later fossil, features a spherical test surrounding a "Globigerinoides-like" shell, showing that a feature was added, not lost. The evidence is seen in all major tropical ocean basins. Several intermediate morphospecies connect the two species.

All this really shows is that Globigerinoides trilobus and Orbulina universa are varieties of the same kind of organism. The origin of spherical test is not a problem, even if it is truly a new feature. The spherical test is a less complex structure than the Globigerinoides shell and probably could have come from a degenerative duplicate copy of that gene. The other possibility is that the genetic information for the spherical test was present in earlier Globigerinoides but not switched on due to environment. In that case, the genes got past to Orbulina but may not have been passed to modern Globigerinoides. The intermediates would have resulted from a gradual environmental change.

d. The fossil record shows transitions between species of Phacops.

e. Planktonic forminifera. This is an example of punctuated gradualism. A ten-million-year foraminifera fossil record shows long periods of stasis and other periods of relatively rapid but still gradual morphologic change.

f. Fossils of the diatom Rhizosolenia are very common (they are mined as diatomaceous earth), and they show a continuous record of almost two million years which includes a record of a speciation event.

g. Lake Turkana mollusc species.

h. Cenozoic marine ostracodes).

i. The Eocene primate genus Cantius.

j. Scallops of the genus Chesapecten show gradual change in one "ear" of their hinge over about 13 million years. The ribs also change .

k. Gryphaea (coiled oysters) become larger and broader but thinner and flatter during the Early Jurassic.

None of these are the types of transitions that the original claim is referring to. From a creation science perspective these are just varieties within the same created kind.

The following are fossil transitionals between families, orders, and classes:

a. Human ancestry. Australopithecus, though its leg and pelvis bones show it walked upright, had a bony ridge on the forearm, probably vestigial, indicative of knuckle walking.

The Australopithian inner ear[2] was consistent with that of facultative bipedalism, knuckle-walking, and arboreal climbing of apes, and the bony ridge on the forearm is consistent with that. Rather than being in any way transitional, Australopithecus seems to still have walked like an ape. It was probably able to walk upright longer than most apes, but still seems to have been primarily a knuckle-walker.

b. Dinosaur-bird transitions.

They do not exist in objective reality. Yes, there are several bird / dinosaur mosaics, but there is no objective order.

c. Haasiophis terrasanctus is a primitive marine snake with well-developed hind limbs. Although other limbless snakes might be more ancestral, this fossil shows a relationship of snakes with limbed ancestors. Pachyrhachis is another snake with legs that is related to Haasiophis.

Genesis 3:14 implies that snakes did originally have legs, and this is just evidence of that.

d. The jaws of mososaurs are also intermediate between snakes and lizards. Like the snake's stretchable jaws, they have highly flexible lower jaws, but unlike snakes, they do not have highly flexible upper jaws. Some other skull features of mososaurs are intermediate between snakes and primitive lizards.

One hole in this is the fact the "oldest" mososaurs are "dated" to about 95 million years, while snakes are known to be older than that. Besides, only an evolutionist would see this as intermediate between snakes and lizards. Mososaurs were large marine reptiles that, while having jaws similar to those of a snake, also had a tail like a fish and teeth like a shark and crocodile. They are even described as looking like "a mixture of lizard, fish, and alligator", making it a classic mosaic. So one could just as well claim mososaurs are transitional between fish and lizards as a snake and a lizard. It all depends on what traits one decides to use.

Transitions between mesonychids and whales.

These are basically nonexistent, and none of them are truly transitional.

f. Transitions between fish and tetrapods.

They only qualify as transitional if one assumes evolution to start with.

g. Transitions from condylarths (a kind of land mammal) to fully aquatic modern manatees.

See: (Talk.Origins) Sirenians

In particular, Pezosiren portelli is clearly a sirenian, but its hind limbs and pelvis are unreduced.

Even a casual comparison between Pezosiren portelli's skeleton and that of a manatee or sea cow shows the claim that Pezosiren portelli was a sirenian to be bogus. The skulls of both the sea cow and manatee have a similar morphology with a clear downward curve in the snout, while Pezosiren portelli has a straight snout. There are also significant differences in the shoulder blades. While there are similarities in the rib cage, there are difference as well. Furthermore, there are no transitional forms between Pezosiren portelli and true sirenian. As such, while Pezosiren portelliwas clearly a land animal the only connection with sirenian is in the imaginations of evolutionists.

The following are fossil transitionals between kingdoms and phyla:

a. The Cambrian fossils Halkiera and Wiwaxia have features that connect them with each other and with the modern phyla of Mollusca, Brachiopoda, and Annelida. In particular, one species of halkieriid has brachiopod-like shells on the dorsal side at each end. This is seen also in an immature stage of the living brachiopod species Neocrania. It has setae identical in structure to polychaetes, a group of annelids. Wiwaxia and Halkiera have the same basic arrangement of hollow sclerites, an arrangement that is similar to the chaetae arrangement of polychaetes. The undersurface of Wiwaxia has a soft sole like a mollusk's foot, and its jaw looks like a mollusk's mouth. Aplacophorans, which are a group of primitive mollusks, have a soft body covered with spicules similar to the sclerites of Wiwaxia

These types of similarities don't even qualify as mosaics. Such similarities only constitute evidence of a relationship if one assumes evolution to start with. In creation science such similarities are evidence of a common designer.

Cambrian and Precambrain (sic) fossils Anomalocaris and Opabinia are transitional between arthropods and lobopods.

Both Anomalocaris and Opabinia were arthropods that had a single lobopod trait. Such mosaic traits do occur even in organisms that are not considered by evolutionists to have a common ancestor with those traits.

An ancestral echinoderm has been found that is intermediate between modern echinoderms and other deuterostomes

This is quite vague. Most likely this echinoderm simply has traits in common with other deuterostomes, but without details there is no basis for an analysis.

Evolutionists do claim these fossil are transitional based on their presupposition of Evolution, but their best examples simply have mosaic traits. These traits are not part one type and part the other, but fully one or the other. What evolutionists need is to have major actual traits objectively in transition, such as between:

  • Fin and leg.
  • Scale and Feather.
  • Scale and Hair.

Or new parts in development such as fins, eyes, nervous systems, and skeletons These types of have not been found.

Since Evolutionists do claim to have transitional fossils, this claim should be updated to read "There are no real transitional fossils.