"Transitional Vertebrate Fossils"

A criticism frequently levelled against Darwinism is that there are no transitional fossils linking one species with another. Darwinists strongly reject this charge and the talk-origins "FAQ" by Kathleen Hunt entitled 'Transitional Vertebrate Fossils' is perhaps the most robust defence of this issue from a Darwinian point of view.

Hunt begins her "FAQ" by drawing a distinction between transitional fossils that show a 'general lineage' and those that demonstrate 'species-to-species transition'. The latter she defines as 'a very fine grained sequence documenting the actual speciation event.'

This is a courageously unambiguous definition and one that leads any rational person to expect that Hunt will then present evidence for such a 'fine grained sequence' that documents an 'actual speciation event'. Unfortunately, however, that is not what is presented in her "FAQ".

Take, for example, one of the most important and earliest transitions that Darwinists claim took place, that of primitive jawless fish to sharks, skates and rays.  This is the evidence that Hunt actually offers us: (I have highlighted certain words in red)

Transition from primitive jawless fish to sharks, skates, and rays

  • Late Silurian -- first little simple shark-like denticles.
  • Early Devonian -- first recognizable shark teeth, clearly derived from scales.

GAP: Note that these first, very very old traces of shark-like animals are so fragmentary that we can't get much detailed information. So, we don't know which jawless fish was the actual ancestor of early sharks.

  • Cladoselache (late Devonian) -- Magnificent early shark fossils, found in Cleveland roadcuts during the construction of the U.S. interstate highways. Probably not directly ancestral to sharks, but gives a remarkable picture of general early shark anatomy, down to the muscle fibers!
  • Tristychius & similar hybodonts (early Mississippian) -- Primitive proto-sharks with broad-based but otherwise shark-like fins.
  • Ctenacanthus & similar ctenacanthids (late Devonian) -- Primitive, slow sharks with broad-based shark-like fins & fin spines. Probably ancestral to all modern sharks, skates, and rays. Fragmentary fin spines (Triassic) -- from more advanced sharks.
  • Paleospinax (early Jurassic) -- More advanced features such as detached upper jaw, but retains primitive ctenacanthid features such as two dorsal spines, primitive teeth, etc.
  • Spathobatis (late Jurassic) -- First proto-ray.
  • Protospinax (late Jurassic) -- A very early shark/skate. After this, first heterodonts, hexanchids, & nurse sharks appear (late Jurassic). Other shark groups date from the Cretaceous or Eocene. First true skates known from Upper Cretaceous.

Notice that, where we are promised a 'fine-grained sequence documenting an actual speciation event,' what we are actually given is conjecture and suppositions like:-

'. . .clearly derived from

'. . probably not ancestral, but gives a remarkable picture . .'

' . . shark-like fins . .'

' . . Probably ancestral . .'

' . . more advanced features but retains primitive features . .'

' . . a very early . . . '

Notice that these and similar frequently-used phrases are not scientific terms, They are undefined Darwinist code words, used to suggest or imply that there is strong or direct scientific evidence of a relationship -- other similar phrases are found throughout the "FAQ", such as 'mammalian tendencies' ' and 'bear-like features'    Other handy terms and phrases used to explain fossil features that don't fit the Darwinist theory include 'vestigial' and this truly magnificent one, 'Another early mustelid, but has some rather puzzling traits that may mean it is not a direct ancestor of later mustelids.'  Puzzling, indeed.

In every case, these terms are used without any evidence to support them other than the trivial fact that there is some physical resemblance -- the argument from homology.  But as pointed out elsewhere, if you relied on homology as a guide you would conclude that the human foot had evolved from the human hand, or vice versa -- something we know cannot be true.

Moreover, on top of all these weasel words, Hunt actually admits from the outset that there is a gap in the fossils and adds, without a trace of irony, 

'So, we don't know which jawless fish was the actual ancestor of early sharks.' 

In which case, one is bound to ask, Then what the Dickens is this description doing in a "FAQ" purporting to give concrete, species-to-species examples of transitions between jawless fish and sharks?

What is true for jawless fish is true for every single species and every single 'transition' on Hunt's list. And the reason is the same in every case. It is because when a convinced Darwinist looks at the fossil evidence and talks of 'transitions' he or she means something quite different from what any ordinary, objective reasonable observer means. So what exactly does a Darwinist mean by the word 'transition' and what does an objective reasonable observer mean?

Darwinists believe that one species turns into another species through a process of genetic mutation combined with natural selection. This is necessarily a gradual process, one that happens over the generations. So that if you examine the offspring of any particular generation, it will not seem so very different from its parents. But if you examine the offspring distant by, say, one hundred generations, or one thousand generations, or ten thousand generations from the original species, then you will see a major difference.

But when it comes to evaluating fossils, looking for this difference, there is a difficulty that doesn’t exist with living species. You can tell whether living creatures are members of the same or different species by carrying out a laboratory test (such as artificial insemination) to see if they are physiologically capable of breeding. If they are so capable then they belong to the same species; if they are not, they belong to different species. Unfortunately, however, it is impossible to apply the breeding test to animals known only from their fossils.

It is also possible to sequence the DNA of living or recently dead creatures and make a comparison of their DNA to see how closely related they are. But again, DNA testing (of the 'Jurassic Park' kind) is not available for fossil animals.

What this means is that there remains only one valid scientific test that would enable an objective observer to claim that one fossil is related by descent to an earlier fossil and that is an unbroken (or practically intact) chain of evidence linking the earlier and later fossils.

It is sometimes said that this demand is for an impossibly high standard of evidence -- like expecting an archaeologist to find an intact tomb of Caesar or Cleopatra with their personal diary beside the body.  The reality is somewhat different.

Three-quarters of the Earth's land surface is covered with sedimentary rocks. A great proportion of these rocks are continuously stratified where they outcrop and the strata contain distinctive fossils such as sea urchins in the chalk and ammonites in many Mesozoic rocks. The case for Darwinism would be made convincingly if someone were to produce a sequence of fossils from a sequence of adjacent strata (such as ammonite species or sea urchins) showing indisputable signs of gradual progressive change on the same basic stock, but above the species level (as distinct from subspecific variation).

Ideally this should be demonstrated in a long sequence, ten or twenty or fifty successive fossil species, showing major generic evolution - but a short sequence would be enough. But this simple relationship is not what is shown in the sequence of the rocks. Nowhere in the world has anyone met this simple evidential criterion with a straightforward fossil sequence from successive strata. Yet there are so many billions of fossils available from so many thousands of strata, that the failure to meet this modest demand is inexplicable if transitions have taken place in the way Hunt describes.

It ought to be relatively easy to assemble not merely a handful but hundreds of species arranged in lineal descent. Schoolchildren should be able to do this on an afternoon's nature study trip to the local quarry: but even the world's foremost paleontologists have failed to do so with the whole Earth to choose from and the resources of the world's greatest universities at their disposal.

This is the reason that a genuinely objective observer says there is not a single transition known. And when Darwinists assert that there are many such transitional fossils what they really mean is that they have found isolated fossils that look as if they are intermediate between one species or another ( 'probably', 'shark-like' 'tendencies', 'mammal-like') -- therefore, they must be evidence of transitional species, because Darwinism predicts such fossils.

Or they mean that they can find limited physical variation occurring in a true fossil line of descent (shells getting a little longer or a little shorter) and try to claim that this amounts to 'speciation' -- just as they do with living varieties such as the peppered moth or Darwin's finches.

This is a kind of circular evidence -- evidence by argument -- that would not be permitted in any other university department or in any other branch of science. Yet it is not only tolerated in Palaeontology, it is actively taught and encouraged. 

What then is the scientific status of the detailed schemes of descent that Hunt and other Darwinists have drawn up over the past century?

When you have before you a massive amount of data, especially data that is generically similar, it is very easy to perceive patterns in that data that look like 'sequences'. All that is necessary is to take the data that does not fit your 'sequence' and file it away in a drawer labelled 'Not yet decided', 'status unknown' or simply 'unsolved problems'. In reality, if the data in the file drawer were added to the so-called sequence data, any objective observer would quickly see that there isn’t a developing series but a mass of contradictory details.

This pitfall entraps scientists constantly. In the recent past some Israeli professors of mathematics have published a book asserting that the names of twentieth century people can be found encoded in the Bible -- and so they can, if you select the data to fit your theory.

Of course, this is not to deny the sincerity or integrity of the scientists who sincerely believe they have found such evolutionary sequences -- just as the Israeli professors sincerely believe they have found Adolph Hitler in the Bible.



My recommendation to those responsible for maintaining the talk-origins "FAQ":-

This "FAQ" should be returned to Kathleen Hunt and she should be asked to remove from it all conjecture, baseless assertions and guesswork based on trivial superficial similarities.

Wherever she wishes to assert a relationship between two species, she should be asked to produce direct evidence (as distinct from conjecture) first that they really are two species, not merely varieties, and that there is an unbroken chain of intermediate variation of the type predicted by Darwinism in the intermediate strata between them.

She should be asked to remove undefined cod-scientific words (such as 'mammalian tendencies'  and 'shark-like' ) and replace them instead with terms defined according to established scientific principles.

Whatever is left after this process is the sum total of human knowledge on transitional fossils. Richard Milton
Reality Restored homepage - HERE