The evolutionary parade of ‘missing links’
The floats keep changing!
Published: 29 May 2012 (GMT+10)
Unqualified sound bites such as ‘no missing links have been found’ are unhelpful statements that we recommend people do not use. However, many do use them, and they are taken by skeptics as a standard creationist argument. Dr Carl Wieland shows how the proper creationist argument on transitional forms works.
Chelle B. from the United States writes:
I am a big fan of Creation.com! I do have one question. Sometimes, I will browse the internet looking for atheist and/or evolutionist argumentation. One complaint that I often find goes something like this: “Creationists are always *saying* that no ‘missing links’ have been found, but they actually have… and lots of them. Evolution has been proven over and over again.” Like you, I believe this is completely false, but assuming they aren’t all out to deceive people, how are they able to say those things and really believe them?
CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:
This is an important question, and requires a detailed answer. Evolutionists are not ‘lying’ when they say things like that, they really believe them. I trust that the following analysis will show why firstly the creationist argument is on solid ground in this regard, but why we also recommend (e.g. in our article Arguments not to use) against simply saying ‘there are no transitional forms’ as a ‘sound bite’ with no qualification.
First, the fact that the links (transitional forms) which the concept of evolution would prima facie cause its adherents to expect are definitely still missing is highlighted in Chapter 3 of Dr Sarfati’s classic book Refuting Evolution.
What makes the question complex is that in place of the countless thousands of transitional forms expected (as Darwin logically indicated should be found, and anticipated would be found in future), there exists at any point in time a handful of candidates, i.e. fossils put forward as transitional forms by evolutionary proponents. [Note: By ‘transitional forms’ is meant here fossils showing intermediate stages between major evolutionary transitions, i.e. from one kind of creature to a wholly different kind. For example, stages in the supposed transition of a walking reptile to a flying bird, nothing which creationists could regard as variation/speciation within a kind. Some evolutionists argue that we have countless thousands of transitional fossils, but they empty the term ‘transitional fossil’ of any content really meaningful for the creation-evolution debate. They define a fossil as ‘transitional’ in the same sense that a car is ‘transitional’ between a unicycle and a truck. That is not in view here.] Creationists by definition would argue that there are none, so to evolutionists this is seen as ‘proof’. From a creation perspective, though, consider the following:
Fig 1. This diagram graced the cover of Science magazine, making people believe that a ‘walking whale’ had really been found.
Imagine if one were to bury every one of the billions of creatures in the present world in a global flood to produce a fossil record. Let some imaginary aliens, who had no real idea of our world and its biology, discover that record thousands of years later. It is almost inevitable that by sheer chance a tiny handful of creatures’ remains would be found for which their structures, and their positioning in that record, were such as to allow speculation about their being ‘transitional’ between two types of creatures. The living platypus might be one such example. But the stress is on the fact that it would be very few. And the more that was found out by the aliens examining the record in more depth, the more likely it would be that they would eventually find out that the platypus, in fact, could not qualify as such a transitional form.
Returning to our current reality, the following makes sense, therefore. That is, that we find firstly that the numbers of such alleged ‘transitional forms’ are indeed very tiny. And they are changing over time, as one such ‘link’ is quietly dropped once another is available to take its place. In other words, the ‘links’ that one generation grows up with as ‘proving evolution’ (certain apemen are a prime example) are mostly not the same as the following generation is shown as ‘proof positive’ for evolution. In fact, candidates for transitional forms are sometimes ‘dumped’ rather rapidly as more evidence is found. In the case of the recent ‘Ida’ missing link, it started to recede embarrassingly within months—see this article.
Perhaps the most classic example of how links get shown over time to be untenable is Pakicetus, the so-called ‘walking whale’ found in Pakistan. Fig. 1 shows the picture on the cover of Science magazine. The fossil’s discoverer, paleontologist Dr Philip Gingrich, said about it that:
“In time and in its morphology, Pakicetus is perfectly intermediate, a missing link between earlier land mammals and later, full-fledged whales.”1
Like so many of these proposed or alleged ‘transitional forms’, the fossil reconstruction (see Fig. 2) involved a great deal of evolutionary speculation, to put it mildly.
And, again like so often happens, years later it is quietly dropped as evidence mounts against it. Fig. 3 shows how Pakicetus turned out, upon the discovery of more bones, to be nothing like the ‘walking whale’ shown by Gingerich and his colleagues. But vast numbers of people had had their faith in evolution reinforced.
Fig 2. What was actually found were the stippled portions of the skull bone. The rest of the picture was obviously based on sheer speculation.
Fig 3. A Pakicetus reconstruction 7 years later as featured in Nature. More bones had been found, which means that this creature had to be quietly dropped from the list of ‘transitional forms’.
Another example is Tiktaalik, the so-called perfect link between fish and amphibians, i.e. the first creature to allegedly crawl from the early oceans out onto the land. Although there were always reasons to doubt the claim, as CMI’s article from the time Tiktaalik roseae—a fishy ‘missing link’ showed, the nail in the coffin occurred when fossil footprints were found in Poland. This was because they were clearly footprints of four-legged animals walking on land, and thus had to be after land creatures had evolved in the evolutionary scheme. However, according to that scheme’s own assumptions, they had to be ‘dated’ some 18 million years earlier than Tiktaalik. Ergo, Tiktaalik could not be the ancestor of land creatures.
We can anticipate this sort of process to continue; a turnover of claimed transitional forms, such that committed evolutionists will always have something they think they can ‘hang their hat on’. But in the bigger picture, there remains firstly a severe paucity of fossil candidates that even committed evolutionists could put forward as candidates for transitional forms. The fossil record remains, as Gould and others pointed out long ago, characterized by sudden appearance and stasis (staying the same). The notion of punctuated equilibrium was developed precisely because of the remarkable scarcity of these expected chains of in-between forms—see this 1994 article by Dr Don Batten in CMI’s Journal of Creation.
Secondly, the handful of ones that are put forward as alleged transitional forms at any point in time are legitimately open to challenge in terms of their status as true transitional forms.
Thirdly, the repeated pattern is an on-going turnover of even that handful of candidates. I.e. in time, even evolutionists themselves acknowledge that a once-loved transitional form no longer qualifies.
I trust that this goes some way to answering your query.
With kind regards
Yours sincerely in Christ,
- Gingerich, P.D., The whales of Tethys, Natural History, p. 86, April 1994. Return to text.
I shared your recent post on living fossils, and the missing link question came up - I've attempted to summarise the article for a facebook comment, rather than post the link - as I think it is a bit complex for the general population. What do you think, and could you put a simpler summary first because it is such a common question? Here is my post to facebook: "There has been very few satisfactory "missing links" found, and they are often being dropped as they are studied more. In the past there's been a number of hoaxes as well, such is the desperation to prove a point - and again I ask "why - what difference does it make?"
The answer to that is another question which has stupendous consequences - IS GOD REAL AND DO WE BELIEVE HIS BOOK" - it's no wonder there is such a fuss!" [Facebook link removed as per feedback rules]
Great article once again. I find it interesting that evolutionist are willingly to admit they are wrong- but they do it quietly. By the way, do you guys have a article that deals with all of the alleged missing links?
Because of the everchanging parade, and the sheer number of transitions that are not documented by fossils, it's not practically possible to have one definitive article. However, doing a search on 'transitional forms', 'transitional fossils' and/or 'missing links' on our site will point to you a very substantial amount of information on all of the major claims made. This includes the relevant chapter of the classic book Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati (chapter available as a pdf online, will emerge in the search). An uptodate comment is the relevant section of The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution, also by Dr Sarfati.
William I. ignores that many of the scientific establishment fail to publicly admit being wrong. The theories are trumpeted to the public via the media, as though having been proven. Then when found to be untenable the theory is allowed to quietly die without the public being advised. Thus the average non -scientist is convinced that there are hundreds, or even thousands of proven missing links. This is deliberately dishonest and the evolutionary establishment goes on chalking up more and more support from the unwitting public.
Certainly some good points, and I am in full support of those points being made on every occasion. My meaning was that it's like a little boy with a peashooter continually attacking someone with a cannon. When is the penny going to drop?
It just shows the power of mass propaganda. I have work colleagues who believe in evolution - they don't know why... they just do.
It's hard not to be amused by all this scrapping over one or two proposed transitional forms, when in reality, if we are to believe the evolutionists, such forms should, statistically speaking (and considering evolution of the species be random mutation), outnumber the fossils of completed species many many times over. Not only that, these transitional forms should in turn be outnumbered by enormous numbers of non-transitional forms - the mutations that never made the grade (where these mutations involved bony structures). Evolutionists should be embarrassed by the paucity of even claimed transitional forms, when we should be marching through mutated fossils knee-deep all over the planet!
Some good points, though
I thank you for your great work at CMI of answering challenging questions proposed by evolutionist. I think that we must always be aware that evolutionist have a 'mindset' to see 'transition' where none really exists. They 'expect' to see a transitional form in almost any fossil find and will be financially rewarded if they can develop a plausible scenario or mythological picture of their fossil 'transitioning'. CMI and other creationist organizations provide the only stablizing influence to 'historical science', and I thank God for your work.
These answers are quite clear and truthful. There is however one point that is frequently missed while discussing the technicalities. Evolution is a weapon of the enemy. It is a delusion from which its victims have no power to escape. The presentation of the creation case only helps creationists and we see all to often that sound arguments and evidence have zero impact on their deluded minds. We often gasp at their dullness. This fails to help them.
Darwin was the high priest of a new religion. We need to respond to this with spiritual weapons. When the spiritual power behind this goes the scientists will follow.
Alan, these are important considerations. I think that looking at the apostolic examples, though, we need to do more than just pray (which is probably not what you're implying, but it gives me a chance to make these points) be also ready and willing to engage the arguments.
Not only are we to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15--note gently and respectfully) but to be engaged in tearing down arguments that exalt themselves against biblical truth (2 Corinthians 10:5) Despite the powerful delusion, to which 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 may well be relevant, as the church remains alert and obedient to these sorts of things, people (including scientists) ARE being won over. It's God's business, for His reasons, as to when and whether (or even if ever) the trickle turns into a flood, but we should keep prayerfully active, recognizing the ultimately spiritual nature of this battle, as you do.
I agree entirely with the thrust of Carl's comments. I would add that the existence of a transitional form does not prove that the organism represented by the fossil was evolving. Fossils are 'snapshots' not 'videos'. It can be asserted that an organism existed with the form of the fossil. But even though that form appears to be 'halfway' between to other fossil forms it does not prove 'transition'. Only the existence of many so-called transitional forms, where there is a gradation in transition, would qualify as the basis of an hypothesis that evolution is demonstrated by the fossil record. This sort of evidence has never been found.
To put it another way, a few so-called transitional fossil forms only proves that organisms looking like these fossils existed. It does not point to 'movement' from one form to another.
This is with regards to the caption under the Pakicedus picture: "Fig 3. A Pakicetus reconstruction 7 years later as featured in Nature. More bones had been found, which means that this creature had to be quietly dropped from the list of ‘transitional forms’."
Are you sure it has really been "dropped" as a transitional form by evolutionists? They keep telling me it is still a transitionary form, and refer me to sources like
[Two weblinks to evolutionary sources were provided here -- Ed. ]
Thank you for clarifying - in advance!
I think I should have added to the response, after 'is quietly dropped', the words 'by informed and fairminded evolutionists and the media generally'.
Certainly the initial hype about Pakicetus died away rapidly (I was involved in the creation/evolution battle already at the time, and recall it all well) with the disappointment that accompanied the discovery that it looked nothing like the 'diving part-whale' on the cover of Science magazine, and certainly not the 'perfect' transitional form its discoverer proclaimed it to be at the time.
Evolutionary sites, and evolutionists themselves, are not going to all be on the same page or all uptodate in terms of what is superseded and what is not. (To be fair, that is often so for creationists as well.)
The Thewissen site you sent shows the same picture of Pakicetus as in our article, but insists on regarding the 'Pakicetids' as transitional forms. To quote the site: "Pakicetids did not look like whales at all, and resembled land mammals. However, the skulls of pakicetids have an ear region that is highly unusual in shape, and only resembles that of modern and fossil whales." This is their reason par excellence for including it as a 'link' type. All in all, a very tenuous candidature. Grant creation, and there is no reason why certain design features might not be shared between unrelated groups, in fact this is often found in groups that evos themselves admit could NOT have shared a common ancestor, where it is fudged over by calling it 'homoplasy'. (A word worth researching on creation.com's search engine, btw.)
The other link that listed transitional fossils in general does not actually refer to Pakicetus as such, as far as I can tell, but to the pakicetids, and under that heading refers to Ambulocetus. The very name 'ambulocetus' means 'walking whale'. To see our response to when ambulocetus itself was first discovered, see http://creation.com/a-whale-of-a-tale. See also this technical article from our Journal of Creation, http://creation.com/walking-whales-nested-hierarchies-and-chimeras-do-they-exist which includes documentation that in fact cladograms show ambulocetids and pakicetids to be sister groups, with no line of descent from one to the other. In short, most evolutionary sources do not regard the a/cetids as encompassed within pakicetids, as far as I can tell from a brief foray on the web.
As a scientist myself (retired) I never understood why so many of my colleagues were atheists. It's so obvious that there must be a God given all the evidence around us. This is even before I started studying the Bible seriously. I know there are many scientists even today who believe in God but the issue I see is they are treated like fools or sick in the mind by their atheist colleagues. I know as it's happened to me. It's really time to turn the tables around and start calling the atheists for what they are, fools and/or liars who will do anything to avoid the truth, even corrupting the evidence. Us God believers don't need to corrupt the evidence since the scientific evidence is in our favour, when it's examined and studied honestly.
Jack, the sentiments are understandable, though I think we should recall that we are to give answers 'with gentleness and respect' (1 Peter 3:15). There is a difference between assertiveness and boldness in defence of the faith (which is what one wishes more Christians would exhibit) and agressiveness/bitterness, etc. which can come through if one engages in any sort of name-calling (which your comments could be interpreted as supporting, though I think you don't mean it quite like that). God can say that the one who refuses to acknowledge God is 'a fool', but He is in a very special position to do so, obviously.
Turning the tables and boldly challenging their basis for belief, if sufficiently informed, is a good idea; you may want to consider, too, the sorts of approach outlined in this article, which do not require high levels of proficiency in science: http://creation.com/why-not-and-why
The problem with this article is that it ignores the fact that scientists expect the debunking of theories put forward by one generation by the next. Cladistics, for example is a form of classification of taxonomy designed from the ground up to account for the addition of new information. Therefore, each candidate for a transitional form is placed, not between two previously discovered forms, but on its own branch forking off of the earlier form's ancestral tree. This is designed to avoid saying definitively that a particular form is THE transition between x and y, in anticipation the event that new information is uncovered. This is actually a crucial aspect of the scientific method and is indicative of academic honesty rather than assumptions based on ideological preconceptions. The entire mainstream scientific community will change its consensus in light of new information, fully aware that some day in the future, new facts may one day be uncovered that change the fundamental theory yet again. This is how a worldview based on REALITY rather than DOCTRINE is constructed. How many times has CMI completely reworked is cosmological or biological model of history based on the discovery of new evidence?
Please see the response to William I's similar comment just above. It should also be noted that these changing consensuses do not--no way--involve a willingness for scientists to change their entire 'cosmological or biological model of history'. Evolutionary science may be open to changing their view of HOW the biological world, for instance, made itself (evolved) but not WHETHER it did so. The mechanism may be argued about, or which fossil is transitional, but not the alleged 'fact' that there must have been such a transition. Both creationists like CMI and evolutionists generally hold to core dogmas, or sets of axioms. The world-made-itself dogma permits no alternatives (see creation.com/the-rules-of-the-game, and creation.com/lewontin). So that is the 'DOCTRINE' (upper case yours) which is permitted to trump 'REALITY' where necessary. What changes when there is contradictory evidence is that either auxiliary hypotheses are established to explain it away, or the various submodels that make up the 'big picture' are modified or abandoned. It is the same for both sides. (See the works of Lakatos particularly, mentioned in the other response). So yes, CMI has done that, with e.g. the vapour canopy model of the preFlood world, or the moon dust argument (see creation.com/dontuse) - and appropriately so. In the process, given how few are working on the issues compared to the taxpayer-funded countless billions working on evolution, there has been very heartening progress in understanding and developing the models of biblical creation. For an example of a set of facts which ucomfortably points to not just creation, but recent creation, and which currently has evolutionists scrambling for an auxiliary hypothesis or some other counter, see creation.com/sanford. Now, maybe there will be an answer to salvage evolution for now, maybe not. But it's important to at least be able to see clearly what is happening here, and no matter which side of the ideological fence one is on, not be beguiled by fairytale images of some idealized concept called 'science', nor the equally misleading idea that it is somehow synonymous with 'evolution'.
Thankfully, science is allowed to be wrong. Often, that is precisely how we move forward in scientific fields. "Scientist A" states that he uncovered a new "transitional form"....people get excited to learn more, popular magazines such as "Science" display unscientific articles to promote the discovery, findings get submitted for review at a scholarly journal, and eventually "scientist B" stumbles onto a mistake or new evidence or even outright frauds, unraveling the original find and requiring a new explanation for it.
This process(or METHOD)is why science provides such valuable knowledge to the world, it constantly questions itself and is always looking to improve. What it is not is an opening for Creationists to make claims that evolution, as a whole, is wrong. For example, If a scientist discovers that the sun is actually made of ice, debunking hundreds of years of scientific knowledge about the sun, that doesn't mean the sun no longer exists.
If you do not understand the scientific method, that's your problem.
This idea of the 'self-correcting' nature of evolutionary science is worth exploring a little. It's not quite the way this idealized picture paints it. The first important point is that whatever the correction is, it may not go outside of the overall paradigm, i.e. that evolutionary transformism on the major scale (microbes to microbiologists, magnolia trees and mammoths) has indeed happened, period. This would be fair enough, as all science must proceed within paradigms--except that creationists are not afforded the same luxury or leeway. And when a particular transitional form is trumpeted, this tentative nature of the claim is not exactly highlighted--it is usually presented in our culture as an incontrovertible fact which means everyone must bow to evolution. Further, in practice, and in less spectacular cases than Pakicetus, the transitional form is usually only fully retired once another has been elevated or unearthed to take its place. And we are not claiming that because one transitional form is debunked, hence evolution is wrong, period. What is more than reasonable to state, however, is that the claim that evolutionists can show all these transitional forms is extremely misleading, and that the 'big picture' of the fossil record (which mostly demonstrates sudden appearance and stasis, not chains of links that Darwin expected) cannot be claimed to support evolution without serious massaging. In the real world science is not the neat thing that people like to package it as, whether done within an evolutionary or creationist paradigm, it is a far more messy endeavour in which beliefs, biases and social constructs play a huge role. And it can't be stressed often enough that the type of historical/forensic enquiry that is involved with attempting to reconstruct the history of life on earth does not have the self-correcting nature of normal operational/experimental science, where each correction, tested by repeatable experimental observation, brings us closer to the truth. Newton's physics is not overthrown by Einstein's in the way that transitional form X are overthrown by another set of opinions about alleged transitional form Y. Rather, because both were tightly based on experiment, it complements it and Newtonian physics is subsumed within Einstein's. All in all (and I digress here from the main point of this response), one wishes that there was intensive teaching on the philosophy of science in senior high at least, so that the glossy images of what science is and isn't are more readily understood for what they are. For those not trained in the subject (as I was not) I recommend the works of Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and JP Moreland (the latter a Christian).
Another great CMI article.
It is concerning that the Natural History Museum still shows the incorrect 'version' of the fossil.
For a 'world class museum' they certainly lack research or perhaps they forgo intellectual honesty to push their pseudo science on the unsuspecting public?
[Link provided but deleted according to comment rules]