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.
Like so many of these proposed or alleged ‘transitional forms’, the fossil reconstruction [of Pakicetus] … involved a great deal of evolutionary speculation, to put it mildly.
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’.
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.