Table of Contents
A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution
The links are missing
First published in Refuting Evolution, Chapter 3
Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science discusses the fossil record in several places. Creationists and evolutionists, with their different assumptions, predict different things about the fossil record. If living things had really evolved from other kinds of creatures, then there would have been many intermediate or transitional forms, with halfway structures. However, if different kinds had been created separately, the fossil record should show creatures appearing abruptly and fully formed.
The transitional fossils problem
Charles Darwin was worried that the fossil record did not show what his theory predicted:
Why is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.1
Is it any different today? The late Dr Colin Patterson, senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History, wrote a book, Evolution. In reply to a questioner who asked why he had not included any pictures of transitional forms, he wrote:
I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them … . I will lay it on the line—there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.2
The renowned evolutionist (and Marxist — see documentation) Stephen Jay Gould wrote:
The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.3
I regard the failure to find a clear ‘vector of progress’ in life’s history as the most puzzling fact of the fossil record.4
As Sunderland points out:
It of course would be no puzzle at all if he [Gould] had not decided before he examined the evidence that common-ancestry evolution was a fact, ‘like apples falling from a tree,’ and that we can only permit ourselves to discuss possible mechanisms to explain that assumed fact.5
The gaps are huge
Palaeochiropteryx tupaiodon— one of the ‘oldest’ (by evolutionary reckoning) fossil bats. It was found in the Messel oil shale pit near Darmstadt, Germany, and is ‘dated’ between 48 and 54 million years old. It clearly had fully developed wings, and its inner ear had the same construction as those of modern bats, showing that it had full sonar equipment (see chapter 9 for more details of this exquisitely designed system).
Teaching about Evolution avoids discussing the vast gulf between non-living matter and the first living cell, single-celled and multicelled creatures, and invertebrates and vertebrates. The gaps between these groups should be enough to show that molecules-to-man evolution is without foundation.
There are many other examples of different organisms appearing abruptly and fully formed in the fossil record. For example, the first bats, pterosaurs, and birds were fully fledged flyers. The photograph to the right shows that bats have always been bats.6
Turtles are a well designed and specialized group of reptiles, with a distinctive shell protecting the body’s vital organs. However, evolutionists admit ‘Intermediates between turtles and cotylosaurs, the primitive reptiles from which [evolutionists believe] turtles probably sprang, are entirely lacking.’ They can’t plead an incomplete fossil record because ‘turtles leave more and better fossil remains than do other vertebrates.’7 The ‘oldest known sea turtle’ was a fully formed turtle, not at all transitional. It had a fully developed system for excreting salt, without which a marine reptile would quickly dehydrate. This is shown by skull cavities which would have held large salt-excreting glands around the eyes.8
All 32 mammal orders appear abruptly and fully formed in the fossil record. The evolutionist paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson wrote in 1944:
The earliest and most primitive members of every order already have the basic ordinal characters, and in no case is an approximately continuous series from one order to another known. In most cases the break is so sharp and the gap so large that the origin of the order is speculative and much disputed.10
There is little to overturn that today.11
Like most evolutionary propaganda, Teaching about Evolution makes assertions that there are many transitional forms, and gives a few ‘examples.’ A box on page 15 contains the gleeful article by the evolutionist (and atheist) E.O. Wilson, ‘Discovery of a Missing Link.’ He claimed to have studied ‘nearly exact intermediates between solitary wasps and the highly social modern ants.’ But another atheistic evolutionist, W.B. Provine, says that Wilson’s ‘assertions are explicitly denied by the text … . Wilson’s comments are misleading at best.’12
Teaching about Evolution emphasizes Archaeopteryx and an alleged land mammal-to-whale transition series, so they are covered in chapters 4 and 5 of this book. Teaching about Evolution also makes the following excuse on page 57:
Some changes in populations might occur too rapidly to leave many transitional fossils. Also, many organisms were very unlikely to leave fossils because of their habitats or because they had no body parts that could easily be fossilized.
Darwin also excused the lack of transitional fossils by ‘the extreme imperfection of the fossil record.’ But as we have seen, even organisms that leave excellent fossils, like turtles, are lacking in intermediates. Michael Denton points out that 97.7 percent of living orders of land vertebrates are represented as fossils and 79.1 percent of living families of land vertebrates—87.8 percent if birds are excluded, as they are less likely to become fossilized.13
Artist’s impression of a living horseshoe bat.9
It’s true that fossilization requires specific conditions. Normally, when a fish dies, it floats to the top and rots and is eaten by scavengers. Even if some parts reach the bottom, the scavengers take care of them. Scuba divers don’t find the sea floor covered with dead animals being slowly fossilized. The same applies to land animals. Millions of buffaloes (bison) were killed in North America last century, but there are very few fossils.
In nature, a well-preserved fossil generally requires rapid burial (so scavengers don’t obliterate the carcass), and cementing agents to harden the fossil quickly. Teaching about Evolution has some good photos of a fossil fish with well-preserved features (p. 3) and a jellyfish (p. 36). Such fossils certainly could not have formed gradually—how long do dead jellyfish normally retain their features? If you wanted to form such fossils, the best way might be to dump a load of concrete on top of the creature! Only catastrophic conditions can explain most fossils—for example, a global flood and its aftermath of widespread regional catastrophism.
Teaching about Evolution goes on to assert after the previous quote:
However, in many cases, such as between primitive fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals, and reptiles and birds, there are excellent transitional fossils.
But Teaching about Evolution provides no evidence for this! We can briefly examine some of the usual evolutionary claims below (for reptile-to-bird, see the next chapter on birds):
- Fish to amphibian: Some evolutionists believe that amphibians evolved from a Rhipidistian fish, something like the coelacanth. It was believed that they used their fleshy, lobed fins for walking on the sea-floor before emerging on the land. This speculation seemed impossible to disprove, since according to evolutionary/long-age interpretations of the fossil record, the last coelacanth lived about 70 million years ago. But a living coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) was discovered in 1938. And it was found that the fins were not used for walking but for deft maneuvering when swimming. Its soft parts were also totally fish-like, not transitional. It also has some unique features—it gives birth to live young after about a year’s gestation, it has a small second tail to help its swimming, and a gland that detects electrical signals.14 The earliest amphibian, Ichthyostega (mentioned on p. 39 of Teaching about Evolution), is hardly transitional, but has fully formed legs and shoulder and pelvic girdles, while there is no trace of these in the Rhipidistians.
- Amphibian to reptile: Seymouria is a commonly touted intermediate between amphibians and reptiles. But this creature is dated (by evolutionary dating methods) at 280 million years ago, about 30 million years younger than the ‘earliest’ true reptiles Hylonomus and Paleothyris. That is, reptiles are allegedly millions of years older than their alleged ancestors! Also, there is no good reason for thinking it was not completely amphibian in its reproduction. The jump from amphibian to reptile eggs requires the development of a number of new structures and a change in biochemistry—see the section below on soft part changes.
Reptile to mammal: The ‘mammal-like reptiles’ are commonly
asserted to be transitional. But according to a specialist on these creatures:
Each species of mammal-like reptile that has been found appears suddenly in the fossil record and is not preceded by the species that is directly ancestral to it. It disappears some time later, equally abruptly, without leaving a directly descended species.15Evolutionists believe that the earbones of mammals evolved from some jawbones of reptiles. But Patterson recognized that there was no clear-cut connection between the jawbones of ‘mammal-like reptiles’ and the earbones of mammals. In fact, evolutionists have argued about which bones relate to which.16
The function of possible intermediates
The inability to imagine functional intermediates is a real problem. If a bat or bird evolved from a land animal, the transitional forms would have forelimbs that were neither good legs nor good wings. So how would such things be selected? The fragile long limbs of hypothetical halfway stages of bats and pterosaurs would seem more like a hindrance than a help.
Soft part changes
Of course, the soft parts of many creatures would also have needed to change drastically, and there is little chance of preserving them in the fossil record. For example, the development of the amniotic egg would have required many different innovations, including:
- The shell.
- The two new membranes—the amnion and allantois.
- Excretion of water-insoluble uric acid rather than urea (urea would poison the embryo).
- Albumen together with a special acid to yield its water.
- Yolk for food.
- A change in the genital system allowing the fertilization of the egg before the shell hardens.17
Another example is the mammals—they have many soft-part differences from reptiles, for example:
- Mammals have a different circulatory system, including red blood cells without nuclei, a heart with four chambers instead of three and one aorta instead of two, and a fundamentally different system of blood supply to the eye.
- Mammals produce milk, to feed their young.
- Mammalian skin has two extra layers, hair and sweat glands.
- Mammals have a diaphragm, a fibrous, muscular partition between the thorax and abdomen, which is vital for breathing. Reptiles breathe in a different way.
- Mammals keep their body temperature constant (warm-bloodedness), requiring a complex temperature control mechanism.
- The mammalian ear has the complex organ of Corti, absent from all reptile ears.18
- Mammalian kidneys have a ‘very high ultrafiltration rate of the blood.’ This means the heart must be able to produce the required high blood pressure. Mammalian kidneys excrete urea instead of uric acid, which requires different chemistry. They are also finely regulated to maintain constant levels of substances in the blood, which requires a complex endocrine system.19
References and notes
- C.R. Darwin, Origin of Species, 6th edition, 1872 (London: John Murray, 1902), p. 413.
- C. Patterson, letter to Luther D. Sunderland, 10 April 1979, as published in Darwin’s Enigma (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 4th ed. 1988), p. 89. Patterson later tried to backtrack somewhat from this clear statement, apparently alarmed that creationists would utilize this truth.
- S.J. Gould, in Evolution Now: A Century After Darwin, ed. John Maynard Smith, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982), p. 140. Teaching about Evolution pages 56–57 publishes a complaint by Gould about creationists quoting him about the rarity of transitional forms. He accuses creationists of representing him as denying evolution itself. This complaint is unjustified. Creationists make it very clear that he is a staunch evolutionist the whole point is that he is a ‘hostile witness.’
- S.J. Gould, The Ediacaran Experiment, Natural History 93(2):14–23, Feb. 1984.
- L. Sunderland, ref. 2, p. 47–48.
- Photograph and information courtesy of Dr Joachim Scheven of the Lebendige Vorwelt Museum in Germany.
- Reptiles, Encyclopedia Britannica 26:704–705, 15th ed., 1992.
- Ren Hirayama, Oldest Known Sea Turtle, Nature 392(6678):705–708, 16 April 1998; comment by Henry Gee, p. 651, same issue.
- Courtesy of Steve Cardno, 1998.
- G.G. Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution (NY: Columbia University Press, 1944), p. 105–106.
- A useful book on the fossil record is D.T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils STILL Say NO! (El Cahon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1995).
- Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, A Review by Dr Will B. Provine. Available from <fp.bio.utk.edu/darwin/NAS_guidebook/provine_1.html>, 18 February 1999.
- M. Denton, Evolution, a Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, MD: Adler & Adler, 1985), p. 190.
- M. Denton, footnote 13, p. 157, 178–180; see also W. Roush, ‘Living Fossil’ Is Dethroned, Science 277(5331):1436, 5 September 1997, and No Stinking Fish in My Tail, Discover, March 1985, p. 40.
- T.S. Kemp, The Reptiles that Became Mammals, New Scientist 92:583, 4 March 1982.
- C. Patterson, Morphological Characters and Homology; in K.A. Joysey and A.E. Friday (eds.), Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction, Proceedings of an International Symposium held in Cambridge, The Systematics Association Special Volume 21 (Academic Press, 1982), 21–74.
- M. Denton, footnote 13, p. 218–219.
- D. Dewar, The Transformist Illusion, 2nd edition, (Ghent, NY: Sophia Perennis et Universalis, 1995), p. 223–232.
- T.S. Kemp, Mammal-like Reptiles and the Origin of Mammals (New York: Academic Press, 1982), p. 309–310.