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Creation 27(2):20–22, March 2005

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Not at all like a whale

by and Jonathan Sarfati

The Bible teaches that whales and other sea creatures were created before land animals,1 and were to reproduce ‘after their kind’, not change into a different kind (Genesis 1:20–25). However, evolutionists believe that whales evolved from land creatures. For a long time, Darwin and his followers didn’t even have remotely plausible fossil evidence to support their ‘faith’. E.g. evolutionary whale experts like the late E.J. Slijper admitted in 1962: ‘We do not possess a single fossil of the transitional forms between the aforementioned land animals [i.e. carnivores and ungulates (hoofed animals)] and the whales.’2

Since then, some fossil discoveries have made the alleged whale evolution a centrepiece of evolutionary propaganda.3 Evolutionists trumpet these and other supposed ‘missing links’ as proving goo-to-you evolution right, and the Bible wrong by implication.

The fantasies of evolutionary thinking

The original reconstruction1,2 based on only the skull fragments represented in blue1,2. Evolutionists often make grandiose claims based on insignificant fossil finds. Artists’ reconstructions can exaggerate their significance. The general public doesn’t realise just how much artistic and imaginary licence is added to these announcements.
A much more complete fossil skeleton3 (below) with its far more reasonable artistic reconstruction (see illustration of Pakicetus), shows just how completely wrong and imaginative the original claims were. If this is what happens when new evidence is found, what about when it is lacking? Evolutionary educators continue to promote human and animal evolution stories as fact, based on very fragmented ‘evidence’.
More complete fossil skeleton

References and notes

  1. Gingerich, P.D., Wells, N.A., Russell, D.E. and Shah, S.M.I., Origin of whales in epicontinental remnant seas: new evidence from the early Eocene of Pakistan, Science 220(4595):403–406, 22 April 1983.
  2. Gingerich, P.D., Evidence for evolution from the vertebrae fossil record, J. Geol. Educ. 31:140–144, 1983.
  3. Thewissen, J.G.M., Williams, E.M., Roe, L.J. and Hussain, S.T., Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls, Nature 413(6853):277–281, 20 September 2001.

Pakicetus, the almost-whale from Pakistan?

For example, on the cover of the prestigious journal Science,4 there was a picture of an alleged transitional creature. It looked like it had just splashed into the sea, and was chasing fish. However, it had feet and legs more like a land animal’s, but on the way to becoming flippers. This same picture also appeared in a journal for teachers5 to help them indoctrinate students into evolution. The author, Philip Gingerich, proclaimed in another article for popular consumption:

‘In time and in its morphology, Pakicetus is perfectly intermediate, a missing link between earlier land mammals and later, full-fledged whales.’6

So what was all this based on? In fact, only the bones in the inset (left)! Note that there’s nothing below the skull. And it’s even worse—only the stippled parts of the skull represent actual fossil evidence, while the rest is ‘reconstructed’. So how could they know what any of the body looked like below the skull? Answer: they couldn’t! So one must wonder how the editors of the two journals allowed so much speculation to be built on so few facts.

New discoveries have blown away this imaginative ‘reconstruction’. A prominent evolutionary whale expert, Thewissen, and colleagues, unearthed more bones of Pakicetus, and published their work in the journal Nature.7 The commentary on this paper in the same issue8 says, ‘All the postcranial bones indicate that pakicetids were land mammals, and … indicate that the animals were runners, with only their feet touching the ground.’ (See skeleton.) This is very different from Gingerich’s picture of an animal right at home in the sea!

What can we learn from this?

  • It’s always important to check the original source of any claim. Often, the popular reports go way beyond the actual evidence, which is not revealed. However, Gingerich was frank about what he actually found.
  • We never have all the scientific data—new evidence comes in all the time. Missing-link claims are usually based on fragments of bones; when more bones are discovered, the specimen turns out to be clearly one type of creature or another; not transitional at all.
  • The Bible, the written Word of the all-knowing God, never changes. This shows the folly of churchians who ‘reinterpret’ (i.e. disbelieve) the Bible because of ‘science’. If they had reinterpreted the biblical teaching on the creation of whales because of Pakicetus, then they would have to reinterpret their reinterpretation now that Pakicetus has been shown to be a swift land animal. We should be reminded of the eminent surgeon and Christian apologist, Dr Arthur Rendle Short. He had accepted theistic evolution largely because of ‘Piltdown Man’, and always wrestled with the unscriptural corollary of death before sin. But he died just before this hoax was exposed.9
  • Are the evolutionists deliberately deceptive? In Gingerich’s case, no, because he showed the actual evidence, so his claim was not an intentional fraud like the Piltdown hoax. We must remember that the data are always interpreted within a framework. Since Gingerich is a committed materialist, evolution is the only game in town. So he must interpret fossils in an evolutionary framework. Therefore it’s not surprising that a few scraps of bone are wishfully thought to be a ‘missing link’. The moral of the story is: ‘Fossils are fickle, bones will sing any song you want to hear.’10

Is Gingerich therefore completely blameless? No—his choice of materialism at some time in his life—contradicting the church teaching of his youth11—was a sinful rejection of the evidence for a Creator (Romans 1:18–32). The Pakicetus fiasco is a perfect illustration of the ‘futile thinking’ that results (vv. 21–22).

Pakicetus ears

Yet another problem for the evolutionary story

As if the leg structure were not enough, the ‘whale’ status of Pakicetus received another potentially fatal blow. This came from a recent study of the semicircular canal systems in both living and fossil cetaceans (whales and dolphins).1 The semicircular canal system is a set of tubes connected to the inner ear that provides information on head (and therefore also body) movements. The tubes are filled with small, solid particles suspended in liquid. The inner surfaces of the tubes are covered with sensors that show which way the contents are flowing. This organ gives us our sense of balance.

To the surprise of the international team of scientists, the cetaceans, both living and fossil, all had the same ‘unique’ small canal size—about three times smaller than all other mammals, when corrected for body size.1 The researchers suggested that the canal system had to be small to reduce the sensitivity, thus preventing information overload as the animals rolled around.1 They concluded that the early whales had semicircular canals unlike those of any non-cetacean mammal. This, they said, shows that even the ‘earliest’ whales had unique behaviour, suited to aquatic life.

But while the paper defended whale evolution, the detailed analysis demonstrated a sharp gap in relative sizes between whales and non-whales, including the pakicetid Ichthyolestes (creationists would probably group it into the same created kind as Pakicetus). There were no examples of slow and gradual shrinking of the canals—they were either one relative size or the other.2 In fact, the paper affirms that the alleged change in canal structure happened ‘instantaneously’ and produced a ‘unique’ apparatus.

References and notes

  1. Spoor F., Bajpai S., Hussain S.T., Kumar K. and Thewissen J.G.M., Vestibular evidence for the evolution of aquatic behaviour in early cetaceans, Nature 417(6885):163–166, 9 May 2002.
  2. Spoor et al., ref. 1, fig. 2a is a logarithmic graph of canal radius vs body mass. There were two distinct best-fit lines: Ichthyolestes was on the same line as other land mammals, while the whale data points formed a totally distinct line.

References and notes

  1. This refutes ‘progressive creationists’ like Hugh Ross, who deny transformism but accept the evolutionary timescale and order of events. Whales appear above land mammals in the fossil record, so Ross asserts that whales were created in an age after land mammals were created. In reality, the fossil record is not a sequence of creation or evolution, but a sequence of burial in the global Flood and its aftermath. Return to text.
  2. Slijper, E.J., Whales and Dolphins, University of Michigan Press, USA, p. 18, 1962. Return to text.
  3. Jones, S., Almost Like a Whale: the Origin of Species Updated, Doubleday, London, UK, 1999. Return to text.
  4. Gingerich, P.D., Wells, N.A., Russell, D.E. and Shah, S.M.I., Origin of whales in epicontinental remnant seas: new evidence from the early Eocene of Pakistan, Science 220(4595):403–406, 22 April 1983. Return to text.
  5. Gingerich, P.D., Evidence for evolution from the vertebrae fossil record, Journal of Geological Education 31:140–144, 1983. Return to text.
  6. Gingerich, P.D., The whales of Tethys, Natural History, p. 86, April 1994. Return to text.
  7. Thewissen, J.G.M., Williams, E.M, Roe, L.J. and Hussain, S.T., Skeletons of terrestrial cetaceans and the relationship of whales to artiodactyls, Nature 413(6853):277–281, 20 September 2001. Return to text.
  8. de Muizon, C., Walking with whales, Nature 413(6853):259–260, 20 Sep. 2001. Return to text.
  9. See the book by his son, Prof. John Rendle-Short, Green Eye of the Storm, Part 3, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, UK/Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA, 1998. Return to text.
  10. Shreeve, J., Argument over a woman, Discover 11(8):58, 1990 (in reference to stories of human evolution). Return to text.
  11. Cited in Quammen, D., Was Darwin Wrong? National Geographic 206(5):31, November 2004. Return to text.

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