Missing Links? (RJS)

One of the common arguments brought up to cast doubt on the theory of evolution is the absence or paucity of transitional forms in the fossil record. After all, if there is a slow transition in the evolution of the diversity of animal life, intermediate forms should be, so the argument goes, abundant.

The following video gives one rather notorious example of the argument (start at 1:50 to see the relevant section of the clip).


Now I think that Kirk Cameron was playing to the camera here, building an audience for the debate later that night. He is a comedian and knows how to get a reaction. Nonetheless the point is serious, if evolution is true there should be transitional forms in the fossil record. A couple of months ago (here) I posted on the book by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions and asked what arguments people found convincing or would like to see addressed in future posts. This issue of transitional forms, or related questions of fossils and evolutionary change, came up in a number of the comments.

What kind of evidence would you expect to find in the fossil record if evolution is true?

Does the argument from the absence of transitional forms seem reasonable? Why?

There are transitional forms found in the fossil record and more are being found. But the transitions are subtle with any one specimen showing small changes. Here I would like to bring as an example a report in Nature, published online yesterday, May 18, and in print today, that deals with transitional forms and evolution.  This paper, Eocene lizard from Germany reveals amphisbaenian origins, describes a fossil that provides a transitional form between legged lizards and worm lizards. To see the whole article you will need a subscription, either institutional or individual, but the abstract is free. The paper was also highlighted in the New York Times, Fossil Sheds Light on the Lizard-Snake Divide (there is a very nice picture of the fossil here).

Amphisbaenia are a kind of lizard characterized by a snake-like body. They had been grouped with snakes based on morphology (the study of the form or structure of an organism or any of its parts), but molecular data grouped them with lacertids, a kind of legged lizard found Europe. Analysis of the fossil described in this paper “provides the first morphological evidence for lacertid–amphisbaenian monophyly on the basis of a reinforced, akinetic skull roof and braincase, supporting the view that body elongation and limblessness in amphisbaenians and snakes evolved independently.” (v. 473 p. 364)  Basically the fossil shows characteristics of both legged lizards and worm lizards. Phylogeny is the connections between groups of organisms in ancestor/descendant relationships, monophyly means developed from a common form.  This fossil isn’t a missing link as much as an indication of a common ancestor for both kinds of lizards. This also means that the worm lizards and snakes evolved to a similar form independently.

The report on this fossil demonstrates several points.

First, transitional forms are found in the fossil record, and more are being found all the time as research continues. They tend to be reported in the literature in rather specialized language. This one is particularly interesting and made at least an appearance in the more popular literature.

Second, identification of transitional forms requires a great deal of careful and painstaking work. This isn’t kitchen science. We’ve advanced a long way since the days of Darwin and the gentleman naturalists. The features of this fossil were studied by using x-rays to scan and produce a 3-dimensional image of the structure of the skull showing the outlines of the bones. The quality of the scan allows detailed analysis and comparison.  This is state-of-the-art work on a nearly complete specimen.

Third, the body of data supporting the evolutionary theory comes from the cumulative weight of studies in genetics, molecular biology, anatomy, paleontology, combined with knowledge from chemistry, physics, and mathematics. As the puzzle is put together some hypotheses are proven wrong – others are confirmed and extended. But the evolutionary theory makes sense of all the data and is shaped and further refined by the data. Evolutionary theory isn’t Darwinism. It has advanced far beyond anything a 19th century naturalist could have imagined.

Studies like this one and more lead many of us to the conclusion that evolution is true – not random purposeless evolution but evolutionary creation as God’s method for producing the diversity of life found in the world today.

What do you make of studies like this?

What kind of evidence would you expect to see in the fossil record for or against evolution?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • Peter

    I am much more open to an evolutionary explanation of our origins now than I was in the past, partly because of your work here on this blog. One of the most convincing things for me was seeing that evolutionary theory has power to predict, which a robust theory should; the article that showed me this may have even been referred to by you (RJS), but I don’t recall. A group of scientists asked themselves, “If there were a transitional form “B” between “A” and “C” where would you expect to find it? They decided that it would be found in river beds in the northern hemisphere (am I remembering this correctly?). Either way, they made a hypothesis and tested it by going to the place where they expected to find this transitional form and voila! There it was. I still think that there’s a lot to learn and a lot of things that remain unexplained, but this article makes me think that maybe I am the one that has a lot to learn and not just evolutionary biologists.

  • The old argument that there are no transitional forms is no longer valid. You could maybe argue that one fossil (archeopteryx) is a hoax, but not the tens or hundreds of transitional forms that are known now. You have to be a conspiracy theorist to reject all these finds.
    I know that the following transitions are well documented
    – Transition from fish to amphibean (among others: Tiktaalik)
    – Transition from reptile to mammal (there are even transitional fossils for the bones that make up the inner ear).
    – Transition from reptile to bird (dinosaurs with feathers. Birds are basically flying dinosaurs).
    – Transition from ape to human (many fossils).
    And those are only the major transitions. The old arguments that make fun of transitional forms that would not be viable (a half lizard/half bird) are just retoric. Transitional forms are never ‘mixtures’ or hybrids. Every transitional form is its own creature, that is adapted to its habitat. It’s a complete species – but one species follows the other.
    This for me was the major argument to go from young earth creationist to well … whatever the name is for a christian who believes that God created the world and life but used what we describe as processes and coincidence.

  • Rick


    “Evolutionary theory isn’t Darwinism. It has advanced far beyond anything a 19th century naturalist could have imagined.”

    Since the terms are so often used interchangeably, it would be interesting, and perhaps helpful, if you could (at some point) compare/contrast the differences.

  • Joe Canner

    There are plenty enough transitional fossils (dinosaur-bird, fish-amphibian, land mammal-whale, ape-human, etc.) to support the theory of evolution. This evidence, along with incontrovertible evidence of so-called “micro” evolution, as well as DNA evidence, is pretty convincing to me.

    However, there will probably never be enough fossil evidence to document the thousands of stages in each transition. So, if someone wants to say that God helped evolution along, or even that God created each species at the proper time, I wouldn’t quibble.

    It’s when someone says that all of the species were created at the same time, that most of them died in the flood, that the fossils were all nicely sorted during the flood according to complexity, and that the rocks just look to be different ages….

  • Joe Canner

    Rick #3, I’ll mention two while you’re waiting for RJS to respond:

    1. Darwin didn’t know about genetics; he could only speculate about where the variation came from. Genetics not only provides the mechanism, it explains the variation much better than Darwin could have imagined.

    2. Darwin focused only on natural selection as the mechanism for certain variations to proceed to the next generation. There are a number of other mechanisms which have been proposed, with varying degrees of success. Often, when creationists quote-mine evolutionists who appear to be bashing Darwin, it is not that they are questioning evolution, it is that they are questioning natural selection as the sole mechanism for evolution.

  • John

    As noted, there -are- transitional fossils, they’re just hard to find. And it’s not just fossils that are scarce. I’ve read estimates that we’ve cataloged less than 10% of all species now living on the planet.

  • Rick

    Joe Canner-

    That is helpful. Thanks.

  • Rick –

    Since the terms are so often used interchangeably…

    It’s worth noting that the people who use the terms interchangeably are all opposed to evolution in some way. No evolutionary biologist I’m aware of refers to “Darwinism” any more than physicists refer to Relativity as “Einsteinism”.

  • EC


    First, thanks for your work here. I’ve appreciated it greatly. I understand and agree that the evidence supporting evolution is the accumulation of work in various areas of study and so short-comings in one area aren’t devastating to the theory as a whole. Further, I understand the difficulty surrounding the possibility of fossils being formed and of finding them – leading me to conclude that we can’t expect to find a complete fossil record as that is not necessarily possible. Still, to find truth, the pieces must fit together. As one who is not a scientist but nonetheless is interested in the truth that science can provide, I’m slightly confused as to the actual state of the fossil record. Let me try to explain.

    Has the situation changed a lot since the late 70’s to late 80’s? I’ve been reading John Lennox’s work “God’s Undertaker” and he quotes stuff from Stephen Gould, David Raup, and others from that timeframe to the effect that we don’t have much by way of transitional fossils and what we do have shows limited and directionless morphological change; instead, it shows sudden appearance of fully formed creatures (esp. from Gould’s “The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change”). The argument seems to be that we have “intermediary” forms, but little that is actually conclusively shown as transitional.

    I appreciate Lennox’s work as a whole, and while not a biologist he has a serious intellectual mind and can’t just be simply dismissed as fringe. And when you’ve got guys like Gould saying this stuff (albeit back in the 70s and 80s) you have to at least listen.

    So is there any validity to what he presents? Any books/articles refuting this sort of argument (“intermediary” but not “transitional”, limited, directionless change, etc)? Any thoughts anyone?

  • rjs


    That’s right. A biologist might refer to Darwinian evolution the way a physicist refers to Newtonian mechanics. But the fact that Newtonian mechanics is only valid in certain regimes and is superseded by relativity and quantum mechanics doesn’t invalidate mechanics or physics as a way of describing the world.

    Likewise the fact that some aspects of Darwinian evolution (gradual change by random mutation and natural selection) have been modified by genome research, a better understanding of more complex mechanisms for change, and research on the progress of “search algorithms” in a rough landscape doesn’t invalidate evolutionary theory.

  • Rick

    Ray #8-

    In fact that is why I was asking the question- so that the differences could better clarified to those who don’t make the distinction.

  • rjs


    I haven’t read Lennox’s book. It looks as though it would be worth reading and interacting with. It has blurb from both Michael Behe and Alister McGrath on Amazon – and that alone peaks interest.

    I think some of the statements made by Gould have been clarified by further work – both in paleontology and in the mechanism and progress of evolution, with some of the developments relating to mathematical theory of search algorithms.

  • Susan N.

    “Studies like this one and more lead many of us to the conclusion that evolution is true – not random purposeless evolution but evolutionary creation as God’s method for producing the diversity of life found in the world today.”

    I’m very intrigued by this… I do wonder how much of this cutting-edge scientific material on evolutionary theory is currently being included in high school science textbooks? This alternative is much more palatable (to me) than Darwinism, and frankly, also the extreme creationist “apologetic” view.

    I also picked up on the mention of the need to draw on knowledge in several branches of science, and understand how they interact, in order to deeply understand/interpret the meaning of the fossil records. From an academic / teaching perspective, I have been questioning the traditional American course of study at the high school level — biology, chemistry, physics… Does it make more sense to reverse the order, or integrate these branches of science? Other countries do it much differently…

    Stepping back from the Christian conservative faith sub-culture in an attempt to see the scientific/academic perspective of science, it seems to me that conservatives have reacted to the atheistic Darwinism taught in schools by going far to the other extreme — creationism/ apologetics. I’m not comfortable denying God and His role as Creator, but neither am I comfortable denying the scientific evidence. What I would appreciate seeing in the textbooks is a more balanced view. Is that available currently?

  • dopderbeck

    RJS, my understanding is that (1) as you mention, lots of “transitional fossils” have been found, and (2) the notion that there should be lots of “transitional fossils” has been mitigated to a significant extent by more current models of how evolution occurs. On (2), from what I’ve read, there’s much less an expectation that evolution follows some kind of linear path, which reflects the fact that the fossil record is often jumbled and confusing.

  • Joe Canner

    Susan #13, Unfortunately there is not (that I know of) a textbook that explains evolution from a theistic standpoint. I’m not even sure what it would say, since we don’t really know exactly how God was involved in evolution. In any case, any textbook that mentioned God would automatically be excluded from the public schools.

    That said, one of the most popular high school biology texts, by Miller and Levine (Ken Miller is a Christian and also wrote Finding Darwin’s God), is very respectful in its treatment of creation theories and is also very circumspect with respect to abiogenesis (the evolution of life from non-life), which is not really a part of general biological evolution.

    If creationists have played any useful role in science education, it is to act as a counterbalance to textbook writers and science teachers who would use evolution as an excuse to deny the existence of God. Since Texas is one of the biggest textbook markets and Texas tends to be conservative, most textbooks are fairly reserved in their criticism of creationism and their application of science to answer questions about God.

  • Susan, N. @13: “I’m not comfortable denying God and His role as Creator, but neither am I comfortable denying the scientific evidence. What I would appreciate seeing in the textbooks is a more balanced view. Is that available currently?”

    It’s not possible to have science text books posit a role for God in creation. That’s a a faith matter, and should be discussed in RE class, in my opinion. But equally, it’s not for a science text book to say that evolution could not have happened by any kind of divine intention, that would also be a faith matter and is best discussed in RE class.

  • Tim


    Tiktaalik is morphologically transitional to be sure, but not stratigraphically so. The fish to tetrapod transition occurred millions of years prior to the Tiktaalik find, as evidenced by a recent discovery of primitive tetrapod prints in Poland dated to approx. 395 million years ago (Tiktaalik was dated to approx. 375 million years ago).

    This was actually an example of certain paleontologists and some popular authors getting egg on their face, as they made a huge deal about how Tiktaalik was predicted to be found in a certain region and a certain stratiographical range based on when they inferred the fish to tetrapod transition to have occurred – with said prediciton being “stunningly” confirmed. Now that we know that the transition happened at least 20 million years earlier, this fossil find just appears to be happy coincidence from a stratiographical angle.

    It is a strong lesson against basing too much of of just one fossil find. However, it does validate that scientists conform their views to the evidence. One of the most common creationist criticisms of evolutionary science is the idea that radioisotope dating is just re-calculated until the desired age is acheived to conform to pre-existing “darwinian” notions of what the fossil record ought to look like. Clearly this isn’t what happened in the case of Tiktaalik and the Poland tetrapod tracks. The dates came back how they did, and scientists discarded erroneous views to accomodate the new evidence. This is how science should work, and typically does of course.

  • Joe Canner

    EC #9, In addition to contributions from genetics (comparative DNA studies), there have been a number of important intermediate fossil finds since the late 70’s and early 80’s. Here is a sample (the blog software won’t allow so many web links so you’ll have to Google them):

    Dinousar-Bird (not just archeopteryx any more):2009 find in China of dinosaurs with feathers

    Fish-Amphibian: mid-2000s find of Tiktaalik (fish with fins that could have provided land propulsion)

    Whale: 1994 find of Ambulocetus in Pakistan

    Humans: Many more finds in the 1990s and 2000s (see Wikipedia or Smithsonian website on human evolution)

    There are still a lot of unanswered questions about these, but there is certainly more evidence now than there was 30 years ago. Another thing to keep in mind is that these new fossils sometimes require revising the tree of life. For example, there are some paleontologists who believe that some dinosaurs descended from birds instead of the other way around. This does not mean that the former evidence is bogus or that it disproves evolution (as some might conclude), it just means that dinosaurs and birds may have a common ancestor, instead of being in a single line.

    This last point also helps to answer questions like “If humans descended from apes, why are their still apes?” Evolution from one species to another does not require that the previous species go extinct, all it requires is geographical separation. Moreover, in this case, there is probably a common ancestor responsible both for modern apes and modern humans. That is the real “missing link”, since we now already have plenty of fossils with a mix of human and ape characteristics.

  • Susan N.

    Thanks, Joe (#15) and Phil (#16) for these thoughts. Helpful info and perspectives for me to consider. My personal interest from a learning perspective is piqued by this topic (science and faith), but my responsibility as a parent for my children’s well-rounded education (again, in both areas of science and faith) also weighs heavily in my questioning and seeking. Guiding them in how to think through such information, live with unknowns, and stay open to new possibilities seems like a healthier approach than living in a state of “cognitive dissonance” or denial!

  • rjs


    Certainly Tiktaalik was oversold in some respects – but you are twisting the other direction. This is an ongoing development of understanding how evolution works and how features change in species over time.

    One of the points in the new work I highlight in this post is a caution to not call this a “missing link” but an evidence for the existence of transitional forms.

    There is not a straight path A –> B –> C, but a bush of connectedness where transitional forms can survive in their own right as independent species alongside both A and C.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for posting on this RJS as this has always been my biggest struggle with evolution. I have always found myself believing micro-evolution but not macro-evolution because of the fossil record.

    I tried to follow your examples to the best of my ability but I am still not sure that gets you to your goal. How do we know that the found lizard snake-like creature was not always that form, or where is the evidence of him evolving into that creature from the snake and then from that creature to a full fledged lizard? I am not saying it does not exist but to act like it is rock solid and a done deal comes off as false hubris from the evolution crowd.

    I just think that given the magnitude of every species undergoing this incredible macro change the fossils would be much more abundant than they are and would be demonstrated with ease instead of evolutionists having to strain for examples. Why can we so easily found fossils of dinosaurs from hundreds of millions of years ago, but little to know fossils of what a monkey elephant was before what it is now?

    I will keep thinking and listening on this subject but I have also heard David Berlinski, a secular Jew say that mathematically that evolution is no possible on a time scale. That for the number of mutations and evolutionary steps to occur to explain the evolution of a whale, human and many other creatures, has simply not happened. His book the “Devil’s Delusion” has been pretty compelling for me on many of these issues and I wonder if you have any thoughts on it.

  • Joe Canner

    Susan #19: Even though there aren’t any textbooks along the lines of what you are looking for, there are a number of good books written by evangelical Christians and aimed at the layperson that do a pretty good job of explaining a lot of the different lines of evidence. Some of them have probably been reviewed here (I am new to this blog so I don’t know which ones). Look for titles by Darrell Falk, Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Owen Gingerich, and the aforementioned Ken Miller. Biologos is an online community, started by some of these authors, for further discussion devoted to these issues. I think RJS also recently posted a link to the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion which seems to have some good resources, some of which are aimed at students.

    I admire and applaud your desire to give your children a well-rounded education in this area. Many blessings on your efforts!

  • pds

    EC #9

    You are right on Lennox and Gould, and this is still good science. For an extended quote from “The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change” go here:


    RJS and others,

    Not much has changed since Gould wrote this. See quote and link from Donald Prothero here:


    By the mid-1980s, a consensus had emerged within the paleontological community that nearly all metazoans (vertebrate and invertebrate, marine and terrestrial) show stasis and punctuated speciation through millions of years of geologic time and strata, with only minor possible examples of gradual anagenetic change in size (Geary 2009; Princehouse 2009; Hallam 2009; Jablonski 2000, 2008). That has been the accepted view of paleontologists for more than 20 years now.

  • Tim

    RJS (#20),

    I get all that, I do. I like you, and pretty much any evolutionary scientist, conceptualize common descent as a branching bush with multiple off-shoots and dead-ends rather than, say, some simplistic ladder.

    But having said that, my understanding is that the dominant viewpoint among paleontologists now is that any claim that Tiktaalik represents a long-surving off-shoot from the fish to tetrapod tranistion is tenuous at best. At this point, we just don’t know and it is very plausible that Tiktaalik evolved the features it did independently from the fish to tetrapod transition. Just as the “camera” eye has evolved independently numerous types.

  • rjs


    But this doesn’t invalidate evolutionary biology any more than relativity and quantum theory, serving as extensions to Newton, invalidated physics.

  • rjs


    That is possible, I am not up on the literature. And I would rather expect that this is one of the issues where opinion could change again.

  • Does it bother anybody else that Kirk uses some ridiculous logical fallacies for his argument? I mean, the transitional form bit (he says “why haven’t we found a crocaduck yet?”) is just … maddening! Using hyperbole the way he does might convince a few people but to the rest of us – I know to my extended family, who are atheists – it makes us sound like morons and I’m starting to think, rightfully so. Is there a reason we have comedians and radio personalities as the forerunners in the “debate” rather than trained biologists and physicists?

  • pds

    Susan N. #13,

    I think “Explore Evolution” is exactly what you are looking for– it presents the evidence for and against evolution:


    More on this book here:


  • pds

    RJS #25,

    “But this doesn’t invalidate evolutionary biology …”

    I didn’t say it did. But it supports a position that evolution explains some of biological history, but not all of it. And random mutation and natural selection doesn’t come close to being the best explanation for specific events in biological history, like the Cambrian Explosion.

    It is not black and white. Evolution is a good limited explanation for some things.

  • Chris “Does it bother anybody else that Kirk uses some ridiculous logical fallacies for his argument?… it makes us sound like morons and I’m starting to think, rightfully so.”

    I know… groan. I wince every time I see/read that stuff..

  • Joe Canner

    Chris #27: Neither side* wants to admit that there are reasonable Christians from many branches of science who accept most or all of the evidence for evolution, because it would destroy the false dichotomy (Evolution/atheism vs. Creation/theism) that they desperately cling to.

    As for Bill O’Reilly, he doesn’t even seem to accept the Big Bang, so he’s clearly not interested in anything more than humorous soundbites.

    * Yes, this is a broad over-generalization. Unfortunately, it is the intolerant extremes that get most of the press.

  • EC

    @rjs #12 – i’m interested in the further research that clarifies things, any articles you can point me to? thanks. On Lennox’s book, i’m half-way through and its pretty good so far. Maybe something to discuss here down the road?

    @Joe Canner #18 – Thanks for the leads on the fossil development. I’ve seen some of those and I can see how further fossil development can lead to re-structuring of common ancestry. But does this help us see them as transitional or merely intermediary? That is, i think (and i stress i think) part of the question is, do the fossils show common ancestry, or do our notions of common ancestry make the fossils show common ancestry.

    @pds #23 – Thanks for the links. I see that Gould is questioning gradualism as a necessary component of evolution in the extended quote. So it seems the line of reasoning then is: does the fossil record show gradualism? And if it does not, does that mean gradualism is false? And if gradualism is false does that mean evolution is false?

    I think Rjs #25 points out that statis and punctuated speciation might just be extensions to the theory itself. I’m wondering if evolution requires that natural selection and random mutation explain everything? Is there further work to be done here to simply expand the theory rather than start over?

  • pds

    Why is RJS focusing on Kirk Cameron instead of leading scientists like Henry F. Schaefer, III? Why won’t TE scientists dialogue with ID scientists? That is the real tragedy.

  • Ryan

    @ Joe
    “As for Bill O’Reilly, he doesn’t even seem to accept the Big Bang, so he’s clearly not interested in anything more than humorous soundbites.”

    These are the type of over the top statements that come off as uncharitable. I think Bill misspoke and we should be a little bit more patient with someone who talks for a living rather than “clearly” saying they are not interested in pursuing truth.

  • Pace

    My spouse and I both have graduate degrees from MIT (engineering and physics). The reason I mention that will become apparent below. We are old earth creationists and don’t believe in macro-evolution. We believe in the “big bang”, we are embarrassed by the scientific ignorance displayed by some YECcer; we like Dr. Hugh Ross “Reasons to Believe”.

    According to Genesis, the species were each created “after their own kind”. One species does not turn into another species, though there is micro-evolution within species.

    (Taking a huge leap of faith and trust in reports by scientists) and assuming this “transition fossil” has been accurately interpreted and reported, who’s to say it was not some odd birth defect? Or that our divisions of species differ from God’s divisions? LizardSnake are both “creeping things of the earth” (Genesis).

    Having done original academic research at a premier institution, the accuracy and integrity of the reporting should not be taken for granted! “Fudging” data to fit a theory is not unusual. I was pressured to do that very thing by my thesis adviser, so I question what is reported in scientific journals and RJS, I recommend that you do likewise.

  • DRT


    From an academic / teaching perspective, I have been questioning the traditional American course of study at the high school level — biology, chemistry, physics… Does it make more sense to reverse the order, or integrate these branches of science? Other countries do it much differently…

    I was not aware that there was a specific order. When I went through HS the order was strictly dictated by what prerequisites enable the best learning experience. Frankly, the more math you know the more you can appreciate physics, particularly calculus. Low level biology requires almost no prerequisite, though higher level HS biology is enhanced through statistics. Chemistry seems to be best enhanced through a good base understanding of algebra. So I think that if there is an order it is only due to the fact that the math has a natural order. Many years ago, when I went through, I went Bio 1, Chem 1 and Physics 1 together, then Bio 2, then Chem 2 and Phys 2 together.

  • Joe Canner

    Susan #13 re pds #28: For what it’s worth, Explore Evolution comes at this from an Intelligent Design standpoint and, judging from the Amazon reviews (pro and con) seems to land on the anti-evolution side. ID provides a valuable corrective to atheistic interpretations of evolution, but it tends to throw out the baby with the bathwater by poking holes in evolution without providing any scientifically testable alternatives.

  • Pace, I don’t think quotes two or three words from Genesis really demonstrates anything useful here. Genesis also claims that there is a “firmament” – which for a long long time people (translators, early “cosmologists” and theologians) took to mean that the sky was solid. So thinking that the tiny references in Genesis to “after it’s kind” is passing judgement on biological speciation is making a similar mistake, I would think.

  • rjs

    pds (#33),

    I put up the Cameron clip as a way of introduction to the topic, acknowledging that it was intentionally humorous.

    I have known Henry Schaefer (Fritz) since my first week in graduate school. I respect him – although I disagree with some of his positions. He, however, doesn’t find the ID/theistic evolution debate of first importance, this is an issue where we can disagree and discuss. In his writing and speaking he respects Collins and others who hold to theistic evolution.

  • pds

    Joe #37,

    “ID provides a valuable corrective to atheistic interpretations of evolution, but it tends to throw out the baby with the bathwater by poking holes in evolution without providing any scientifically testable alternatives.”

    It sounds like you are sure that there must be a naturalistic explanation. Are you a theist? What is the basis of your faith in naturalism?

  • Joe Canner

    pds #33: Technically, ID includes TE, so what’s to discuss? Both believe that God created and so the only argument would be how best to understand God’s role in creation given the current scientific evidence. This is mostly a theological question, and one for which neither the Bible nor science has much of an answer.

  • Joe Canner

    Ryan #34: You’re right, O’Reilly may have misspoken and I may have been projecting onto him my biases about him based on other topics. Let’s keep this about the science…

  • Joe Canner

    pds #40: If you go all the way back to my post #4, you will find that I favor theistic evolution, but do not reject out-of-hand progressive creation and other flavors of old-earth creationism. I do reject atheism and I think there good reason to reject YEC.

    I’m not sure how the comment you quoted indicated that I favor naturalism over theism. I certainly think it is possible that God could have invested the cosmos with the capability to evolve to what we see today, but there are many other ways God could have worked and I don’t think there are strong reasons to push one over the other.

  • pds

    Joe #41,

    Biologos dismisses, attacks and ridicules ID and tends to “sell” evolution to the Christian public. ID folks are highly skeptical of many aspects of evolutionary theory.

    I think that there is plenty to discuss. It seems Susan N. would be interested in the discussion. I am.

  • Chris – I’m afraid Cameron does open up the door to parody: http://www.theonion.com/articles/three-eminent-biologists-and-growing-pains-kirk-ca,10466/

    Pace – What do you make of the fact that we don’t find fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian? Did God create species progressively?

  • pds

    Joe #43,

    You seem to reject ID a priori as not “scientifically testable.”

    I think ID is an excellent alternative and I think it is scientifically testable. Maybe you can explain what you meant in #37.

  • Joe Canner

    pds #44 and #46: I am only basing my assessment of ID on what I have seen so far. I have not seen any attempts to propose and test scientific hypotheses about ID. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    I have heard it proposed in the past that because science excludes non-materialistic causes, science has tilted the playing field against ID. I am sympathetic to this argument but have yet to see any concrete proposal as to how science can properly admit non-materialistic causes.

    The Biologos people (who are practicing scientists) attack ID because in its attempt to counter atheism it attacks science as well. ID and TE have a lot in common, but will never get anywhere together if ID continues to ridicule evolution.

  • Jeff

    Intelligent Design is useless as a scientific explanation, especially considering that the genetic mechanisms for evolutionary change are in place (with an ever expanding list). When talking in terms of “atheistic” or “Design”, etc. in the context of evolution, we are bringing in our own philosophical/religious positions that science cannot make comment on.

    Intelligent Design (defined by me as direct intervention by God including events of spontaneous creation (irreducible complexity, etc.)) may be absolutely true (though I personally find the theory lacking in its explanatory power both scientifically and theologically), but bench science is limited to discovery in naturalistic terms. For instance, It cannot discover something that is irreducibly complex because it cannot “repeat” the creation of what led to something that is irreducibly complex. Science can only infer that there is as of yet undiscovered data (or lost forms that may never be discovered) which would otherwise explain a particular situation. Any other judgement we put upon it is outside of the realm of science, and it is a limitation of bench/wet lab science.

    Another criticism of ID might be cases where the “design” could be seen as being the product of a cruel designer, such as the case with the sickle cell gene/malaria survival mechanisms (increased Falciparum resistance for heterozygous individuals/sickle cell anemia for homozygous individuals). The Christian would not call it design to begin with (presumably), but the nonChristiam may make a legitimate argument that it contains elements of design that is rather vicious for those who get the unlucky homozygous combination. Thus, one may be forced to be inconsistent in how the “designer label” is applied.

    ID does nothing to prop up the Christian story, it only provides another means of criticism for those who wish to argue that ID is another case of antintellectualism within the Christian community…as if we need another example of that. Regarding the previous paragraph, I have not spent enough time engaging ID to know how they deal with these sorts of situations, maybe there is a legitimate defense that I’m not aware of (I presume it has been addressed), so if anybody is aware of one please comment so as to enlighten my own understanding.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    Re: Cameron’s “why haven’t we found a crocaduck yet?”) is just … maddening!”

    Yes it is. It is either a mtter of being woefully ignorant on evolution or intentionally deceptive. Pick one.

    “it makes us sound like morons and I’m starting to think, rightfully so.”

    How Kurt Cameron damages Christianity.

    For those interested in a great explanation of the science by scientists intended for the general public, I’d recommend:

    “Your Inner Fish” by Neal Shubin, and

    “Tears of the Cheetah” by Stephen O’Brien.

    If you have any interest in the powerful evidence for evolution provided through genetics, “Tears of the Cheetah” is a fascinating book.

  • pds

    Joe and Jeff #47 and #48,

    All I have time to say is that your comments contain numerous errors regarding intelligent design- its definition and its arguments. It sounds like you have not read ID proponents themselves, but only their critics.

    Christians misrepresenting other Christians is one of the saddest things I know of in the world today.

    I will add one point: evolution and ID are theories of biological origins, which are part of the historical sciences, which study history. You need to use the methodology of the the historical sciences and history. Why should Christians rule out design as they look for the best explanation of historical events?

  • Joe Canner

    pds #50: ID is not a Christian, nor is it a Christian movement. It includes Christians but also Jews, Moonies, atheists and probably much more. So, I will not cop to the charge that I have mis-represented another Christian.

    You have a captive audience here. Instead of accusing us of mis-representation, please tell us what ID is, including its theory about biological origins, and how it can be tested.

    BTW, I believe in little-i little-d intelligent design. I do not rule out design as an explanation for historical events. I believe God is a very intelligent designer, and much more than that. What I don’t believe is that it is necessary to discount the scientific evidence for evolution in order to believe in design.

  • Jeff


    As a Christian, I believe in a “designer.” As a scientist, ID has little utility within the realm of science (except to foster discussion and debate). I can assure you that a bench scientist trying to form hypotheses about biochemical or genetic phenomena (etc.) will have much greater success when asking a question from a “how would evolution do it based on what we already know” point of view than a “how would God do it” point of view. Since we are generally talking about things in a scientific context here, I’m trying to stick to a scientific take on things. To make assertions about God as a designer based on empirical data is outside of the realm of science, I don’t care what you do with it as a Christian (but I wouldn’t use it as an apologetic stance as ultimately ID will crash and burn from that angle, I expect–if it hasn’t already).

    Additionally, I would posit that for every case one wants to argue for design, another argument for bad/cruel design could be made. The fact of the matter is that the world is a pretty cruel place (and that is excluding human nature). With death as the major driver of evolution (or trying to avoid it), what does one really expect? That alone is enough for me to suggest that any call for a hands on designer are highly dubious. I would instead look to Jesus.

  • DRL

    How we resolve questions of evolution only tells us how things came about. It does not tell us Who brought them about. Even if design is proved, it does not tell us Who the Designer is. We have only then proven a “god.” And as Christians, we have no interest in doing that. “A god” is not The God who leaves humans without excuse by what he has revealed to them and within them (Romans 1).

    The anger displayed by the unbelievers in this clip is but further evidence that Romans 1 is correct in stating that humans know the truth but suppress it in unrighteousness. Their motives are based far more on emotions than on the supposed “reasons” and objections they put forth. In the end, their objections prove to be mere rationalizations of their sinful choices.

  • pds


    I would rather discuss things with people who seem to be truly interested in understanding ID arguments in their strongest form. You really have no idea how ID can be tested?

    My favorite is when ID opponents argue (at the same time):

    1. ID can’t be tested.
    2. ID has been tested and falsified.

    You can find better some information here:


  • Joe Canner


    Talk about mis-representation….I never claimed (and never would) that ID has been tested and falsified. I also don’t know why you think I don’t want to learn. I don’t monitor ID sites closely, so I don’t know what they are currently attempting to do scientifically.

    Anyway, I looked at the site you provided and found the following:

    “Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.”

    There are lot of definitional issues here, but let me get to the main point. Doing a knock-out study to show that a structure requires all of its parts to function is not equivalent to showing that it always needed all of those parts, nor that it was designed. If I remove a piece from a Rube Goldberg device and it doesn’t work any more, that doesn’t mean that all of the pieces were necessary; it might mean that are other ways to build the device. ID likes to use the blot-clotting mechanism as an example. It is true that removing one factor causes the whole thing to fail, but there are animals that have clotting mechanisms that require fewer and different pieces. Reverse engineering does not necessarily reconstruct the engineering process.

    But a bigger problem with all this is that it is not relevant to the topic of today’s discussion nor to the vast majority of topics that most people are interested in. Even if I concede that the bacterial flagellum and the blood clotting system are designed, what about the rest of evolutionary theory? On the same website you find:

    “If [by evolution] one simply means “change over time,” or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory.”

    Their quibble is with the characterization of evolution as being a “purposeless process that has no discernable direction or goal.”* I don’t know of any Christian who would disagree with them on this. Why, then is it necessary to spend so much time and effort arguing about microbiological evolution?

    * The site claims that this comes from a statement by the National Association of Biology Teachers. However, this is no longer part of the NABT statement. Most scientists understand that assessment of “purpose” and “goals” are outside of the realm of science.

  • pds


    You said,

    “Talk about mis-representation….I never claimed (and never would) that ID has been tested and falsified.”

    Of course, I never said you did.

  • I haven’t been able to read all the above but I like the analogy that studying evolution is like working a jigsaw puzzle with 3/4 of the pieces missing and no lid with a picture. You can get enough of the picture to get a sense of how things fit together but there are big holes. The existing pieces help point you to what pieces to look for. Not a perfect analogy but I like it.

  • Ryan

    I like that analogy to Michael, and for all I know macro-evolution is true.

    The real contention though is that evolution has to mask its massive flaws with an extra dose of cockiness and assurance. Many can’t even stand the idea that it might not be “fact,” and just a theory that is possibly wrong. Saying this statement alone in a university setting is dangerous to one’s career and future…

  • R Hampton

    A very well documented example of a species caught in the midst of splintering into several is the Middle East Blind Mole Rat or (Spalax ehrenbergi). There are at least four distinct divisions based on the number of chromosomes, and each group has attributes that tailor it to its environmental niche.

    Yet if we were to examine only the skeletal remains of these animals, they would appear to be a single species. Eventually morphological changes will appear as skeletal difference between species – something we can already measure with genetic testing. But by the time this will happen the evidence for a “missing link” will no longer exist.

    Why? Because it can be nearly impossible to tell the difference, by skeletons alone, when one animal is merely an uncommon looking member of one species (think the ends of a population bell curve) or a member of a new, divergent species.

  • pds

    Michael #57,

    Interesting analogy. But we have found multiple millions of fossils and the overall pattern they show is one of sudden appearance of species and stasis. This is not what evolution predicts. We keep finding new fossils, and the pattern stays the same.

    We have found hundreds of thousands of trilobite fossils, and not a single clear trilobite ancestor. Isn’t that curious?

  • Ryan

    Hampton that seems to be an example of micro-evolution that is trying to be smuggled in as macro-evolution.

    I don’t think anyone is debating adaptation. As I said before, these conversations should be permitted in the universities and they are often not as macro-evolution is a stricter doctrine than the Virgin Mary for the Catholic church. I just would say that evolution is far from a fact, but a theory.

  • rjs


    There is no difference between macro and micro evolution – except time and accumulation.


    As always we disagree on this one – the evolutionary pattern does not support smooth gradualism, but this just helps better characterize the evolutionary mechanism and provides data for consideration – it does not change the basic model at all.

  • R Hampton

    To understand what is happening to the Middle East Blind Mole Rat, it helps to look at a recently completed speciation.

    Do you believe the wolf evolved from the fox? If so, is this an example of micro- or macro- evolution? Scientifically, what is it that makes the determination?

  • Ryan

    Forgive me rjs I am not a scientist and have to rely on the layman’s reading I have done on the subject.

    I am obviously using the terms wrong but what I mean is that adaptation is evident but evolution from one species to another is a whole different matter.

  • R Hampton

    Foxes and Wolves are not merely different species, but belong to different genera (Vulpes and Canis respectively). Furthermore, the genetic difference between Foxes and Wolves is such that they can not produce a hybrid offspring.

    So by your layman’s definition, the change from Fox to Wolf is an example of macro-evolution.

  • Jonathanblake

    LOL The only thing I can’t believe is Bill O’Reilly using his famous “tide goes in, tide goes out- never a miscommunication” argument…………..

  • Susan N.

    Joe Canner and pds,

    Thank you for the book recs and website links in response to my request for science learning/teaching material. The questions that evolutionary science raises for one’s faith, and vice versa, make it difficult to sift through the information and sort it all out. What seems more clear to me through these science and faith discussions is that I will need to “customize” the high school science curriculum quite a bit…which means a lot of research and planning for me. I always wish for a “canned” curriculum, especially on hard stuff like this, but often the very reason we homeschool (or one of them, anyway) keeps us from using a single source for a given subject. Usually, we have picked a “spine” textbook to build the course around, and then bring in supplemental resources to round out weak areas or areas of special interest to my kids. My work is cut out for me this summer…planning and praying, praying and planning! Thanks again for your suggestions and encouraging words. I have a notebook page full of book titles and website links to follow up on from this discussion 🙂

    DRT @ #36 – the flow in high school science is pretty standard in the U.S. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and then whatever AP course the student wishes to “specialize” in. You are right that to a great degree, the order is driven by the math prerequisites. In India, on the other hand, the three branches are integrated and covered simultaneously in the first 2 years of “high school” (grade levels not apples to apples comparison with U.S.). Physics is studied for a few months, then chemistry, and then biology. The content gets progressively more difficult/complex in the second year. Then, in the last 2 years of “high school”, the student can choose which branch of science to “major” in, and will specialize in that for both years. There are a few “integrated” science textbooks on the market in the U.S., and I think a few schools have tried it. Others have created their own simultaneous/integrated scope and sequence using 3 separate textbooks and breaking down the content over 36 weeks. I suspect that in India, and other high achieving math and science countries, kids are more advanced in math than in the U.S. by the time they reach high school science. My concern, related to this discussion, is training the next generation to think scientifically, and be educated to hit the ground running with the information that is emerging on the subject of evolutionary science. The benefits of making connections among the various branches of science would seem prudent, given the need for this level of knowledge and critical thinking in interpreting the data (i.e., fossil records).

  • pds


    I had a further thought in the shower this morning (where I sometimes do my best thinking).

    It seems to me that what you often do is “fossil-mining” which is analogous to “quote-mining.” You bring up individual fossils that you think are “transitional” but you take them out of context. The context is the overall pattern in the fossil record, which is sudden appearance of species and stasis over time. The fossil you mention does not change that pattern at all. Moreover, the fossil may or may not be a “transitional” fossil. We would need to know more to know if it was part of a step by step pattern showing gradual change from one animal to a significantly different kind of animal. We generally don’t have those kinds of transitions in the fossil record, so there is reason to be skeptical that it happened in this situation.

  • pds

    Susan N.,

    Best wishes in your research. Perhaps a point/counter-point approach is best rather than trying to find one textbook that does it all.

    For example, read Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial” and Darrel Falk’s book, both of which discuss the fossil record. Then read Gould’s “Wonderful Life” and see who did the best job of describing the overall fossil record.

  • Tim


    If you are looking for a more contigous series of fossils, I recommend you review the professional literature out there on microfossils. With thousands of specimens to choose from and long, uninterupted contigous series, I hope that your reservations as stated above will be met. If you want resources, please reply and I will provide them to you. Some of the texts can be quite pricy, however, so I hope you live close to a good library.

  • rjs


    My posts tend to be 1000+/- 300 words(although sometimes I run long) with one major idea at a time put up for consideration. This isn’t the context to say everything every time.

    I do not claim and never have claimed that the fossil record is a slam dunk trail of proven evolution. I do claim that it is entirely consistent with evolution on every level.

    You keep going back to Gould, and his work of 20-30 years ago, yet completely dismiss Conway Morris and his more recent work in paleontology on the Burgess Shale and the Cambrian explosion. This, frankly, floors me, especially as Conway Morris is a Christian.

  • Tim


    I would argue that between both the fossil and genetic record, the case for Evolution/Common Descent is as much a “Slam Dunk” as is the case for Germ Theory. However, I do acknowledge that the evidence for Evolution/Common Descent is far more demanding in terms of acheiving sufficient comprehension so as to lead to the above conclusion than is the evidence for Germ Theory.

  • pds


    I cited Gould and Prothero (2009) and I have also cited Conway Morris in the past. Gould is a very credible expert, since he is not a Christian, and Prothero says he is still right. Gould was very open and honest about “the trade secret.” I commend him for that.

    Have you ever had a post about the overall fossil record and the “uncomfortable paradox” Gould observes?

  • pds


    You are using vague terms. Universal common descent by random variation and natural selection or other known mechanisms is nothing close to a slam dunk.

    That is widely acknowledged.

  • pds


    Did you read the Prothero article that I linked to? How about a post on this?

    Once “punctuated equilibrium” became a hot topic, it dominated the journals and scientific debates. I vividly remember sessions at each professional meeting during the 1970s as knock-down drag-out fights between the old-guard gradualists and the “Young Turks” led by Gould, Eldredge, and Steve Stanley. Gould and Eldredge (1977) effectively answered most of the early criticisms of the “punctuated equilibria.” By the mid-1980s, a consensus had emerged within the paleontological community that nearly all metazoans (vertebrate and invertebrate, marine and terrestrial) show stasis and punctuated speciation through millions of years of geologic time and strata, with only minor possible examples of gradual anagenetic change in size (Geary 2009; Princehouse 2009; Hallam 2009; Jablonski 2000, 2008). That has been the accepted view of paleontologists for more than 20 years now.

    Yet one would never know this by looking at the popular accounts of the debate written by non-paleontologists, who still think it is a controversial and unsettled question. Even more surprising is the lack of response, or complete misinterpretation of its implications, by evolutionary biologists. Since the famous battle at the 1980 macroevolution conference in Chicago, neontologists have persisted in misunderstanding the fundamental reasons why paleontologists regard punctuated equilibrium as important. Many have claimed that people like Simpson (1944) and others were thinking along the same lines, or that gradual change on the neontological time scale would look punctuated on a geologic time scale. They miss the point of the most important insight to emerge from the debate: the prevalence of stasis. Before 1972, paleontologists did try to overemphasize examples of gradual evolution, and they expected organisms to gradually change through geologic time, as they do on neontological time scales. But the overwhelming conclusion of the data collected since 1972 shows that gradual, slow, adaptive change to environments almost never occurs in the fossil record. The prevalence of stasis is still, in my mind, the biggest conundrum that paleontology has posed for evolutionary biology, especially when we can document whole faunas that show absolutely no change despite major changes in their environments (Prothero and Heaton 1996; Prothero 1999; Prothero et al. 2009).

  • rjs


    Gould’s “uncomfortable paradox” only provides information on the mechanics of the search algorithm – it is data, it does not undermine or even call into question on any level, evolutionary biology. This is the point that Conway Morris makes. Not only this but also, I think, that Gould’s cast of the paradox has been modified and mitigated by subsequent discoveries. (Prothero would agree)

    Universal common descent is a slam dunk. Do we understand all of the mechanisms completely yet? No, this is an active area of research. If you want to hold out hope for the necessity of direct and detectable divine intervention until every i is dotted, and every t is crossed, fine. Do so. But hold it with an open hand. It isn’t essential for the faith.

  • Joe Canner

    There is a lot of misunderstanding about what Gould was proposing.

    First of all, when he says “sudden appearance” he is talking about millions of years, as opposed to tens or hundreds of millions, not as opposed to a few thousand years (or less).

    Second, while punctuated equilibrium may sound like a dodge to explain problems in the fossil record (and maybe it was at the time), it actually has some merit based on what is known about the mechanisms of evolution. When an environment is stable, there is no reason for organisms to evolve. It is only when there are changes in the environment or separations between groups of animals, that variations that lead to better survival become significant and lead to evolution.

    Punctuated equilibrium is often used to suggest that Darwin’s theory was falsified because Darwin suggested that evolution would be gradual. For better or for worse, science has moved on from Darwin’s original theory and has made many modifications and improvements. Modern evolutionary theory does not hinge on a gradualistic fossil record.

    In particular, DNA evidence has both confirmed and modified Darwin’s theory in ways that Darwin could never have imagined. I will be the first to admit that the fossil evidence by itself is not convincing evidence of evolution. The DNA evidence, on the other hand, makes the theory pretty hard to dismiss.

  • Tim


    Allow me to be more specific then. I mean that the case for Common Descent via Evolution (generally understood) is a slam dunk – in the context of, for instance, Humans sharing common ancestry with Apes. This is not meaningfully disputed in the scientific community. The precise mechanisms of course are always a matter of some debate.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    “For example, read Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial…”

    Johnson is a lawyer and has no biological training or expertise. He mispreprenseted the facts and the science that existed in his 1991book. His book was deceptive on multiple levels abd his science, incorect then, is now woefully out of date. His uniformed opinions have been wrecked by scientific advacnements that he should have anticipated.

    In the 20 years since 1991, advances in genome sequencing have undisputably established common descent and common ancestry. Any one who holds otherwise is a creationist. Phillip E. Johnson is a creationist (OEC).

    It’s unfortunate that such a book is being proffered here as some alternative to solid science. Jiohnson’s book is as scietifically based as a book exposing the government concealment of alien abductions.

    Read “Tears of the Cheetah” and “Your Inner fish.” You’ll be entertained and informed.

    Particularly reflect on the story of “Snowball” the cat.

    A human was convicted of murder on the same evidence that supports common ancestry and common descent.

    We continue to do so daily as we make life and death decisons on the results of DNA testing.

  • pds


    “If you want to hold out hope for the necessity of direct and detectable divine intervention until every i is dotted, and every t is crossed, fine. Do so.”

    After all this discussion and you still don’t know me well enough to think this about me??

    Come on.

  • pds


    “the case for Common Descent via Evolution (generally understood) is a slam dunk … The precise mechanisms of course are always a matter of some debate.”

    A theory of origins without an effective mechanism? OK, I’m glad Toto looked behind the curtain.

  • Joel


    This is probably a day late, but having read “Your Inner Fish” I believe you have an incorrect impression of Tiktaalik. Now it’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure Shubin stated that it was likely Tiktaalik was a “dead end” evolutionary branch and there was no way to determine if any existing species were descendents. He stated it was a transitional fossil, not “the” transitional fossil for fish -> amphibian. Also, he gives several reasons for exploring the area in northern Canada in addition to the ones you mentioned. Exploring an exposed strata was much cheaper than digging and there were detailed maps of the area provided by… either the Canadian military or geographic society. So there were practical reasons for searching the area – not simply because the fossil was only found in that zone. It didn’t come across quite so sensationalist and I found it an educational read.

  • rjs


    I worded it that way because I can’t figure out where you are coming from on this. My confusion is also reflected trying to then take in your answer to Tim in #81. … No mechanism yet, look behind the curtain.

    While we know a great deal about the effective mechanisms and are learning more every day, there are questions and puzzles remaining. So what? That’s why science is fun, it’d be boring if we knew all the answers.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    One of the very cool things about the fossil record is that it is surely incomplete. Very very few creatures ever fossilize, which is a good thing becaue the food chain would quickly become exhausted if every creature fossilized.

    Based on the very, very few fossisl that do exist, paleontologists were able to put together a very detailed picture of evolution and contributed substantial support for the concepts of common ancestry and common descent.

    The acomplishments cannot be overstated. Of course, there were internal conflicts between gradualists and punctuated equilibrium supporters–these conflicts are no different (and no less heated) than conflicts between Catholic doctrines relating to free will and “good works” and Calvinist doctrines of the elect and double predestination. The intenal disputes over details do not mean that all of Chrisitanity is useless or fundametally flawed. Gould’s comments are outdated, taken out of context and the scope of the dispute is overblown. The internal scietific dispute was over a detali, never a demostration that our understanding of evolution is somehow fundametally flawed.

    Now, since Gould’s comments in 1977 35 years ago, advances in genomics spport and confirm the findings of paleontolgy. Paleontologusts have accurately represented the fossil record. The transitionals are there and the transistionals occur at the appoximate times forecast by DNA science. The corroborating effect of two different courses of scientific information firmly establishes common descent and common ancestry as facts explainable by well understood natural sequences.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    PDS: “We have found hundreds of thousands of trilobite fossils, and not a single clear trilobite ancestor. Isn’t that curious?”

    rjs “If you want to hold out hope for the necessity of direct and detectable divine intervention until every i is dotted, and every t is crossed, fine.”

    PDS: “After all this discussion and you still don’t know me well enough to think this about me??”

    Perhaps the confusion is that rjs is not alone in trying to figure out some of your more cryptic comments.

    Trilobites: Am I correct in taking your point is that we will never find ancestors for trilobites because there aren’t any? And therefore, rjs is also correct in assuming that, becaue there aren’t any trilobite ancestors, then there must have been a “direct and detectible divine itnervention” when the first trilobites were created by God?

    You also appear to argue that gaps in the fossil record must be evidence of other “saltation events” and that those gaps are a permanent featuer fo the fossil record, becasue there were no ancestors and , thus, it’s fruitless to expect to find fossils within those gaps.

    If that is not the point of your trilobite and gap arguments, then what is the point you are trying to make?

    If we are incorrect, perhaps you could clarify your position a bit. It appears that rjs has summarized your positon accurately based on the comments you have made above.

  • The direction of this discussion illustrates why, despite decades of massive attempts to persuade the American public to accept evolutionism, a very large segment remains deeply skeptical.

    Pds is making a significant point that is being evaded. It is distilled in the quote in comment #75. An excerpt: “we can document whole faunas that show absolutely no change despite major changes in their environments.”

    To this problem one answer was given (comment #76), that just because all the details are not worked out, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be sure of universal common descent. No disrespect intended, but this sounds like so much excuse making. Prothero’s observation shows that the fossil record poses a far more serious problem than mere lack of details.

    Another answer was that punctuated equilibrium has not falsified Darwin even though he said evolution was gradual (comment #77). The writer then makes the startling admission that “modern evolutionary theory does not hinge on a gradualistic fossil record.” That would come as a surprise to many Americans who are constantly assured that the gradualistic fossil record is an essential pillar of evolutionism. Then phrases such as “science has moved on” really mean that we are not supposed to notice that one of Darwin’s key predictions has been falsified.

    It’s not just the problems with evolutionism, but the way that they are rationalized that make many skeptical. The emperor may not be down to his new clothes yet, but his long underwear is showing, and it’s looking rather thin.

  • rjs


    Common descent is a solid conclusion based on the genetic data alone.

    How the evolutionary process works is not yet completely understood.

    Exactly what the historical path was is being worked on and studied constantly.

    Your comment on Darwin and gradualism … Darwin lived and wrote 150 years ago. He got many things wrong – this doesn’t invalidate evolutionary biology or result in the dismissal of what he got wrong. Newton got many things wrong – we don’t dump physics because of it. The theories have been updated and we still use what he got right all the time. This is the way the process works.

  • R Hampton

    Stephen Enjaian,
    I also answered the question (#59).

    So how would you describe the evolution of Wolf from Fox or the splintering of the Middle East Blind Mole Rat?

  • Joe Canner

    Stephen #86: “That would come as a surprise to many Americans who are constantly assured that the gradualistic fossil record is an essential pillar of evolutionism.”

    The fossil record (gradualistic or otherwise) may be an essential pillar of evolution, but it is by no means the only pillar, and evolution does not stand or fall on the lack of complete gradulatistic sequences that document every transition. The theory of evolution should be judged on what it currently claims to explain, not what Darwin claimed. Darwin had a good idea, but like any theory it was incomplete and in some cases wrong. This does not invalidate evolution any more than quantum theory invalidates Newton’s laws of motion (which were generally correct, but incomplete or incorrect in some cases in ways which he could not have known about).

    Whether the lack understanding of the theory of evolution is the fault of science education or willful ignorance on the part of the American people, I am unqualified to judge. Since national organizations such as NCSE and NABT have made it quite clear what the standards and content are should be for teaching evolution, my suspicion is that biology teachers are either teaching it poorly, or are not teaching it all for fear of getting flak from parents.

    However, I also recognize that research scientists generally do a poor job of communicating to the lay public what to them is patently obvious. And to make matters worse, there are people like Richard Dawkins who are very good at explaining the science but who antagonize the religiously-minded by insulting their faith.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    “Pds is making a significant point that is being evaded.”

    Stephen, Maybe you can help. Is PDS’s point (the one that’s beign evaded) the claim that God created trilobites ex nihiloa ndthe reason why there are gaps inthe fossil record is becasue thsoe are the isntnces where God created new “kinds?”

    Is tha the point that’s being evaded, in you opinion?

    “The writer then makes the startling admission that “modern evolutionary theory does not hinge on a gradualistic fossil record.”

    Idon’t know why this is startling to anyone. It’s not an accurate summary of Darwin’s work nor is it an accurate summary of modern evolutionary theory.

  • Tim


    Unfortunately, I haven’t read Your Inner Fish. I’ll have to take a look. Perhaps the claims in that book were more modest and nuanced than others I’m familiar with.

    I would note that nearly any transitional fossil is always presumed to be an “off-shoot” rather than a direct ancestor. There are exceptions of course, such as contiguous series where we can trace ancestry in certain microfossil lineages, as well as some recent hominid fossils where we can infer (though not with certainty of course) ancestral relationships. But by and large we presume off-shoots that more likely than not dead-end than true ancestors.

    But for fossils to be deemed transitional, there needs to be a case to be made that the off-shoot/cousin species does in fact relate to a genuine transitional event. The best inference we could draw with respect to Tiktaalik was that this was the the most supportable interpretation of the available evidence. Now, as new evidence in the form of the very, very recent Poland tetrapod track find has severely cast doubt on this initial conclusion. Currently, the dominant attitude among paleontologists appears to be deep uncertainty as to when the fish-tetrapod transitional event occurred and which species would be transitional to it.

    Bottom line, I don’t think it would be advisable for anyone at this point to claim that Tiktaalik is in any supportable manner transitional from a stratigraphic point of view. Certainly one could point to the anatomical adaptations as the “sort” we would expect to find in a transitional form however. In this sense, we have “transitional” fossils of a sort with respect to the development of the modern camera eye, even though they are not stratigraphically related.

  • Two original questions in this discussion were 1) What kind of evidence would you expect to find in the fossil record if evolution is true? and 2)Does the argument from the absence of transitional forms seem reasonable?

    I would say yes it is reasonable. Evolutionism holds that 3.5 billion years of speciation has produced the more than 10 million species on earth today. So it is reasonable that transitional forms (which has not been defined in this discussion), would be very plentiful and very diverse.

    Instead, as Gould and others more recently have observed, they are very rare or non-existent. Oxford University zoologist Mark Ridley stated, “no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation.”

    Responses to this point have been essential to say that, evolutionism is not dependent on the fossil record. Genetics confirms common descent. That strikes me as a major concession, and actually a departure from the original questions. Outside the fossil record, evolutionism is in serious trouble as, for example, in molecular biology. As Harold Franklin admitted, “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a handful of wishful speculations.” So on the basic building-block level of life, evolutionism has only “wishful speculations.”

    For these and other reasons, I regard the comparison of Darwin and Newton as invalid.

  • Tim


    Transitional fossils are plentiful, just not plentiful enough to support gradualism. As far as your quote mine from a Zoologist in 1981, I would note that the author then goes on to note Zoological evidence as, well, he’s a Zoologist and not a Paleontologist.

    In any event, I have no idea how the fossil record was looking 30 years ago, but I would certainly dispute the statement’s validity with respect to our current state of science due to the fact that plenty of Evolutionary scientists do in fact use the fossil record as unequivocal support for Evolution/Common Descent. Transitional fossils are just a piece of that evidence of course. Far more powerful is the overall pattern.

  • Tim

    …(continued response to Stephen@92),

    Here is a more recent quote from Mark Ridley in 2004, as you can see his view has changed somewhat:

    “The main subgroups of vertebrates, on a conventional classification, are: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. It is possible to deduce that their order of evolution must have been fish then amphibia, then reptiles, then mammals …. The deduction follows from the observation that an amphibian, such as a frog, or a reptile, such as an alligator, is intermediate in form between a fish and a mammal. Amphibians, for instance, have gills as fish do, but have four legs, like reptiles and mammals, and not fins. If fish had evolved into mammals, and then mammals had evolved into amphibians, the gills would have been lost in the evolution of mammals and then regained in the evolution of amphibia. This is much less likely than that amphibian evolved from fish, retaining their gills, and the gills were then lost in the origin of mammals. … ”

    “The inference from the modern forms, can be tested against the fossil record. The fossil record supports it: fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, appear in the fossil record in the same order as they should have evolved. The fit is good evidence for evolution, because if fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals had been separately created, we should not expect to see them to appear in the fossil record in the exact order of their apparent evolution. Fish, frogs, lizards, and rats would probably appear as fossils in some order, if they did not appear at the same time; but there is no reason to suppose they would appear in one order rather than another. It is therefore a revealing coincidence when they turn out to be in the evolutionary order. Similar analyses have been done with other large and well fossilized groups of animals, such as the echinoderms, and have found the same result.”

    “The argument can be stated another way. Haldane once said he would give up his belief in evolution if someone found a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian. The reason is that the rabbit, which is a fully formed mammal, must have evolved through reptilian, amphibian, and piscine stages and should not therefore appear in the fossil record 100 million years or so before its fossil ancestors. Creationists have appreciated the power of this argument. Various claims have been made for fossil human footprints contemporary with dinosaur tracks. Whenever one of these claims has been properly investigated, it has been exploded: some have turned out to have been carved fraudulently, others were carved as tourist exhibits, others are perfectly good dinosaur footprints. …”

  • DRT

    A little late on this, but the Teaching Company has their course Major Transitions in Evolution on sale for 70%off.


    Evolution is the most remarkable force in the history of Earth, the organizing principle throughout the biological sciences, and the most important mechanism scientists use to understand the varieties of life on our planet.

    How and when did life on Earth get to be the way it is today?

    Imagine a world without bees, butterflies, and flowering plants. That was Earth 125 million years ago.

    Turn back the clock 400 million years, and there were no trees.

    At 450 million years in the past, even the earliest insects had not yet developed.

    And looking back 500 million years—a half-billion years before the present—the land was devoid of life, which at that time flourished in a profusion of strange forms in the oceans.

    These and other major turning points are the amazing story of evolution. To learn about these major transitions, each of which brought forth new possibilities for life, is to embark on an unforgettable look into the past. It’s also a captivating opportunity to get a deeper understanding of how evolution works, to draw intricate connections between living things, and to think about life—not just yours but the lives of everything around you—in new ways.

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    Giant Leaps that Brought Us to Today

    Among the major transitions you cover are these:

    From simple to complex cells: Life’s first major evolutionary transition was the leap from basic prokaryotic to more complex eukaryotic cells, which contain a nucleus and other specialized structures. This was the crucial step that eventually led to plants and animals.
    Skeletons: Skeletons are a ubiquitous feature of the animal world, but where did they come from? About 500 million years ago, the evolution of predators triggered an evolutionary response: mineralized skeletons as a defense.
    From fish to four legs: The iconic image of evolution is a fish emerging onto land. This transition might not have happened without shade provided by the newly developing forests, whose protective canopy gave the first “fishapods” protection from the sun.
    The first eggs: The development of enclosed eggs in early reptiles about 320 million years ago freed animals from watery environments and led to the later evolution of mammals and dinosaurs, as well as flying and swimming reptiles.
    Dinosaurs become birds: Dinosaurs didn’t go completely extinct; they survive today as birds, whose distinctive wings, feathers, and other features are visible in transitional fossils such as Archaeopteryx, from about 150 million years ago.
    Modern humans: The evolution of tree-dwelling primates to upright-walking apes later led to the evolution of modern humans—a species that invented agriculture, poetry, computers, and the techniques to trace its own lineage and that of all life.

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    The Latest Details on the Oldest Events

    New technologies, such as DNA analysis, together with the latest fossil discoveries, make this a fast-changing subject that has grown far more detailed and complete than the presentation you may have learned in school. Among the scientific and popular misconceptions that have been overturned are these:

    Neandertals: Recently sequenced DNA from Neandertals suggests that they were not an isolated throwback but contributed some genes to the modern human lineage. Genetic and other clues show that behaviorally Neandertals were very human-like.
    Ardipithecus: The 2009 discovery of a relatively complete fossil skeleton of Ardipithecus, an ape that lived about 4.4 million years ago, demonstrates that apes and humans are related in more complex ways than previously thought.
    Mammals: Early mammals did not simply “lay low” under the shadows of dinosaurs; they exploited promising niches, evolving traits that led to their adaptive explosion after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

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  • Stephen Enjaian —

    Pds is making a significant point that is being evaded. It is distilled in the quote in comment #75. An excerpt: “we can document whole faunas that show absolutely no change despite major changes in their environments.”

    Some forms work well for a wide variety of environments. Take the Coelacanth, the so-called ‘living fossil’. The fossils we have of its ancestors are from 65 million years ago – in freshwater rivers. The modern versions live in salt water oceans.

    Unlike the popular version of the story, they do show some changes, though their overall shape looks pretty much the same. A lot of stories of ‘evolutionary stasis’ are like that; faunas show smaller changes, not ‘absolutely no change’.

    And, note the interesting thing about this case – the fossils disappeared because we don’t find too many fossils in ocean depths, whereas in fresh water rivers, fossils form that we can find a lot more readily. It’s an indication of the incompleteness of the fossil record!