"There is no such thing as a 'transitional fossil'..."

(Daniel Fisher) #22

The other lines of evidence can establish the truth of evolutionary theory, and pakicetus can be concluded as a transitional fossil and consistent with the other data. But it cannot be used to help establish to truth of evolutionary theory while simultaneously dependent on that truth to establish itself as a transitional form.

(Phil) #23

Not sure that I follow you. The conclusion that a particular fossil is transitional of a particular descendant is something only done after work and study. It is not pre-supposed.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #24

It really is interesting that we had no transitional forms for whale evolution at one point. This led various anti-evolution writers to say:

Davis and Kenyon in 1989 in Pandas and People: “The absence of unambiguous transitional fossils is strikingly illustrated by the fossil record of whales… If whales did have land mammal ancestors, we should expect to find some transitional fossils. Why? Because the anatomical differences between whales and terrestrial mammals are so great that innumerable in-between stages must have paddled and swam the ancient seas before a whale as we know it appeared. So far these transitional fossils have not be found.”

Behe in 1994–"…if random evolution is true, there must have been a large number of transitional forms between the Mesonychid and the ancient whale. Where are they? It seems like quite a coincidence that of all the intermediate species that must have existed between Mesonychid and whale, only species that are very similar to the end species have been found.”

But then… we found all these fossils as common descent would predict. And then found lots of pseudogenes (remnants of genes like those that produce enamel but are deactivated or those used for smelling in air).


It is not evolutionary theory that defines it as transitional. It is the characteristics it shares with earlier species and later species that define it. It is the discovery of transitional forms that support the theory of evolution because that is what the theory predicts.

And that is not mixing and matching. All of your examples have something that functions as a wing but each is built differently. In fact that is a good example of how evolution can create the same function using completely different parts. Bird wings are formed from their entire fore limb but bat wings are formed from the fingers of their fore limb for example.

(Daniel Fisher) #26

True, it supports the theory as to demonstrate the consistency, and show the internal coherence of the theory, and that it leads to real world predictions.

And correct here as well, so long as the logic only flows in that direction, and fossils are concluded to be transitional and then, at best, shown to be consistent with the rest of evolutionary theory.

What I logically object to is using “transitional fossils” in the fossil record, in themselves, as evidence for evolution in and of themselves, as Coyne does in his book “why evolution is true.” This is simply circular, and he doesn’t seem to notice.

Well, I could then point to echolocation, or the eyes of cephalopods and humans, or things that do have a closer design but are fine tuned for different purposes, and you’ll maintain, I imagine, that any such mixing and matching wouldn’t be real mixing and matching since they are still somewhat different designs adapted for unique purpose…

But for that matter, the wings of helicopters and airplanes both function as a wing but each is built differently, so they aren’t examples of humans mixing and matching? Or carbon dioxide scrubbers in space shuttles and on submarines both function to remove CO2 but are built completely differently, so that would also not count as an example of humans mixing and matching? Or cars and bicycles wheels, or an airplane vs ship propeller, or a hand-held rifle and a naval gun…

What would be a hypothetical example of biological mixing and matching that would fit your criteria as such?

(Daniel Fisher) #27

Oh, and one other clarification… fossils can only be used to corroborate common descent, it has no bearing whatsoever on the truth or falsehood of the mutation/genetic drift/natural selection medhanism’s ability to produce any such changes.

Please correct me if I am mistaken here, but Darwin proposed two entirely independent, albeit related, theories… common descent of all life, and change and evolution by natural selection working in natural variation. Fossil record can only confirm the first, it has absolutely no bearing on the second. Someone (like Behe) can affirm common descent, find the fossil record consistent with common descent, but find utterly unconvincing the idea that natural selection et al are sufficient to have caused those changes.

I’m other words, at best, fossil record can help demonstrate that evolution happened, but has no explanatory power whatsoever to confirm how it happened.

But even that I find debatable. Windows 95 was a “transitional software” between windows 3.1 and
Windows 98, but I’m not sure what exactly that helps us understand.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #28

@Daniel_Fisher - if there were various gaps in the fossil record and some sort of intermediate is expected… and then that intermediate fossils + dozens of others are found + pseudogenes … does that matter? That has happened many times so far. You don’t need the exact genetic pathway to realize that common descent has good explanatory power.

Here’s an example from pseudogenes + fossil evidence demonstrating common ancestry:

(Daniel Fisher) #29

I personally have little issue with the basic theory of common descent in principle, and take no issue with there bing great variety of these kind of animals. There are certain leaps that seem a bit stretched, though…single called to complex multicellular organisms, Cambrian explosion, echolocation are some.

But all that proves is that there was common patterns used. I can open up my current copy of windows right here in 2018, open the “more icons.dll” file, and find all sorts of icons that have “MS-DOS” on their icon… the same file I used back in windows 3.1 in 1994 to use different icons.

This suggests either that this is a vestiage of older programs, that the newer system was simply built over the pre-exsisting one, or that the designer of the new system felt this file to still be useful and intentional,y importeded it. I suspect the former.

If we don’t rule out an intentional, intelligent designer from consideration, these same basic processes are just as valid explanations for the phenomena you notice, and comparable to how we adjust our designs of software and machinery to rework a system for a new function or purpose.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #30

Whenever you upgrade to a new operating system, do you leave random lines of unworking code interwoven throughout from previous versions? I.e. pseudogenes-deactivated genes that once had a function. In various cetaceans, they have most of this gene for making enamel but…

(Daniel Fisher) #31

In short, yes. Absolutely. Unquestionably.

This is just far, far, far easier that rewriting it carte blanc from the beginning. I do it myself when I write programs, almost always start with something else that works and rewrite it.

Seriously, my personal favorite example, if you use windows, go to the system32 folder and find moreicons.dll it is not used by any code in current windows. You can see what is in it by choosing to “change icon” of a desktop shortcut and navigating to that file. Many of the icons available still have the archaic “MS-DOS” logo. But no current version of windows uses any of those terribly dated icons, and hasn’t for years.

It is just something I noticed as I used that file back in 1993, I think, and occasionally I check and, yep, there are still all those “MS-DOS” logos and icons even in the newest windows iterations.

Many games for that matter you can access “secret” areas that were developed, unfinished, and simply left there uncompleted. All sorts of unworking code was simply left as it was, as it is so much easier to leave it there and simply have the system not access it and essentially ignore it, than all the complicated details involved (and perhaps even unintended unexpected consequences that may follow) in removing every last vestiage of code that may (or perhaps may not) be no longer needed. Not to mention some of that code may potentially prove useful again.

So if one wanted to take a toothed whale and redevelop it to use baleen instead of enamel teeth, for instance, any human genetic engineer who had the capacity to do such a feat would almost certainly simply turn off the access to the genes that code enamel, and have the operating system call on the new subroutine that does the baleen system instead. That is far, far simpler than going through and removing all the enamel coding, which is a huge yet entirely unnecessary step, and potentially bugs the system by removing content that may have other functions built in even if not coding for certain proteins.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #32

Right, which means you agree with me for the evidence for common ancestry and cetaceans were not specially created from nothing.


Have you searched the entire code base to confirm that?

I have never used that file and yet the creation date is April 11, 2018 and the last access time is Feb 15, 2019. Looks like something is using that file.

You are not aware of the basic design difference in the eyes of cephalopods and humans?

Here is a quote for you. Turns out eyes are actually quite different from one another even when they serve the same function.

(Daniel Fisher) #34

Depends specifically what you mean by “common ancestry,” and what you mean exactly by “specially created from nothing.” If your concept of common ancestry requires reproduction and parent to offspring generation (that is genes inherited by sexual reproduction from one generation to the next), not necessarily.

If you mean “common ancestry” in the more general sense that windows 95 was ancestral to windows 7, then certainly, I would not believe object, and I see reasons this could well be the case.

In other words, I see two entirely different designs, each optimized, with many, many similarities, and one with what seem vestigial and unused data in the presumed descendent’s database. The idea that one is a biological, genetic descendent ofmthe other is certainly a legitimate hypothesis. But I also think it a legitimate hypothesis that one is a conceptual descendent of the other.

For instance… A genetic engineer in the future who had requisite knowledge and technology, for instance, could conceivably take the DNA from a toothed whale, sequence the DNA, re-program the database, rebuild the newly modified DNA from scratch, and create himself a cloned baleen whale.

In the most general sense, yes, the design of the new baleen whale would have “common ancestry” with the toothed whale. But if we mean literal parent to offspring generation kind of “common ancestry,” then no, clearly in this hypothetical case, I would not say there was “common ancestry.”

There could have been this kind of conceptual adjustment and evolution of the conceptual design in the mind of a designer, but this would not logically rule out special creation of the organisms in question.

(Daniel Fisher) #35

Sure I am. Just as I would generously assume you are aware of the basic design difference in the wings of airplanes and helicopters.

What I’m not aware of is what difference this makes. The point remains indisputable…

  1. both in the biological realm, as in human engineering, there is in fact a great deal of “mixing and matching.”

  2. in both realms, few if any significant features are crudely “mixed and matched” without re-engineering the design, to ensure it functions perfectly for the new platform or environment.

So yes, we don’t see cephalopod eyes crudely imported into humans, or bird wings tacked onto a bat. But then, neither do we see airplane wings crudely tacked onto the top of a helicopter, or an airplane propeller directly installed on the stern of a submarine.

To acknowledge “mixing and matching” in the one realm and reject it in the other on the basis that the features have different designs seems like special pleading, given that in both realms there is substantial redesign of said features. Unless you might offer a more substantial reason why we should differentiate these cases?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #36

This is essentially why special creation is meaningless as a hypothesis. You would have to know the mind of God to make any predictions of what one could find. Only the hypothesis of common descent has ever made actual predictions of what we would find- have there been any fossils ever predicted by the common design idea? Or would you ever expect mammals to have remnants of insect digesting genes, with those closest to Homo sapiens having the same deactivating genetic changes?

In this case, the designer was keeping the old code for small insect eating mammals as a blueprint and then upon making primates, made more errors in the code shared by some ancestral primate and then used that code to independently make humans and chimpanzees.


So an intelligent designer with the consummate skill, vast knowledge, and tools that are totally unknown to us needed to create life over incredibly vast periods of time (if I understand where you are coming from correctly) can’t be bothered to remove genes that are broken (we have a bunch in us) or clean up His designs in general (lots of bad design out there)? He is also limited to reusing existing designs and to just do a make over rather than start from scratch. If you want to limit the intelligent designer to work as humans do then I guess you do have a point. I just can’t see how an actual intelligent designer would ever be limited in that way.

Detecting the difference between an accident and a purposeful design

All this is true.

But it does eliminate the claim that “transitional fossils don’t exist.”

Seems odd that it has been used as such a strong argument against evolution (by “strong” I mean “strongly iterated”); and then they are acknowledged as existing and “fitting into young earth creationism.”

Sure, God could have “made them all,” etc., but that doesn’t help answer the question of how…

God made the animals…over millions of years or in a day. Well, he made the weather in a day, but we don’t presume that God places raindrops individually in the, allowing them to fall through gravity.

(Daniel Fisher) #39

Fossils don’t come with a label that says “transitional”, is my only point here. For instance, if 1,000,000 years from now someone dug up a pet cemetery, they could separate all the large dogs from the small ones, and then fnd a medium sized dog and claim it as a “transitional” fossil, but this would be erroneous.

Even more erroneous, then, would be to use that “transitional” fossil as evidence that large dogs evolved from small ones. In this contrary-to-fact case, perhaps it is more clear to see the circular reasoning/question begging nature. One would first need to know/confirm that large dogs evolved from small ones in order to confirm (or deny) the hypothesis that the medium dog is a “transitional form.” Therefore, one can’t take the medium dog’s status as “transitional” to prove the small-to-large dog evolutionary hypothesis. In this case, the reasoning is clearly circular.

The truth or falsehood involved in labeling something as a “transitional” fossil depends on the other facts involved, and needs to be a conclusion. It may (or may not) be a conclusion that demonstrates further consistency with the rest of the theorem, but it needs to be a conclusion, not a premise.

That is my only point in assenting to the idea that there aren’t “transitional” fossils. There are just fossils, and other lines of evidence must demonstrate them to be transitional, so they can’t be used as a premise that leads to its own conclusion.

(Daniel Fisher) #40

I think you’re touching on my philosophical objection. I’m interested ultimately in what is true, not which hypothesis happens to make more predictions. If we reject one hypothesis in toto simply because it doesn’t give as many predictive events as another, what happens if reality is a mixture of the two (some design, some naturally occurring evolution)? We have ruled truth out of our scientific inquiry, and have all but guaranteed we will arrive at an erroneous conclusion. I’m not interested in which hypothesis gives more predictive value, I’m interested in which is true… especially in a case where they are not mutually exclusive, and the world as it is could indeed result from a combination of both.

As for predictive value, one could still argue that the gap preceding the Cambrian explosion is consistent with (and predicable by) a design hypothesis. Not to mention the creation of life itself should predict the extreme difficulty of recreating it even by the most brilliant minds in the most favorable laboratory experiments.

The design hypothesis is certainly consistent with the rarity of de novo proteins, and i personally think it gave much better predictive value regarding the nylonase frameshift hypothesis. And I find it consistent with and predictive of the lack of any significant evolution in Lenski’s long term evolution experiment, and the fully functional nature and rapid appearance of certain biological features.

Last observation… one needs to know God’s mind only if one presumes that God is the designer in question, which ought to remain outside of a scientific inquiry.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #41

So if there are gaps (in the fossil record I presume you mean) and they are too big (how big is ‘too big’?) then that is predicted by design. But that’s not an actual specific testable prediction unless one defines terms very explicitly and is by an large, based upon gaps in knowledge.

Here’s a recent paper on the topic which in light of new evidence perhaps ought to better be thought of one of many radiations of species throughout history:

In what sense does design predict anything here? What mechanisms are part of the ‘design hypothesis?’