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


What would those lines of evidence be?

What about a current species? By what criteria might be describe a current species as (potentially) “transitional”?


And a YEC rebuttal is that “this is a distinct species, and thus not ‘transitional,’ regardless of how it might appear.”

(Bill Wald) #65

Look at it this way. Maybe it is a miracle from God that we have the minimal fossil evidence we do. A parallel situation, if you had photographs of yourself taken every year from birth to this year, most any one could see your “evolution” over the years . . . .


False. I would conclude that I am not actually the same person, but that God simply created a whole bunch of individuals that look similar, and I am the last in the line of those individuals…

(Matthew Pevarnik) #67

That reminds me of this quote:

How can you explain the sequence of horse fossils? Even if you insist on ignoring the transitional fossils (many of which have been found), again, how can the unmistakable sequence of these fossils be explained? Did God create Hyracotherium, then kill off Hyracotherium and create some Hyracotherium-Orohippus intermediates, then kill off the intermediates and create Orohippus, then kill off Orohippus and create Epihippus, then allow Epihippus to “microevolve” into Duchesnehippus, then kill off Duchesnehippus and create Mesohippus, then create some Mesohippus-Miohippus intermediates, then create Miohippus, then kill off Mesohippus, etc…each species coincidentally similar to the species that came just before and came just after?


Fossils are just rock/bones. Transitional implies they came from something and went to something else. But all animals are transitional from ancestors to descendants. Obviously. But this does not mean that species is transitional, or ever was. A fossil cannot prove any kind of transitionality. Only existing animals can indicate transitional qualities of a very limited type, such as a wolf to a lab retriever to a mongrel dog. We know they can be transitional because they can be bred back again. But we can have no evidence of transitionality beyond this, only a hopeful belief thru faith, that other species are transitional to each other. Similarity of appearance generally gives credence to a definition of a species. Differences of appearance, if significant enough, distinguish between species, and the proof is that they cannot interbreed or reproduce. It is impossible to know about the interbreeding of old rocks and bones.


The premise is that traditional fossils actually exist, that we should expect to find them. This premise is a logical conclusion from the general theory. But this premise has also led to the faith statement that every fossil is transitional, and every life form is transitional. This is a faith statement. In terms of dealing with the real issues of transitions between major life forms, genera, phylla etc, this sidesteps the issue of what the processes would have to be to verify the general hypothesis of evolution from common descent, and whether a reasonable number of transitional intermediary fossils have been found, compared to the numbers of fossils of commonly recognized specific species, which are well defined.

(Christy Hemphill) #70

Like I said above, I think this confuses premises and hypotheses. “This is a transitional fossil” is not really a premise or a conclusion of a logical argument. It is the conclusion of a scientific investigation that starts with observations, proposes a hypothesis and arrives at a conclusion that the hypothesis is supported or unsupported.


That is not the sense that transitional is being used. The correct idea is transitional features. A fossil might exhibit a feature that is transitional between the ancestors and descendants. This would only be determined after a range of fossils have been studied.


But it’s a pretty good overall model. Not just “blind faith.”

Wouldn’t we expect to see something demonstrating that kind of “transition” today?

What would that look like?


Interesting wordsmithing… In any case, whether fossil or feature, the point is the same. There is no significant distinction. A particular transition fossil is named such because of transition features. That particular fossil may not actually be transitional; it may have died before leaving descendants. But it represents transitional characteristics, or its ancestors with identical characteristics, may have actually been transitional beings, or are interpreted to have been transitional. The rest of my previous post stands.


I am not sure what you are getting at. I know what premises and hypotheses are. And I am sure you are aware that a conclusion from one study can become a premise for another. I did not argue that “This is a transitional fossil” is a premise. I argued that the generality about transitional fossil existence is a premise in deciding whether a particular fossil might be transitional. If the premise is false, then the conclusion is impossible. But the premise about the general expectation of existence of transitionals, is a conclusion that Darwin made about fossils, when he said there should be many, many transitional or intermediate fossil specimens, if his theory was true. And he said that if these transitionals were not discovered, then his conclusion was that it would be a huge problem for his theory.

(Christy Hemphill) #75

Science isn’t rhetoric. It shouldn’t be evaluated as such. Premises and conclusions belong to logic and rhetoric. The conclusion part of the scientific method is not arrived at via establishing premises and arriving at conclusions that logically follow. Instead of premise, premise, premise, conclusion, a scientific argument looks like, data and observation, hypothesis, prediction, more data and observations that confirm or rule out the predictions, conclusion.


Well, I don’t disagree. Nor did I state such in that way. But a scientific argument always has premises, either stated directly or assumed. I would also revise your order of steps… a bit. The initial data and observations are under the umbrella of certain premises, normally various natural laws which are already assumed and proven. The hypothesis will normally not try to circumvent or ignore these natural laws (premises), but will be based on the interaction of the observed data with these natural laws, as well as the conclusions of previous studies, which will now become premises for future studies. Then the hypothesis (usually a negative hypothesis) will be tested by the examination of appropriate controlled experiments, under the the normal application of statistical significance. The rigor of logic is absolutely essential to this process, while rhetoric usually does not help this process. Rhetoric sometimes leads to a person being interested a particular hypothesis, but beyond that it cannot play a role in evaluating validity of assumptions or conclusions.


It is only a good model if true. If abrupt appearance is what we actually see in the fossil record, then the transition model is not so good. And in fact, Darwin from the beginning saw the problems in this from his own observations. Since then, the problems of the scarcity of transitional fossils has not been eliminated after 150 years. Yet, “we” persist in blind faith, that somehow there must have been the numbers and types of transitionals necessary for the gradual transitions to occur. That does not appear to be a good scientific approach. The premise appears to be unsupported by actual data, by actual observations. At the very least it is statistically untenable, even though a few transitionals might be postulated. As a result, one should question the validity of interpreting some fossils as transitionals, since statistically, they appear to be outliers.

So we would expect to see transitionals in large numbers, larger numbers or at least as large as stable species. We would not expect gaps between various species or types, neither in the fossil record, nor in today’s biota. And we would continue to see numerous (not few) transitionals forming today.

Under the abrupt appearance scenario, which the data tends to favor, we would not expect to see many transitional fossils, only a few for very minor changes. The transitional fossils we did see under that scenario would not likely lead to extensive debate because the transitions would be obvious, minor fluctuations from the norm. And the transitions would not be catastrophic, but adaptive, or variations on the norm, such as a bengal tiger transitioning to siberian tiger, or black bear to a grizzly, or a bison to Hereford type.


What is “abrupt”? Can “abrupt” be "over the course of a couple of hundred thousand years?

Except maybe fossils in general are not as plentiful as Darwin might have expected given that maybe he wasn’t so well informed about the conditions in which they are formed.

Well, now, you’re begging the question–my original question: these "transitionals you expect to see–what are you looking for? What characterizes a transitional fossil?

“Obvious” transitions might or might not last long. Right? I mean, doesn’t that seem obvious. And yet, there are these:

(Phil) #79

But when a fossil is found, is it not amazing how it fits into the evolutionary scheme of things and timeline?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #80

I thought this was fitting where (I’m a few weeks late) but a nice new fossil find of an amphibious whale:
An Amphibious Whale from the Middle Eocene of Peru Reveals Early South Pacific Dispersal of Quadrupedal Cetaceans

This is not a matter of “blind faith.” There are lots of intermediate types of fossils that are found in the right geological columns. How much have you studied all of the various intermediate forms in the fossil record? They tell a very specific story.

(Chris) #81

I would say it is a fossil from a life form in the line of descent from one phenotype to another. It should have traits that are common to both and also characteristics that are either intermediate or some characteristics from the descendant that are not present in the ancestor. If it is in the line of descent then it should also appear in time between the ancestor and descendant. I.e. intermediate in form and time.

However intermediate in form does not necessarily mean that it is in the line of descent. You could find a dog that is intermediate in form between two others but not in a line of descent between them. Or you could line up antelopes in a transitional series but they are all living today so not in ancestor-descendent relationship.

And of course intermediate in time does not mean much if it’s not intermediate in form.

Even if you find a fossil that is intermediate in form and time it is still very difficult to show that it is in the line of descent; at best it might be transitional.

For example Tiktaalik was once touted as the ideal transitional fossil since it was claimed to be intermediated in form and was found in strata dated between fish and tetrapods. It was dethroned when tetrapod tracks were found in earlier strata than Tiktaalik. It’s possibly intermediate in form but not in time. At best it could be a descendent of the transitional form that persisted after the development of tetrapods but currently this evidence is lacking.

Overall the fossil record is notable for the lack of transitional fossils. It is this lack of transitional fossils that leads some people to claim that every fossil is transitional. Faced with a lack of evidence just double down and make your claim unfalsifiable.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #82

So a tetrapod was predicted to have been found in a specific geological strata that would have had intermediate features and then its found, but because its not the first you just reject its significance. Nice.

How are you claiming that a notable feature of the fossil record is a lack of such intermediate fossils? That is simply not true with more ‘intermediate’ in time and morphology fossils being found all the time. I shared an example of one just a bit ago.

Here’s a more recent paper of a sauropod phylogeny as well as I’m not sure what your figure is aiming to demonstrate:

And figure 1: