Friday, July 18, 2014

Common Creationist Complaint: Where are all the transitional fossils?

Common Complaint: Where are the (expected) countless millions of transitional fossils missing? Darwin noted the problem and it still remains. The evolutionary family trees in textbooks are based on imagination, not fossil evidence. Famous Harvard paleontologist (and evolutionist), Stephen Jay Gould, wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology”. Other evolutionist fossil experts also acknowledge the problem. [1]

Logical Fallacies:
  • Begging the question fallacy: In claiming that we are missing millions of transitional fossils, this question is making an assumption that isn't true. 
  • Straw Man Fallacy: Misunderstanding what a transitional fossil is and then claiming that evolution must be false based on your misunderstanding. 
Answer: The failure of this question to disprove evolution hinges on the misconception of "transitional fossils." Many people think that this means that we should find fossils that are a conglomeration of two extant species, like a "crocoduck" - something that is half crocodile, half duck. In fact, many anti-evolution websites like to claim that because we have no "crocoducks," evolution must be false!

Of course, evolution would never predict anything like a crocoduck. Evolution doesn't work as a crocodile morphs into a duck. A species' "essence" doesn't become something else entirely. Evolution is defined as changes in populations, not individuals. A giraffe didn't evolve as it stretched it's neck higher and higher, passing along to its offspring a stretched out neck. Instead, giraffes that happened to have longer necks "performed better" - lived longer, had more children - and as a result, that genetic benefit appeared more frequently in future generations, and giraffes - as a population - had longer necks as time went on.

A lot of people think of evolution like they think of links on a chain, with discrete species coming vafter small evolutionary hops, but this metaphor is fundamentally wrong. Evolution is more like the colors of a rainbow, with each species at each point in time representing a single hue, a moment on a continuum - a snapshot of that population at that time. The truth is that all fossils are transitional because they are all points on a continuum. In fact, every single species living today is also a "transitional species" because the genetic makeup of populations continue to change. Saying that we are missing transitional fossils is like looking at a rainbow and saying, “But where are all the colors!”

The fossilization process is a very rare and unique process; only a relatively small percentage of organisms get fossilized. Death has to happen very quickly under just the right circumstances for a fossil to be created. Even under those conditions, however, we have millions of fossils, and the list is growing at an incredible rate. Paleontologists actually consider the list “innumerable” because we are finding them so fast. So the fact that we have so many fossils when we know that fossilization is rare is extremely significant. The evolutionary trees in textbooks are not based on imagination; the fossils are real. I have seen them; I have held them; I have even dug them straight out of the ground.

So where are the expected millions of transitional fossils? Everywhere. Every single fossil is transitional, and every current species is transitional. If you actually read Darwin's writing on the subject in context, you will see that the problem he noted was not that transitional fossils don't exist but that no one geographical area would be able to provide a continuous sequence of events. He also predicted that future generations would find quite a few transitional fossils. And he was right.

P.S. And in case you were wondering, the quote from Stephen Jay Gould is taken out of context and is explained here. As they do such a good job explaining the quote, I won't even bother trying to improve it.

[1] 15 Questions for Evolutionists. Evolution: the naturalistic of life and its diversity (The General Theory of Evolution, as defined by the prominent past evolutionist Kerkut; see introduction to Origin of life.) by Don Batten

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