August 24, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Are These Really Transitional Fossils?

To get to the truth, you often have to tune out the Darwin cheerleaders and just examine the data.

Transitional Turtle

Science reporters like to bring fossils to the imagination with colorful artwork. The artist’s conception of Eorhynchochelys, a fossil found in China, shows it looking somewhat like a sea turtle without a hard shell. It had a toothless beak like a turtle, but who’s to say it was evolving toward turtledom, instead of away from it? Science Daily writes as if it didn’t have a shell “yet” – wording which embeds progressive evolutionary assumptions into the story. And yet we know that modern sea turtles show variations in their shell shapes and textures. Further down in the report from the Field Museum of Chicago, we find evolutionists scratching their heads, making up a just-so story that relies heavily on the Stuff Happens Law:

The fact that Eorhynchochelys developed a beak before other early turtles but didn’t have a shell is evidence of mosaic evolution — the idea that traits can evolve independently from each other and at a different rate, and that not every ancestral species has the same combination of these traits. Modern turtles have both shells and beaks, but the path evolution took to get there wasn’t a straight line. Instead, some turtle relatives got partial shells while others got beaks, and eventually, the genetic mutations that create these traits occurred in the same animal.

Then we find the evolutionists scrambling to reassure the public that they are getting warmer toward an answer to”an unsolved problem in paleontology for many decades“:

“This impressively large fossil is a very exciting discovery giving us another piece in the puzzle of turtle evolution,” says Nick Fraser, an author of the study from National Museums Scotland. “It shows that early turtle evolution was not a straightforward, step-by-step accumulation of unique traits but was a much more complex series of events that we are only just beginning to unravel.

Artist rendition of Eorhynchochelys. Credit: Field Museum.

The BBC News notes that the six-foot fossil was “bigger than a double bed” and admits that “How the turtle shell evolved has puzzled scientists for years.” The authors of the paper in Nature are even less confident in their understanding of turtle evolution:

The early evolution of turtles continues to be a contentious issue in vertebrate palaeontology. Recent reports have suggested that they are diapsids, but the position of turtles within Diapsida is controversial and the sequence of acquisition of turtle synapomorphies remains unclear. Here we describe a Triassic turtle from China that has a mixture of derived characters and plesiomorphic features. To our knowledge, it represents the earliest known stem turtle with an edentulous beak and a rigid puboischiadic plate. The discovery of this new form reveals a complex early history of turtles.

In a commentary about the paper in Nature, Jeremy Bohm seems almost bipolar. His title finds him in depression: “230-million-year-old turtle fossil deepens mystery of reptile’s origins.” At one point, he appears hyperactive for Darwin, cheering the discovery of a transitional form. He quotes one scientist saying, “This new species fits almost perfectly in the evolutionary picture that researchers conceived of years before regarding how turtles acquired their signature features,” and adds “the discovery of Eorhynchochelys fills in the gap between these two species.” But later, in another state of depression brought on by listening to reptile specialist Rainer Schoch, he admits, “But even though Eorhynchochelys helps to demonstrate the acquisition of turtle traits, Schoch says, it’s not so informative about their place on the evolutionary tree.” Schoch also laments with him, “researchers don’t know enough about the anatomy of early reptilian ancestors to know for sure where turtles fall.”

Update 8/24/18: A video posted by the BBC News says that the fossil proves turtles can live without shells. The evolutionists essentially call this a shell-less turtle, adding, “We can’t say when or how exactly these broad ribs became a shell.” How do they know the shell was not lost, or that the animal was a degenerate form like a blind cave fish? Moreover, it was bigger and badder than modern turtles today, clearly a complex and successful creature. Where is the evolution?

So does this fossil help? We read about an “evolutionary reversal” in the number of ribs and a strange mix of “derived” (advanced) features. They’re not sure it was terrestrial or aquatic. Whatever it was, it was not on any kind of straight line from pre-turtle to turtle. Why not just accept that the fossils reveal more diversity in animals than we see today? Why must they be connected by Darwinian lines of ancestry? Darwin’s tree of life, we’ve already learned, is dead (6 Aug 2018). This animal was part of a network of creatures that possibly exchanged genetic information.

Transitional Dino-Birds

Confusion reigns once the astute reader gets past the Darwin Cheerleaders in another case of an alleged transitional form. This time it’s a set of dinosaur fossils that Astrobiology Magazine insists are “Rare intermediate fossils” that “give researchers insight into evolution of bird-like dinosaur.” Odd, is it not, that intermediate fossils are rare? Shouldn’t they be everywhere, blending all creatures smoothly from one to another? But we find more reasons to doubt the “intermediate” status of this fossil, called a type of alvarezsaur (named after a historian, George Alvarez). First of all, despite the artwork, no feathers were found. The creatures look like standard theropods.

“Alvarezsaurs are weird animals,” said Choiniere. “With their strong, clawed hands and weak jaws, they appear to be the dinosaurian analogue to today’s aardvarks and anteaters.

Piecing together an evolutionary just-so story about these fossils requires heavy coatings of imagination, figuring out what they ate and why their forelimbs changed sizes. Here comes the Darwin yell king, James Clark:

“The fossil record is the best source of information about how anatomical features evolve,” said James Clark, co-author and an Honorary Professor at Wits University. “And like other classic examples of evolution such as the ‘horse series’, these dinosaurs show us how a lineage can make a major shift in its ecology over time.

Bulletin to Clark: the horse series has been debunked (11 Feb 2017). Favorite evolutionary just-so stories fall slowly, like hot air balloons in the wind after the burner has run out of gas.

Dino-bird pusher Xing Xu, always mysteriously present when a feathered dinosaur story hits the press, is lead author in the paper in Current Biology. Calling this an “intermediate” between Jurassic and Cretaceous alvarezsaurians, his team asserts that “Specialized alvarezsaurian forelimb morphology evolved slowly, in a mosaic fashion.” There’s no mention of feathers for this alleged “bird-like dinosaur” in the paper, and a mosaic is not a tree.

The non-Darwinian story strains credibility: “Our analysis shows that alvarezsaurian skeletal evolution occurred in a somewhat modular manner, with different skeletal parts being modified at different evolutionary rates.” Genetic mutations know nothing of modules. The authors get all excited about forelimb length, but that presupposes the existence of forelimbs. Where is some new innovation, like a new organ or system? Is a king penguin intermediate between an adele penguin and an emperor penguin? With “different evolutionary rates,” the Darwin storyteller has all the flexibility needed to fit any data to his story.

Transitional Humans

The science media are reporting another case of interbreeding between human ancestors:

  • Neanderthals and Denisovans Mated, New Hybrid Bone Reveals (Live Science)
  • Neanderthal mother, Denisovan father! Hybrid fossil: Newly-sequenced genome sheds light on interactions between ancient hominins (Science Daily)
  • The genome of the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father (Nature, original paper)
  • Mum’s a Neanderthal, Dad’s a Denisovan: First discovery of an ancient-human hybrid (Nature, commentary by Matthew Warren)

Needless to say, if mating produced successful offspring, the two groups were members of the same species. This should collapse the Neanderthal and Denisovan categories into one. Then that blended category, which hybridized with modern humans and produced offspring surviving to the present, is also one species. They’re all varieties of Homo sapiens. No Darwin-style evolution in this ‘tangled tree’ can be claimed.

Another example of “mosaic evolution” is found in a PNAS paper entitled, “Evolution and function of the hominin forefoot.” Certain bones are claimed to occupy “an intermediate portion of the morphospace between apes and humans.” The thrust of the paper, however, is that evolution proceeded in a mosaic fashion, not a clear evolutionary progress. Some bones in Ardipithecus actually moved away from apes but not toward humans, they say. “This pattern of evolutionary change is seen consistently throughout the evolution of the foot, highlighting the mosaic nature of pedal evolution and the emergence of a derived, modern hallux relatively late in human evolution.”

A much more important question for Darwinians should concern the astoundingly complex integration of functional parts. One anatomist said in 2007, “With its 26 bones, 33 joints, the foot is a biomechanical masterpiece.”

What a scandal Darwin started. To see how these Darwine-drunk reporters and paleontologists ply their trade, read “How not to work a puzzle” at the end of the 5 Feb 2013 commentary.



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