- a passing from one condition, form, stage, activity, place, etc. to another
- the period of such passing
- a word, phrase, sentence, or group of sentences that relates a preceding topic to a succeeding one or that smoothly connects parts of a speech or piece of writing
- a shifting from one key to another; modulation; esp., a brief or passing modulation
- an abrupt change into a remote key
- a passage connecting two sections of a composition
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wollemi pine fossil and specimen
The idea of transitional forms is one of those slippery and sloppy concepts that cannot be nailed down. As a purely classical Darwinist would claim, we are ALL transitional forms on our way to evolving into something else. This sounds rather inclusive, for if the definition of something includes everything then it in fact says nothing.
Stephen Gould was more honest and forthcoming on this particular issue:
"The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nods of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils." - The Pandas Thumb, 1980, p. 181
During his lifetime, Darwin bemoaned the lack of transitional fossils because his hypothesis of descent from common ancestry depended upon one kind of creature turning into another kind and that this would be happening everywhere in order to have produced the mass of organic life found on the planet. The default expectation of the Darwinist would be to find a continuum of creatures slowly or quickly turning into something else. This is hardly so. Darwin said:
The reason Darwin needed and expected to find these things in the fossil record is clear from this:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. Origin of Species (1859) p.189
So Charles Darwin understood the importance of finding evidence of organs and systems and process forming. He was also depending upon the idea of uniformitarianism or gradualism, the idea that the rock layers were records of millions upon millions of years of slow accumulations of dirt and debris. We of course know better now. Having found fossils being instantly buried, sometimes in the act of eating or giving birth and/or found them in formation as if they had been arranged by a strong flow of a current or sorted by size or probable specific gravity and having found fossils as delicate as jellyfish preserved, we must assert that the rock layers are a record of a catastrophic flood and the events associated with that flood.
There are no transitional fossils. Michael Denton has shown that 97.7% of all land vertebrates are represented in the fossil record and 79.1% of all living land vertebrates are represented, a figure that rises to 87.8% if birds are not included, a group of animals that would be least likely to be preserved in the fossil record. All 32 groups of mammals orders appear abruptly in the fossil record. From what we can ascertain of the fossil record, all animal types appear in the record of the rocks fully formed and many of them seem unchanged from living descendants of the same kind. The Wollemi Pine is one of what has become hundreds of examples of this. The discovery of so-called "Lazarus" types has ceased to be news.
‘The earliest and most primitive members of every order already have the basic ordinal characters, and in no case is an approximately continuous series from one order to another known. In most cases the break is so sharp and the gap so large that the origin of the order is speculative and much disputed.’
G.G. Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), pp. 105[sic]—6.
Does a ‘transitional form’ replace one gap with two gaps?
At times, creationists are ridiculed for pointing to gaps in the fossil record,
because, it is alleged, the finding of a ‘transitional form’ means that one
can now argue that there are two gaps whereas before there had been one.
To begin with, this argument is very disingenuous, if only because it tells
us nothing about the degree of morphological discontinuity remaining if two
smaller gaps do in fact replace one larger one.
Consider if, as an extreme example, the only organisms in existence were
yeasts, earthworms, and humans. From the standpoint of ancestor-descendant
relationships, evolutionists could state that the last common ancestor
of earthworms and humans was more recent than the last common ancestor
between Kingdom Animalia and yeasts (Kingdom Fungi). While it is obvious
that, in a sense, earthworms do ‘bridge the (one) gap’ between yeasts and
humans, the fact nevertheless remains that the two gaps which now exist (between
yeasts and earthworms, on the one hand, and between earthworms and
humans, on the other) nevertheless are very large. So, while it is technically
correct that there are now two smaller gaps instead of one large gap, this has
little practical meaning because of the huge discontinuities remaining between
the three forms of life. The same holds for cladistic relationships.
Nowadays, evolutionists deal with cladograms (branching diagrams
which are supposed to show relative degree of relatedness among living
things) rather than ancestor-descendant relationships.
A common cladogram
On a cladogram for the example above, the yeasts would branch
off at a node before the one where the earthworms branch off from humans.
But this branching pattern would tell us little. In fact, as before, it would
only obscure the huge morphological discontinuity which exists between
yeasts, earthworms, and humans. Although I intentionally made the
example above extreme in order to make the point, the same considerations
apply to more conventional depictions of alleged evolutionary transitional
forms. In particular, as long as such things as half-legs/half-wings, or threequarter
scales/one-quarter feathers, are not found as fossils, the discontinuities
among such things as reptiles and birds remain large. This remains the case
whether or not some ‘transitional’ fossil can be thought of as replacing one
larger gap into two smaller but nevertheless still large gaps.
Finally, let us examine the one-gap, two-gap premise in the light of cladogram
construction. Can this one-gap, two-gap argument be levelled only
against creationists? Certainly not. Consider what happens when allegedly
transitional forms are found:
‘It might be expected that the addition of new fossil finds and
reanalysis of older ones would improve the fit of age data to a fixed sample of cladograms,
by the filling of gaps and by corrections of former taxonomic assignments.
… In other words, as a result of 26 years of work, new discoveries and reassignments
had improved the fit in 20 % of cases, but caused mismatches of clade and age data in a
further 20 % of cases. Sometimes a new fossil does not fill a gap, but creates additional gaps on other
branches of a cladogram [Emphasis added].’1
Clearly, then, to the extent that the ‘two gaps whereas before there was
one’ has validity, it is a double-edged sword. It impacts evolutionary thinking
no less so than creationist thinking. As a result, if they want to be intellectually
honest, evolutionists should realize that they cut themselves with
the double-edged sword everytime they level the ‘two gaps whereas before there
was one’ argument against creationist scholars. Of course, it must also be remembered
that the very cladistic methodology currently in vogue among evolutionists tends, by its very
nature, to de-emphasize the presumed status of (alleged) transitional formswhich are so
widely touted by the liberal media:
‘Remember that although a living individual must have had ancestors,
fossils are unlikely to represent any of them. Even if a fossil was an
ancestor, we will never know this— we can never know with certainty
what happened in the past. Accepting that fossils are not ancestors
also means that there are no “missing links” in the fossil record
because fossils cannot be ordered, as traditionally depicted, into an
evolutionary lineage. There is no ladder of life. Most, if not all, fossils
lie on the dead branches of the tree of life, and we must remember
that most of our tree of life is dead, with only a few green living leaves
at the tips of the branches.’ 2
But why just discard the false ‘ladder of life’ concept when it
is also so easy, based on the empirical evidence, to dispose of the tree of life
altogether? Once the lack of major transitions is acknowledged, one must
face the fact that there is no tree of life because there are no roots, no trunk,
no boughs, and no medium-sized branches. There are only mutually disjointed
bushes, and even these consist exclusively of variation only within
the kind, and this is almost invariably within the family unit of traditional
taxonomy. The scientific creationist needs to only reject organic evolution
before being in hearty agreement with the foregoing cited statements.
1. Benton, M.J., Testing the time axis of phylogenies,
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
Society of London B349:8, 1995.
2. Irwin, D.M., Dead branches on the tree of life,
Nature 403:480, 2000.
Darwin quotes courtesy of this site.
I would conclude that Darwinists will find an amphibian or a reptile or a fish that is not exactly like a species found today and seek to have it be included into the record as a transitional form and when this is done, if there is enough evidence of the actual remains of the animal, we find it is a fully formed creature that is not sporting, for instance, a tongue that is in the process of wrapping itself around within the skull of a woodpecker or a pair of legs that is one-half wing one half leg or anything similar. We have yet to see a true transitional form, unsurprisingly. We have yet to observe macroevolution in action, either.