First, have a look at the following text:
This gradualism insisted upon by Darwin has proved increasingly embarrassing to modern scientists. If evolution occurred at an excruciatingly slow rate, then why can’t we find transitional forms in the fossil record? There should be literally millions of instances where a fossil manifests many of the characteristics of a reptile, but some of the characteristics of a bird (or vice versa)—where are those fossils? Darwin dodged this lack of evidential support for his theory by claiming that scientists had seen only a small portion of the fossil record, and it was spotty at best. Modern scientists have a much more complete picture of the fossil record—but, tragically, still no transitional forms. [Emphasis added — WRE]
This lack of evidence—confessed by committed evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould—drove Gould to concoct the theory of “punctuated equilibrium.” We obviously don’t have space to discuss punctuated equilibrium here (for an excellent discussion, see the work of Bryan College professor Dr. Kurt Wise), but briefly this theory kicks neo-Darwinism into hyper-drive. Darwin’s gradualism must be discarded in order to save evolution! More to the point, Darwin’s theory must be re-interpreted to account for the lack of evidence precisely where Darwin told us we should expect to find evidence.
When we read Darwin himself, rather than modern textbooks about Darwin, we find what the scientific community has known for awhile: Darwin, and theories of evolution in general, are on shaky ground.
No, Jeff, evolutionary biology is doing just fine. Modern evolutionary biology textbooks are not “about Darwin”; they are about a branch of science that has gone a long way past where Darwin left off.
The text above has plenty of egregious errors. There’s the typical antievolutionist take on “punctuated equilibria”. I explain why several antievolutionist claims about PE are ill-founded in this essay. There’s the common error of saying that Darwin predicted that we should find “millions” of transitional forms, but that’s not what falls out when one applies some numbers to what Charles Darwin actually wrote.
But the claim that I would like to concentrate on here is the one I highlighted in bold above, that the fossil record has no transitional fossil sequences in it at all. This is hardly the first time that I’ve seen such a claim. It had been fairly common throughout my time online discussing these matters going back to the late 1980s. But around 1994 I decided to start documenting the claims made and the response to a challenge. If the claim is so good, I figured that the claimant would have no trouble at all explaining why real paleontological evidence should be set aside as not showing transitional sequences. This led to my development and deployment of the “Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge”.
Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge
Last Updated: 2005/02/24
Anti-evolutionists often make a claim that the fossil record contains no transitional fossils. This runs counter to the claims of many researchers in paleontology.
This challenge is to show just how much familiarity the anti-evolutionist making the claim of no transitional fossil sequences has with the actual evidence of the fossil record. By making a universal claim concerning transitional fossils, the anti-evolutionist should be prepared to back up the claim with extended technical discussion of the reasons why all sequences that others believe to be transitional in nature really are not transitional. Because there have been many such sequences put forward by various researchers, this challenge focusses upon one case at a time. The first such case is found in:
Pearson, P.N.; Shackleton, N.J.; and Hall, M.A., 1997. Stable isotopic evidence for the sympatric divergence of _Globigerinoides_trilobus_ and _Orbulina_universa_ (planktonic foraminifera). Journal of the Geological Society, London, v.154, p.295-302.
Now, it is up to you to show why the fossil sequence described therein fails to show transitional fossils. After you outline your objections to this sequence, I have another 100 or so citations of sequences that are said to show fine grained transitions ready to go, one at a time, until either you demonstrate that none are actually transitional, or you give up your claim.
Consider yourself challenged.
Andrew MacRae pointed out the citation listed above. Other bibliographic entries come from the examples in Tables 1 & 2 in Roger Cuffey’s excellent paper, Paleontologic evidence and organic evolution, which can be found in Montagu’s “Science and Creationism” or the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 24(4), just in case you want to get a jump-start on the rest of the entries.
Please note that unfamiliarity with the reference above is a failure of the claim of absence of transitional sequences — the claim requires *complete* knowledge of fossil sequences, and unfamiliarity with any is prima facie evidence that the claimant doesn’t have the basis for the claim.
Andrew Macrae’s commentary on the cited paper:
In the example I cite above, it is a transition between two species that are assigned to separate genera. Furthermore, there are 4 other species “between” them, 3 of which are assigned to yet another genus. It could always be argued that the genera have been “oversplit” in the foraminifera, but that does not change the obvious morphologic pattern or the fact that one morphology incrementally diverged into two that remained subsequently distinct.
[End quote — A. Macrae, Message-ID <email@example.com>]
Figures from the Pearson et al. paper are now on the WWW at
Evidentiary and Non-Evidentiary Responses to Challenges
There are two main ways in which respondents can deal with the Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge. The intellectually honest and appropriate way is with specific discussion of the fossil evidence as described and discussed in the primary literature. This is by far the least common approach taken by those who have been given the TFEC, and typically only follows after a long period of non-response, the elapsed time apparently serving as an index of the claimant’s unfamiliarity with the specific evidence.
The other category of approach is to ignore, so far as possible, any mention or discussion of actual fossil evidence. These varied strategies are what I term “non-evidentiary” responses, since they are completely independent of empirical data. There are many routes to achieving this end. The simplest is non-response. The challenged person may decide that not saying anything further is the best option, sometimes in the hope that there will be no long-term penalty for this behavior, and that eventually few, if any, persons will remember the abandonment of the original claim. Another common non-evidentiary response is digression. Bringing up a different topic as if it held some relevance to the TFEC allows someone to give a semblance of a reply, even though few will be fooled by it. Yet another strategy is to discuss theoretical issues as if theory did away with the need to actually look at the empirical data. A variant of the theory strategy is the quote-mining of those people who expound theory. Usually, though, quotes reveal nothing about the specific data at hand, and often come from sources whose opposition to anti-evolutionary action is otherwise well-known. Still another variant upon the theory strategy is the definition game. One can construct connotations of “transitional” such that no real-world evidence can satisfy all the piled-on conditions. It is useful to know when an anti-evolutionist simply defines evidence out of existence, though. Another possible tactic is to dismiss the taxonomic category from which the cited example comes. A respondent can claim that they really meant no transitional fossils in some other taxonomic hierarchy, but they often seem to forget that this means that the “no transitional fossils” claim is then self-admittedly false. A particularly brazen non-evidentiary response is to play an “even if” game, as in, “Even if this is true, it doesn’t mean anything.” That ignores that if the cited sequence does contain transitional fossils, it at least means that the claim of no transitional fossils is false.
The following is a short form for response to the TFEC, if a challenged person wishes to ignore the evidence and simply adopt one of the non-evidentiary tactics for their own. Simply indicate which one or more of the following Non-Evidentiary Response Items (NERI) fits what would otherwise involve a bunch of redundant typing.
Non-Evidentiary Response Items:
A. You have your faith; I have mine.
B. I meant that no vertebrate transitional fossils exist.
C. I meant that no transitional fossils above taxonomic rank ____________ (fill in the blank) exist.
D. I have quotes from _______________ (give list of names) that say that no transitional fossils exist.
E. My understanding of ________________ theory (fill in blank) is that transitional fossils cannot exist.
F. My connotation of “transitional fossils” is ____________ (fill in blank), which means that none can exist.
G. I have a cool rebuttal of ___________ (fill in blank). What were you saying about transitional fossils?
H. Even if the cited example does show transitional fossils, it doesn’t mean anything.
I. I cannot be bothered to support my claim, so I will not be giving you a reply.
J. I promise to support my claim Real Soon Now. I will be in touch. My reply will be devastating to you and completely and utterly convincing to everyone. Just you wait. It’s in the mail.
K. Provide the fossils for the transition from X to Y, which will let me ignore these fossils that actually exist. (Courtesy of “edwin voltaire” aka “evossler” 20030210.)
L. Person X says this challenge is bogus, therefore I don’t have to provide any response to actual evidence of transitional forms.
The people whose names appear below all made a claim or implication of absence of transitional sequences, and were served up with a version of the Transitional Fossil Existence Challenge. This is a roster of who they were, when they were challenged, where they were, and how they responded to the challenge.
It should be noted that the TFEC may be issued to “trolls”, people who assert nonsensical claims in an annoying fashion in a bid for attention. It is unfortunately quite difficult to distinguish a “troll” post from the usual antievolution effort.
Date Name Forum/Source Response
19940228 Bruce Willis CONTROV Disappeared
19940309 Michael Funk CONTROV None
19940510 Johnnie Odom CONTROV None
19940714 Andrew Cummins Evolution “Prove all biologists accept it”
19940717 Ras Mikael Enoch t.o. None
19940718 Jim Pattison CONTROV “Can’t find the reference”
19940816 Charles Edward Evolution None
19940917 Davey Jones Evolution None
19941002 Lane P. Lester Evolution None
19941030 John Shirey t.o. None
19941129 Kevin Clark Evolution None
19941208 Doug Wagner Evolution None
19941214 Jim Loucks t.o. None
19950312 Mark Russell misc.education.science None
19950322 Ross Wolfle t.o. Implied recantation
19950401 Scott Brian Allen t.o. None
19950404 B. Schweig (?) t.o. “No time to do research”
19950407 Lawrence Free Email “I only meant vertebrate transitions”
19950514 Arthur Biele t.o.
Irrelevant re-posted criticisms of Hunt’s FAQ (19961116)
Irrelevant re-re-posted criticisms of Hunt’s FAQ (19990305)
First mention of Barnard’s paper (19990306)
Misquoted Barnard (19990306, M-ID
Misrepresented Barnard (19990306, M-ID
Claims differences are due to temperature or environment (19990306)
my rebuttal (19990309)
Some further highly selective commentary on Barnard has been posted
by Biele, in which he misrepresents Barnard as disputing any
change at the species level or higher.
19950610 Tony Ermie Evolution None
19960408 Jahnu Das Email “I am really not qualified to discuss
evolution on a technical level.”
19960506 David Markwordt Evolution None
19960520 Ted Holden t.o. None
19960828 David Ford t.o. DF actually looked up the article, quoted
Barnard saying that he had transitionals across genera, but did not
admit existence of transitionals. Has since engaged in a great deal
of rhetorical excess, none of which disestablishes Barnard’s examples.
19961027 Steve Sorenson t.o. “You’ve got your faith; I’ve got mine.”
19961109 Tim Harwood t.o. None
19961230 Karl Crawford t.o. None
19970125 Herman Reimann t.o. None
19970224 Darren Serhal t.o. None
19970324 Eldridge t.o. “Put the paper on a WWW page.”
19970412 Joe Potter t.o. None
19970421 RevMike t.o. None
19970423 Larry Cavender t.o. “Do you believe the Bible?”
19970603 Yehuda Silver t.o. None
19970701 A Pagano t.o. Didn’t understand the logic behind the challenge;
failed to address the evidence for over three years.
2001/01/29: Whined that the Pearson citation was in a journal other
than “Science”; admitted that he was ignorant of the evidence
discussed by Pearson et alia.
2001/03/01: Posted a response saying that the Pearson et alia 1997
sequence didn’t show “nascent structures” and “increasing diversity”,
neither of which appeared in Pagano’s 1997 claim.
2001/08/04: Repost of the 2001/03/01 post, with some additional
comments about the lack of a reply from me (I’ve been writing up
my dissertation; Pagano is welcome to disagree with my assignment
2002/01/08: Pagano posted claiming that I had never addressed six
specific issues he had raised. I posted on 2002/01/14 showing how
each of those topics were addressed by me in previous posts.
Further posts by Pagano have shown no reduction in his ignorance and
a considerable decline in his courtesy. It seems that each new
issuance of the TFEC results in a flurry of re-postings of old
refuted arguments by Pagano.
19970816 Jonathon O’Quinn t.o. None
19980717 Publius t.o. None
19981006 Alal t.o. None
19981110 Minor23fsu@aol.com t.o. None
19990107 Teno Groppi http://www.vbe.com/~tdg/creation/cedebate.html
“These figments of imagination are renewed constantly. It
used to be Archaoepteryx and the Equuine series. One they
were disproved, it was something else. Once that was
debunked it was another. Now this. How much you wanna bet
this is replaced by another wild claim next year?” (19990108)
“They are not transitions FROM anything, they are not
transitions TO anything. The entire claim is totally bogus and
a figment of your imagination. […] When did I agree to a
wager? Was that as one groundless as your alleged
19990224 Steve Sorenson (again) t.o. None
19990225 Mark Allison t.o “Worst case scenario (for me): all 100
of your examples are at least possible scenarios to prove you
completely correct. But… here are three reasons why this wouldn’t
prove ANYTHING:” No discussion of Barnard or the fossil evidence (19990304)
19990309 Katy Moffitt atl.general None
19990417 Rhett alt.religion.christian.roman-catholic None
19990421 Brad Clark alt.christnet None
19990505 MS Goodrich talk.origins None
20000202 JerryG talk.origins None
20000217 Todd talk.origins None
20000815 Erik talk.origins “Sorry, your challenge, as
written, is impossible. Trying to prove a negative is
impossible. The burden of proof lies on you to prove a
Erik wasn’t asked to prove his entire claim all at once.
Erik was asked why the specific evidence cited should not
be considered transitional. Erik did not address the
20001107 “Pastor Dave” Raymond alt.christnet Original
statement: “The fact remains, that there are no
transitional fossil records.”
Response to TFEC (2000/11/28): “Another faulty and false tactic.
It is never up to me to prove a negative. It is up to the ones
making the claim that something is the way they say it is, to
prove that it is. The fact remains, there are no transitional
Pastor Dave completely ignored the evidence of the fossils
and gave no reason to discount the cited example as
documenting a transitional fossil sequence.
2003/01: Pastor Dave has gone from asserting that there are
no species-to-species transitions to saying that there are
no kind-to-kind transitional fossils. What you hear is ratchet
noise from Dave’s furious backpedalling.
20010116 Ed Finn alt.politics.bush Original statement:
“The most shocking fact is that the fossil record has
absolutely no transitional forms between species.”
20010118 ‘d ocean’ talk.origins Original statement:
“there are NO transitional fossils, and there is NO proof
that the fossil record confirms macro-evolution.”
20010120 John B. Williston alt.games.baldurs-gate Original
statement: “What would be nice would be a clear,
consistent and slowly gradual record of even *one* species’
transition. And to date, there is none to be had.”
Response: “More specifically, I should not have said that
*no* evidence for transitional forms exists; rather, I
should have said only that there is a startling *dearth* of
20020320 “Amy Lynn” talk.origins Original statement:
“There have been no transitional species. The fossil record
only shows fossils of different kinds. Noone can prove
definitively that those fossils were some kind of transitional
20021212 “Doug Matulis” talk.origins Original statement:
“Transitional forms should be prolific. There are none.
Some have dreamed them up, but they are either non-existent
or far from conclusive.” (20021212)
“First, I am sure you know this is an unfair challenge, throw a
highly technical paper, loaded with terms I have not idea the
definitions of and expect a lay person develop and rebuttal.
I will give it a shot and post my response under a new
“Dana, your points are well taken and will be acted upon.”
(20021219 response to Dana Tweedy, who pointed out that Doug’s
original claim was based upon ignorance.)
(No further responses.)
20030206 “firstname.lastname@example.org” talk.origins Original statement:
“But yet, evolution is STILL a theory and there are still no
in-transition fossils. How do you explain that?” (20030206)
“Sending a BS, trick survey is not equivilent to
procurring a in-transition fossil. If you have so much
evidence of these changes, show me a fossil of the
in-transit form between archeoptriches(sp) and whatever
dinso-form it came from.” (20030210)
20030408 “Suzanne” talk.origins Original statement:
“Because we still have one celled organisms. They are
plentiful. We still have living uncomplicated lifeforms.
And, the question is, where are the fossils, indeed. There
are no living examples, and there are no dead ones
either. Yet there are fossils of life abundant. But in the
fossil record, there are not any transitionals. How can it
be that the solid lifeforms lasted in the record, yet the
transitionals all disappeared, if they ever existed, that
20040103 “Roy Jose Lorr” or.politics Original statement:
“I repeat: ‘No one has shown anything close to what
you claim… no “transitional fossils” and no evidence that
“speciation” is compatible with “evolution theory”.'”
20040104 “Laurie AppIeton” talk.origins Original statement:
“Out of the millions of fossils in the world, not one
transitional form has been found. All known species show up
abruptly in the fossil record, without intermediate forms,
thus contributing to the fact of special creation.”
20050224 “Jeff Baldwin” http://www.worldview.org/blog/index.php?p=70%20rel=
Original statement: “This gradualism insisted upon by Darwin has
proved increasingly embarrassing to modern scientists. If evolution
occurred at an excruciatingly slow rate, then why can.t we find
transitional forms in the fossil record? There should be literally
millions of instances where a fossil manifests many of the
characteristics of a reptile, but some of the characteristics of a
bird (or vice versa).where are those fossils? Darwin dodged this lack
of evidential support for his theory by claiming that scientists had
seen only a small portion of the fossil record, and it was spotty at
best. Modern scientists have a much more complete picture of the
fossil record.but, tragically, still no transitional forms.
No *evidentiary* response within a month causes the “Pending” to be changed to “None”. A “None” response can be changed to something else if an *evidentiary* response is eventually made, or a particularly revealing non-evidentiary response is made. Responses sent via non-public channels confer an irrevocable right of publication to Wesley R. Elsberry. I can’t have unquotable responses showing up in my incoming email or snailmail. I plan to create a web page that includes every follow-up made to the TFEC, whether the contents are relevant or not, for public documentation of all claims and counterclaims, arguments and rebuttals.