Updated: Latest Fossil Find “No Threat” To Theory of Intelligent Design

Robert L. Crowther, II

“This latest fossil find poses no threat to intelligent design.” So says Discovery Institute senior fellow and leading intelligent design theorist Dr. William Dembski, adding:

“Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred. In particular, it questions whether purposeless material processes–as opposed to intelligence–can create biological complexity and diversity.”

The journal Nature is making news by publishing a report today that a group of researchers claim to have uncovered the skeleton of a 375-million-year-old fish in the Canadian Arctic that they believe is a missing link in the evolution of some fishes to becoming land walking vertebrates. The fish has been named Tiktaalik roseae, meaning “large shallow water fish.”
Even though this find does not challenge intelligent design, there may be good reasons to be skeptical about it.

These fish are not neccesarily intermediates, explain Discovery Institute scientists I queried about the find. Tiktaalik roseae is one of a set of lobe-finned fishes that include very curious mosaics–these fishes have advanced fully formed characteristics of several different groups. They are not intermediates in the sense that have half-fish/half-tetrapod characteristics. Rather, they have a combination of tetrapod-like features and fish-like features. Paleontologists refer to such organisms as mosaics rather than intermediates.
The anatomical characters of Tiktaalik and similar taxa were “coded” and analyzed by a computer program. Because of the presence of some advanced characters, the analysis placed Tiktaalik next to a group of tetrapod-like fishes. What is clear is that forms like Tiktaalik are a melange of primitive and more developed features. It is not clear whether they are true transitional forms.
According to DI Fellows a number of these fishes–Ichthyostega, Elpistostege, Panderichthys–have been hailed in the past as the “missing link.” Maybe one is a missing link; maybe none are. What remains unexplained is how natural selection and random mutation could produce the many novel physiological characteristics that arise in true tetrapods.

Robert Crowther

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.