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The Name-Dropping Approach to Transitional Fossils

Download the Complete “Truth or Dare” with Dr. Ken Miller Lecture Guide

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Links to our 7-Part Series Responding to Ken Miller:

Part 1: Science and Religion: Is Evolution “Random and Undirected”?
Part 2: Misrepresenting the Definition of Intelligent Design
Part 3: Confusing Evidence for Common Ancestry With Evidence for Darwinian Evolution
Part 4 (This Article): The Name-Dropping Approach to Transitional Fossils
Part 5: Spinning Tales About the Bacterial Flagellum
Part 6: Misrepresenting Michael Behe’s Arguments for Irreducible Complexity of the Blood Clotting Cascade
Part 7: Ken Miller and the Evolution of the Immune System: “Not Good Enough”?

Dr. Ken Miller not only conflates evidence for common descent with evidence for Darwinian evolution, but in his book Only a Theory he even goes so far as to misrepresent ID as necessarily challenging common descent and requiring “individual species, directly created by the designer, each without any relationship to the other.”24 This of course is not at all true. As we saw in the previous section, Michael Behe states, “I believe the evidence strongly supports common descent.”.”18 Similarly, William Dembski explains: “Intelligent design does not require organisms to emerge suddenly or to be specially created from scratch by the intervention of a designing intelligence.”25

E. Truth or Dare: Why does Dr. Miller misrepresent ID as incompatible with common descent and even requiring special creation of each individual species when ID proponents have been very clear that their theory does not require this?

Misrepresentations aside, as part of his case for common descent, Professor Miller loves to name-drop fossils which allegedly demonstrate evolutionary transitions between various groups. While there are a number of examples he likes to give, three can be covered here:

Fish to Amphibians: Dr. Miller commonly cites Tiktaalik as a transitional form between fish and amphibians. Its discoverer Neil Shubin even claimed it is a “fish with a wrist.” The reality is that Tiktaalik has a fin that is quite unextraordinarily fish-like and has a wholly different structure from the true wrists of tetrapods. Since Tiktaalik has no carpal bones, phalanges, or other tetrapod wrist-bones, it would seem that the wrist of Tiktaalik exists only the minds of evolutionists with overactive imaginations.26

Whales Transitions: Dr. Miller cites alleged fossil transitions between land-mammals and whales. He often cites many fossil names, but whale evolution expert Philip Gingerich admits that this series merely has “fossils illustrating three or four steps that bridge the precursor of whales to today’s mammals.”27 Even if we grant–for the sake of argument–that some of these fossils have characteristics intermediate between land-mammals and whales, neo-Darwinists are still left with a grave conundrum: Alan Feduccia observes that “the evolution of whales (the ‘poster child’ for macroevolution) from terrestrial ungulates is well documented at < 10 million years.”28

Think about that for a moment.

According to the fossil record, if neo-Darwinism is correct then whales, with all of their complex adaptations for aquatic life evolved by unguided natural selection and random, blind mutations from a “primitive little mammal”29 to a full-fledged whale in less than ten million years. Whales have a long generation time, meaning that there were perhaps only a few million generations at best to allow for the change to add up. If they had a generation time as short as 5 years, Haldane’s dilemma predicts that at most only a few thousand mutations could become fixed into an evolving population during that time period.30 This is dramatically insufficient to account for the innumerable complex genetic changes that would be required to convert a land mammal into a fully aquatic whale. In other words, regardless of what fossils are found, the fossil record permits dramatically insufficient time to convert a land-mammal into a whale by neo-Darwinian processes.
Hominid Fossils: Ken Miller often cites hominid fossils as alleged examples of transitional forms. His book Only a Theory states that when it comes to human origins, “[w]e have, in reality, discovered so many missing links that the real question has become how to deal with this embarrassment of riches–in other words, how to connect the dots.”31

In his 2004 book What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline, leading evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated: “The earliest fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap. How can we explain this seeming saltation? Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative.”32 It seems that Miller’s standard for a “missing link” is any fossil that exists, regardless of whether it actually demonstrates the evolution of humans. But when it comes to key evolutionary events–such as fossils that bridge the gap between the ape-like australopithecines and our genus Homo, Mayr acknowledges that the links are still “missing.”

F. Truth or Dare: Why does Dr. Miller believe these are “missing links” that demonstrate evolution? Can he go beyond name-dropping and elaborate on the specific qualities that cause them to be “missing links”? Is it mathematically feasible to evolve a fully aquatic whale from a small land-mammal in less than ten million years? Why do leading authorities like Ernst Mayr differ from Ken Miller and state that we are indeed “missing” key links between ape-like australopithecines and our genus Homo?

References Cited:
[24.] Only a Theory, p. 51 (2008).
[25.] The Design Revolution, p. 178 (2004).
[26.] For more responses on Tiktaalik, see:

[27.] Interview with Gingerich
[28.] “‘Big bang’ for tertiary birds?,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol.18:172-176 (2003).
[29.] Steven Stanley, The New Evolutionary Timetable, p. 93.
[30.] See Walter ReMine, The Biotic Message.
[31.] Only a Theory, p. 92 (2008).
[32.] What Makes Biology Unique?, p. 198 (2004).


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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