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Dutchess_III's avatar

What is a "transitional fossil"?

Asked by Dutchess_III (28300 points ) March 2nd, 2014

I read that “transitional fossils” were a fallacy made up by creationists. But in asking this question I was linked to this asked by rarebear.
Also, our recent and brief young friend who believes the creation theory mentioned that she was learning about transitional fossils.

So I’m confused. Are they genuine fossils, or something made up?

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16 Answers

Darth_Algar's avatar

Basically every fossil is a “transitional fossil” as every animal is a “transitional animal” (even us).

Lightlyseared's avatar

Its a fossil that shares traits with an extinct group of animals and a living group and is thought to be a link between the two groups. The classic example is the Archaeopteryx. It shares traits with dinosaurs and birds and could therefore be seen as a stage in the evolutionary process between dinosaurs and birds. Because the fossil record is incomplete (ie we don’t have a fossil for every species that ever existed) there is no way to know where the transitional fossil fits into the grand scheme of things.

Back in 1972 Stephen Jay Gould proposed the theory of Punctuated Evolution which is often misquoted by creationists as proving there can be no transitional fossils. In their minds no transitional fossils means no evolution.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, our young creationist friend from yesterday, who is home schooled and in the 8th grade, said she’s studying transitional fossils while at the same time flatly denying the possibility of evolution. Wonder if she’s still around.

Seek's avatar

@Darth_Algar is right. Literally everything that has ever lived is a branch in the amazingly intricate tree of species.

But if you want some examples of earliest known thing bearing X trait, there are some good ones. Tiktaalik is one of my favourites. It’s likely a direct ancestor of ours, back when we were fish.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

Tiktaalik – that’s a new one for me. How did I know it was going to be something found in Nunavut?

Seek's avatar

The name for the fish comes from local mythology, I believe.

Buttonstc's avatar

I’m not sure I understand precisely what you’re asking.

You start off by stating that “I read that “transitional fossils” were a fallacy made up by creationists…”

Where exactly did you read that? And secondly; do you mean that they literally made them and fake-aged them or what?” And for what purpose?

The question you linked from 4 yrs. ago was prompted by a 60 Minutes report on the fossilized bones of a young girl from a long time back which had been recently unearthed.

Are you asking if they were a fallacy?

I made it pretty clear in that discussion that I accept evolution (I’m NOT a YEC, or Young Earth Creationist)so I had no problems with with the assertion of their age nor with transitional fossils in general.

Or are you asking about why the young lady appears to be studying them during her homeschooling and yet adamantly opposes Evolution?

That’s a different Q altogether. I can likely give a fairly accurate guess about that but I’ll wait till you can clarify precisely what it is that you are asking.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Gosh…I don’t remember where I read that they were made up by young earth folks. It was just the other day, though. :( Then, in the course of asking this question I found Rarebear’s question, which just confused me more. That’s probably why the question is confusing.

I guess the question would really be, why would creationist study such a thing as transitional fossils if they adamantly deny evolution? I mean, the very word “transition” means to go from one thing to the next.

Buttonstc's avatar

The primary reason I asked about where you read that is to determine whether the problem was with the writer’s understanding or with your possible misinterpretation of the position.

But I’ll just tackle the statement head-on and let the chips fall where they may. But its no wonder you have some confusion about it.

But first let make a very clear distinction between YOUNG EARTH Creationists and the other Creationists (of which there are at least a half-dozen or more different types.)

The YECs are the ONLY Creationists of which I’m aware who continue to deny evolution, despite all the mounting scientific evidence which supports it.

But unfortunately, most Atheists shortcut things by ignoring the FACT that it is ONLY YECs who deny evolution. When most Atheists speak sarcastically about the willful ignorance of Creationists, they just lump them all together resulting in a lot of needless mudslinging.

Even tho there are other types of Creationists with varying ways of reconciling faith with the scientific evidence, they are of necessity, at the very least, OECs (OLD EARTH Creationists) even tho that term does have its own additional distinctives as well. But for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to speak of the differences between YECs and OECs and leave out the rest of the icky picky details.

Now, regarding your first sentence: there would be absolutely no reason for YECs to make up fallacious transitional fossils. TFs are their worst nightmare because every time a new one is discovered, it provides additional backup for evolutionary theory; so why on earth would they want to make up any more of them? That makes no sense at all. So I have no idea who writes that they’re doing this.

I don’t know if you read through that thread you referenced, but somebody did mention that some YECs believe that God left them there to be found in an aged state so that they can still maintain their position that the earth is less than ten thousand years old.

Obviously, that’s a ridiculous assertion since God would have no need to be deceptive like that. I’ve never personally encountered any YECs who assert that because I’d have a laughing fit at how ridiculous that is.

But might it be that you misread something regarding that so that it was the YECs making fallacious fossils rather than asserting that God did it?

I’m just taking a guess since I have absolutely no idea who wrote what you read and it is the Internet, after all. But does that clarify the issues surrounding TFs for you?

Now, as to why our young friend would be studying them in her Homeschool and yet denying evolution, I can only take an educated guess at what’s going on and she can correct me if she wants.

I was surprised at her stance also because the overwhelming majority of Presbyterians accept the science regarding evolution along with numerous other rational Theists ranging from the Pope to the Dalai Lama (Buddhists) the Archbshop of Canterbury (Anglicans and Episcopalians) Billy Graham and Francis Collins, Human Genome Project and current NIH Director, (representing a broad panoply of progressive thinking Christians everywhere).

All the above mentioned affirm the discoveries of science regarding evolution and the age of the earth. So, basically they represent the Theists who can read and think on their own.

YECs are found chiefly in the hardcore Fundamentalist groups who are Bible Literalists and adamantly deny evolution.

This is the group which is constantly referred to simply as ONLY “Creationists” with no distinction being made between them and the broad population of intelligent Theists who are also OECs and have no problem with evolution, per se. I put in the “per se” because they of course don’t accept evolution minus God. But that’s the chief difference.

People who do this obviously know better, but lets face it, YECs make such a better simplistic target for ridicule; why muddy the waters with nuance?

Its not quite so easy to be dismissive of thoughtful Theists who are also Creationists and do accept the science pointing to a very OLD EARTH, is it now?

Because if you can no longer ridicule this brand of Creationists, you might actually have to resort to thoughtful dialogue (just like Rarebear and JLeslie and others did in that thread.)

But that was four years ago and most have NOT chosen to follow Rarebear’s example. So, its been a snarkfest ever since on Fluther.

Did you happen to notice the absence of the most vocal of the current set of Atheist mockers? I sure did. And its NOT because they were not on Flurher at the time.

Anyhow, since Presbyterians, as a whole, are generally among the Old Earthers who believe the science, it does strike me as a bit odd that our young friend talks like a YEC.

A few possibilities come to mind. The first is that either her local church or her parents are out of step with the other Presbys and are, in fact, YECs.

The other possibility is that in her mind, currently, resides the false equation of Evolution=Atheism; so in her mind, even thinking about evolution would be thought of as the first step toward Atheism (And, truth be told, for some it has been.).

I’m assuming she is unaware of the fact that there are a HUGE number of Christians and other Theists who have successfully reconciled modern science with belief in God with no conflict about it.

And, realistically, how many of us had a fully formed overarching worldview when we were in our mid- teens? A few, but not a majority I’d assume.

Wrestling with these types of issues is generally the purview of our college/young adult years after being out in the world on our own. So, I’m willing to cut her some slack.

Who knows; in this day and age she might even be tempted to look up a few terms like Old Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolution and realize that its a strong possibility that Evolution was the process by which God chose to create. Stranger things have happened.

However, Fluther is not necessarily the best place for objective info on the dialogue between Creationism and Evolution considering the current prevailing snark which is currently endemic to Fluther.

For that I would recommend :

www.biologos.org

(hint, hint :)
.
I hope that helps to clarify the whole thing about transitional fossils and YECs for you :)
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Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. I’m glad you cut to the chase and picked up on the main point: Why would a fundamentalist, home-schooled, evolution-denying person even be studying transitional fossils?
Thanks.

Buttonstc's avatar

Because in most states parents who homeschool are required to follow a syllabus outlined by the school. And they need to be able to prove it and 8th grade is about the right time to be studying fossils so that tracks.

They’re required to teach it but not what to believe about it :)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hm! I wish our friend would check in and tell me what they are telling her about them!

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m not certain she’ll come back.

@Buttonstc Thank you, GA.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, she was here yesterday, mostly on TJBM thread.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III Good, I’m glad to hear that!

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