We’ve already documented the profoundly silly response of the Discovery Institute and ID advocates to the recent announcement of the finding of Tiktaalik roseae; now let’s look at the response of more traditional creationists. Two creationist groups, the young earth Answers in Genesis and the old earth Reasons to Believe, have put out press releases (what is it with creationists and press releases?) claiming to have debunked the finding and shown that it poses no problem for creationism. As we will see, this is wishful thinking to the point of delusion on the part of both organizations.
Let’s look at the YEC answer first. Amusingly, they rely on the fact that those who announced the find took a moderate and cautious tone as a reason, all by itself, to doubt the find:
In a preliminary response — titled “Gone fishin’ for a missing link?” on its website — Answers in Genesis called attention to the “cautionary words being used about this creature.”
“… [W]hen you read other tentative wording (e.g., the use of the word ‘may’ in the headline ‘Fossil may link fish, land animal’), then the find is not as firm as evolutionists would lead you to believe,” Answers in Genesis noted.
But of course, this is the manner with which scientists usually announce a new finding. Why? Because science, unlike creationism, always leaves open the possibility of being wrong. This is difficult to comprehend for the creationist, who is absolutely certain that he has the absolute truth direct from God himself and thus there is no possible way the evidence could possibly conflict with that truth. And when it does, the evidence simply must be wrong. That’s why creationist organizations typically require that their members and employees actually sign an oath that they will maintain their belief in creationism no matter what the data says. The fact that a scientist uses cautious terms to describe something does not mean, all by itself, that their conclusions are not well supported and justified.
David Menton, an Answers in Genesis lecturer who served as a biomedical research technician at the Mayo Clinic, helped craft the creationist rebuttal.
“[Tiktaalik] is not an amphibian or a reptile,” said Menton, who holds a Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University. “It belongs to a group of fish called lobe-fin fish.”
Why is a cell biologist making arguments on a finding in the field of paleontology? Well, because there are virtually no paleontologists who are creationists. The closest they have is Kurt Wise and I’ve seen nothing from him about this find (Wise is generally careful not to make statements without first doing some study on the subject, unlike Menton, who is more than happy to step completely outside his expertise and make bold statements without any real study of the subject). He doesn’t even seem to know that they are called “lobe-finned” not “lobe-fin” fishes. But his point here is totally irrelevant. Of course it’s not an amphibian, much less a reptile; no one has claimed such a thing. Yet he states this as though it was in opposition to some claim made about the find.
The lobe-fin fish have bones similar to other vertebrates. Tiktaalik, Menton said, is not unique in having these bones because other lobe-fish, such as “coelacanth” fish, also have them. Evolutionists say the lobe-fin fish became extinct millions of years ago.
This is utter nonsense. No evolutionist ever said that lobe-finned fish were extinct. It was once thought that coelacanths were extinct, until cousins of the extinct forms were found in the Indian Ocean a few decades ago. That’s right, cousins. If you listen to creationists, you would get the idea that the coelacanths that live today were just like the ones thought to have gone extinct some 80 million years ago, but that idea is completely wrong.
Coelacanth, you see, is not the name of a species or even a genus, but of a family of fish. And the specimens that survive today, Latimeria chalumnae and Latimeria menadoensis, are of an entirely different genus than the ones that went extinct long ago. Coelacanths are evolutionary cousins of the Rhipidistian fish that gave rise to amphibians. And here again, his argument is simply irrelevant. Okay, so other lobe-finned fish have bone structures similar to Tiktaalik and other species. How this is an argument against the fish-amphibian transition is a mystery.
“It was known in the fossil record a long time before we found a living one,” Menton said. “They are a fish; they do not walk on the land; they use these fins to swim with.” A 1955 Scientific American article exposing its consistent lineage embarrassed evolutionists, he said, because “it didn’t evolve; it didn’t change; it looked like the one found in the fossil record.”
That is simply a lie. As stated above, the modern coelacanths are so distinct from the 120 or so extinct species of coelacanths that they are placed in an entirely different genus. Not just a different subspecies or different species, a different genus.
None of the lobe-fin fish, including Tiktaalik, have bones attaching their fins to the axial skeleton, Menton said.
“This means that these limbs would not be weight bearing,” he said. “I don’t believe the fish walked because the fins that are attached to these bones are delicate.”
This argument is correct, but so what? No one claims that they walked on land. Tiktaalik fits temporally and anatomically between Panderichthys and Acanthostega. The former was primarily adapted for marine life; the latter was better adapted to terrestrial life. Tiktaalik still has fins, but the bone structure inside those fins is clearly intermediate between fish and amphibians; Acanthostega is the first species with true feet, and those feet are of course connected to the axial skeleton. Tiktaalik also has a pelvic girdle that is much stronger and more adapted to being able to hold itself up out of the water (remember, these are shallow water fish). And the skull is also directly intermediate between the earlier marine-adapted specimens and the later, more terrestrial-adapted tetrapods. So again, we have an irrelevant argument from Menton; he’s responding to claims no one has made.
The response from the old earth Reasons to Believe isn’t much better, and it also relies on an analysis from someone way outside his field of study. Fuz Rana is a biochemist, not a paleontologist. And he makes a claim right from the start that is absolutely false:
“If Tiktaalik is a transitional intermediate, it means that evolution from fish to land-dwelling animals must have happened in less than 10 million years.
“When evolutionary biologists claim that the transition from sea to land is that fast-paced,” argues Rana, “it raises very real questions about evolution as an explanation for life’s history, even if this fossil is regarded as the ‘holy grail’ of paleontology.
“Evolution couldn’t have happened that rapidly given the extensive biological changes needed for a creature to move from the water to land. Evolutionary biologists have made up their minds before they even examine the data,” Rana continues. “They are so convinced that evolution is a fact they are unwilling to carefully weigh the evidence.”
To be blunt, this is BS. The first true amphibians date to no earlier than 365 million years ago. But the development of the key diagnostic traits that allowed the first tetrapods to adapt to life on land – the changes in the skull structure, the bone structure in the fins, the pelvic girdle and so forth – began much earlier. Even as far back as 385 million years ago you had Eusthenopteron, which already showed intermediate traits in each of those areas and more. So we’re actually looking at over 20 million years over which the transition occured.
Bear in mind, also, that the earliest amphibians were not entirely adapted to terrestrial life. Creationists seem to think that there was a specific time frame that can be labeled “the transition” to be able to define precisely how long it took, but that simply isn’t the case. Such adaptation is virtually continuous, particularly when new environments are being explored. The gradual evolution of the features that defined amphibians began more than 20 million years before the first amphibians appeared and continued for tens of millions of years afterward. The earliest amphibians still looked very much like the lobe-finned fish they evolved from. Over time, of course, they diversified and became less and less fish-like and better adapted to life on land. And what is the creationist explanation for that order of appearance? Dead silence. Rana says:
“It’s apparent that Tiktaalik was well-suited to live in a shallow-water environment near the land’s edge. The biological characteristics that this creature needed to thrive in that environment are similar to those required to live on the land,” maintains Rana. “These shared features could just as easily reflect the work of a Creator who reused a mosaic of designs.”
Possible, of course, but then why did God create them in just that order to mimic evolution? There was a terrestrial environment long before there were tetrapods roaming through it. Of course it’s true that traits that are required to live well in shallow marine environments can be similar to traits required for living partially on land near the water, but then why are there no tetrapods found until after the fish that live in those shallow marine fish showed a gradual development of all of those traits? If God created both, why in that specific order? Why wouldn’t we find tetrapods living side by side with those marine-adapted fish all the way along and not only after we see all of those terrestrial-adapted traits slowly develop in a series of species in just the right temporal and anatomical sequence to mimic evolution?
And notice that Rana offers no actual argument as to why it should have taken longer than this, he just relies on the bare assertion that it should have.