Feature Article - January 2013
by Do-While Jones

A Living Fossil Link

Can a “Living Fossil” be a “Missing Link?”

One of our readers alerted us to a story on the Internet which led him to believe that a “living fossil” had been found that was a “missing link” in whale evolution. Although neither the Internet story, nor the scientific report it was based upon, actually said that in so many words, it was the obvious implication.

Before we look at the peer-reviewed technical article, and how it was reported on the Internet, let’s consider what constitutes a living fossil and what constitutes a missing link. Then we can decide if the reported discovery qualifies as a living fossil, or a missing link, or both.

Living Fossils

According to Wikipedia,

Living fossil is an informal term for any living species (or clade) of organism which appears to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. 1

Perhaps the best-known example of a living fossil is a fish called the coelacanth. 2 It was first known only from fossils found in rocks believed by evolutionists to have been formed between 390 million to 65 million years ago. It had tough scales and eight fins, two of which were pectoral fins and two of which were pelvic fins. It looked to evolutionists as if these fins were the precursors of arms and legs, so they assumed that the coelacanth lived in shallow streams and occasionally came out onto land. Maybe it had lungs! Possibly it could have evolved into an amphibian! Maybe it was a missing link!

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the fish market. Somebody saw a coelacanth among a lot of other fresh fish. Today, the coelacanth is recognized as an endangered species which lives in the deep ocean (not shallow streams), doesn’t have lungs, and never ventures out onto land. Evolutionists no longer consider it to be a possible link between fish and amphibians.

Missing Links

Evolutionists generally prefer the term “transitional fossil” to “missing link.” “Missing link” has a negative connotation because of its original use to describe the fraudulent Piltdown Man as a missing link between apes and humans.

A transitional fossil is any fossilized remains of a life form that exhibits traits common to both an ancestral group and its derived descendant group. 3

This definition assumes that an ancestral group and a descendant group actually exist. Even if one grants that assumption, how does one tell what the ancestors and descendants of a particular fossil were?

It is just as difficult to define the characteristics of a transitional fossil as it is to define what obscenity is.

The difficulty of defining obscenity was memorably summarized by Justice Stewart in a concurring opinion [Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)] when he said: "I know it when I see it." 4

Evolutionists can’t really define what makes a fossil transitional; but they know it when they see it. If it looks to them like it might have descended from a more primitive ancestor, and might have begotten a more modern descendant, then they consider it transitional. There is no definitive test. There is no objective criterion. Transition is in the eye of the beholder, whether it exists or not.

In evolution, as in the stock market, timing is critical. A transitional fossil cannot exist before its presumed ancestor did; nor can its presumed descendent exist before it did. Correct timing is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

That is to say, George Washington could not possibly be a descendant of Abraham Lincoln because Washington existed before Lincoln did. But the fact that Lincoln was born after Washington does not prove Lincoln was a descendant of Washington. An incorrect sequence could disqualify a fossil from being transitional; but a correct chronology does not prove paternity.

The best example of how chronology can disqualify a transitional sequence is the now-rejected story of how the horse evolved. 5 In 1874, Dr. Othniel C. Marsh of Yale arranged fossils starting with a small 5-toed animal, leading to a larger 4-toed animal, on up through increasingly larger animals with fewer toes, ending with a large modern horse with only one toe (the hoof). This progression was accepted until a respected paleontologist, George Gaylord Simpson, realized (in 1951) that Marsh had completely ignored the accepted ages of the fossils. If the fossils had been arranged according to the alleged times at which these creatures died, there would have been no logical progression. Even the Chicago Field Museum had to replace the horse evolution exhibit and admit the old exhibit was wrong.

Furthermore, in addition to correct chronology, there needs to be some plausibility as to the genealogy. It seems to us that geography should be considered when determining plausible paternity.

For example, if fossils of the supposed ancestor of a fossil found in San Diego were found in Los Angeles, the geography makes a biological connection plausible; but if fossils of the alleged ancestor of a fossil found in Louisiana are discovered in Pakistan, or the Indian Ocean, can a biological connection really be assumed? Apparently evolutionists believe it can. They believe Basilosaurus is a descendant of Pakicetus and Indocetus.

Living Fossil Links

Now let us examine the report that prompted this essay. According to the Internet story,

In findings published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers detailed their belief that the pygmy right whale marks an important evolutionary link between ancient and modern whales.

"The living pygmy right whale is, if you like, a remnant, almost like a living fossil," said Felix Marx, a paleontologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. "It's the last survivor of quite an ancient lineage that until now no one thought was around." 6

Is that a correct description of what the Proceedings of the Royal Society B actually said? Well, let’s read it for ourselves and find out. Here’s how the peer-reviewed, published report begins:

The pygmy right whale, Caperea marginata, is the most enigmatic of the living baleen whales (Mysticeti). Its highly disparate morphology and the virtual absence of a described fossil record have made it extremely difficult to place Caperea into a broader evolutionary context, and molecular and morphological studies have frequently contradicted each other as to the origins and phylogenetic relationships of the species. 7

Let’s translate Research Speak into Plain English. When they say “most enigmatic” they mean “doesn’t fit with the evolutionary view (and requires more funding to make it fit).” The phrase “highly disparate morphology” means “its shape isn’t anything like evolutionary expectations (and requires more funding to come up with a new evolutionary expectation).” The phrase “virtual absence of a described fossil record” means “we haven’t found any fossils yet (and need a research grant to find them).” It is “extremely difficult to place Caperea into a broader evolutionary context” means “Obama hasn’t given us enough money yet to make up a good evolutionary story.” As is often the case, “molecular and morphological studies have frequently contradicted each other,” which is Research Speak for “DNA analysis doesn’t agree with what one would expect, based on physical appearance.”

So, the point of the paragraph is that the pygmy right whale is a big problem for evolutionists, which needs to be solved before creationists find out and tell the general public. Send money ASAP!

The majority of the report talks about how they redid the DNA analysis and made different choices about the relative importance of physical features of living whales to make the DNA analysis more consistent with anatomically-based cladistic classification. Then they came to this conclusion:

Our results for the first time place Caperea conclusively in a broader evolutionary framework and resolve several problems that have vexed the systematics of this whale to date. Previous morphological analyses emphasized anatomical similarities of Caperea with right whales (Balaenidae). Such comparisons contradict molecular interpretations, and further, in the absence of almost any Caperea-like fossils ... imply a surprisingly long ghost lineage for Caperea from the earliest Miocene, at least 20 Ma (based on the oldest described balaenid, M. parvus). Molecular results have also pointed to an early divergence date for Caperea, Miocene–Oligocene in the range of 17.6–26 Ma but, unsurprisingly, have not identified likely fossil relatives of the pygmy right whale. Our analysis now resolves all these issues by (i) reconciling morphological and molecular phylogenies; (ii) identifying cetotheres as previously unrecognized fossil relatives (including sister taxa) of Caperea; and (iii) closing much of the gap between the living pygmy right whale and its assumed early divergence during the Early Miocene or Late Oligocene. 8

In other words, based on DNA analysis (“molecular interpretations”) they have created a “ghost lineage” for the pygmy right whale. The imaginary ghost ancestor must have lived 20 million years ago and been the transitional fossil evolutionists have been looking for. They haven’t actually found any fossils of this ghost ancestor; but the fossils must exist because they have to exist for evolution to be true. They just need to look harder to find something that looks like they expect it to look like, in rocks they think are 20 million years old. When they do find anything remotely resembling their prejudice, they will have their proof. (Note to Obama: Send money right now to find this missing fossil!)

Our Conclusion

The pygmy right whale is not a living fossil because no fossils have been reported. It just looks so “primitive” (in the eyes of evolutionists) that it really belongs to another time, 20 million years ago.

The pygmy right whale is not a transitional fossil because it isn’t a fossil at all—it is a living species unknown in the fossil record.

The only reason to believe that something very much like a modern pygmy right whale existed 20 million years ago is because of the “ghost lineage” produced by a DNA analysis of how DNA must have mutated to produce modern whales.

None of this is real science—it is all speculation!

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1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_fossil (January 2013)
2 Disclosure, October 1998, “More Living Fossils”
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_fossil#Missing_links
4 http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/obscenity.htm
5 Disclosure, February, 2002, “Horses and Peppered Moths”
6 Matthew Jackson, December 19, 2012, “Scientists find 'living fossil' thought extinct for 2 million years”, http://blastr.com/2012/12/scientists-find-living-fo.php
7 Fordyce and Marx, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 19 December 2012, “The pygmy right whale Caperea marginata: the last of the cetotheres”, http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1753/20122645.full
8 ibid.