Part 4: Missing Links are Still Missing

National Geographic’s cover story for its November 1999 magazine, “Feathers for T. Rex”, describing a newly discovered fossil from China with the following announcement (emphasis original):

“”IT’S A MISSING LINK between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds that could actually fly.”

Interesting claim. Over a century of evolutionary paleontologists have sifted through massive numbers of fossils from around the world, and we only now have found a missing link? There should be missing links all over the place from the millions of years required for natural selection and survival of the fittest. Where are they? Why is it so hard to find missing links?

Notably, a year later, in the October 2010 National Geographic, the Society ran another article, describing in detail how they mistakenly described a forged fossil–one composed of parts from multiple species–as a “missing link”. This means the missing link is still missing. No new cover stories have found the missing link since then. This suggests that the missing link is simply not there.

Some evolutionary scientists agree that the missing links are often not there. They support an alternate explanation called punctuated equilibrium, which suggests that evolutionary changes happened comparatively rapidly (over thousands or ten thousands of years, a very short time compare to the millions of years traditional evolution requires). But even Stephen Jay Gould, one of the foremost proponents of punctuated equilibrium, admits that transitional fossils are missing between many species (although he believes they are present between larger groups, such as birds and reptiles) (emphasis added) (1):

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.  

However, since such a vast number of fossils have been discovered, and most transitional forms are “generally lacking at the species level”, it is appropriate to question what happened to those species members for thousands and ten thousands of years. Is there not even one of them fossilized? This process would have been repeated thousands of times across the history of life on earth. The fact that even Gould’s species-to-species transitional forms are not present is a strong evidence that his framework that predicted them is not accurate.

PS: If you read Gould’s article closely, you will see that he does not strongly advocate instantaneous changes between species, such as a dinosaur hatching a bird’s egg. He mildly favors similar concepts, but they are not part of his main argument, at least in this article. I still judge that, since the transitional forms that should be present according to his framework, are missing, we should not accept punctuated equilibrium as a valid explanation of the fossil record. Yet we need also to state his position correctly, for honesty’s sake.


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