A Sea of Change for Turtle Origin Theories

on December 6, 2008

ScienceNOW: “Sea Change for Turtle Origins?” Turtle evolution is yet again in the news—and, yet again, the evolution is only in evolutionists’ minds.

In October, it was a fossil in New Mexico that held the key to the evolution of the turtle shell. In November, it was a fossil species from Scotland that was “a missing link between ancient terrestrial turtles and their modern, aquatic descendants.”

Fossils are “rais[ing] more questions than they answer.”

Now, two fossils from southwestern China are overturning previous wisdom while simultaneously “rais[ing] more questions than they answer,” reports ScienceNOW’s Erik Stokstad. While evolutionists previously believed turtles were originally terrestrial and only later spread to the sea, these “most primitive” turtle fossils found in China appear to have been marine creatures. Their limbs appear more suited for swimming than walking, and the fossils were discovered near a coast in what are thought to be marine sediments.

According to the ScienceNOW report, the small turtles not only lacked hard shells—as do some marine turtles today—but also lacked beaks and had teeth, unlike all other known turtles. Called Odontochelys, the turtle appears to have a bony underbody (plastron) but no upper shell (carapace).

Several media headlines, such as the BBC’s, suggest the find answers how the turtle got its shell; for instance, the BBC News article claims the find “shows that the turtle’s breast plate developed earlier than the rest of its shell.” But the ScienceNOW report makes it clear that, actually, the fossil has prompted several different interpretations by evolutionists. For example, the Chicago Field Museum’s Olivier Rieppel, one of the scientists describing the fossils, believes Odontochelys is the most primitive of turtles. But University of Toronto–Mississauga scientists Robert Reisz and Jason Head suggest that perhaps Odontochelys did, in fact, descend from land-based turtles, but lost the bones in its armor along the way, much like modern soft-shelled turtles. And Yale’s Walter Joyce wonders if Odontochelys is just an “oddity,” while study coauthor Chun Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences calls Odontochelys “an ideal missing link for turtle evolution.”

In this sense, our explanation isn’t that different from what evolutionists suggest.

So with all the various ideas on turtle evolution batted about in the news over the past three months, it seems we could suggest almost any story for turtle origins. Ours is that God created turtles—likely at least two distinct kinds, during Creation Week. Since then, turtle populations have lost genetic information through natural selection and mutations, so the turtles preserved by the Flood—and those we find today—are more diverse than the original created turtles, and may well be missing some features.

In this sense, our explanation isn’t that different from what evolutionists suggest, except three basic things: (1) whether turtles could have evolved new features because of new genetic information; (2) how long ago changes happened and fossil formed; and (3) whether turtle ancestry traces all the way back to the original cell. On the first point, we have never observed the development of new genetic information; the second and third points lie in the realm of origins science, which is rooted in presuppositions about the past.

In other words, creationists can ask and answer the same questions as evolutionists when examining changes in kinds of animals over time (looking at fossils and present individuals). The differences are rooted in the paradigms each group takes on faith: information-adding mutations and natural selection evolving single cells into vertebrates over millions of years versus primarily information-destroying mutations and natural selection resulting in diversity within God’s created kinds from a few thousand years ago.


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