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Originally published in Journal of Creation 16(1):111-119, April 2002
The trends cited in whale evolution are rather superficial in nature, and little different from those that become apparent by lining up wheeled vehicles within a cladogram.
In Greek mythology, the Chimera was an animal whose body consisted of anatomical modules (part-goat, part-snake, and part lion) (Figure 1).1 Another familiar chimera is the mermaid.2 Evolutionists tell us that chimeric creatures do not exist because an extremely improbable set of circumstances3 would have to take place in order to make their existence a reality. Therefore, organisms supposedly evolve as slightly modified versions of their ancestors, and thus culminate in a nested hierarchy of all living things. It is at this point that some evolutionists take a big leap. They speculate that an Intelligent Designer, repeatedly using the same bauplan (construction plan) while creating different forms of life, should create living things by assorting at least some of the modular units. This would result in truly chimeric animals, thereby preventing any sort of classification of living things according to a nested hierarchy. The nonexistence of chimeric creatures is supposed to favor organic evolution over Special Creation. Let us examine these premises.
To begin with, the notion that specially created living things should contain chimeric modules (assemblages of morphologies) presupposes the will of the Creator in making them.4 While we cannot know God’s motives behind what He created, we can easily see that extensive deployments of chimeric structures do not necessarily follow from intelligent design. This can be seen from all of the devices which man, the intelligent designer, has built, in which extensive usage of chimeric structures is uncommon.5 Finally, it takes little imagination to arrange man-made devices and machines into a nested hierarchy.6
The very existence of chimeric creatures depends upon its definition. Whereas chimeras involving entire half-body modules, such the human-module/fish-module of the mermaid, have not been discovered, less pronounced examples of mosaic creatures do exist, and do so in large numbers. Every time we hear the word ‘convergence’ in ‘evolspeak’, in reference to some anatomical attribute, we are actually hearing about a chimeric creature that has violated, to some degree, an evolutionary nested hierarchy.
‘But’, evolutionists commonly say, ‘while individual traits, or small groups of traits can re-appear on an occasional and sporadic basis in different evolutionary lineages, it is inconceivable that a related series of numerous traits (i.e. a module) could re-appear in a concerted manner, at least to an extent sufficient to cause the development of incorrect phylogenies.’
Oh no? Consider the microorganisms, in which there is such a chimeric overlap of essential genomic components among and between the Bacteria, Eukarya, and Archaea, that an extensive ancient set of genetic exchanges is postulated.7 Among marine invertebrates, the extinct cephalopods show such a bewildering assortment of chimeric conch morphologies that it is often difficult to distinguish presumed shared ancestry from convergence.8 What’s more, these real-life chimeras also make it difficult to classify cephalopods according to higher taxonomic categories.
When convergence of traits is extensive, we often hear evolutionists speak of ‘the mosaic nature of evolution’. As an example of this, the mammal-like reptiles are much more chimeric than ‘transitional’ creatures.9 Rather than a progression to ‘mammalness’, we observe an assortment of unmistakable reptilian traits and unmistakable mammalian traits.
Let us now consider an example of chimeric creatures among land mammals. Hystricomorphy, a unique muskoskeletal pattern involving the jaw, enables the mouth to be opened in a large gape. Hystricomorphy is characteristic of the hystricomorph rodents, but has also now been found in the extinct saber-toothed Barbourofelis. Although it is believed that a highly-detailed phylogenetic analysis should spot the independent acquisition of the two complexes of traits, it is acknowledged that supposedly-unique character complexes could arise through convergence and ‘fool’ the evolutionist into believing that they had arisen from common ancestry.10
Two recently described pakicetids, Ichthyolestes pinfoldi and Pakicetus attocki11 (Figure 212) are supposedly transitional to true cetaceans.13 Ironically, were this true, it would only support the common scientific-creationist contention about the rarity of ‘transitional forms’:
‘Thewissen et al.’s discovery of these terrestrial cetaceans is one of the most important events in the past century of vertebrate palaeontology. Only a very few fossils, such as these, reveal a link between two groups of vertebrates that are hugely different in terms of evolution … . But the new fossils superbly document the link between modern whales and their land-based forebears, and should take their place among other famous “intermediates”, such as the most primitive bird, Archaeopteryx, and the early hominid Australopithecus (emphasis added).’14
That (half-convincing) evolutionary transitional forms number a mere handful only repeats what creationist scientists (for example, Duane T. Gish15) have been saying for decades, and squarely refutes the anti-creationists who adamantly insist that transitional forms are common.
Let us analyze what usually passes for ‘transitions’ in discussions surrounding the evolution of whales. To illustrate this, I have constructed a mock character-trait matrix (Table 1), and thence a cladogram (Figure 3) to show the gradual ‘evolution’ of a unicycle into an 18-wheeled truck.16 Note that the apparent progression seems, at first, to be somewhat convincing.17 However, a closer look reveals that the ‘step-by-step’ transition-filled progression is actually quite superficial,18 as it is full of discontinuities. (The pointing out of discontinuities is sometimes dismissed as an exercise in futility: of having two gaps whereas before there was one. As elaborated elsewhere,19 however, it is the magnitude of the gap or gaps which is/are important and not the number(s) of alleged gap-filling organisms!) Even more serious is what is not presented in the character matrix (Table 1) or cladogram (Figure 3)—namely specializations,20 and the outright reversal of traits.21 The latter are very much part of the unmentioned story of ‘whale evolution’, as described below.
|Heavy truck||Light truck||Automobile||3-wheel motorcycle||2-wheel motorcycle||Bicycle||Unicycle|
|3 ln number wheels||9||7||4||3||2||2||0|
|Ln cargo capacity||5||3||1||0||0||0||0|
Earlier claims of ‘transitional fossil whales’ had been found wanting.22 A recent National Geographic article23 calls the reader’s attention to a number of supposed trends24 in cetacean evolution. These are towards: 1) Greater aquatic specialization,25 2) Underwater hearing,26 3) Reductions in size of the hindlimbs,27 and 4) Migration of the nares (nostrils) towards the posterior of the skull’s dorsal (upper) surface.28 The alleged trend towards underwater hearing merits some attention, and is discussed in some detail below.
The remaining three trends fail immediately because they are superficial in nature, and are not corroborated by detailed anatomical analyses, as elaborated below. Moroever, a close look at the relative positions of the nares in the skulls of just the five protocetid genera29 while showing a slight trend towards more posterior placement with supposed time, also reveals the fact that this meager trend is completely overshadowed by the considerable differences in cranial geometry between the five genera. On this basis, any ‘trend’ towards increasingly posterior placement of the nares within protocetids, let alone within the entire Order Cetacea, is all but meaningless. It is literally like comparing apples and oranges, and making something out of the fact that one can arrange these fruits into a sequence showing progressively larger pores. The three-member ‘Nasal Drift’ sequence28 in the National Geographic article is, in my opinion, disingenuous to the point of bordering on intellectual dishonesty—doubly so in view of the fact that most readers of that magazine are unsuspecting laypersons.
The remaining trends are little better. The progressive reduction of hindlimbs is of dubious significance, if only because of the wide range of hindlimb sizes in the creatures involved. Moreover, modern whales sometimes sprout ‘hindlimbs’ of appreciable size (larger than those of ‘ancestors’, and thereby contrary to the trend in hindlimb reduction). Finally, even greatly reduced hindlimbs lack any necessary evolutionary connotation.30
Let us now consider the forelimbs. Although different cladograms contradict each other, they are unanimous in grouping Pakicetus with Ambulocetus as sister groups.31 One can therefore appreciate the ironic fact that, in terms of forelimb anatomy, there is no actual trend but, to the contrary, a sharp discontinuity between the pakicetids and the ‘next successively-more cetacean-like creatures’, the ambulocetids (Figure 2):
‘Ambulocetus probably swam using its hind limbs as the main propulsor, and its robust feet may be an adaptation for forcefully displacing water during swimming. Pakicetids, on the other hand, had the slender metapodials of running animals.’32
The National Geographic conspicuously fails to mention this sharp discontinuity in its slick portrayal of the ‘Back to the Sea’ parade25 of creatures. This only aggravates the borderline-deceptive practice of picturing both Pakicetus and Ambulocetus as having more aquatic-adapted appendages (fin-like legs, etc.) than could possibly be justified by fossil evidence.33 To top it all off, the leading researcher in whale evolution, as quoted in National Geographic, engages in a crass misrepresentation of scientific creationists.34
It is not only the limbs, but also the tail, which supposedly underwent extensive modifications in order to convert a terrestrial creature into an aquatic one. Entirely omitted in the National Geographic article is the fact that, owing partly to preservation problems, there is a lack of intermediates between tails and flukes:
‘Despite recent discoveries of early cetaceans, such as Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, and Rodhocetus, there still remains a paucity of tangible physical evidence on the evolution of the flukes. Tail vertebrae in these fossils are lacking or incomplete, especially for the most terminal portions. To this add that (1) modern cetacean species exhibit the highly derived thunniform swimming mode and design, (2) no series of intermediate fluke designs exist, and (3) they are phylogenetically disjunct from their closest living relative (i.e., ungulates), which have specialized for terrestrial locomotion; thus little direct information is available to answer the evolutionary questions regarding the transition to flukes.’35
We would never actually consider the bicycle as ancestral to the motor vehicles (Table 1, Figure 3) in spite of its ‘structurally intermediate’ character between the unicycle and the automobile. Why not free ourselves from the mental boxes of evolutionary thinking and give living things the same benefit? Note that, in contrast to the locomotion of the terrestrial pakicetids, that of the ambulocetids and rodhocetids is described as resembling the locomotion of modern sea lions, eared seals, and otters.36 In fact, these creatures are actually endowed with lutrine (like an otter) and phocid (like a seal) relative limb proportions.37 Why then not view these extinct creatures as little more than ecological counterparts of extant seals, otters, etc., and forget all of the evolutionary tales that have them transformed to whales?
To what extent are pakicetids intermediate in structure between the ‘generic’ artiodactyls on one hand and true cetaceans on the other? Gingerich38 has surveyed changes in four anatomical features (body mass, tooth length, bullar length, and femur length), over the supposed time interval of 37–50 million years ago, for fossil mammals which include six of the reputed cetacean genera39 shown here in Figure 2. With the exception of the inferred change in femur length (especially when body sizes are normalized), none of the remaining three features show even a self-consistent, unidirectional change with time!40
What about the recently described pakicetid genera?11 The vast majority of the skeletal traits found in the complete skeletons are consistently unlike those of true cetaceans (ancient or modern). By no stretch of the imagination do we observe anything resembling a gradational trend of changes to true cetaceans:
‘Aquatic postcranial adaptations are pronounced in late Eocene basilosaurids and dorudontids, the oldest obligate aquatic cetaceans for which the entire skeleton is known, and therefore can be used to evaluate pakicetid morphology. Aquatic adaptations of basilosaurids and dorudontids include … [nine features are listed]. Pakicetids display none of these features.’41
As if all this were not enough, the few pakicetid traits once believed unambiguously indicative of an aquatic or semi-aquatic transitional lifestyle, are no longer necessarily considered thus.42 Consequently, the already borderline-deceptive practice33 of sketching Pakicetus as a semiaquatic-adapted creature, in a very recent issue of National Geographic magazine,43 is all the more inexcusable. And it is creationists who are supposed to be the purveyors of inaccurate and outdated information!
The editors of National Geographic magazine would do well to communicate, very carefully to their lay audiences, the following sobering facts about the reconstruction of soft parts being unempirical (with very few exceptions), and in fact belief-driven:
‘Traditionally, Ambulocetus, an early cetacean, has been constructed with hair (bottom). As discussed by John Gatesy and Maureen O’Leary on pp. 562–570, hypotheses of phylogeny, however, determine how soft tissues, such as skin, are reconstructed in fossils. Recent cladistic studies suggest Ambulocetus was nearly hairless (top) [emphasis added].’44
Up to now, the anatomical changes in the alleged land-animal-to-modern-whale progression have been followed only in response to the cursory and superficial ‘trends’ cited by evolutionists. As was the case with the mammal-like reptiles,9 what is needed is a comprehensive survey of all of the relevant traits of this supposed transformation. Unfortunately, much data is lacking, making it all but impossible to meaningfully compute the relative numbers of progressive and nonprogressive anatomical traits,45 as had been done for mammal-like reptiles.9 It cannot be stressed enough that, from an evolutionary point of view, organisms situated at the point of trait reversal are chimeras consisting of ‘primitive’ and ‘derived’ features, and they will not fit any nested hierarchy.
In spite of the problems with missing data in cetacean evolution, one can arrive at an extremely conservative46 estimate of the relative proportion of non-progressive traits. In order to minimize the possibility of artifacts caused by incomplete information, we can compare several cladistic analyses by different authors, each of which use different anatomical traits, different outgroups for comparison, and different constituent taxa. Let us consider one analysis47 of basicranial, cranial, dental, postcranial, and live-tissue data (from living cetaceans). I trace the changes in character polarity which take place through all of the organisms listed in Figure 2, with modern whales represented by Baleonoptera and Tursiops. Out of the 123 anatomical characters evaluated by the cited authors, only 33 have data for at least 7 of the 8 taxa, and are considered further. Out of these 33, fully 24% reverse themselves at least once, and are therefore nonprogressive. To show that this is no fluke (pardon the pun), let us now focus on another cladistic analysis, which consists of 67 skeletal traits48 in a comparable range of fossil to modern cetaceans (Figure 2). Although 30% (183 of 603 data points) are missing, an astonishing 31% (21 out of the 67) traits are nonprogressive.
Let us evaluate, in some detail, the much-discussed evolution of the cetacean ear. It turns out that there is only one (one!) unambiguous bullar synapomorphy linking Pakicetus to the cetaceans, and simultaneously absent in all noncetacean animals.49 What about the numerous other auditory features supposedly involved in cetacean evolution? A detailed analysis of 64 aural and other basicranial traits,50 spanning the entire scope of cetacean evolution (and thus consisting of pre-cetaceans, Archaeocetes, Odontocetes, and Mysticetes), has been performed. In this particular study, only 17% of the 1472 possible data points are missing. Almost half (44%) of the traits are nonprogressive! The situation gets even worse, from the ‘evolutionary progression’ point of view, if we focus our attention primarily on modern whales and their immediate (extinct) relatives. Using one archaeocete cetacean as the outgroup, and omitting one of the 28 traits which has more than half its data missing, one can examine the ‘intermediate stages’ involved. It is sobering to realize that two-thirds (17 of 27) of the traits reverse themselves.51
As noted earlier about the National Geographic article, a handful of traits supposedly showing a trend in cetacean-ear evolution had been selectively highlighted.26 Not mentioned are the large bodies of contrary evidence, consisting of numerous anatomical details that show no consistent trend towards ‘whaleness’. There is a whole suite of features, found in archaeocete whales, which are believed to have become (conveniently) ‘secondarily lost’ (or ‘reversed’) in the Odontocetes and Mysticetes.52 Keeping in mind the extremely conservative nature of all of the above estimates, it is plain to see that any connotation of ‘cetacean lineage’ (e.g., Figure 2) is totally artificial. The supposedly progressive character of cetacean evolution (aural as well as non-aural) is completely unwarranted. Furthermore, rather than being the crown group of cetacean evolution (Figure 2), the extant mysticete and odontocete whales stand out as chimeras consisting of mostly derived but also many primitive features.
Believe it or not, the hoary and long-discredited53 embryonic-recapitulation theory is dusted off and employed by some whale-evolution specialists54 to infer the supposed fine stages of cetacean ear evolution. The fact that evolutionists feel the need to fall back on the recapitulation theory in order to infer alleged evolutionary changes is itself mute testimony to the fact that detailed structural intermediates illustrative of alleged cetacean aural evolution are lacking.
The pakicetids are an interesting set of chimeric creatures, consisting of an artiodactyl-like ankle and a somewhat true-cetacean-like inner ear residing in a body that is otherwise hardly distinguishable from that of a typical extinct land-dwelling artiodactyl!:
‘The newly found fossils include several skulls and postcranial bones from two early pakicetid species—which it seems, had the head of a primitive cetacean (as indicated by the ear region) and the body of an artiodactyl. All of the postcranial bones indicate that pakicetids were land mammals, and it is likely that they would have been thought of as some primitive terrestrial artiodactyls if they had been found without their skulls.’9
The evolutionary ‘successor’ to Pakicetus is hardly better in this regard:
‘Ambulocetus is recognized as a whale because of characters of its teeth and skull that it shares with other whales, and demonstrates that derived cetacean cranial characteristics were present in an organism with legs resembling those of modern terrestrial mammals.’55
While certainly not as dramatic as the would-be discovery of a genuine mermaid, the chimeric structure of the pakicetids and ambulocetids could hardly be described in a more lucid manner. It is difficult to imagine how, by any stretch of the imagination, the pakicetids are supposed to qualify as gap-fillers between the terrestrial artiodactyls and aquatic true cetaceans. The fact that serious evolutionary scholars make such claims14 only goes on to show the poverty of evidence for evolution, and the concomitant desperate lengths to which evolutionists will go to recruit some extinct creature as a transitional form.
The recent finding of certain whale-like (actually seal-like) protocetids56 does nothing significant to close the huge chasm between pakicetids and true cetaceans. With the exception of possessing the artiodactyl-like ‘double-pulleyed’ astralagus (heel), these newly described protocetids are highly specialized, fully aquatic creatures, and not indicative of any compelling ancestral connections to the pakicetids or the ambulocetids.
Let us now put ‘cetacean’ features into a broader context. It is hardly surprising that, as more fossils are discovered, our concept of the anatomical diversity of certain groups must expand: certain anatomical traits thought to be unique to particular mammalian orders turn up as chimeric assortments in other orders. Rather than demonstrating evolution, the chimeric co-occurrence of cetacean and non-cetacean features in extinct mammals only shows that certain features thought to be essentially cetacean (because they occur only in modern cetaceans and not in any other extant mammal) are not exclusively cetacean after all. It does not warrant the re-definition of cetaceans to absurd extremes, to encompass all of these chimeras, as is currently done by evolutionists.57
Is it the Artiodactyls or is it the Mesonychians58 that are the closest relatives to the Cetaceans? Until recently, the extinct Order Mesonychia was largely accepted by evolutionists as the sister group of Order Cetacea (Figure 4). A recent analysis59 has demonstrated that the respective dental complexes of mesonychids and cetaceans stand out in uniting the two groups into a clade. This is supported by a variety of other mesonychid-cetacean synapomorphies.60
When the pakicetids were discovered along with a host of other finds,61 the artiodactyls began to displace the mesonychids as the closest known relatives of cetaceans (Figure 5). The ‘double-pulleyed’ astralagus now appears to be an unambiguous component of both the pakicetid and protocetid skeletons. This synapomorphy (shared form) links artiodactyls and cetaceans as sister groups, to the exclusion of mesonychians, which do not possess this kind of specialized heel.11 The three mammalian orders are clearly chimeras. Once again, the evolutionary nested hierarchies have been turned upside down, as chimeric creatures are incompatible with any sort of nested hierarchy, and only create headaches for evolutionists.
How much more parsimonious to recognize an Intelligent Designer who used the same anatomical modulus in otherwise-different mammalian orders?The evidence places the evolutionist in a particularly unenviable position. Notions of ‘stratomorphic intermediates’ are of no help to him, as the stratigraphic order of fossils themselves does not show a clear-cut preference for one phylogeny over another.62 So which anatomical traits is he to reckon as phylogenetically informative, and which is he to reject and explain away? Having made his arbitrary decision, he is forced to make another one. Which rationalization is he to invoke—the one which supposes ‘backward evolution’ and character loss (Figure 4, left, and Figure 5, left), or the one which imagines that lookalike complex anatomical structures can independently arise in different lineages (Figure 4, right, and Figure 5, right)? How much more parsimonious to recognize an Intelligent Designer who used the same anatomical modulus in otherwise-different mammalian orders?
Since rationalistic preconceptions won’t, of course, allow the evolutionist to consider the latter possibility, he is forced to stumble along in his imaginations and rationalizations. For some evolutionists,63,64 the secondary ‘de-volution’ of the specialized artiodactyl heel is considered possible (Figure 4, left). Others65 speculate that the ‘double-pulleyed’ heel is homoplasic. According to this thinking, the ‘double-pulleyed’ astralagus must have arisen twice independently (convergently) in artiodactyls and mesonychians (Figure 5, right).
Conversely, if pakicetids are to be accepted as the closest known relatives of cetaceans, as the ruling paradigm dictates, all of the foregoing rationalizations must be placed in reverse. The evolutionist must now contemplate the ‘reverse evolution’ of artiodactyl teeth back towards a less-derived state (Figure 5, left). A recent study11 actually contemplates this evolutionary flip-flop.
Alternatively, the cetacean-like teeth of mesonychians must be the product of convergent evolution (Figure 5, right). The latter rationalization, in fact, is the one that appears widely accepted by evolutionists.11,14,36,66 Such thinking constitutes a revolution of sorts in mammalian paleontology. Prior to the recent turn of events, teeth had been used for construction of mammalian phylogenies, more or less uncritically, for over a century. All this time, dental features had been generally considered too detailed to be capable of being duplicated independently via convergent evolution.66
There is yet another set of rationalizations invoked for the conflicting phylogenies shown in Figures 4 and 5. It would have us believe that the most basal cetaceans, artiodactyls, and mesonychians have not been discovered, and these postulated fossils hold the key to our understanding of the correct evolutionary branching order.67 Apart from being ad hoc, this hypothesis is self-defeating because it invokes large gaps in the fossil records of the mammalian orders, and thereby implicitly repudiates the claim that fossil cetaceans qualify as a transition-filled sequence! It invokes nonexistent fossils to resolve problems in known ones.
In answer to the questions posed by the title of this report, the answers are: 1). No, walking whales do not exist. Just because pakicetids have somewhat cetacean-like middle ears and cetartiodactyla-type double-pulleyed heel bones, this does not yet make them whales—unless of course one is willing to entertain the most ludicrously-strained definition of a whale. Perhaps pakicetids are walking whales just as firetrucks are tomatoes on wheels (since both firetrucks and tomatoes are red, and both are filled with water). 2). Owing to widespread so-called evolutionary convergence, a nested hierarchy of living things exists only in part. The more detailed the anatomical analysis, the more the nested hierarchy breaks down. While full-bodied chimeric creatures, such as mermaids and mermen, do not exist, somewhat lesser examples of chimeric creatures, of which pakicetids and mesonychids are notable examples, definitely exist.
Whenever evolutionists make assertions about the limits of convergence, they do so on an after-the-fact basis.68 As ever-more-detailed examples of convergence are found, evolutionists are forced to backpedal, thus ‘moving the goalpost’ of conceivable convergence. For a long time, evolutionists had tacitly supposed that detailed convergences of clusters of traits (modules), such as the independent acquisition of cetacean-like teeth in mesonychids and cetaceans (Figure 5, right), were a virtual impossibility. What is there to stop the evolutionists from saying, in case of the discovery of a mermaid-like chimeric creature, that even more pronounced convergence of modular units can occur than previously supposed? Evolutionary theory is so plastic that any observation could be fitted into it. The apparent absence of extremely-chimeric creatures cannot, by any standard of reasoning, be accepted as evidence for evolution. To the contrary, the existence of less-extreme chimeric creatures, notably ‘fossil whales’, argues strongly against a common evolutionary ancestry of living things.