Transitional fossil

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Charles Darwin built on the earlier idea of the common descent of all life by explaining how new species could arise naturally. His diagram shows the "tree of life" with each species being a descendant of earlier species. Each species is transitional between a single earlier species and its descendant species (if any). There are no non-transitional species.

Critics of evolution consider a transitional fossil or missing link in the fossil record is a proposed, but as-yet undiscovered, intermediate form between two similar species. A fossil which is transitional between two species will typically have some features of both, and several features which are developed halfway between the two.

Creationists frequently cite the lack of particular transitional fossils as evidence that evolution is incorrect. Charles Darwin stated:

"Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? [...] This, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."

He attributed the perceived lack of transitional fossils to imperfections in the geologic record. Apologists claim that this problem has not been resolved since Darwin's time.

"First, despite all the increased knowledge of the rock record after so much drilling and exploration, many conventional geologists still see the rock record much as Darwin did: a record of long ages with lots of gaps. [1]"
"the only direct evidence acceptable would be the discovery of fossil remains of some intermediate creature between one species and another. [2]"
"If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now.[3]"
"There is no in between... the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundred necessary for an "official proof".[4]"



The theory of evolution suggests that ALL life forms are "transitional forms". Therefore, all fossils are transitional fossils. Whether or not we know what they are the transition between does not affect that.

Given that the process of fossilisation is rare, we would not expect every species to appear in the fossil record. Gaps are no objection to evolution.

"Fossilization is a rare event to start with, and most fossils that do form have not been and will not be found. [5]"

"The vast majority of organisms that have ever lived on Earth have left absolutely no trace of their existence, since fossils arise only in highly unusual circumstances. (For example, a create has to be caught in a certain type of mud or rock, without being picked apart by predictors. Most bones rota and crumble. More creatures decay.) Given that reality, it is actually rather amazing that we have such a wealth of information about organisms that have lived on this planet,"

Francis Collins, The Language of God

A species can evolve into existence in an area where fossilisation is extremely rare and gradually expand its population into an area where fossilisation is relatively common. This would result in the apparent sudden appearance of a species. For this reason, there is no real mystery to solve.

The claim that there are no transitional forms between the transitional forms we've already discovered. When a fossil is discovered that is an intermediate form, there are effectively two gaps rather than one. To insist that more transitional fossils must be found to fill these gaps is unreasonable and absurd because that would be far beyond what is necessary to illustrate a species transition. It is also an instance of moving the goalposts.

Fossil evidence supports common descent

New species are often discovered in the fossil record which supports of theory of common descent. The advance of scientific understanding leads to the God of the gaps, in which God is the explanation for a shrinking set of phenomena.

While particular cases of transitional species may not have been fossilised and therefore will never be found, there are countless examples of known transitional forms. For instance, fossils that definitively link two genuses, orders, and classes. Specific gaps that were previously cited by apologists have been filled by later discoveries. The following is a short list:

  1. Archaeopteryx is an intermediate form between theropod dinosaurs and modern birds. It had teeth and claws like a dinosaur, and avian feathers like a modern bird, large wings but sideways shoulder joints, along with several features common to both.
  2. Tiktaalik is an intermediate form between fish and amphibians. It had gills and scales like a fish, lungs and rib bones and a movable neck like an amphibian, and fish-like fins with limb bones and a fully functional wrist joint with simple fingers.
  3. Orrorin tugenensis, Ardipithecus kadabba and ramidus, Australopithecus anamensis, afarensis, africanus, bahrelghazali, and garhi, Kenyanthropus platyops, Paranthropus aethiopicus, boisei, and robustus, Homo habilis, rudolfensis, ergaster, antecessor, cepranensis, and rhodesiensis, for most of which there have been found several fossils, represent the chain of successive transitions between Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans).

Why has only one Lucy fossil been found?

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
"There is no in between. The only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an official proof.[6]"
"Why have we found only 1 "Lucy", when we have found more than 1 of everything else?[6]"

Lucy is a skeleton of the species Australopithecus afarensis, of which several fossils have been discovered.[7]


  1. Marcus Ross, God of the Gaps, November 12, 2008 [1]
  2. [2]
  3. I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist
  4. Matt Stopera, 22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution, Buzzfeed, February 5, 2014
  5. Vincent Courtillot, chapter Evidence for catastrophes in the evolution of life and Earthin Evidence edited by Andrew Bell, John Swenson-Wright, Karin Tybjerg, May 2008
  6. 6.0 6.1 Matt Stopera, 22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution, Buzzfeed, February 5, 2014
  7. [3]

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