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Yet another set of Transitional Forms, this time to Turtles

Creationists, desperate to hold on to a literalist interpretation of the Christian Bible and deny the empirical reality of evolution, have been scrabbling lately to identify a diminishing set of missing “transitional forms” between different animal and plant classes, orders, and families. As scientists identify scores of transitional forms between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, between fish and amphibians, between sprawling and upright posture, between apes and humans among many others, biblical creationists retreat to pointing out a few remaining “transitional forms” in the fossil record that have not been identified.

Biblical Discipleship Ministries is typical, insisting that evolution cannot be real because scientists haven’t found partially developed forms of turtle:

“We see discrete entities, distinct species. In the fossil record, there are fish, turtles and cockroaches. They are individually distinct, identifiable creatures. In life, we can also see fish, turtles and cockroaches. We can identify them. They are not ½ fish and ½ turtle or ½ turtle and ½ cockroach. We do not see elephants evolving fins or whales evolving wings. The discrete entities we see in the fossil record and in life are not ‘questionable’ species. They are not transitional forms, as evolution would require. This is a problem for the evolutionist. If evolution is true, creatures should not be so easily identifiable. Every creature should be difficult to categorize, classify and name, if evolution is correct (and life is “evolving along”). Could it be that evolution is not correct? That each animal is easily identifiable (as giraffe or beetle or fish or turtle or cockroach) truly does ‘fit splendidly with creationist tenets.'”

Ignore for the moment the truly odd notion that evolution should be finding half-turtle-half-cockroaches. Alongside that bizarre claim, Biblical Discipleship Ministries is also telling us that there are no kind-of-turtles out there in the fossil record, no fossils that are not quite fully turtles.

Well, an article published this month in the journal Nature puts the kibosh to that. Meet eunotosaurus, the turtle without a shell:

Eunotosaurus, the early prototurtle without a shell

An international team of scientists studies eunotosaurus skull and body features using multiple techniques of observation to place eunotosaurus firmly in place as a proto-turtle, even though it would not (to use the Biblical Discipleship Ministries’ criterion) be “easily identifiable” to human eyes that turned their gaze to it. Eunotosaurus is not alone, but rather is placed in a succession of evolutionary transitions from clear non-turtles to clear turtles:

Figure 4. From Bever et al 2015 in the Journal Nature on turtle transitional forms

One thought on “Yet another set of Transitional Forms, this time to Turtles”

  1. Jim Cook says:

    I love how creation ministries flogs the no-transitional-forms-in-turtles line at

    “Turtles are a well designed and specialized group of reptiles, with a distinctive shell protecting the body’s vital organs. However, evolutionists admit ‘Intermediates between turtles and cotylosaurs, the primitive reptiles from which [evolutionists believe] turtles probably sprang, are entirely lacking.’”

    It’s a copied-and-pasted quote that’s been passed around, usually without a citation. At this creationist website — — the quote is attributed to Encyclopedia Britannica’s Turtle-Origins and Evolution article. But as you can see here — — there is no such quote in the Britannica encyclopedic entry for turtles.

    You might say that creationists are playing a shell game with turtles.

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