Elephant Shark Research Team Misses Creation Clues

When mainstream scientists search for clues about how and when the first bony-skeleton creature evolved from a non-bony creature, do they overlook evidence showing skeletons could never evolve from non-skeletons in the first place? It appears that a large collaboration of scientists that analyzed DNA from a spectacular living fossil called an elephant shark did just that. The title of their report, published in Nature, refers to “unique insights” into evolution, but the facts actually reveal something else.1

The elephant shark, or Australian ghost shark, is a cartilaginous fish that uses a snout to probe sea-floor sands for small clams in New Zealand and Australian waters. They have other non-shark-like characteristics, including green eyes placed high atop their heads and opercula covering their gills.

Elephant shark fossils occur in Ordovician rocks, assigned a conventional age of 450 million years, and in Permian rocks, assigned an age of 260 million years. Elephant sharks are still living today. Supposedly, they have not changed in form for over 300 million years and this makes them a spectacular example of a living fossil. The Nature authors wrote that their genetic analysis “shows that the C. milii [elephant shark] genome is evolving significantly slower than other vertebrates, including the coelacanth, which is considered a ‘living fossil.’”1

To say that the elephant shark has evolved slowly because its form has not changed dramatically understates the situation—it has not evolved at all! The study authors wrote, “The factors contributing to the lower evolutionary rate of C. milii are not known.”1 (One explanation they evidently didn’t consider for why these fish have not evolved is that God created their basic form right from the start.)

The main purpose of this secular research project was to find clues that might explain how jawed fishes evolved from jawless fishes—an evolutionarily biased approach. So, the researchers fitted their elephant shark’s genomic data into an evolutionary narrative about how jawless fishes evolved into the first cartilaginous-jawed fish and how some of its descendants then evolved into the first bony-jawed fish. And this despite the fact that all three groups suddenly appear side by side as contemporaries in Cambrian system strata!

Each step in the supposed evolution of vertebrates would require a wholesale restructuring of the ancestor’s anatomy. The Nature authors wrote, “This transition was accompanied by many morphological and phenotypic innovations.”1 But there are no demonstrations of creatures innovating even one new body part, let alone many. Plus, undisputed transitions are still no-shows in the fossil record.

What if these fish were created much as we find them today and never did evolve? This report ignores such questions, and its conclusions drip with evolutionary bias. For example, the authors wrote, “Overall, the C. milii genome is the least derived [least evolved] among known vertebrates.”1 But what empirical foundation supports a “least derived” designation? It is purely subjective since another research group could just as easily assert—perhaps on the basis of another organism’s perfectly unique genetic makeup and fossil occurrence in lower strata—an entirely different creature as being the least-derived vertebrate.2

Supposedly, elephant sharks “constitute a critical outgroup for understanding the evolution and diversity of bony vertebrates.”1 How do the researchers know that this fish kind is a critical outgroup? This designation comes not from data, but from an evolutionary-slanted assertion.

The Nature authors wrote of the elephant shark’s genome, “Its value for comparative genomic studies is illustrated by our analysis of genetic events that led to the ossification of endoskeleton in bony vertebrates.”1 Wait a minute—did these authors really study genetic events? Do they have a time machine that enabled them to go back and observe these alleged events? In reality, it appears they forced a high-functioning and one-of-a-kind genome into an evolutionary model.

The most significant insights that the elephant shark study revealed are that it simply has not evolved over supposed hundreds of millions of years and that secularists insist on fitting it into an evolutionary narrative despite the evidence. But its lack of evolution makes perfect sense if God created these fish to reproduce after their kind, just like He said.3


  1. Venkatesh, B. et al. 2014. Elephant shark genome provides unique insights into gnathostome evolution. Nature. 505 (7482): 174-179.
  2. This is illustrated in the problem of orphan genes. See Cordova, S. New mechanism of evolution—POOF. Uncommon Descent News. Posted on uncommondescent.com August 15, 2013, accessed January 8, 2014. For one of many examples, see Wilson, G. A. et al. 2005. Orphans as taxonomically restricted and ecologically important genes. Microbiology. 151 (8): 2499-2501; and Tomkins, J. Newly Discovered ‘Orphan Genes’ Defy Evolution. Creation Science Update. Posted on icr.org August 26, 2013, accessed January 8, 2014.
  3. Genesis 1:21.

Image credit: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on January 22, 2014.

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