Shark Origins: An Evolutionary Explanation

During a recent visit to Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I peered into a tank containing a host of animals, including a sleek and formidable shark, and thought of evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”1 Let’s test this statement by taking a closer look at prominent evolutionary research on the shark—teeth to tail.

Teeth. Paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar admitted there is no consensus on even the basics of tooth origin:

The past few years have witnessed a remarkable flurry of research on the origin or origins of vertebrate teeth. While this work is progressing, the details of when, where, why, and how teeth first appeared still elude consensus. Indeed, there is not even agreement on the fundamentals, such as how we define a tooth.2

Jaws. In 2002, evolutionist Philippe Janvier made an interesting point: “Considering these facts, one may wonder whether this theory [modified gill arches] still holds, and whether a more parsimonious explanation could not be that jaws have always been jaws.”3 A decade later, Kenneth Kardong discussed the shroud surrounding a supposed evolutionary origin of jaws: “Such work is at the moment under way using molecular and genetic probes, but these have so far produced unsettled and somewhat contradictory results.”4 Combined with Ungar’s report on teeth, these sources indicate that there is “not even agreement on the fundamentals” of tooth origins, “jaws have always been jaws,” and that studies yield “contradictory results.”

General Classification. Even stepping back and looking at sharks more generally, as either members of phylum Chordata—which includes mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and bony fish—or as craniates, the bony-skulled animals, does not sharpen evolutionary reports. Kardong reported that “disagreement over the origin of chordates has been common.”5

Eyes. And when it comes to other aspects of shark anatomy, specifically their lifeless, black eyes, all scientists offer is speculation. In his book Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved, Ivan Schwab wrote that they can’t identify a date for when the first eye “appeared.”6

Fins. How about the shark’s fins—the telltale warning sign of approaching doom for those who cross its path? Edwin Colbert and fellow authors called the origin of fins “an unsolved problem.”7

Fish. If we resort to more basic terms and examine sharks simply as fish (Elasmobranchii), even an entire zoology textbook by Cleveland Hickman, Jr. and colleagues leaves us with only a vague commentary: “Fishes are of ancient ancestry, having descended from an unknown free-swimming protochordate ancestor about 550 m.y.a.”8

So, is biology truly nonsensical “except in the light of evolution”?1 According to author John Long, “The mystery remains as to how sharks first evolved.”9 In their own words, evolutionists’ explanations are neither definitive nor conclusive. But creationists have a better explanation coming from the One who was there in the beginning, “the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them” (Acts 14:15).


  1. Dobzhansky, T. 1973. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. The American Biology Teacher. 35: 125-129.
  2. Ungar, P. S. 2010. Mammal Teeth. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 73.
  3. Janvier, P. 2002. Early Vertebrates. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 258.
  4. Kardong, K. V. 2012. Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function Evolution, 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 246.
  5. Ibid, 74.
  6. Schwab, I. R.  2012. Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved. New York: Oxford University Press, 39.
  7. Colbert, E. H., M. Morales and E. C. Minkoff. 2001. Colbert’s Evolution of the Vertebrates, 5th ed. New York: Wiley-Liss, Inc., 51.
  8. Hickman, C. et al. 2011. Integrated Principles of Zoology, 15th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 520.
  9. Long, J. A. 2010. The Rise of Fishes: 500 Million Years of Evolution, 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 92.

* Mr. Sherwin is Research Associate, Senior Lecturer, and Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Frank Sherwin, M.A. 2013. Shark Origins: An Evolutionary Explanation. Acts & Facts. 42 (12).

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