Do Ancient Fish Point to Shoulder Evolution? | The Institute for Creation Research

Do Ancient Fish Point to Shoulder Evolution?

Did your shoulders evolve from ancient fish? Creationists would say no, because we don’t have fish ancestors.1,2,3

However, research from the Imperial College London states, “A new analysis of the bones and muscles in ancient fish gives new clues about how the shoulder evolved in animals—including us.”4

Are these new clues valid?

Let’s first look at evolutionary hypotheses concerning the source of vertebrates’ legs and arms. Brazeau et al. in Nature list “two contentious theories” regarding the origin of our paired appendages,

The origin of vertebrate paired appendages [e.g., legs and arms of people] is one of the most investigated and debated examples of evolutionary novelty. Paired appendages are widely considered as key innovations that enabled new opportunities for controlled swimming and gill ventilation and were prerequisites for the eventual transition from water to land. The past 150 years of debate has been shaped by two contentious theories: the ventrolateral fin-fold hypothesis and the archipterygium hypothesis.5

The fin-fold hypothesis states that paired limbs are derived from parts of a continuous fold passing along each side of the trunk of an unknown ancestral vertebrate that fused into a single fin.

The archipterygium (a leaf-shaped, narrow-based, paired fin) hypothesis (or gill septum hypothesis) is an equally strange idea proposed in 1878 that supposes a “primitive limb” evolved into the limbs of tetrapods.

It’s little wonder that these theories are quarrelsome since the fossils do not support either one.

However, in their Nature paper, Brazeau et al. now claim possible support from the fossil record: “Here we present palaeontological support for a pharyngeal [a stage in embryogenesis in vertebrate embryos] basis for the vertebrate shoulder girdle. We use computed tomography scanning to reveal details of the braincase of Kolymaspis sibirica, an Early Devonian placoderm fish from Siberia, that suggests a pharyngeal component of the shoulder [emphasis added].”5

Imperial College London stated, “Now, by reanalysing an ancient fossil fish skull [Kolymaspis sibirica] from soon after the shoulder girdle emerged, alongside other lines of evidence, the team suggest [sic] the truth may lie in a modified version of the gill-arch hypothesis that reconciles it with the fin-fold hypothesis [emphasis added].”4

Brazeau et al. (and the Imperial College London) speak of the shoulder girdle as an evolutionary novelty: “The shoulder girdle—the configuration of bones and muscles that in humans support the movement of the arms—is a classic example of an evolutionary ‘novelty.’ This is where a new anatomical feature appears without any obvious precursors; where there is no smoking gun of which feature clearly led to another.”4

In other words, an evolutionary novelty (e.g., the shoulder girdle) is hardly evidence for real, vertical evolution. Other examples include feathers in birds, petals in eudicot flowers, and mammary glands and hair in mammals.

Evolutionist Gunter Wagner, a top researcher in the field of homology,6 stated,

Novelties likely require large scale reorganizations of the gene regulatory network. Gene regulatory network reorganization involves…the creation of novel cis-regulatory elements [or CREs]. In contrast adaptive modifications often involve only the modification of existing cis-regulatory elements.7

Creationists don’t have a problem with adaptive modifications since they are part of continuous environmental tracking (CET) and have no connection to macroevolution (large scale reorganization of the gene regulatory network). Indeed, two committed neo-Darwinists—Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago and Hopi Hoekstra of Harvard—stated, “There is no evidence at present that cis-regulatory changes play a major role—much less a pre-eminent one—in adaptive evolution.”8

To conclude, when it comes to critical transitions, words such as “suggest,” “seem,” “appears,” and “may” continue to hound evolutionary literature. Meanwhile, people have always been people according to Genesis.9,10


  1. Sherwin, F. 2017. Did Fish Learn to Walk? Acts & Facts. 46 (8): 20.
  2. Tomkins, J. 2021. The Fossils Still Say No: The Fins-to-Feet Transition. Acts & Facts. 50 (3): 10–13.
  3. Sherwin, F. 2020. Osteostracans Aren’t Ancestors. Acts & Facts. 49 (12): 14.
  4. New analysis of ancient fish may explain how shoulder evolved. Imperial College London via PhysOrg. Posted on November 1, 2023, accessed November 14, 2023.
  5. Brazeau, M. et al. Fossil evidence for a pharyngeal origin of the vertebrate pectoral girdle. Nature. Posted on November 1, 2023, accessed November 20, 2023.
  6. Thomas, B. 2019. Homology: Descent or Design? Acts & Facts. 48 (12): 13.
  7. Wagner, G. 2014. Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 11.
  8. Hoekstra, H. and J. Coyne. 2007. The locus of evolution: Evo devo and the genetics of adaptation. Evolution. 61 (5): 995–1016.
  9. Tomkins, J. et al. 2022. Human Origins. Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research.
  10. Rupe, C. and J. Sanford. 2017. Contested Bones. Livonia, NY: Feed My Sheep Foundation, Inc.

Stage image: X-ray of right shoulder
Stage image credit: Copyright © Nevit Dilmen. Used in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.

* Dr. Sherwin is science news writer at the Institute for Creation Research. He earned an M.A. in zoology from the University of Northern Colorado and received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Pensacola Christian College.

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