whale evolution
Life Science Did the Baleen Whales Really Lose their Teeth?

Did the Baleen Whales Really Lose their Teeth?

If the website Science News Daily is to be believed, “a living baleen whale (e.g., blue whale, fin whale, humpback, bowhead) has lost its teeth and must sift zooplankton and small fish from ocean waters with baleen or whalebone, a sieve-like structure in the upper jaw that filters food from large mouthfuls of seawater,” (Science News Daily, 2010).

That’s right. In the world of Darwinian Evolution, every living creature is related. Evolutionary scientists use phylo-genetic trees that are specific types of cladograms (branching diagrams that illustrate patterns of phylogenetic relationships) to infer common ancestry among similar organisms. These family trees (or evolutionary trees) are intended to show inferred evolutionary relationships among various biological species.

Evolutionary Tree of Life

Evolutionary scientists propose that baleen whales lost their teeth when they allegedly branched off from a common ancestor of the toothed whales some 25 million years ago. In evolutionary biology, a group of organisms have common descent if they have a common ancestor. Evolutionary scientist’s claim, “There is strong quantitative support, by a formal test” (Theobold, 2010) for the theory that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor, (Steele & Penny, 2010). These alleged “common ancestors” are postulated if a group of organisms have similarities. However, no transitional fossils have been discovered to clearly establish their common ancestry because (in almost every case) the common ancestors are nowhere to be found. They are a figment of a very fertile evolutionary imagination.

The dirty little secret about phylogenetic trees

Like much of evolutionary biology, there is little hard evidence for the basic conclusions of Darwinian Theory. While Theobald (2020) and other evolutionists characterize the evidence for universal common ancestry (UCA) saying, “the classic evidence for UCA, although massive, is largely restricted to ‘local’ common ancestry—for example, of specific phyla rather than the entirety of life—and has yet to fully integrate the recent advances from modern phylogenetics and probability theory.” It is really their speculation that is massive and not the actual evidence for UCA.

This requires a bit of translation for the reader. What Theobold and other evolutionary scientists are saying is, “The evidence for the molecules-to-men Theory of Evolution is ‘huge,’ but can only be observed in local populations of related species. This massive evidence is not really confirmable yet, because the recent advances from modern phylogenetics (that are essentially not entirely supportive of Darwinian evolution) and probability theory (that, in reality, tends to falsify Darwinian evolutionary theory) have not yet been fully realized. Short version, “We know this is true regardless of the lack of current evidence that will eventually prove what we say concerning Darwinian evolution is correct.”

What evolutionary scientists fail to report when making such sweeping statements concerning the “massive” classic evidence for UCA, are those pesky little details. Details that, when examined without the evolutionary bias usually given to such subject matter, show the assumptions of evolutionary biology to be the result of their unabashed devotion to materialism (and conjecture regarding common ancestry) based upon common similarities in design.

Did they really say that?
Creationists and intelligent design theorists are constantly being accused of quoting evolutionary scientists out of context. Let me make myself perfectly clear. The late Stephen Jay Gould and, his colleague and co-author, Niles Eldridge, were committed to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. What they were not convinced of (as these quotes will indicate) was the mechanism of slow, gradual change over time that classic Darwinism suggests. They rejected the timeframe of Darwin’s view of the mechanism for evolution. This rejection was based upon the physical evidence that did not appear to support a slow, gradual change over time. After all, this was the imaginative premise of Darwin’s work originally entitled, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. They proposed another mechanism that would explain the ubiquitous gaps in the fossil record, thereby replacing the gradualistic view of the history of biology on planet Earth. This is the context of the following quotations.

Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and became a professor at Harvard. He also worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of Darwinian evolution was the Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. A theory he developed along with his colleague and fellow evolutionist, Niles Eldredge (Eldredge & Gould, 1972). This theory proposed the major changes in the evolutionary ladder of development happened abruptly (in geological terms) rather than the slow, gradual changes proposed by Charles Darwin.

I considered Stephen J. Gould to have been an extraordinary scientist whose honesty and candid comments about the nature of the fossil record caused him to receive some criticism from fellow evolutionists. He referred to the fossil record in relation to evolution in the following ways:

The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution, (Gould, 1980).

All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between the major groups are characteristically abrupt, (Gould, 1977).

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record:

The geological record is (here Gould is quoting Darwin) extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find intermediate varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record will rightly reject my whole theory, (end Gould quoting Darwin).

Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never “seen” in the rocks.

Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study (Gould, 1977).

Can we really make a good case for UCA between the baleen and the toothed whales? I think that it stretches credulity to assume (and much of Darwinian evolutionary theory is based upon assumptions such as these) that the extreme diversity of the anatomy and physiology of the baleen versus the toothed whales can be explained by simply stating, “baleen whales sift their food while toothed whales chew their food.”

Remember, creationists and evolutionists examine the exact same data. We are approaching the data from the paradigm of our own particular worldview. Your worldview (or core belief system) will affect how you interpret any data, and it will also have a huge effect on your conclusions.

Creationists and Intelligent Design theorists are coming from a common premise. Both believe that similarities in structure and function are based upon a common blueprint. These similarities are not evidence of common descent, but rather a Creator who designs life to “be fruitful and multiply,” Gen. 1:22, 28, 8:17, 9:1, 7, 28:3, 35:11, 48:4; Lev. 28:9. That is the reason that there are genetic similarities tying all living organisms together. They are all designed by their Creator to “reproduce after their various kinds,” Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25, 7:14.

So, while the retention of enamel specific genes such as enamelin by modern baleen whales would indeed be a prediction of Darwinian evolutionary theory, it is also a prediction of the creationist model. Adaptability is, after all, built in to the DNA of all living organisms. It is the built-in ability to continue to be fruitful and multiply in a sin-cursed world. Adaptability is not, (as evolutionists want us to think) evidence of macroevolution, e.g. the kinds of changes necessary to support a continuum of life from microorganisms to men. There is no way for Darwinian Theory to defy the law of biogenesis, and then after defying the principle that life only arises from other living organisms, they propose changes that challenge the laws of physics as well. They postulate changes in organisms that defy the second law of thermodynamics by proposing that existing life forms can morph into ever-more complex organisms.

So what is baleen made of, and is it the result of teeth loss?

First we need to explain what baleen actually consists of. Because Darwin’s theory teaches that all life forms are connected, evolutionists believe that baleen is an adaptation for filter-feeding. Baleen becomes stiff plates that grow down from the gums of the upper jaw of these whales by arranging themselves into rows of plates that extend down each side of the mouth. Here are some of the major characteristics of baleen.

  • Baleen is made of keratin (a protein that also composes hair and fingernails). It contains no or enamel or dentine. It is strong, yet elastic.
  • Baleen plates arise in the fetus as thickenings of skin on the upper jaw. At birth, baleen is soft and short, but it soon stiffens.
  • Baleen grows throughout the whale’s lifetime; the terminal end continually wears off.

    Understanding some of the facts concerning baleen will help us decide which model, creation or evolution, makes more sense. According to evolutionary thought, fetal teeth in the Baleen whales are missing from adults. Baleen whale fetuses have teeth and fetal calves have upper front teeth; adult (and probably newborn) baleen whales are toothless (baleen is not teeth), and cows lack upper front teeth. These teeth never erupt and are resorbed as the fetus grows (Talk Origins, 2010). As we shall see, what is often assumed to be evidence from embryology of common descent, can be misleading, i.e. Haeckel’s embryos.

For years evolutionary biologists have insisted that certain structures that appear during the development of human embryos were the result of nature going through the phases of evolutionary development during stages of fetal growth.

The theory of recapitulation is also called the biogenetic law or embryological parallelism and often expressed by the statement “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This is a hypothesis that, with different formulations, has been applied to several fields, including biology, anthropology (Carneiro, 1981) and education theory (Egan, 1997). For its application to biology, there is a “strong” formulation that has been discredited, but the general idea has been substantiated.

If you think the above-noted statement is a clever bit of doubletalk, you are not alone. It clearly attempts to have it both ways, i.e. it has been discredited, but the general idea has been substantiated. The historical background for this can be traced to the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, who in 1866 proposed that the embryonic development of an individual organism (its ontogeny) followed the same path as the evolutionary history of its species (its phylogeny).

For example, Haeckel proposed that the gill slits (pharyngeal arches) in the neck of the human embryo represented an adult “fishlike” developmental stage as well as signifying a fishlike ancestor. Embryonic pharyngeal arches, the invaginations between the gill pouches or pharyngeal pouches, open the pharynx to the outside. Such gill pouches appear in all tetrapod animal embryos: in mammals, the first gill bar (in the first gill pouch) develops into the lower jaw (Meckel’s cartilage), the malleus and the stapes. At a later stage, all gill slits close, only the ear remaining open (White, 2008). But these embryonic pharyngeal arches could not at any stage carry out the same function as the gills of an adult fish.

Back to those fetal teeth of the Baleen whales

So, just like those alleged gill slits in human neonatal development, Baleen whale fetuses have teeth and fetal calves have upper front teeth; adult (and probably newborn) baleen whales are toothless (again, baleen is not teeth), and cows lack upper front teeth. As we have already noted, these teeth never erupt and are resorbed as the fetus grows. Are we really certain that these are teeth that never erupted or tooth buds as they are described? And if they are (as they appear to be) does their existence prove Baleen whales were originally created having teeth that they subsequently lost?

At this juncture, it would be prudent to make some comparisons between the structure and design of baleen and their toothed whale cousins. Baleen is made of keratin, the same substance that is in our hair and nails. In contrast to this, teeth are composed of calcium, phosphorus, and other mineral salts. The material in the majority of out teeth is called dentine. The hard, shiny outer layer is called the enamel. Other than being involved in the ingestion of food, teeth and baleen have very little in common.

So, when all is said and done, the concept that fetal tooth buds are evidence of common ancestry between toothed and baleen whale is based upon conjecture not fact. The fact that there are trace elements of what appear to be budding teeth during fetal development does not mean that these creatures once had teeth to begin with. It is the worldview of naturalism that sees this evidence in the light of Darwinian evolution. Again, the worldview is coloring the interpretation of the facts.

As science continues to unravel the mysteries of molecular biology, I have no doubt that evolutionists will claim every discovery as more evidence in support their materialistic worldview. Don’t let their arrogance fool you; they are embracing an illogical worldview of naturalism that is not supported of the facts.

Pastor Steve Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D. (c)
Chief Technical Advisor


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