How Did the Giraffe Get It's Neck?

Continuing the discussion from What science questions are important to you?:

Well, we do have several stepwise progressions showing the progression of organs. One often cited example is whales, and another is bird feathers/wings. Still, we will usually see gaps in the progression because the fossil record is not complete.

The case of the giraffe’s neck is interesting for a few reasons. See this article:

First, it is common to see arguments that the giraffe’s neck is irreducibly complex, and there could not have evolved.

Second, creationists also argue that the giraffe’s neck evolved by natural processes because it is the same “kind” as many other species without long necks.

Third, it is notable, also, that there is a quite bit more variation in species in the past, which makes a progression much easier to envision.

So this leads to some confusing messaging…

Even Ken Ham used this same language in 2005 about giraffes requiring irreducibly complex features to make a long neck but today identifies the long neck as the product of genetic rearrangements of DNA from an ancestor with a short neck.

Similarly, some YEC creationists wonder if walking whales were on the Ark, and think 4,000 years was enough time for whales all to evolve from non-aquatic mammals.

So, if YEC scientists believe that irreducibly complex structures can evolve, including the giraffe’s neck and whales from non-aquatic mammals, I’m not sure what the scientific difficulty is here.


Thanks for your response Josh. Here is my issue. If evolution gave rise to organs by a gradual stepwise progression it seems to me that the world should be full of these intermediates if not living today (this was to be my next question) but at least in the fossil record. Take any organ. Let me go with the neck of the giraffe example I used before. If an okapi type animal gave rise to the giraffe would you not expect to see thousands – if not millions - of transitional forms leading up to the 6-foot-long neck. Of these thousands I would expect to see many of them go extinct. But should we not expect at least 5% of them to live in enough large numbers to show up in the fossil record? And even if you expect all of them to go extinct and not show up in the fossil record for the giraffe should we not expect some organ – of perhaps millions of unique organs out there – to show this gradual transformation. I am talking about seeing thousands of transitional forms not 3 or 4 like for the whale. When you see 3 or 4 “transitional” forms you never know whether they were unique creatures that are to be expected because the number of species that lived before is so much more than are living today (we are losing more than a 1000 species every year). Given that there were so many more species in the past it seems to me that you are going to see some of them that look like intermediates between what is living today regardless of their origins. As an example the duck billed platypus has characteristics of mammals, reptiles and birds.

Where do we see the gradual formation of a feather or a wing from an animal that didn’t have one? Once a feather or a wing is there I can understand how you could have many variations as the basic structure is there and I can see how you can have horizontal changes in the genetic structure. But it seems to me to make a structure like a wing from scratch you need brand new genetic material introduced with the wing in mind not a ‘let’s see where it will go’ process if you know what I mean. This is where I have problems especially with the law of entropy in mind. Again, it seems to me that there should be thousands of such intermediates. Also, these are intermediates in the direct lineage. If you count the intermediates that ended up in dead ends – as the process is supposed to be trial and error – it should, it seems to me, easily go to the millions.

Please note that I am not making Behe’s or Ken Ham’s irreducibly complex argument. I am simply asking if organs developed by a gradual stepwise process why is it that we don’t see it clearly at least for one organ. Isn’t this – the lack of intermediates – the very reason why Gould and Eldredge came up with the punctuated equilibria theory?


It seems that you didn’t read the article I linked. It answers most of your points already. If you are asking a good faith question, I am happy to engage with you. If you are looking for an argument, I’m not sure this is the right context.

And it is.

No, we don’t expect that at all.

By now, we’d expect 99.99% of them to go extinct.

We do see species with several different size necks in the fossil record, which in this case would be the definition of transitional. Once again, even young earth creationist scientists believe this to be the case, and the linked article explains more. Why do you disagree with them?

We see both feather and wing evolution in the fossil record, and in also some transitions in extant species.

We do.

No, not in the sense you mean it. Rather the rate of change is not constant. There are periods of “rapid” changes (millions to tens of millions of years) followed by periods of relative stability. The rate of change is not constant, but you still see intermediates.

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Josh, please believe me. I am not looking for an argument. I am sorry if I came across that way.

I don’t have a position on what our origins are except to believe that God is ultimately our creator. Although I have spent a fair amount of time on the subject, I am looking from a layman perspective. I don’t have expertise on the subject matter and I want to understand the evolutionary process and the evidence for it. I have a difficult time seeing how it could have happened given the law of entropy but I understand that the law of entropy applies to closed systems and that it is not an impossibility for open systems although evolution, I read, is the only example where this has happened over a long period of time. My problem is that if it did happen then it seems to me the evidence should be obvious. That is the reason for my questions. Please keep this in mind in our discussions.

You are correct that I didn’t read the article you sent. You mentioned 3 things about the article (arguments that the giraffe’s neck is irreducibly complex, creationists also argue that the giraffe’s neck evolved by natural processes because it is the same “kind” as many other species without long necks, that there is a quite bit more variation in species in the past, which makes a progression much easier to envision) which I thought was not relevant to what I am asking. Perhaps the last one did have some relevance. The article was a critique of Ham’s position. I am not a Ken Ham fan so I didn’t read it. But now I did read it but I don’t see the answers to my questions there. Perhaps I missed it. What I gathered from that article was that Ham’s position is that variation is possible and perhaps it was not a giraffe that was in the ark but different members of the family giraffidae. I fail to see how this answers my question regarding the absence of the intermediates that lead to the long neck of the giraffe.

You answered my question regarding the world should be full of these intermediates if not living today but at least in the fossil record by saying “And it is.” If it is, please give me one example of this. You mentioned the feather and the wing in your last post but I didn’t see a reference showing the various intermediates of how the feather or the wing formed from an animal that didn’t. I have read many books on this subject from creationist Duane Gish’s “Evolution: the fossils say ‘NO’” to skeptic (on evolution) Michael Denton’s “Evolution a Theory in Crisis” which I would highly recommend to evolutionist Niles Eldredge’s “The Triumph of Evolution” so I am generally aware that these intermediates are not present in the fossil record. But all these books are dated and it is possible that the latest research show otherwise. So, this is why I am asking.

You said that we would not expect to see thousands of intermediates between an okapi type animal and a giraffe. Why wouldn’t we? Evolution was supposed to occur by imperceptible changes as Darwin said and the genetic content between the okapi and giraffe is huge - chromosomal content is 30 (giraffe) and 44-46 (okapi) as the article you referenced mentioned – so how could this change occur without having thousands of intermediates?

My second question on evolution is coming from the incompleteness of the fossil record; you mentioned that 99.99% of species have gone extinct. By the way, how do we know this 99.99% number without the evolutionary assumption? So, there is the possibility that the reason why we don’t see the thousands of intermediates showing the formation of any organ is because they have all gone extinct. But, why do we not see some of these intermediates (or any of these intermediates) living today? Why did all of them die off and for every single organ or structure. At any stage of the organ it should have been functional and the organism that carried this organ should have multiplied in huge numbers to give rise to the next stage and thus you would expect some of them – certainly not all – to survive today.

Again, I am sincerely seeking answers, not debate.

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Let’s start with this.

  1. Do you believe the earth is millions and millions of years old or just thousands of years old?

  2. What do you meant by an intermediate?

My point is that even young earth creationists now argue that the Giraffe’s neck evolved. That is important to consider. There was enough evidence that many of them are convinced. It isn’t about Ken Ham specifically, but several YEC scientists.

I do think, also, it is worth reading that link carefully.

Sticking to the Giraffe example, read this article, especially Figure 5, noting S. major, an intermediate between Okapi and Giraffe. There are several other intermediates noted.

Why aren’t there thousands of intermediates? For one, I doubt there has been thousands of individuals of this genus unearthed. Figure 5 has 11 species in it, not all but most of the known Giraffids. It is not logically possible to find that many intermediates when have dug up far less individuals.

In the case of human evolution, we’ve been fortunate to dig up thousands of individuals. In this case, there are so many intermediates that it becomes nearly impossible to see any clear lines between species.

Think about this carefully. I haven’t verified those chromosome numbers, but we can go forward with them because they are plausible (horses and zebras are another interesting case).

You are saying there should be thousands of intermediates between 30 chromosomes and 46 chromosomes. How could that even be possible? There is only 15 intermediate states 31, 32, 33…43, 44, 45 between 30 and 46 chromosomes, because they are integers. How could that possibly even be thousands of intermediates between these values?

Moreover, in a single generation, there can be large changes in the number of chromosomes. It is very possible that this change in chromosome numbers happened very quickly, in which case there might only be a few intermediates.

Notice also that okapi have 44-46 chromosomes. This shows correctly that there can be variation within a single species in chromosome number, which makes the change in chromosome number much more plausible. We know for a fact that it is fairly easy for many animals to gain and/or loose chromosomes.

I wonder if your expectations of what science can tell us about the past are too high. Your expectation of thousands of intermediates doesn’t seem like a coherent or logical expectation. How did you come to that expectation?

Okay great. So help me out again with these questions:

I’m not asking #1 to dismiss you but to calibrate this conversation. Even if you are YEC we can have a good conversation, but different questions arise.

Sorry for the late response. My internet was down and I am also spending some time on researching giraffe evolution. I will comment on the paper you sent in my next post but I will start with the two questions you asked.

  1. As I said before I don’t have a position on our origins except that we were created by a creator with design intent. As far as time is concerned, I don’t think we have enough information to conclude - young earth or old - one way or the other not biblically and not scientifically. I think that when all is said and done, we will be really surprised to what the ultimate truth is. Think of Einstein how he revolutionized our entire thinking about time and space. Who knows what is going to come in the next 50 years or even the next 10 years that will blow our minds to the reality of our origins?
  2. By an intermediate I mean ancestors. It doesn’t have to be in the direct line. The point is to show how an organ developed over time. Let me give this scenario. If I started to develop a new organ, say a wing, it will be passed on to my progeny. Over the years many of my descendants will continue to develop this and say in a million years one of them will have a fully formed wing, in addition to other parts of the body streamlined for flight, and will be able to fly. If researches in a million years want to see how this wing formed, they should be able to trace back in the fossil record and see various ancestors showing different stages of this wing development. Certainly, all the stages will not be found but it seems to me there should be enough there to show the clear progression. Also, from the second question I asked you we should be able to see enough intermediates with partly formed wings that survived long enough to be still living in a million years

I will comment on my next post on the paper you sent but I shouldn’t have used the giraffe example to make my point as the okapi has a neck to begin with and one could argue that the giraffe’s neck is only a variation of the okapi neck (they both have 7 cervical vertebrae only with different lengths which I didn’t know till now) and additional information is not required as Ken Ham seems to argue. But what about the ORIGIN of all these organs which requires tremendous amount of information in the DNA to make them.

You are perhaps correct that I am expecting too much from science. When it comes to origins, I do want clear evidence before I accept the theories that are made as they have worldview implications. Another reason I want clear evidence for evolution is that the whole process goes against what we have observed since time began namely natural processes breaks things down not build amazing organs and structures without a system in place to do so. Like the saying goes “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Thanks for engaging me on this. I am hopeful this will be a fruitful conversation unlike I have had with many others on this subject.

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I am puzzled by your question as to how there can be thousands of intermediates between 30 and 46 chromosomes. Correct me if I wrong but chromosomes, as long as they are different from each other, don’t develop instantly in one generation. Or is the thinking that they first get replicated and then modified in which case, it should be fairly similar. New chromosomes require new DNA According to Darwin it is a gradual imperceptible process that is why he said we don’t see evolution happening in a life time or even many life times. If chromosomes have developed going from one generation to the next, we should have seen it in some animal or plant by now. So, my thinking is that many generations are needed to develop a chromosome all the while maintaining function of some sort during the process. That is why, it seems to me, many generations are needed to develop a single chromosome. So, going from 30 to 31 (as long as they are different) would require many generations if it happened one step at a time. I hope I am understanding your question correctly. Actually, I read that the okapi was supposed to have evolved from an animal that had a long neck and may have been on a different branch so this may be a moot point as the okapi may not have been an ancestor of the giraffe. Also, the okapi has 46 chromosomes and the giraffe has 30 where we are experiencing a loss of chromosomes not an addition.

If we go back in generations, we have grand-father, great-grand-father etc. to about 40,000 generations, I read, when we have our first non-human ancestor who only slightly differ from us in looks. So, if in 40,000 generations we can see only small changes in physical appearance how many more generations do we need to go from an okapi type animal to a giraffe where the physical differences are huge. I am not expecting all these intermediates to show up in the fossil record or -as I mentioned in my second question - to be living today but why not just 5% of them or even 1% of them? Again, even if all of them died off for the giraffe why don’t we see the intermediates for some other organ out of perhaps millions of organs in living things.

As far as why some okapis have 44, some 45 and some 46 chromosomes I do not know. Perhaps it is a genetic abnormality like the down syndrome people in humans. However, I read that all of the okapis with different numbers of chromosomes appear to be very normal. I am thinking that some of them are replicates. If they are different from one another they could not have formed in one generation if Darwin is right.

Regarding the paper you cited: It was rather technical and complex and it took many readings, some digesting and looking up some of the terms. But here is what I got out of it. If you take the 7 giraffe subfamilies C3 length-to-width ratios indicate moderate cervical lengthening. That the Giraffidae began with a partially elongated neck, which was further stretched by cranial vertebral lengthening. I also read on Wiki that Giraffa Sivalensis which they said appears to be transitional had a wide variety of neck lengths from 5-12 feet! The high end is almost twice that of the giraffe! I wonder whether that was a mistake. In any case, I fail to see – and I don’t think the paper claims although there were some suggestions – that these were ancestral intermediates. If an animal with a short neck gave rise to the giraffe I like to see hundreds of different size necks leading up to the giraffe. Some, like palaeotragus has only about a 2 feet long neck and this is shown higher up in the line above samotherium (neck size 3.3 feet). That doesn’t appear to fall in line with gradual lengthening of the neck with time.

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There are several ways new chromosomes can form. Often it is by duplicating or rearranging existing chromosomes, and then subsequent divergence. There is an integer number of chromosomes, if we are measuring similarity by number of chromosomes, there is necessarily only a very small number of steps between two species.

Yes, and we have seen it happen in one generation, many many many times.

Well they are different, but also very similar. This is consistent with, for example, duplication followed by divergence.

Well of course it wasn’t. Okapi is a cousin of giraffes, not an ancestor. To see the ancestor, we’d have to find some other fossils.

Depends what you mean by “human”.

The paper I sent you showed you several intermediates.

They are intermediates, but they are not ancestral. They are cousins, not parents. We don’t usually expect to find ancestral intermediates, but cousin intermediates. Of course, there isn’t even a good way to tell the differnece between parents and cousin species in the vast majority of cases.

I’m nearly certain we do not have many fossilized necks. We can’t see hundreds of different sizes if we can only look at a much smaller number.

What we see is a range of intermediate forms, exactly as we expect, and exactly what you did not think existed. They aren’t provably ancestral, because we don’t expect to be able to determine ancestral connections. Rather they are cousins.

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I am aware that chromosomes get duplicated like I said for down syndrome but do they produce new functions that are then transferred to future generations? Please give me an example of this if there are.

“If we go back in generations, we have grand-father, great-grand-father etc. to about 40,000 generations, I read, when we have our first non-human ancestor who only slightly differ from us in looks."

You said, “Depends what you mean by “human”.”

But this is just my issue. If we go back 40,000 generations and there is hardly a change from present day humans and we are not even sure whether to call them human or not as they are similar to us why do we expect short-necked animals to become long-necked giraffes in any less than that time.

Darwin said that innumerable transitional forms must have existed if his theory is true. Since they were not there he appealed to the rarity of the fossil record but I read in Denton’s “Evolution: a theory in crisis” published in 1985 that 100,000 or so fossil species have been found since Darwin. Now 35 years later with new technology I am sure we must have uncovered at least 10 times more (I did a search but couldn’t fine the number). So, my question is, is it unreasonable to ask for the gradual development of just one organ in the record? I can understand for a particular organ like the neck of the giraffe but again why not for some organ. I am also not asking for direct descendants; cousins are fine (you can’t tell the difference as you said) but not just 3 or 4 out of many thousands or even millions, when you include cousins, that should have been there for at least one organ. Again, to my second question, why don’t we see many of them living today. We see hundreds or thousands of species of the same genus living today so why not innumerable transition species showing the gradual development of organs?

Did you see my earlier post giving a response to the two questions you asked? Here is another reason why I don’t have a position on the age of the earth.

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At this point we’ve drifted far off topic. I don’t think this is the right forum for an extended and free ranging debate. Maybe another venue would work better. You initially asked a focused question and I answered it the best I could. Hopefully it was helpful to you.

Yes, Joshua it was helpful. I wanted to stress once more that I was not trying to debate but to get to the strength of the evidence behind the theory. I wish I could have pursued this a little more but I understand the time commitment that would be required on your part. I am retired so I have time on my hands! Thanks for taking the time to engage with me.

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I can tell you that the evidence is very strong. I have no reason to lie to you and you can decide based on my work if I’m trustworthy. That isn’t an appeal to authority, as I’ve explained in far more detail several times if you want to follow along.

That doesn’t end the conversation, because evolution is certainly not the whole story. In the end we know that God created us. Conversations like this are just moments to consider how He might have done so.

But you know that strength of the evidence is in the eye of the beholder. If it was very strong you would not expect people well versed on the subject to question the whole process such as Colin Patterson and some even becoming creationists like Dean Kenyon the author of biochemical predestination.

I am aware that there is plenty of evidence for variation within kinds - sometimes known as microevolution - and I am also aware of indirect evidence for macroevolution but my problem is that the direct evidence is not only not there but it seems to me to go against the theory that says all of life originated from a single cell and transformed due to mistakes in the reproductive process to create all of the life forms we know.