Shubin’s Inner Fish Can’t Swallow Proper Scientific Interpretation

Neil Shubin is famous for co-discovering the alleged missing link Tiktaalik. Riding his fame and notoriety surrounding the find, he penned a national bestseller titled Your Inner Fish. After reading the book, one cannot help but be aware that Shubin leans excessively on the argument of homology to make his case for human evolution. The basic gist of his book is that fish, worms, amphibians, and a host of other creatures have structures in their bodies that are similar to structures in humans. This similarity, he emphatically proposes, proves that humans have evolved from such creatures—or to put it in the more technical evolutionary sense—from common ancestors of the creatures we know as fish, amphibians, etc.

To illustrate that similarity “proves” common ancestry, Shubin offered the hypothetical, humorous example of a couple he called bozos who give birth to a son with a red, rubber nose. This son passes that nose on to his offspring, one of which also inherits a mutation for huge, floppy feet. He passes on the nose and the feet, as well as a mutation for orange, curly hair to one of his offspring. Shubin concluded from this illustration that the example shows that

descent with modification can build a family tree, or lineage, that we can identify by characters. It has a signature that we immediately recognize…. The key is that the features—orange hair, squeaky nose, big floppy feet—enable you to recognize the groups. These features are your evidence for the different groups, on in this case, generations, of clowns (2009, pp. 175-176).

Shubin extrapolated from that idea: “If our lineage goes all the way back to pond scum, and does so following our law of biology, then we should be able to marshal evidence and make specific predictions. Rather than being a random assortment of creatures, all life on earth should show the same signature of descent with modification that we saw among the bozos” (p. 178).

It is important at this point in Shubin’s argument to notice the fatal flaw. His descent with modification can only work if you assume that all things are related in the first place, which is the very idea that needs to be proved by the evolutionists. His illustration gives an example of individuals that we know are related, and applies that information to creatures that we do not know are related. His illustration completely fails to account for other ways in which organisms may possess common traits without sharing common ancestry.

The most obvious, and long-held explanation as to why organisms possess similarities is that they were created by a common Designer. No one would suggest that since most cars have four wheels, rubber tires, run on gasoline, and use oil as a lubricant, then all cars must somehow be “related.” Even Shubin noted that “the great anatomist Sir Richard Owen” found “exceptional similarities among creatures as different as frogs and people” (p. 30). To what did this great anatomist attribute the fascinating similarities that he saw in these various organisms? As Shubin correctly observed, what Owen saw in the similarities “was the plan of the Creator” (p. 32). Shubin’s book is an unsuccessful attempt to counter Owen’s original assessment that similarity shows common design, not common ancestry. Shubin can only argue otherwise if he jettisons this idea and assumes common descent in order to make his case.

Near the end of his book, Shubin stretches his argument to suggest that things like hiccups or mitochondrial diseases in humans are a result of our evolutionary history. His reasoning is flawed in numerous areas. Shubin, apparently unwittingly, however, offers additional information as to why the concept of a common Designer fits the evidence better than common ancestry. Often, the concept of a common Designer is ridiculed because, the evolutionist contends, why would God make all organisms with the same genetic coding system and numerous similarities? Why would a Creator make yeast, fish, and worms with similar genes and structures as humans? Shubin gives us a very convincing reason. On the last page, just before his epilogue, Shubin notes that many recent Nobel Prizes have gone to individuals for their work on organisms like yeast, worms, or sea urchins. Shubin stated: “These discoveries on yeast, flies, worms, and, yes, fish tell us about how our own bodies work, the causes of many of the diseases we suffer, and ways we can develop tools to make our lives longer and healthier” (p. 198, emp. added). What better way for a Designer to provide humans knowledge of their own bodies, than to supply them with a never ending source of organisms that have similar structures and genes to humans, but that can be used experimentally without any moral apprehension? Sir Richard Owen’s deduction that similarities are perfectly consistent with the concept of a common Designer remains the most reasonable, scientific conclusion.


Shubin, Neil (2009), Your Inner Fish (New York: Vintage Books).


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