Cats did not evolve 80 million years ago

I mined the rich vein of ignorance and inanity that is Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, and only got as far as one page before I was stunned into silence. He made a claim about cat evolution that even my evil cat found repugnant.

You know the Felidae are a fairly recent clade, appearing in the late Miocene, right?

Script below the field if you’d rather not watch video.

I’ve been away for a while, visiting family, so I’ve been neglecting the channel. I’m back now, though, and thought I’d throw something together on this rainy July day. On the day I got back, I got word that Adnan Oktar, also known as Harun Yahya, had been arrested in Turkey, so I thought I’d say a bit about that.

Oktar’s main claim to fame is as an infamous Islamic old earth creationist. His “work” is remarkably derivative, just warmed over American creationism, with nothing notable to say about it, other than two unique features.

One is that Oktar is a weird old horndog who kept a harem of “kittens” — his word for them — young women who were heavily made up in a Western style, and reportedly shaped with plastic surgery to conform to Oktar’s standards of beauty. They were featured on Oktar’s A9 television channel, having discussions that disparage evolution and praise Islam, which are creepy to watch. The women are strangely detached as they recite lines, or Oktar has them dance for him.

The second notable thing is that he somehow had huge amounts of money, and used it to sponsor conferences. His organization once invited me to one, and I was tempted — a free vacation in Istanbul, one of the great cities of the world that has long been on my bucket list? Yes, please. But no, I turned them down because a) they’d just use me as a prop to enhance the credibility of nonsense, and b) Turkish blasphemy laws. I’d probably say something that would get me thrown into a Turkish prison.

One of the things he used his money for was this, his masterpiece, the Atlas of Creation. Look at this monster: it weighs over 6kg, it’s an oversized hardbound book, printed on glossy, heavy stock with every page a full color set of images. I have no idea what this cost, but it’s no Jack Chick tract, and he sent it for free to thousands of scientists all across the US and Europe.

It’s incredibly impractical. Try taking this behemoth to the beach to read — it’s unwieldy and awkward. No one wants to read it, it’s difficult to wrestle with if you do want to, and once you open it you discover that it’s monotonous garbage. Seriously. Pages 44 to 572 — over 500 pages, or almost 2/3 of the book — consist entirely of a photo of a fossil, with a photo of a contemporary species, claiming that this is proof that evolution hadn’t occurred. Over and over. It’s incredibly boring. So you’re not going to find many detailed refutations of the claims in this book, because no one could slog through this dreary mess. I couldn’t, that’s for sure. It’s a joke book that sits on my shelf as a novelty.

I thought I might dive into this book for this video, but unfortunately, it gave me a terminal case of malaise. Sorry, gang. It’s just too repetitive and too stupid. I had to abort my scrutiny of the book unless I wanted to die of ennui. It desperately needed belly-dancing kittens or something because there’s just no point to reading it, it is soooo baaad.

I’ll give you one example. It’s dishonest and ignorant and exactly why you can’t trust anything in it.

“This 80 million year old leopard skull proves that leopards have always existed as leopards”, it says.

Wait a moment, you should be thinking, a Cretaceous leopard? Seriously? Then I remembered this 2013 paper about a new fossil found on the Tibetan plateau that had vertebrate taxonomists in a tizzy because it pushed the evolution of big cats farther back than they expected. This is Panthera blythae, a small beast resembling the snow leopard in many ways. It’s 4 1/2 million years old. That’s old for a cat fossil — it was announced as the oldest big cat fossil found. An 80 million year old leopard would be astonishing.

Furthermore, we can look at the overall phylogeny of cats and see that these groups arose 10-20 million years ago. There are no 80 million year old cats. What we find at the beginning of the paleocene are miacoids, a paraphyletic mess of a group that includes species that would evolve into the diverse forms of modern carnivores. No cats. No dogs. Those all come much later.

It’s not until the oligocene that we see an early radiation of the feliforms…but that includes groups like the civets (viverridae), the genet (nindiniidae), and the mongoose (herpestidae), as well as the true cats. These are animals that seem to be united by egregious cuteness. Well, except for the hyanidae. (Yeah, hyenas are feliforms).

The cats themselves experience a radiation in the late Miocene — that is, about 10 million years ago. They have radically changed form since 65 million years ago, and even within the last 10 million years have diverged as much as our house cat is different from a panther.

That tells you all you need to know about Adnan Oktar. He doesn’t do the most basic research into a subject and then he confidently uses his ignorance to tell you that evolution is defunct. And he does it in the most foolish way possible.

“No leopard, for instance, thought to itself “I can run very fast, so why don’t I alter my skeletal structure and become an athlete?”, promptly changed its anatomy, and won an Olympic medal!”

Yeah, right. That’s the quality of the thought we get from creationists.


Johnson WE, Eizirik E, Pecon-Slattery J, Murphy WJ, Antunes A, Teeling E, O’Brien SJ. (2006) The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment. Science 311(5757):73-7.

Tseng ZJ, Wang X, Slater GJ, Takeuchi GT, Li Q, Liu J, Xie G. (2013) Himalayan fossils of the oldest known pantherine establish ancient origin of big cats. Proc Biol Sci. 281(1774):20132686. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2686.


  1. davidc1 says

    Bastard ,he can say what he likes about other Fauna ,but when he pontificates about moggies that is another matter .
    While we are on the subject of Pontificating ,did that word come about because of the popes .
    PS ,in Richard Dawkins The greatest show on Earth ,it has a sample of the photos in the guys magnum opeless .
    A photo of a fisherman’s fly ,nothing to do with trousers .

  2. blf says

    Pontificating, did that word come about because of the popes[?]

    Yes. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “pontificate” (verb):

    1818, “to act as a pontiff,” from Medieval Latin pontificatus, past participle of pontificare “to be a pontifex,” from Latin pontifex (see pontiff). Meaning “to assume pompous and dignified airs, issue dogmatic decrees” is from 1825. Meaning “to say (something) in a pontifical way” is from 1922.

    Originally, “pontiff” meant “high priest” or “bishop” generally. However, by 1818 (and for some time before), it usually meant the bishop of rome specifically.

  3. leerudolph says

    You know the Felidae are a fairly recent clade, appearing in the late Miocene, right?

    Typo for Meowcine, I assume.

  4. weylguy says

    Once again, Prof. Myers annoyingly uses facts, logic and evidence to counter creationism. Get with the program, Myers! You’re on the Trump Train now!

  5. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin points this is about cats, who have a propensity for hiding in Schrödinger boxes. The cat in the book — not to be confused with the Cat in the Hat — is in a book supposedly about evolution. So the cat, instead of being in a state of alive / dead / annoyed / spherical, either has evolved / is yet to evolve / is still annoyed / is origami.

  6. Walter Solomon says

    I first saw this Oktar character on the show Huang’s World on the Vice network. I didn’t know he was a televagelist. He seemed more like a shock jock Turkish Howard Stern type. That said, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between shock jocks and televangelists — my apologies to the shock jocks.

  7. magistramarla says

    Well, my cats certainly believe that they are more evolved than other species. I’m sure that PZ’s cat agrees.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    There are no 80 million year old cats.

    Obviously our feline friends go back a lot further than that.

    Who do you think kept the Cambrian era from getting overrun by all those damn rabbits?

  9. rq says

    The cat in the book — not to be confused with the Cat in the Hat — is in a book supposedly about evolution.

    I didn’t realize Alice in Wonderland was about evolution. And the cat keeps disappearing without his teeth, but I don’t know any evolutionary advantages to that.

  10. wcorvi says

    “I’ve often seen a cat without a grin, but I’ve never seen a grin without a cat, before” -Alice

  11. says

    To the sound of a string of hysterical moans
    Like a lunatic’s laugh it it said
    The horrid hyena will crack up your bones,
    But he only does this if you’re dead.

  12. blf says

    I didn’t realize Alice in Wonderland was about evolution.

    Yes, the title by which it is commonly-known nowadays muddles the book’s scholarly analysis. The original title, The Abridged Chronicles of the Voyages of The White Rabbit to the Lands of Hypersymbolism and Beyond — A Study of the Many Odd Creatures Found and Their Ecology, frequently abbreviated to One Day in a Rowboat, makes clear the intent. Scholars, however, have always wondered about that “Abridged” and have been searching for an “Unabridged” edition, the so-called Ur-Rabbit, better known as Bunny of the Precambrian (not to be confused with the p0rn comics of a similar name).

    And the cat keeps disappearing without his teeth, but I don’t know any evolutionary advantages to that.

    Diversionary camouflage. The prey is fixated on the teeth, whilst the other cats sneak up on it from behind. The actual puzzle is… co-operating cats ?!

  13. rq says

    co-operating cats

    Yeah, see, this is exactly where your theory falls apart. Next you’ll be telling me they travel in herds.

  14. blf says

    [cats] travel in herds

    Of course not. They travel first class. Their servants are all herded back in cattle class.

  15. quotetheunquote says

    Just wanted to pop in and say that PZ’s cat is a quintessentially cat-like cat. I want him/her.

    But getting back to that horrible OEC book, I have a sincere question, not answered in the video: yes, the thing is clearly a pack of lies, no surprise there, but how does it lie? Is the fossil not a cat, or is it just not 80 million years old?

  16. blf says

    how does it lie? Is the fossil not a cat, or is it just not 80 million years old?

    According to this old (2008) article in Seed Magazine(! I though they were kaput?), One-on-one with the Turkish creationist who uses bad science and bizarre art to spread his vision of a troubled world: “He grossly exaggerates the age of fossils of modern animals, labeling a snow leopard skull as 80 million years old…”. That suggests, assuming it’s the same rubbish poopyhead is talking about, part of the answer is lying about the age — and possibly also about the species and even being a fossil ?

  17. Gregory Greenwood says

    Your cat is clear evidence that even evil has standards, and those standards evidently set too high a bar for creationist idiocy to reach.

  18. chuckonpiggott says

    Cats aren’t too smart for creationism. They only know they are there and that’s all You need to know. Now feed me!!