Evolution and the fossil record

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charles darwin's theory of evolution
Charles Darwin wrote: "When we descend to details, we cannot prove that a single species has changed; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory.”[1]

Today there are over one hundred million identified and cataloged fossils in the world's museums.[2] If the evolutionary position was valid, then there should be "transitional forms" in the fossil record reflecting the intermediate life forms. Another term for these "transitional forms" is "missing links".

Despite the large number of fossils available to scientists in 1981, evolutionist Mark Ridley, who currently serves as a professor of zoology at Oxford University, was forced to confess: "In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation."[3]

Charles Darwin admitted that his theory required the existence of "transitional forms." Darwin wrote: "So that the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great. But assuredly, if this theory be true, such have lived upon the earth."[4] However, Darwin wrote: "Why then is not every geological formation and every strata full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory."[5] Darwin thought the lack of transitional links in his time was because "only a small portion of the surface of the earth has been geologically explored and no part with sufficient care...".[6] As Charles Darwin grew older he became increasingly concerned about the lack of evidence for the theory of evolution in terms of the existence of transitional forms. Darwin wrote, "“When we descend to details, we cannot prove that a single species has changed; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory.”[1]

Scientist Dr. Michael Denton wrote regarding the fossil record:

"It is still, as it was in Darwin's day, overwhelmingly true that the first representatives of all the major classes of organisms known to biology are already highly characteristic of their class when they make their initial appearance in the fossil record. This phenomenon is particularly obvious in the case of the invertebrate fossil record. At its first appearance in the ancient Paleozoic seas, invertebrate life was already divided into practically all the major groups with which we are familiar today.[5]

Creationists assert that evolutionists have had over 140 years to find a transitional fossil and nothing approaching a conclusive transitional form has ever been found and that only a handful of highly doubtful examples of transitional fossils exist.[7] Distinguished anthropologist Sir Edmund R. Leach declared, "Missing links in the sequence of fossil evidence were a worry to Darwin. He felt sure they would eventually turn up, but they are still missing and seem likely to remain so."[8]

David B. Kitts of the School of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Oklahoma wrote that "Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them…".[9]

David Raup, who was the curator of geology at the museum holding the world's largest fossil collection, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, observed:

"[Darwin] was embarrassed by the fossil record because it didn't look the way he predicted it would .... Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin, and knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. ... [W]e have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time." - David M. Raup, "Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 50 (January 1979): 22-23, 24-25.
Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (photo obtained from Wikimedia commons, see license agreement)

One of the most famous proponents of the theory of evolution was the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. But Gould admitted the following:

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...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.[10]

The conservative writer Ann Coulter sarcastically quipped concerning Gould's admission about the fossil record, "Lots of real scientific theories have 'secrets.'"[11]

In a 1977 paper titled "The Return of Hopeful Monsters", Gould wrote: "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change....All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt."[12][13]

The senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, Dr. Colin Patterson, put it this way:

Gradualism is a concept I believe in, not just because of Darwin’s authority, but because my understanding of genetics seems to demand it. Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils....I will lay it on the line — there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.[14]

According to Dr. Don Batten, Stephen Gould in 1970s made some admissions that there was a "lack of evidence for phylogeny in the fossils" and that Gould had also claimed a number of that were no indisputable intermediate forms. Dr. Batten states that Gould made these statements when Gould was less concerned about creationists.[12] Dr. Batten also states that "claimed examples of transitional series and intermediate forms received an incisive critique from Gould in the 1970s...."[12] However, Gould's admissions were subsequently widely quoted by creationists.[12] According to Dr. Batton, in 1981 Gould started making intemperate language towards creationists.[15] After having been incessantly quoted by creationist regarding the fossil record, Gould altered his public stance regarding the fossil record and without stating specific examples from the fossil record and using the ambiguous term "larger groups" Gould stated the following in 1981:

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists - whether through design or stupidity, I do not know - as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups."[16]

In 1980, David Woodruff wrote in the journal Science the following: "But fossil species remain unchanged throughout most of their history and the record fails to contain a single example of a significant transition.”[10] The late Ernst Mayr was a prominent Harvard biologist who also served as the director of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr was a staunch evolutionist and atheist[17] who maintained that evolution was a fact, yet in 1982 Mayr was compelled to make the following admission regarding the fossil record in relation to the theory of evolution: "Even the fossil record fails to substantiate any continuity and all novelties appear in the fossil record quite suddenly."[18]

In 1985, Gould was more specific regarding his claim that there were intermediate forms and asserted that Archaeopteryx was an intermediate form.[19] Also, according to Dr. Batten, in 1994 the following occurred in regard to Gould's stance on the fossil record:

"[Gould] abandoned his earlier position that there are no indisputable examples of transitional fossil series, either inter-specific or between major designs, and has embraced the ‘walking whale’ story as evidence for transformation of one species into another. The evidence for this transition is scant, but Gould uncritically accepts the fanciful description of how Ambulocetus natans walked and swam, as given by Thewissen et al."[12]

In 2001, staunch evolutionist Ernst Mayr wrote the following:

Given the fact of evolution, one would expect the fossils to document a gradual steady change from one ancestral form to the descendants. But this is not what the paleontologist finds. Instead, he or she finds gaps in just about every phyletic series. New types often appear quite suddenly, and their immediate ancestors are absent in the geological strata. The discovery of unbroken series of species changing gradually into descending species is very rare. Indeed the fossil record is one of discontinuities, seemingly documenting jumps (saltations) from one type of organism to a different type. This raises a puzzling question: Why does the fossil record fail to reflect the gradual change one would expect from evolution?[20]

As mentioned earlier, one of the more famous alleged transitional fossils claimed by evolutionists is Archaeopteryx. Dr. Alan Feduccia, a world authority on birds and an evolutionist himself, has stated the following regarding Archaeopteryx:

Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleobabble’ is going to change that.[21]

Creation scientists have a number of arguments against Archaeopteryx being a transitional fossil find.[21][22]

A second famous alleged transitional fossil claimed by evolutionists is Tiktaalik. Creation scientists have a number of arguments regarding the fossil find of Tiktaalik not being a transitional find.[23]

For additional information please see:

Fossil record poses a serious problem to evolutionists which Darwinism skeptics challenge

Dr. Carl Wieland is the Managing Director of Creation Ministries International

Creation Ministries International in their Question evolution! campaign declares concerning the fossil record:

Why are the (expected) countless millions of transitional fossils missing? Darwin noted the problem and it still remains. The evolutionary family trees in textbooks are based on imagination, not fossil evidence. Famous Harvard paleontologist (and evolutionist), Stephen Jay Gould, wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology”. Other evolutionist fossil experts also acknowledge the problem., see:

That quote!—about the missing transitional fossils...

How do ‘living fossils’ remain unchanged over supposed hundreds of millions of years, if evolution has changed worms into humans in the same time frame? Professor Gould wrote, “the maintenance of stability within species must be considered as a major evolutionary problem.” — see:

Living fossils: a powerful argument for creation.[24]

Related videos:

Cambrian rocks

The so-called "Cambrian" rocks which contain fossils are a vexing problem for evolutionists. Scientific American called them "Evolutionary biology’s deepest paradox"[25] Creatures found as fossils in these "Cambrian" rocks have no evolutionary ancestors.[25] See: Cambrian rocks.

Supposed alleged transitional fossils are inevitably debunked

One of the tactics which Darwinists use is to promote a handful of alleged transitional fossils of a highly speculative nature which are later debunked.[26] When these handful of spurious transitional fossils are shown to be in error, evolutionists assert another handful of transitional fossils.[26] Students who are indoctrinated into evolution are largely not told of the debunked fossils which later prove to be an embarrassment to the evolutionist community (See: Evolution and Cases of Fraud, Hoaxes and Speculation‎ and Paleoanthropology).

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dr. Walt Brown, Center for Scientific Creationism, References and Notes: Distinct Types
  2. Creation's Tiny Mystery: Chapter 7: Creation Science—a Public Issue
  3. Mark Ridley, 'Who doubts evolution?', New Scientist, vol. 90, 25 June 1981, p. 831
  6. Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, Chapter X: ON THE IMPERFECTION OF THE GEOLOGICAL RECORD
  7. Sir Edmund Leech, Addresing the 1981 annual meeting of the British Association for the advancement of Science, 'Men, bishop and apes'. Nature vol 293, 3 Sep. 1981, p. 19 and 20
  8. Bert Thompson, Ph.D. and Brad Harrub, Ph.D., 15 Answers to John Rennie and Scientific American’s Nonsense—Argument #13
  9. 10.0 10.1 Dr. Walt Brown, Center For Scientific Creationism, References and Notes: Fossil Gaps
  10. Liberals' View of Darwin Unable to Evolve
  11. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Dr. Don Batten, Punctuated Equilibrium: Come of Age?, 1994
  12. Stephen Jay Gould, "The Return of Hopeful Monsters," Natural History 86 (June/July): 22-30
  13. Answers in Genesis, Those fossils are a problem
  14. Dr. Don Batten, Gould Grumbles About Creationist ‘Hijacking’
  15. Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Discover 2 (May 1981)
  16. http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2003/1208mayr.asp
  17. Ernst Mayr, 1982a. Speciation and macroevolution. Evolution 36, page 1120
  18. Stephen Jay Gould, "Not Necessarily a Wing," Natural History 94 (October 1985): 12-25;
  19. Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 14
  20. 21.0 21.1 Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, P.H.D., F.M., Archaeopteryx (unlike Archaeoraptor) is NOT a hoax — it is a true bird, not a “missing link”
  21. http://creation.com/15-questions 15 questions for evolutionists
  22. 25.0 25.1 Creatures found as fossils in ‘Cambrian’ rocks have no evolutionary ancestors. And no new basic body plans have appeared since
  23. 26.0 26.1 The evolutionary parade of ‘missing links’ - The floats keep changing!