What Does the Fossil Record Show

Can the theory of evolution be proven? After all, it is called the theory of evolution in acknowledgment of the fact that it is not a confirmed scientific law.

Where can we find evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the teeming variety of life on earth?

Since evolutionists claim that the transition from one species to a new one takes place in tiny, incremental changes over millions of years, they acknowledge that we cannot observe the process taking place today. Our lifespans simply are too short to directly observe such a change. Instead, they say, we have to look at the past—the fossil record that shows the many life-forms that have existed over earth's history— to find transitions from one species to another.

Darwin's greatest challenge

When Charles Darwin proposed his theory in the mid-19th century, he was confident that fossil discoveries would provide clear and convincing evidence that his conjectures were correct. His theory predicted that countless transitional forms must have existed, all gradually blending almost imperceptibly from one tiny step to the next, as species progressively evolved to higher, better-adapted forms.

Indeed that would have to be the case. Well in excess of a million species are alive today. For all those to have evolved from common ancestors, we should be able to find millions, if not hundreds of

The fossil record contains many species, each perfectly formed and well-suited to its environment. Paleontologists admit that the fine gradations of transitional forms that should exist if Darwinism were true cannot be found.

20 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

20 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

millions, of intermediate forms gradually evolving into other species.

It was not only fossils of transitional species between apes and human beings that would have to be discovered to prove Darwin's theory. The gaps were enormous. Science writer Richard Milton notes that the missing links "included every part of the animal kingdom: from whelks to whales and from bacteria to bactrian camels. Darwin and his successors envisaged a process that would begin with simple marine organisms living in ancient seas, progressing through fishes, to amphibians—living partly in the sea and partly on land—and hence on to reptiles, mammals, and eventually the primates, including humans" (Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, 1997, p. 253).

However, even Darwin himself struggled with the fact that the fossil record failed to support his conclusions. "Why," he asked, "if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? . . . Why do we not find them imbedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?" {The Origin of Species, 1859, Masterpieces of Science edition, 1958, pp. 136-137).

"The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, [must] be truly enormous," he wrote. "Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum 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 the theory" (Darwin, pp. 260-261).

Darwin acknowledged that the fossil record failed to support his conclusions. But, since he thought his theory obviously was the correct explanation for the earth's many and varied forms of life, he and others thought it only a matter of time before fossilized missing links would be found to fill in the many gaps. His answer for the lack of fossil evidence to support his theory was that scientists hadn't looked long enough and hadn't looked in the right places. Eventually they would find the predicted fossil remains that would prove his view. "The explanation lies, I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record," he wrote (p. 261).

He was convinced that later explorations and discoveries would fill in the abundant gaps where the transitional species on which his theory was based were missing. But now, a century and a half later, after literally hundreds of thousands of fossil plants and animals have been discovered and cataloged and with few corners

What Does the Fossil Record Show?

of the globe unexplored, what does the fossil record show?

What the record reveals

David Raup is a firm believer in evolution and a respected paleontologist (a scientist who studies fossils) at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum. However, he admits that the fossil record has been misinterpreted if not outright mischaracterized, stating: "A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low-level textbooks, semi-popular articles, and so on. Also, there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions. In general, these have not been found— yet the optimism has died hard, and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks" (Science, Vol. 213, July 1981, p. 289, emphasis added).

Niles Eldredge, curator in the department of invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor at the City University of New York, is another vigorous supporter of evolution. But he finds himself forced to admit that the fossil record fails to support the traditional evolutionary view.

"No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long," he writes. "It seems never to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yields zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change—over millions of years, at a rate too slow to really account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history.

"When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the organisms did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on someplace else. Yet that's how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution" (Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory, 1995, p. 95, emphasis added).

After an immense worldwide search by geologists and paleontologists, the "missing links" Darwin predicted would be found to bolster his theory are still missing.

The late Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould is perhaps today's best-known popular writer on evolution. An ardent

22 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

22 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

evolutionist, he collaborated with Professor Eldredge in proposing alternatives to the traditional view of Darwinism. Like Eldredge, he recognized that the fossil record fundamentally conflicted with Darwin's idea of gradualism.

"The history of most fossil species," he wrote, "includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism [gradual evolution from one species to another]:

"[1] Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional [evolutionary] change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear; morphological [anatomical or structural] change is usually limited and directionless.

"[2] Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors: it appears all at once and 'fully formed"' ("Evolution's Erratic Pace," Natural History, May 1977, pp. 13-14, emphasis added).

Fossils missing in crucial places

Francis Hitching, member of the Prehistoric Society and the Society for Physical Research, also sees problems in using the fossil record to support Darwinism.

"There are about 250,000 different species of fossil plants and animals in the world's museums," he writes. "This compares with about 1.5 million species known to be alive on Earth today. Given the known rates of evolutionary turnover, it has been estimated that at least 100 times more fossil species have lived than have been discovered . . . But the curious thing is that there is a consistency about the fossil gaps: the fossils go missing in all the important places.

"When you look for links between major groups of animals, they simply aren'/ there; at least, not in enough numbers to put their status beyond doubt. Either they don'/ exist at all, or they are so rare that

Even the earliest forms of life found in the fossil record, such as this trilobite, are extraordinarily complex, far from the primitive forms predicted by Darwinism.

endless argument goes on about whether a particular fossil is, or isn't, or might be, transitional between this group and that. . .

"There ought to be cabinets full of intermediates—indeed, one would expect the fossils to blend so gently into one another that it would be difficult to tell where the invertebrates ended and the vertebrates began. But this isn't the case. Instead, groups of well-defined, easily classifiable fish jump into the fossil record seemingly from nowhere: mysteriously, suddenly, full-formed, and in a most un-Darwinian way. And before them are maddening, illogical gaps where their ancestors should be " (The Neck of the Giraffe: Darwin, Evolution and the New Biology, 1982, pp. 9-10, emphasis added).

Acknowledging that the fossil record contradicts rather than supports Darwinism, professors Eldredge and Gould have proposed a radically different theory they call "punctuated equilibrium," maintaining that bursts of evolution occurred in small, isolated populations that then became dominant and showed no change over millions and millions of years. This, they say, is the only way to explain the lack of evidence for evolution in the fossil record.

As Newsweek explains: "In 1972 Gould and Niles Eldredge collaborated on a paper intended at the time merely to resolve a professional embarrassment for paleontologists: their inability to find the fossils of transitional forms between species, the so-called 'missing links.' Darwin, and most of those who followed him, believed that the work of evolution was slow, gradual and continuous and that a complete lineage of ancestors, shading imperceptibly one into the next, could in theory be reconstructed for all living animals . . . But a century of digging since then has only made their absence more glaring ... It was Eldredge and Gould's notion to call off the search and accept the evidence of the fossil record on its own terms" ("Enigmas of Evolution," March 29, 1982, p. 39, emphasis added).

As some observers point out, this is an inherently unprovable theory for which the primary evidence to support it is lack of evidence in the fossil record to support transitional forms between species.

Fossil record no longer incomplete

The fossil record has been thoroughly explored and documented. Darwin's excuse of "extreme imperfection of the geological record" is no longer credible.

How complete is the fossil record? Michael Denton, a medical

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