Jan 8, 2009 Weakness of Evolution: Massive and Persistent Gaps in the Fossil Record

In This Issue
Science - Massive Systematic Gaps in the Fossil Record
Citizen Involvement - How YOU can help!
"A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts on both sides of each question..." - Charles Darwin in Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Today's installment of our series on well-known scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinian evolution deals with the fossil record.  The fossil record was a disappointment to Darwin himself, but he died with the belief that the gaps would be quickly filled in.

Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.  The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the
geological record.*

150 years later, the gaps remain gaps.  As tens of millions more fossils and fragments have been found and categorized, the "edges" of the gaps have become more distinct, rather than a continuum of fossil features and species being found as evolution would predict.  "[E]xtreme imperfection of the geological record" is no longer a valid excuse.  Read more below.

Also, please continue to help get signers on our petition to the SBOE for the retention of "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas standards. 

Thank you!

Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, 1st edition, (1859).

SCIENCE:  Gaps in the Fossil Record?
Do Massive and Systematic Gaps Remain in the Fossil Record?

During hearings in Austin on September 10, 2003, when asked for an example of a weakness of evolution being included in textbooks, two different pro-evolutionist witnesses responded with "the fossil record". When asked to identify the best strength evidence for evolution, another pro-evolutionist witness responded in part, "The most overwhelming is the fossil record..."[1] Who is correct?

The public school textbooks say a variety of things regarding the fossil record, but most support evolution.  For example,
  • "Since Darwin's time, many of these intermediaries have been found."[2]
  • "Researchers have discovered many hundreds of transitional fossils that document various intermediate stages in the evolution of modern species from organisms that are now extinct."[3]
  • "In many cases, the fossil record confirms that populations of organisms did, indeed, change gradually over time." ... "At several points in the fossil record, changes in animals and plants occurred over relatively short periods of time."[4]
  • "The fossil record provides a record of life on Earth and contains evidence for evolution."[5]

But what about the gaps in the fossil record - the missing links?  These are mentioned to one degree or another in the above texts, but the context usually is that although we have not yet found all of the missing links, they are there.

However, the facts as recorded in the fossil record, well known since Darwin's time, indicate something quite different than a nearly complete series of transitional forms.  Quoting the late Marxist and arch-evolutionist Stephen J. Gould of Harvard,

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology - we fancy ourselves as the only true students of life's history, yet to preserve our favoured account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.[6]

Gould and others went further and developed an alternate theory of evolution called punctuated equilibrium where evolution proceeds in large jumps and jerks rather than the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian small gradual steps.  Their version of evolution was crafted to fit the near-absence of fossil transition data!

Moreover, one of the most prestigious science journals on this planet, the British journal Nature, from time to time weighs in.  In an article in 1993 they investigated a relatively recent evolutionary tree, that of primates, chosen since it was more complete than that of others such as dinosaurs.  The author indicated that there is a "low sampling level" of even primate fossils.  Referring to the last comprehensive study of primate evolution, published only 14 years earlier, they indicated "broad agreement," "universal acceptance," and that an "overwhelming majority of primate paleontologists" agreed on various parts of the standard theories surrounding primate evolution.  However, in less than two decades they challenged this as scientists often do when new evidence becomes available.  Importantly, the Nature author also observed that,

 ...exploration of the possible effects of a low sampling level on interpretations of the primate fossil record ... indicates that radical revision of prevailing views of primate evolution may be inevitable.[7] [Emphasis added

The author goes on to say that "there is still enormous scope for the discovery of new fossil primate species..."[8]

So just how low is the sampling level of this fossil record that is said to be the best evidence for evolution?  The Nature article cites a prior study that showed only 3.8% of assumed primate fossil species were represented by real discovered fossils!  When 'modern' primates were examined the study showed only 3.4% had been discovered.[9] 

The effect on how we view origins and common descent was graphically demonstrated by a hypothetical ancestral tree, shown below, that models a slightly smaller 3% sampling rate.[10]  The dotted overall shape depicts a standard universal common descent tree, with the common ancestor being at the bottom and the modern living species being at the top.  The dotted lines represent the assumed, but not yet found species.  The ten solid lines represent species where fossils have actually been found.  (The 48 solid lines at the top represent those living today, not fossils.)

Primate Fossil Data
Fig. F-1 (from Nature 363).  Low Sampling Level Model.  Solid Lines = Fossil Species Found (possibly fragmentary), Dotted Lines =   Inferred Species
[TBSE note:  relatively poor graphic quality in original.]


Note that not only are the bottom parts of the tree, including the very base (or common ancestor,) missing, but there is no evidence for most of the assumed tree or any direct connections!  In this example, of the approximately 333 assumed ancestral species, evidence has been found for only 10, and those are not directly connected. 

But there is more.  Even the actual fossils, as modeled by the 10 solid lines above, are only fragmentary in most cases.  Thus we are left with the "difficulties of interpreting fragmentary fossils"[11] to infer primate ancestry.  Additionally, rarely have ANY details of organisms been preserved beyond bones and teeth!  Put another way, if we did not have the dotted lines in place (and in the real world we do not,) how could we accurately determine how to connect the lines representing found fossils?

The Nature author, in concluding his discussion on primate evolution, notes:

In the face of major gaps in the fossil record, far-reaching interpretation of fragmentary fossil remains can easily lead to misinterpretation of phylogenetic relationships.[12] [Emphasis added]

Were you told this at school?  Was it or something similar in the textbooks?   Ancestral relationships are not as rock-solid as you and your children may have been led to believe.  The Wall Street Journal reports editorially that: 

A Chinese paleontologist lectures around the world saying that recent fossil finds in his country are inconsistent with the Darwinian theory of evolution. His reason: The major animal groups appear abruptly in the rocks over a relatively short time, rather than evolving gradually from a common ancestor as Darwin's theory predicts. When this conclusion upsets American scientists, he wryly comments: "In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government.  In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin."[13]

So which of the pro-evolutionists' answers is correct?  At the very least, given the contradictory answers and the competing theories of evolution, we should be honest about massive and systematic holes in the fossil record.

Our schools should be teaching the whole truth--both strengths and weaknesses.

[1] Texas Education Agency supplied transcript of the State Board of Education meeting, September 10-11, 2003.
[2] Johnson Raven Biology (Holt), 2004 (proposed draft) p. 283.
[3] Miller - Levine Biology (Prentice Hall), 2004 (proposed draft) p. 383.
[4] Ibid, p. 439.
[5] Biggs - Biology, the Dynamics of Life (McGraw-Hill), 2004 (proposed draft) p 468.
[6] Gould, Stephen J. - Natural History, 1977.
[7] Martin, Robert D., "Primate origins: plugging the gaps", Nature, Vol. 363, 20 May 1993 , p 223.
[8] Ibid, p. 223.
[9] Ibid, inset sidebar " Box 1 ", p. 225.
[10] Ibid, Figure 2, middle portion, p. 226.
[11] Ibid, p. 223.
[12] Martin, Robert D., Nature, op. cit. p. 233.

[13] Johnson, Phillip, The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Company, Inc, Aug 16, 1999 .  [Mr. Johnson is Professor of Law, emeritas, at the University of California , Berkeley , and the author of Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993)].

[NB:  You may direct comments to:  newsletterfeedback2009@strengthsandweaknesses.org]


Your Assistance Is Still Needed on Three Fronts!  

First, please take a minute and sign our "Teach Both Strengths AND WEAKNESSES of Evolution Petition
" here.  It will only take 30 seconds and will help counter the Darwinist dogma that, "No one questions evolution."

, please write a politely worded letter of support to the State Board of Education encouraging them to keep or even strengthen the "scientific strengths and weaknesses" language that has served Texas well for TWENTY YEARS without a single legal challenge.  You might also point out one or two of your favorite weaknesses of evolution theories. SBOE Email: sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us. Other contact information is located here.

Third, mark January 21, 2009 on your calendar.  This is the day public testimony will be taken before the full State Board of Education in Austin.  It is especially important that you consider testifying if you are a teacher or have Ph.D. credentials.  For more information, see:

Thank You!


Texans for Better Science Education - www.strengthsandweaknesses.org