Massive and Systematic Gaps Remain in the Fossil Record?
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..." Who is correct?
The public school textbooks say a variety of things
regarding the fossil record, but most support evolution.
"Since Darwin's time, many of these intermediaries
have been found."
"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."
"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."
"The fossil record provides a record of life on Earth
and contains evidence for evolution."
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
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
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
...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
The author goes on to say that "there is still enormous
scope for the discovery of new fossil primate
So just how low is the sampling level of this fossil
record that is said to be the
evidence for evolution? The
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.
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. 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
lines represent species where fossils have actually been
found. (The 48 solid lines at the top represent those
living today, not fossils.)
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
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" 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
The Nature author, in concluding his discussion on primate
In the face of major gaps in the fossil record,
far-reaching interpretation of
fossil remains can easily lead to misinterpretation of
phylogenetic relationships. [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
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."
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.
 Texas Education Agency supplied
transcript of the State Board of Education meeting,
September 10-11, 2003.
 Johnson Raven Biology (Holt), 2004
(proposed draft) p. 283.
 Miller - Levine Biology (Prentice
Hall), 2004 (proposed draft) p. 383.
 Ibid, p. 439.
 Biggs - Biology, the Dynamics of Life
(McGraw-Hill), 2004 (proposed draft) p 468.
 Gould, Stephen J. -
 Martin, Robert D., "Primate origins:
plugging the gaps",
Nature, Vol. 363, 20 May 1993 , p 223.
 Ibid, p. 223.
 Ibid, inset sidebar " Box 1 ", p.
 Ibid, Figure 2, middle portion, p.
 Ibid, p. 223.
 Martin, Robert D.,
Nature, op. cit.
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)].
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