Gaps in the Textbooks’ Coverage of the Fossil Record

Action:  Please contact your child's teachers and principals,  particularly if you are a teacher or work in the school system, and politely advise them that you would WELCOME scientific weaknesses of evolution included in the classrooms as is required by existing Texas law. 

 Another Example – The Fossil Record

Dateline September 10, 2003 , Texas State Board of Education Public Textbook Hearing, Austin , Texas :    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 strongest evidence for evolution, another pro-evolutionist witness, responded in part, “The most overwhelming is the fossil record…”[1] Who is correct?

 The books say a variety of things regarding the fossil record, but mostly support evolution.  For example,   

 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 we have not found all of the missing links.

 However, the true facts, well known since Darwin’s time, say something else.  Quoting the late 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]

Moreover, one of the most prestigious science journals on this planet, the British journal Nature, from time to time weighs in.  Referring specifically to a relatively recent evolutionary tree, that of primates, they indicated that there is a ‘low sampling level’ of primate fossils.  Referring in 1993 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 were challenging this, as science often does, when new evidence became available.  Importantly, however, they 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 actually 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 ‘descent from a common ancestor’, with the common ancestor being at the bottom and the modern living species being at the top.  The dotted lines representing the assumed, but not yet found species.

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.  Above is scanned directly from the British science journal Nature.]

Note that not only are the bottom parts of the tree, including the very base, (or common ancestry) missing, but there are no vertical or horizontal ‘links’ between any of the actually found (or observed) fossils!  Only the 10 solid lines represent found fossils out of the approximately 333 assumed ancestral species. 

But there is more.  Even the actual fossils, as modeled by the 10 solid lines above, are only fragmentary in most cases.  So we are left with “difficulties of interpreting fragmentary fossils”[11] to infer primate origins with unconnected fossil lines, which of course almost always consist of bones and teeth alone!  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 are being 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-evolutionist witnesses is correct?  Maybe they all are.  The fossil record might be both the strongest evidence for and the biggest weakness against evolutionary theory.  Think about it.


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