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Updated on December 7, 2010

Fossils are primary evidence used for evolution.  But fossils are also used by creationists as evidence for Noah’s flood and against evolution.  One source of information, two divergent and contrary conclusions.  Which is correct?

In his book “The Neck of the Giraffe”, Frances Hitching begins with fossils, specifically “The Missing Fossils”.  Now let’s be clear, Frances Hitching was not a creationist; his book was not intended to promote creationism but rather a greater interest and examination of evolution.  Even so he noticed that there were several difficulties with using fossils in support of Darwinian evolution.  First of all, “the fossils go missing in all the important places.”  “Indeed, if it is really true that there are “thousands” of intermediates, and “more are discovered each year,” it is curious that evolutionists seem to be growing less sure, rather than more sure, bout how one thing evolved into another.”

One of the first difficulties in the fossil record is the transition from unicellular creatures to multicellular creatures.  A bacterium is unicellular.  In the standard theory of evolution a single celled organism was the first living thing.  From that single celled creature multicelled creatures evolved.  There are fossils of single celled creatures, but as the search for multicelled organisms continues there are no two celled creatures, no four celled, no eight celled, nor for that matter are there 3, 5, or 7 celled creatures.  The transition is much larger than that, and yet there are no transitional fossils, if fossils of the one celled creatures survive why not the two, three or more?  What may be even more disturbing is that evolution is supposed to be an ongoing process, so why are there no living transitions?

If you go online and look up transitional fossils you will find that there are many.  Quite the opposite of what Frances Hitching claimed and what young earth creationists claim.  My son’s high school biology text book says “The fossil record, however, rarely reveals fossils that show this gradual transition.  Instead, palaeontologists most often find species that appear suddenly in the fossil record and then disappear from the record just as abruptly.”  Hmm, not what you would expect from reading the articles on the internet, many of them on university sites.  Perhaps the difficulty lies in a difference of understanding.  Many of the fossils purported to be transitional in popular articles are referred to as intermediate in academic articles and books.  These are not the same thing.

We would expect that there are two kind of transitional fossils, one that is changing from something else and one that is changing into something else.  Put another way, the transition will be either closer to its ancestor or closer to its descendant.  As we noticed above with single celled organisms there are no transitions, no single digit transitions (2, 3, 4, 5 etc) coming from that original ancestor and no two digit (10, 20, 30 etc) transitions going to a descendant.  The fossils that are purported to be transitional tend to be transitional within a kind, i.e. whales and horses.

One of the major difficulties for evolution is the transition from the Precambrian to Cambrian eras.  The Cambrian is the geological era where fossils begin showing up in earnest.  Most of the phyla are present and there are fossils of soft-bodied, shelled, invertebrate and vertebrate creatures.  There are no transitional fossils.  The appearance of fossils in the Cambrian rocks is often referred to by palaeontologist as “sudden” and “explosive”.  As we would expect at least two kinds of fossils between single celled organisms and multi celled organism so we would expect at least two kinds of fossils between soft bodied and shelled organisms.  We would also expect the same two kinds of fossils from invertebrates (no skeleton) to vertebrates (having skeletons).  While hypothetical lineages have been proposed there have been no fossils found that show these transitions.

As the evolutionary time table advances the number of examples of what should be obvious candidates for transitional forms grows, as does the number of missing transitional fossils.  The issue of dinosaur evolution was brought to my attention when we bought a book on dinosaurs for one of our sons.  The book, written for young children, stated that dinosaur evolution was well known.  As this was something I had never heard before I went to the public library and got the latest book on dinosaurs published by the Dinosaur Society.  That book, written for adults, stated that little was known about dinosaur evolution.  It is a dichotomy that commonly appears in the discussion of evolution, one thing appears in articles, books, and documentaries for children and the general public, and a completely different and contradictory thing in articles and books for those knowledgeable on the subject.

Specific examples are flying reptiles (pterosaurs), swimming reptiles (ichthyosaurs), turtles and snakes.  Each of these creatures is notably different from those it shares its habitat with and therefore any transitional fossils should easily stand out from ordinary fossils.  Remember that there are two kinds of transitional fossils that should be apparent, those coming from an ancestor and those going to a descendant.  Neither of these transitional fossils can be found, flying reptiles appear ready to fly, swimming reptiles ready to swim, turtles have always been turtles and snakes have always been snakes.  The fossil record was a problem for Darwin when he penned “On the Origin of Species” and has remained a problem despite loud denials to the contrary.  It was the recognition of this problem that led to the formulation of the theory of Punctuated Equilibrium where the absence of evidence becomes evidence of a slightly different evolution.  Basically, punctuated equilibrium hypothesizes long periods of evolutionary stability (equilibrium) punctuated by short periods of very rapid evolutionary change which are too short and too rapid to leave fossils.

The fossil record as evidence for evolution leaves much to be desired.  Not only was the evidence poor in Darwin’s day but it has gotten worse since then, the fossil record becoming more complete.  One of the books I consulted indicated that there were at the time of its publication 100,000 fossil species, that was in 1985, now there are estimated to be 250,000 fossil species and none of them are clear transitions.

The failure of evidence for a theory does not necessarily prove a competing theory true.  In this case, however, the failure of the evidence is predicted by the competing theory.  In a later hub I will examine the fossil evidence for recent creation but the evidence reviewed above should at least be pause for consideration of alternative theories to neo-Darwinian evolution.




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    • Michael Adams1959 profile image

      Michael Adams1959 7 years ago from Wherever God leads us.

      I kinda think it is interesting there are 5 evolution theories, each one different and each one contradicts and disproves the other. All talk about the dinosaurs and each is different in its' view.