Problems with the Theory of Evolution: The Fossil Record

“The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [must] be truly enormous.”-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (emphasis mine)

Does the fossil record support the Theory of Evolution?

 `According to the theory of neo-Darwinian evolution (NDE), all life that we see today, and all of the extinct species that have been found in the fossil record, plants and animals alike, evolved from a “simple” single-celled organism (which itself evolved through chemical evolution through abiogenesis). This “simple” life-form is referred to as the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). The problem seems to be, if this is actually the case, the glaring lack of transitional fossils in the fossil record. It would seem, intuitively, that given this paradigm, that the vast majority of fossils we find would be transitional, but this is not the case. (See the quote at the beginning of this article, and here are some more.) At the time, Darwin himself recognized the problem, and in fact, he considered it the strongest evidence weighing against his theory:

“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 gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”-Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

For instance, scientists claim that fish evolved into amphibians. How many “finely graduated” intermediate organisms would it take to bridge the gap from a true fish to a true quadrupedal amphibian, such as a salamander. Now, I’ll admit, evolutionary artists can paint a convincing picture…

If science imitated art…

…but these artistic pictures are not evidence, only speculation. Also, NDE (the modern synthesis) realizes that these changes have to take place at the molecular level in the cells, via mutation of the animal’s DNA. So although the picture above may look reasonable, it is woefully inadequate to explain the amount of changes necessary to transition from fish to amphibian. Where is the evidence for this unknowable number of transitional organisms? Keep in mind, the transition from fish to amphibian is just one of millions of transitions that have occurred according to Darwin’s theory (NDE).

Darwin rationalized his theory by claiming the fossil record was imperfect, hypothesizing that the intermediates didn’t get fossilized. Again, this seems to be counter-intuitive: if transitional organisms far outnumber those extant and extinct species that we find today and in the fossil record, it would seem that just in light of the law of averages that we would find more transitionals than not. To be fair, scientists have identified some fossils which some have deemed to be transitional (i.e. archaeopteryx, ambulocetus, acanthostega, tiktaalik) and perhaps in a future article we can look at some of these more closely. However, even with these fossils, the overwhelming majority of evidence weighs against Darwin’s idea of a “finely graduated organic chain.”

Darwin’s “incompleteness” hypothesis has since been discounted.

“The record jumps, and all the evidence shows that the record is real: the gaps we see reflect real events in life’s history — not the artifact of a poor fossil record.”-Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution, pg. 59

The leading mechanism that seems to be favored to rescue Darwin’s theory is called “punctuated equilibrium.” Briefly, the claim is that species remain unchanged for long periods of time, known as stasis, and then suddenly and drastically change, perhaps due to a change in environment. Because the changes in the organisms happen so fast, the intermediates somehow escape being fossilized. There are problems with this type of evolution, but the main problem is that if NDE happens at the cellular level, as the theory predicts, then how does it happen as rapidly as proponents of punctuated equilibrium claim? The idea seems to contradict Darwin’s understanding of a “finely graduated organic chain.” Punctuated equilibrium seems to be a case of special pleading, where the changes required are too great for the way the general NDE theory is understood to work in the requisite amount of time, and the transitionals happen so quickly they escape fossilization.

The fossil record is just one area that shows weakness in the NDE theory. I hope to cover more in future articles.

I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).

For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.

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