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.

Are the Origin of Life and Evolution Two Separate issues?

Many times people try to divorce the origin of Life and Evolution as two separate issues. However this is mistaken and misleading.

(This article is the second in a series of articles on evolution, particularly neo-Darwinian evolution. The first article in the series can be found HERE.)

“Darwin never mentioned life’s origin!” This is a common argument one might hear on various blogs and boards when discussing the Origin of Life (OOL) in relationship to neo-Darwinian evolution (NDE). “You have to have life before it can evolve.” However, scientists in the field and professors who teach the subjects realize that the two subjects are inextricably linked. In this article I will attempt to show how one can not simply dismiss the subject of OOL when discussing NDE.

First witness: Wikipedia. I don’t typically recommend Wikipedia for research, especially when looking for information that is controversial or politically charged. However, for subjects for which there seems to be consensus, it can be a good starting place. In the Wikipedia article on evolution, under the evolutionary history of life, the first sub-heading is “Origin of Life“.

Next, we have a well reasoned article written by Greg Laden, at Science Blogs. Mr. Laden concludes:

Most models for the origin of life are very Darwinian. Most have some selection going on, most have some diversification going on, and all, by necessity and definition, have change over time going on. And, it is organic change, because the stuff of life before the primordial animation was organic stuff.

The origin of life is part of evolutionary biology. (emphasis mine)

Tell us what you really think, Greg. Finally, I present to you a website located on the University of California, Berkeley, web site. This series of web pages is dedicated to “understanding evolution for teachers.” Part of this series is on-you guessed it-the Origin of Life. So, now at least you have a few handy resources to refer to when someone tells you that evolution and the origin of life are two separate issues.

The thing is, why do they make such a fuss about it? In a recent article I posted, “Is Science Opposed to Christianity?“, I was told not once but twice that the two subjects can not be discussed jointly: “these are 2 completely different scientific doctrines” and “you confuse abiogenesis with evolution.” I provided these same references for the gentleman who leveled these charges, but as happens so many times in these types of discussions, he simply deflected and refused to acknowledge the evidence offered.

Here are my thoughts on the equivocation: proponents of NDE know that when it comes to OOL, they have no footing whatsoever. As I quoted in my article “The Origin of Life: A Pause for Clarity“,  prominent OOL scientist Eugene Koonin woefully stated:

“However, the origin of life—or, to be more precise, the origin of the first replicator systems and the origin of translation-remains a huge enigma, and progress in solving these problems has been very modest — in the case of translation, nearly negligible However, these advances remain only preliminaries, even if important ones, because they do not even come close to a coherent scenario for prebiological evolution, from the first organic molecules to the first replicator systems, and from these to bona fide biological entities in which information storage and function are partitioned between distinct classes of molecules (nucleic acids and proteins, respectively).”

“In my view, all advances notwithstanding, evolutionary biology is and will remain woefully incomplete until there is at least a plausible, even if not compelling, origin of life scenario.” Koonin, Eugene V. (2012). The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution. , Pearson Education, Inc., Publishing as FT Press Science, New Jersey, page 417. (Emphases mine)

Well said, Dr. Koonin. Notice how low he sets the bar- “plausible… if not compelling.” Conversely, proponents of NDE do feel like they are on solid ground when discussing the neo-Darwinian synthesis. After all, it is widely accepted, there seems to be overwhelming consensus in the scientific community, and it is universally taught in the public school system. However, over the next few articles I will attempt to show some of the areas in which NDE falls far short of explaining life as we see it today.

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.

Thank you for your time!

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