Intelligent Design

Fossil Record, Case Closed?

Spread the love

I am reading Douglas Futuyma’s Evolution, which, like his previous textbook Evolutionary Biology, will probably become the standard college text on evolution. On pages 48 and 49 Futuyma lists the “proofs” of evolution. I find the list interesting not so much for what it includes but for what it excludes – transitions in the fossil record. If the leading college text on evolution no longer appeals to transitions in the fossil record as proof that evolution occurred, is it safe to say that the case on the fossil record is now closed, and the Darwinists have ceded the field to their victorious opponents? Just asking.

32 Replies to “Fossil Record, Case Closed?

  1. 1
    Ryan says:

    Sort of on topic:

    Here’s an interview with Dr. Paul Chien on the Cambrian explosion and the Chengjiang fossil site in China.

    http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9701/chien.html

  2. 2
    BarryA says:

    I also note that Futuyma’s non-inclusion of the fossil record as proof of evolution is consistent with Mark Ridley’s comment: “In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation.” Mark Ridley, “Who Doubts Evolution?” New Scientist 90 (June 25, 1981): 830-1, 830-32.

  3. 3
    HodorH says:

    I don’t get it. How could the fossil record contradict intelligent design? ID itself offers no opinion on the matter of common descent, and all the intelligent proponents (Behe, Dembski, Davison, etc) accept it. Surely the existance of transitional fossils wouldn’t weaken your faith in our position, as principals such as IC and CSI exist independently of historical evidence.

  4. 4
    zapatero says:

    BarryA asks:
    “…is it safe to say that the case on the fossil record is now closed, and the Darwinists have ceded the field to their victorious opponents? Just asking.”

    Not safe at all, Barry.

    Consider the following:

    1. Futuyma’s book contains a 24-page chapter entitled “Evolution in the Fossil Record.”
    2. Futuyma’s previous book, Evolutionary Biology, contains a section entitled “Evidence for Evolution” which lists 14 different lines of evidence for evolution, 3 of which concern the fossil record.
    3. Evolutionary Biology contains a 38-page chapter called “Evolving Lineages in the Fossil Record”.
    4. Ridley’s book has a chapter, “The Evidence for Evolution”, which refers repeatedly to the fossil record.

    It may be true that the fossil record is emphasized less these days, simply because the evidence from other areas (particularly from modern molecular biology) is so strong. As Dawkins puts it:

    “In spite of the fascination of fossils, it is surprising how much we would still know about our evolutionary past without them. If every fossil were magicked away, the comparative study of modern organisms, of how their patterns of resemblances, especially of their genetic sequences, are distributed among species, and of how species are distributed among continents and islands, would still demonstrate, beyond all sane doubt, that our history is evolutionary, and that all living creatures are cousins. Fossils are a bonus… At the same time, if we had only fossils and no other evidence, the fact of evolution would again be overwhelmingly supported. As things stand, we are blessed with both.”

  5. 5
    Fross says:

    who are these “opponents” that deny the existence of “transitional” fossils, or fossils that fit what you’d expect to see from a common descent pattern?

    The only ones I can think of that take a firm stance of lack of transitions are biblical creationists.

  6. 6
    johnnyb says:

    HodorH —

    Transitional fossils are used to argue _gradualism_. ID is not a gradualistic theory, whether or not common descent is the case. Read my earlier posting about ID and transitional forms for a fuller view of the ID position.

  7. 7
    Emkay says:

    The “fossil record” may not be as good a chronological account of earth’s past as has been generally assumed. Laboratory experiments replicating the processes of sedimentation and the formation of strata, and conducted at Colorado State University by independent French researcher Guy Berthault, reported these findings:
    “It was discovered that where there is a current: (1). Strata can form laterally and vertically at the same time;
    (2). Strata can form in the same way as sequences of facies; (3). Strata are not always a measure of chronology.”
    Berthault said the facts from his experiments showed clearly that:
    A. “Superposed strata do not always result, according to [generally accepted] beliefs, from successive layers of sediment; consequently the principle of superposition does not always apply to strata formed in a current.”
    B. “Stratification formed parallel to a slope exceeding an angle of 30°, can invalidate the principle of original horizontally. Inclined strata are not necessarily, therefore, the result of subsidence or uplift.”
    A report on Berthault’s work, and associated links, is posted on the ICR website. The large scale experiments were conducted at the modern hydraulics laboratory of the Colorado State University at Fort Collins with Pierre Julien, a sedimentologist, in charge of the experiments. They took place in large glass-walled flumes, which allowed observation and filming from above and through the sides of the tanks
    (Useful References: Berthault G. 1986, “Sedimentology—experiments on lamination of sediments,” C.R. Acad. Sc. Paris, 303 II, 17, 1569-1574. Berthault G. 1988, “Sedimentation of heterogranular mixture—experimental lamination in still and running water,” C.R. Acad. Sc. Paris, 306, II, 717-724. Julien P, Lany, Berthault G., 1993, “Experiments on stratification of heterogeneous sand mixtures,” Bulletin of the Geological Society, France, 164-5, 649-660.)

    Nineteenth century geologists postulated the “geological column” on the assumption that successive layers of superposed strata were evidence of a succession of time periods. Not quite. Berthault’s experiments on strata formation show that a host of dynamics is at play – speed of current, weight and size of particles in the water, terrain – and these can lay down a strata column as deep as 12 feet in 48 hours. A person coming upon this stratified “geological column” 50 years later might at first glance assume it to be the record of centuries of “the slow process of sedimentation”.

  8. 8
    HodorH says:

    JohnnyB-

    Why is ID not a gradualistic theory? Whether preplanned or random, I see no reason why ID should predict sudden changes in species sans intermediates. I mean, shouldn’t a young earth creationist such as yourself expect lots of transitional species to have existed –not just forming large jumps– but to make small changes leading from one species to another? Isn’t this necessary to fit all those animals on the ark, so that not all those closely related species of today would have to be represented?

  9. 9
    Larry Fafarman says:

    The Darwinists appear to be trying to avoid controversy by quietly dropping claims that no longer appear to be tenable and then hoping that no one will notice. For example, Darwinists used to hold that evolution was driven solely by random mutations (or — more generally — natural genetic variation) and natural selection, but now often claim that evolution was driven solely by natural selection.

  10. 10
    Chris Hyland says:

    Futuyma and Mark Ridley are bioiglists so they tend to deemphasise fossil evidence, and focus on that from their fields, which is what most biologists do in my experience. If you talked to a paleontologist you might get a different story. When people use the fossil record as evidence for evolution they don’t mean evolution as opposed to ID they generally mean evidence for common descent. What the fossil record could have done of course is completely disproved the theory.

  11. 11
    BarryA says:

    Fross,

    How about Darwin:

    “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 . . .”
    Origin of Species, chapter 6.

    or Simpson:

    “This regular absence of transitional forms is not confined to mammals, but is an almost universal phenomenon, as has long been noted by paleontologists.” George Gaylord Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), 105, 107.

    or Gould:

    “All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.” Stephen Jay Gould, “The Return of Hopeful Monsters,” Natural History 86 (June/July 1977): 24, 22-30.

    or Raup:

    “Darwin predicted that the fossil record should show a reasonably smooth continuum of ancestor-descendant pairs with a satisfactory number of intermediates between major groups Darwin even went so far as to say that if this were not found in the fossil record, his general theory of evolution would be in serious jeopardy. Such smooth transitions were not found in Darwin’s time, and he explained this in part on the basis of an incomplete geologic record and in part on the lack of study of that record. We are now more than a hundred years after Darwin and the situation is little changed. Since Darwin a tremendous expansion of paleontological knowledge has taken place, and we know much more about the fossil record than was known in his time, but the basic situation is not much different.”

    David M. Raup, “Geological and Paleontological Arguments,” in Scientists Confront Creationism, ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, 156 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983).

    or Schwartz:

    “[We] are still in the dark about the origin of most major groups of organisms. They appear in the fossil record as Athena did from the head of Zeus – full-blown and raring to go, in contradiction to Darwin’s depiction of evolution as resulting from the gradual accumulation of countless infinitesimally minute variations, which, in turn, demands that the fossil record preserve an unbroken chain of transitional forms.” Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999), 3.

    or Barnes:

    “The fossil record tells us almost nothing about the evolutionary origin of phyla and classes. Intermediate forms are non-existent, undiscovered, or not recognized.” Robert Barnes, “Invertebrate Beginnings,” Paleobiology 6 1980): 365-70.

    Quotations from eminent Darwinists to the same effect could be multiplied Ad nauseam (some probably think I’ve already gone beyond that point).

  12. 12
    Scott says:

    What is the bottom line… It is that the gradualistic model of Darwinian Evolution demands an abundance of transitional forms in between “species”. And yet the record remains silent in this regard. Rather than an abundance, we have a dearth.

    Ad hominem references to Creationist arguments won’t do. The record is what it is – the abrupt appearance of distinct and novel body plans. And this would support the notion that quantum level programming is behind it all.

  13. 13
    Mats says:

    Ah, but Barry, little did you know that evolution means only “change over time”. Try to refute that with the fossil record. Ha! 😉

  14. 14
    Joseph says:

    A biological theory should explain the biological data. Once the biological data is explained via scientific rigor then we can try to make sense out of the fossil record. To use the FR to try to make sense of biology is like putting the cart before the horse.

    How was it (the fossil record) formed?
    Does the presence of terrestrial animals in the FR tell a story about catastrophes?
    Do those catastrophes refute gradualism? IOW were the strata laid down over eons or hours/ days?
    Then there is the fact that fossils cannot tell us anything about a mechanism.
    Also classifying “transitionals” may say more about our classification system then it does about any apparent lineage.

    Bottom line- it is correct not to use the FR as “proof” for anything except that those animals (fossilized remains) were once alive on this planet.

  15. 15
    BarryA says:

    Chris Hyland

    You might recognize a few paleontologists among those quoted in my previous comment.

    Futuyma appeals mainly to homology and hierarchical organization as proofs of evolution. With homology it seems that his proof is a nice tight unbreakable circle of reasoning. “Homologous characters result from common descent. How do we know the characters are homologous? Because they result from common descent of course.” Hierarchical organization at best gives rise to an inference of common descent; it certainly does not “prove” the inference is accurate. Futuyma also resorts to the good old “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” line, and here I was thinking that one had been put to rest with the exposure of Haeckel’s fraud.

    Futuyma’s proofs are all built upon inferences that rest on assumptions. What is common to all of the proofs is that they are impervious to falsification by evidence of what actually happened in the past – i.e., the fossil record – because they do not rely on evidence about what actually happened in the past. Does it seem passing strange to anyone else that the paradigmatic scientific theory about what happened in the past now seems to exist completely apart from – indeed disdains reference to – the only real evidence we have about what happened in the past?

  16. 16
    BarryA says:

    Zapatero

    You are missing my point. Of course Futuyma talks about the fossil record. I never said he didn’t. My point is that when it comes to listing the “proofs” of evolution on pages 48 and 49, the fossil record is conspicuous in its absence.

    Evolution can be proved without reference to the fossil record? It’s just a bonus? Piffle. I will leave you with Grasse:

    “Zoologists and botanists are nearly unanimous in considering evolution as a fact and not a hypothesis. I agree with this position and base it primarily on documents provided by paleontology, i.e., the [fossil] history of the living world . . . Naturalists must remember that the process of evolution is revealed only through fossil forms. A knowledge of paleontology is, therefore, a prerequisite; only paleontology can provide them with the evidence of evolution and reveal its course or mechanisms. Neither the examination of present beings, nor imagination, nor theories can serve as a substitute for paleontological documents. If they ignore them, biologists, the philosophers of nature, indulge in numerous commentaries and can only come up with hypotheses. This is why we constantly have recourse to paleontology, the only true science of evolution…. The true course of evolution is and can only be revealed by paleontology.” Pierre P. Grasse, Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence for a New Theory of Transformation, (New York: Academic Press, 1977), 3-4 and 204.

  17. 17
    johnnyb says:

    HodorH —

    “Why is ID not a gradualistic theory? Whether preplanned or random, I see no reason why ID should predict sudden changes in species sans intermediates.”

    Because if it is preplanned, there is no need for the intermediates. Darwinism requires intermediates because such a large jump without planning is equivalent to a miracle.

    “I mean, shouldn’t a young earth creationist such as yourself expect lots of transitional species to have existed –not just forming large jumps– but to make small changes leading from one species to another?”

    Depends on what you mean. Of course there is small-scale variation within populations — noone disputes that. But when you get to species change you usually have holistic, not continuous, change taking place. For example, the presence or absence of a symbiont can dramatically affect organismal form. There would not be a gradualistic evolution between the non-symbiont and the symbiont forms, they would happen all-at-once when the organism acquired the symbiont.

    Likewise, if an organism has genetic switches which can be turned on and off in relationship to need, then those changes would likewise be holistic. For example, C3 and C4 photosynthesis operate very differently, though they use very similar genes. In some families of plants, both C3 and C4 species are present. Creationists think this is because they were pre-coded to have both C3 and C4 photosynthesis. There is a “switch” more or less that turns it on or off. While C3 and C4 photosynthesis are very different, there is no need to presume that the switch required intermediates — it was a holistic change accomplished all-at-once.

    “Isn’t this necessary to fit all those animals on the ark, so that not all those closely related species of today would have to be represented?”

    Again, you are confusing change with gradualistic change. There is no reason to think that post-flood diversification occurred gradualistically. For those believing in common descent, there is even less reason to think that the higher taxonomic groups diversified gradualistically.

  18. 18
    ftrp11 says:

    The fossil record tells a sory of the chronological and geographical progression of life on Earth that one can very reasonably infer common descent from. To infer something else requires beliefs in processes that we have no evidence for and disbelief in processes that we do have evidence for. If one wishes to construct such an alternate belief structure it is certainly their perogative, but their ideas will never be likely candidates for our best estimation of reality given what we can know.

    Barry
    I think you may be taking at least some of those quotes out of context. Stephen J. Gould for one was a large proponent of the FR as evidence for Darwinian evolution in general and wrote several peices outlining the transitional forms of certain lines of descent. Horses, humans, and whales are three examples that immediately come to mind.

  19. 19
    BarryA says:

    ftrp11,

    You write, “I think you may be taking at least some of those quotes out of context.”

    Let me get this straight. Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt,” in the article cited above.

    Is it your position that when he wrote this Gould meant something OTHER THAN that paleontologists know the fossil record contains little in the way of intermediate forms and that transitions between major groups are abrupt? Do you further believe that, in context, Gould’s real position that is in stark contrast to the quoted language will be revealed?

    If the answer to these questions is “yes,” please elucidate. As you elucidate please keep in mind two things: (1) A bare assertion that a quote is taken out of context means little. Back it up. (2) Gould may well have believed in evolution GENERALLY, and he may well have believed the fossil record GENERALLY supports evolution. Neither of positions negates the position stated in the quotation.

  20. 20
    Scott says:

    The fossil record tells a sory of the chronological and geographical progression of life on Earth that one can very reasonably infer common descent from.

    What the fossil record shows is a seemingly chronological and geographical progression of life, as you stated. But, the record in no way demonstrates a gradualistic process resulting from NS + RM. It demonstrates the abrupt appearance of biological novelty.

  21. 21
    johnnyb says:

    “To infer something else requires beliefs in processes that we have no evidence for and disbelief in processes that we do have evidence for.”

    I think you are suffering from “disconfirmation bias”. Because, to infer such massive change being the result of common descent _also_ requires beliefs in processes that we have no evidence for.

    There may be no known mechanism of creation without common ancestry, but there’s also no known mechanism for phyla-level changes (or even changes lower on the taxonomic scale) with common ancestry. So to say that your own idea must be concluded by default is prejudice, not science.

  22. 22
    ftrp11 says:

    Barry
    You are trying to portray those evolutionists as not believing that the fossill record provides sound proof for evolution. In Gould’s case at least I know this to not be true. That is why Gould’s quote sounds rather odd to me and I suspect there is a larger message in that article which would contradict the impression that the bare quote provides. When I have a few extra hours I will go to the university library and read the article, but EVERYTHING by Gould that I have read would convey the impression that gould thought the FR to be very revealing and supportive of evolutionary ideas.

  23. 23
    ftrp11 says:

    Johnnyb

    I agree that believing in common descent does necessitate belief in yet to be discovered processes.
    However, given everything we do know, common descent is the only coherent narrative that I am aware of that is able to explain the evidence we have.

  24. 24
    HodorH says:

    johnnyb –

    “Why is ID not a gradualistic theory? Whether preplanned or random, I see no reason why ID should predict sudden changes in species sans intermediates.”

    Because if it is preplanned, there is no need for the intermediates. Darwinism requires intermediates because such a large jump without planning is equivalent to a miracle.

    If it is preplanned, there is no need for history itself, is there? But The Plan includes all of life’s history over billions of years, and the gradual change is a necessary component based on the properties of matter that He created. Just because Darwinism “requires” gradual change (although there are some known mechanisms that can create drastic changes), that doesn’t mean that ID must oppose gradual change. It’s not like ID is just arguments against the Theory of Evolution.

    There is no reason to think that post-flood diversification occurred gradualistically.

    So the diversification of the Pacific Giant Salamander and the Cope’s Giant Salamander from a common ancestor wasn’t gradual? How different does a decendent have to be from its ancestor for the jump to be considered to be “free of intermediates?”

  25. 25
    BarryA says:

    ftrp11

    You write, “You are trying to portray those evolutionists as not believing that the fossil record provides sound proof for evolution.”

    Absolutely untrue. Look at my comment again. You will see that I offered the quotations with absolutely no commentary of any kind or nature whatsoever. I am not trying to “portray” anything other than what the evolutionists said. I let them speak for themselves. You can believe the evolutionists believe something other than what they wrote or that they believe something about topics on which they were not writing, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote.

  26. 26
    mjb99 says:

    Barry,

    I’d like to comment on two of your quotations, from Gould and from Grasse. Both were from the late 70s and I think that that is first thing we should look it. In Gould’s case, transitional fossils such as the horse and particularly the whale had yet to be discovered. If you ask Gould today (which you obviously can’t) he might not be so harsh on transitional fossils. Although Gould’s position is not that lack of transitions implies that the fossil record can’t be used to support evolution. In fact, I believe punctuated equilibrium specifically addresses this.

    As to Grasse, that quote was also from 1977. No genome had been completely sequenced and the molecular evidence for evolution was scarce. I think that if Michael Behe is allowed to argue ID over evolution based on new and emerging biochemical evidence, evolutionists are allowed to take 30 years of molecular and genetic data and say that the process of evolution is no longer solely revealed through the fossil record.

  27. 27
    johnnyb says:

    ftrp11 —

    “I agree that believing in common descent does necessitate belief in yet to be discovered processes. However, given everything we do know, common descent is the only coherent narrative that I am aware of that is able to explain the evidence we have.”

    If we’re going based on speculation, speculation is in the eye of the beholder. Expressing prejudice is not equivalent with expressing evidence, nor is matching your personal prejudices a necessary condition of “coherency”.

    HodorH —

    “If it is preplanned, there is no need for history itself, is there?”

    It depends on how much of it is planned, and how much is contingent. If I want to drive a car from here to alaska, I might want to bring along snow tires. That way, if I get in a bind, I can switch them out. But if I don’t, I might not ever need them. That was planned, and there was an actual contingent history.

    “Just because Darwinism “requires” gradual change (although there are some known mechanisms that can create drastic changes)”

    You are correct there are known mechanisms that create drastic changes. This is exactly what ID’ers believe. For some reason there is a myth within the Darwinian camp that ID’ers all think that change is a mystical process. Of course it is based on a physical mechanism. My computer is based entirely on physical mechanisms, yet it was designed. The fact that the computer code runs and changes mechanistically does not mean that it wasn’t designed. The fact that it uses a symbolic code to do so is evidence that it is designed.

    “that doesn’t mean that ID must oppose gradual change”

    It doesn’t oppose all gradual change. It just opposes gradual change as being the primary mover of organismal change. Look in terms of, say, an algorithm. Algorithms are based on languages that are necessarily chaotic to some extent in order to be adequately expressible. The chaotic-ness of such languages require that changes to the coding be non-gradual in order to avoid hitting catastrophic combinations.

    “So the diversification of the Pacific Giant Salamander and the Cope’s Giant Salamander from a common ancestor wasn’t gradual?”

    I have no idea. I haven’t studied those species.

    “How different does a decendent have to be from its ancestor for the jump to be considered to be “free of intermediates?””

    I would say that any change which _required_ multiple, coordinated novelties (probably a minimum of 3 or 4, but that actually depends on the underlying physics to some degree) is probably significant enough to be considered a jump instead of a gradual change.

  28. 28
    steveh says:

    [BA] ‘You write, “You are trying to portray those evolutionists as not believing that the fossil record provides sound proof for evolution.”

    Absolutely untrue. Look at my comment again. You will see that I offered the quotations with absolutely no commentary of any kind or nature whatsoever.’

    Actually you preceeded the quotes with “Fross, How about ” which could be taken as an indication that you were replying to a previous question put by Fross. His/her only comment on the thread had contained the question “who are these “opponents” that deny the existence of “transitional” fossils, or fossils that fit what you’d expect to see from a common descent pattern?”

    I expect it was just a typo or something.

  29. 29
    Joseph says:

    “The fossil record tells a sory of the chronological and geographical progression of life on Earth that one can very reasonably infer common descent from.”

    Only if you want it to. I would still like to see the supporting biological or genetic data that demonstrates such transformations* are even possible. However until we know what makes an organism what it is any evolutionary “theory” will be purely speculative. Definitely out of the reach of science and in the realm of philosophy…

    *The transformations as portrayed on the PBS series “Evolution”, ie the transformations required if all of life’s diversity owed its collective common ancestry to some unknown population(s) of single-celled organisms that just happened to have the ability to reproduce.

  30. 30
    BarryA says:

    mjb99,

    The Darwinist ploy of dismissing a citation to contrary authority with a comment like “Yeah, but that’s like more than 30 minutes old, so it’s not valid,” has become all too tedious. Can it really be that Darwinist theory was so impoverished until very recently that citing authority only 30 years old is out of bounds?

    Steveh,

    I hope you will clarify your comment for me, because for the life of me it looks like you are suggesting that the words, “Fross, how about” constitutes commentary on what follows. I know that neither you nor any other reasonable person would ever say anything that stupid, so please clue me in on what you really meant.

  31. 31
    steveh says:

    BA,

    It’s difficult to explain without sounding condescending and/or boring and inviting a ban, but you have asked me to clarify and so I’ll make one attempt only. Any failure to do so will reflect only on my explanatory powers and in no way upon your ability to understand. Ok, here goes.

    Your apparent insistence that the statement “You are trying to portray those evolutionists as not believing that the fossil record provides sound proof for evolution.” is “absolutely untrue” sits awkwardly, IMO, besides your offering of statements made by those evolutionists as examples of “‘opponents’ that deny the existence of “transitional” fossils, or fossils that fit what you’d expect to see from a common descent pattern” in an earlier question by Fross.

    Sometimes I jump to stupid conclusions, and I must apologize for that – I am not a laywer. But you refer to Fross and there is an earlier question by Fross and I was maybe remiss in believing that those two disparate facts were in anyway related. I thank you for your excessive kindness in restricting yourself to the one adjective and note that it was directed to my statement and not to me personally. HTH.

  32. 32
    John Latter says:

    Grasse also said in his ‘Evolution of Living Organisms: Evidence
    for a New Theory of Transformation,’:

    “Life is an epiphenomenon arising from a COMPLEX, structural, and
    autonomous system forming an object endowed with an IRREDUCIBLE
    individuality” (my capitals) [p.172]

    It’s interesting Grasse could look at irreducible complexity and see it as an indicator that ‘internal factors’, rather than external agencies, may be involved in how evolution occurs.

    Grasse, Behe, and “Irreducible Complexity”:
    http://evomech.blogspot.com/20.....exity.html

Leave a Reply