Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fossil Validation?

I promised yesterday to address some of the most important misinformation offered by a recent comment on the blog. Here's the oft-recited but completely bogus claims that I'll tackle in this post...
Darwin’s theory has lasted for over 150 years of relentless rigorous testing by science. At each significant step, evidence that confirms the fact of evolution has been compounded. Fossils are the most easily observed evidence for evolution.
There are two assertions here, the first being that Darwin's theory has been validated by rigorous testing, and the second being that the fossil record supports that theory. Neither could be further from the truth.

But before I present the actual evidence of paleontology, let me explain why I spend so much time arguing against evolution. It is NOT because I think evolution is irreconcilable with Christian faith or with the Bible's accounts of the universe. I don't happen to interpret relevant passages to include macroevolution as a significant process in how life came to be the way it is, but some serious, Bible-believing Christians do. And frankly, Scripture doesn't explicitly address this issue in very clear terms (and arguments about it generally end up turning on just how 'literally' a particular verse or passage should be taken).

No, my reasons for pointing out the failures of Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theory have more to do with my caring about science as a worthwhile human endeavor and my recognition (along with a whole lot of other folks) that science in our day has been led by belief in Darwinian evolution into thought patterns that actually stifle progress and prevent discovery of truth about the universe and world in which we live. (Numerous other aspects of our culture have wrongly followed biology in its error, with terrible consequences, but I don't have the time to go there just now.) It's because I care about science that I bother to point out the falsehoods of the belief that currently has a stranglehold on science.

The Darwinbot comment had at least one thing right--that the most obvious test of Darwin's theory should be the fossil record. As Phillip Johnson has it,
There was a way to test the theory by fossil evidence...
But, contrary to the rehearsed-but-unexamined claim made by today's Darwinbots, the fossil record doesn't support Darwin's theory at all.

Nor did it in Darwin's own day. He advanced his notions not because of but despite the fossil record. Darwin called the fossil evidence
the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory
and the reason
all the most eminent paleontologists ... and all our greatest geologists ... have unanimously, often vehemently, maintained the immutability of species.
Referring to the Cambrian explosion, he said that
The case at present must remain inexplicable, and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.
Darwin did not find this wealth of contrary evidence fatal to his theory. Rather, he insisted that paleontology was a young science and that further digging would uncover the necessarily vast number of transitional forms. He likewise expected that the Cambrian explosion would eventually be demonstrated to be less extensive and sudden than the evidence implied. These scientific predictions, if fulfilled, would support his theory and, if unfulfilled, would prove it false.

Has subsequent research revealed a wealth of transitional intermediates? Does the fossil record demonstrate that species appear gradually and undergo change throughout their tenure on earth? Has the extent and significance of the Cambrian explosion been diminished by the latest evidence? The answer is a resounding “No!” Darwin’s predictions have not been fulfilled. The fossil record problems that troubled Darwin not only remain to this day—they have grown worse.

As Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote,
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism...
These are stasis, that species appear in the fossil record looking the same as when they disappear, and their sudden appearance, i.e.,
a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’
Likewise, Stephen Stanley, commenting on research from the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming—where a continuous record of deposits covering millions of years led paleontologists to expect evidence for transitional forms—wrote,
the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another.
Niles Eldredge concurs,
We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change], all the while really knowing that it does not.
In fact, Gould referred to
the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record
the trade secret of paleontology.
In other words, what is being taught by educators, textbooks, and media (and regurgitated by Darwinbots) is not what paleontologists actually have found.

Not only that, our increased understanding of the Cambrian explosion is overwhelming Darwin’s theory. More precise estimates of the date and duration of this appearance of new body plans, and new fossil beds—particularly in the Burgess shale of the Canadian Rockies and the Yuanshan Formation near Chengjiang, China—reveal the great extent of the animal phyla involved. The latest research places the beginning of this explosion of animal forms at 530 million years ago, and demonstrates that it occurred within an extremely narrow time of 2-3 million years. Likewise, the extent or breadth of this explosion directly opposes Darwin’s predictions. Rather than phyla (new body plans) being shown to have had precursors that appeared prior to the Cambrian, more phyla have been found to have appeared during the Cambrian. These include not only the chordates—the phylum that includes all vertebrate animals—but each of the three chordate subphyla as well. Some experts argue that
All living [and extinct] phyla may have originated by the end of the [Cambrian] explosion.
Darwin’s theory—as exemplified by his “tree of life” —posits an accumulation of small differences (from an ancestral form) over the course of biological history. That is, the large differences—as between earthworms, starfish, crickets, and elephants—should appear very late in life’s history. They do not. Instead, the phyla represented by these diverse animals (with the unique features that distinguish them at the phylum level) appear instantaneously (geologically-speaking) during the Cambrian era. Jan Bergström (of the Swedish Museum of Natural History) states,
There is absolutely no sign of convergence between phyla as we follow them backward to the Early Cambrian. They were as widely apart from the beginning as they are today.
This, too, contradicts Darwin’s predictions.

If the fossil evidence refutes Darwinian evolution, why do so many still appeal to fossils as evidence for evolution? Two primary reasons come to mind. One is historical; it involves error on the part of past scientists. The other is an ongoing problem, a failure to apply critical analysis to scientific claims.

Here's the Phillip Johnson quote (from above) in its entirety,
There was a way to test the theory by fossil evidence. The test would not be fair to the skeptics, however, unless it was also possible for the theory to fail. Imagine, for example, that belief in Darwin’s theory were to sweep through the scientific world with such irresistible power that it very quickly became an orthodoxy... Suppose that paleontologists became so committed to the new way of thinking that fossil studies were published only if they supported the theory, and were discarded as failures if they showed an absence of evolutionary change. As we shall see [in the remainder of Johnson’s book], that is what happened. Darwinism apparently passed the fossil test, but only because it was not allowed to fail.
In other words, part of the reason people today mistakenly believe that Darwinism is supported by the fossil record is that several generations of scientists allowed their enthusiasm for this novel idea to close their minds to the actual evidence.

While some of the blame, then, belongs to scientists and educators of the past, this myth—that the fossil record supports evolution—persists because of our own failure to think clearly about the issue. Quite simply, people confuse the fossil record itself with this popular explanation for it. The fossil record does reveal that different life forms inhabited the earth at different times. Darwinian evolutionary theory, however, is just one of many attempts to explain this record. Other explanations include punctuated equilibrium theory, intelligent design theory, old-earth creationism, and directed panspermia (the theory that life was seeded here by intelligent beings from elsewhere in the universe). Proponents of each of these theories agree that the life forms inhabiting earth exhibited differences through time. Based on the evidence, however, they disagree with the notion that earlier species evolved into later species as Darwin hypothesized.

This confusion—of the fossil record itself with a particular explanation for it—was well (albeit inadvertently) illustrated by evolutionist Tim Berra. In attempting to defend Darwinism, Berra used the analogy of a series of car models.
If you compare a 1953 and a 1954 Corvette, side by side, then a 1954 and a 1955 model, and so on, the descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious. This is what [paleontologists] do with fossils, and the evidence is so solid and comprehensive that it cannot be denied by reasonable people.
This is an excellent analogy for what we see at certain places in the fossil record, but it supports Darwinism only if Corvettes evolve by strictly natural processes, without the involvement of any designers (or manufacturers). Of course, they do not. Berra’s analogy demonstrates that—of the explanations posited for the history of life—intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and even directed panspermia find more support from the fossil record than do Darwinian evolution or other naturalistic theories. This, of course, was not Berra’s intent, and his use of this analogy has been called—by Phillip Johnson—“Berra’s Blunder.” Johnson notes that this blunder was published following review by a number of other scientists. In other words, this muddled thinking—mistaking common design for common ancestry—is prevalent among the biological and educational communities today.

In the final analysis, the validity of any scientific theory rests not on its popularity, its metaphysical assumptions, or its theological implications. It depends not upon the sincerity or the rhetorical skills of its proponents. A scientific theory is valid only to the degree that it matches reality, that it provides satisfactory explanations for the sum of the pertinent evidence. In the case of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, the fossil record is the surest place to expect confirmation or refutation. Though the popular notion is that fossil evidence supports Darwinism, we have seen that the reality is just the opposite. Darwin himself and the geologists and paleontologists of his day agreed that the evidence contradicted his theory. The leading paleontologists of our day concur—Darwinism has been falsified by the fossil evidence.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Anyone interested in the subject should read Darwin himself. Interestingly enough, Darwin seems to be more forthright about the weaknesses of his own theory than modern day evolutionists, especially in the areas you pointed out, namely, the fossil record and the Cambrian explosion – which he refers to by another name which escapes me at the moment. Anyhow, reading Darwin, and seeing his honest critique of his own theory, coupled with his proffered solutions to the problems thereof - which have since been shown to be inadequate – is a real eye opener indeed. Well done Rick. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I think evolution is a better explanation for the diversity of life than the creationist notion that everything popped into existence, no explanation necessary. But I guess it doesn't matter what I think because my posts simply get deleted from your different blogs (Bob's is awful!).

If you all were really out to defend your position, you guys wouldn't delete and edit your blogs to only demonstrate your points. You'd leave things open for all to see how you devastate atheists with your incredible strong defense of the faith. But the fact is, you don't. You make your little points, twist quotes, name drop, and delete any real threats. Deleting posts is not defending the faith.

Don't worry, I'm not coming back, so you can delete this post too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick: I suggest that you leave this persons quote as it stands, and then we can critique it. I will offer critique #1 as follows-

Anonymous said: “…twist quotes…”. In regard to Stephan J. Gould, Rick did not twist anything. I will forward the entire chapter in Panda’s Thumb by Gould himself, in which he discusses the fossil record, to anyone upon request. Those who wish to read it can see for themselves that Rick’s quotes are not twisted, but accurately reflect the writer’s statements.

Gould followed Darwin in that they both honestly admited the deep problems in the fossil record as a supposed record of gradualistic evolution. They each suggested solutions to bring the record into harmony with evolution, but neither denied the problems.

Anonymous said...

I'm sometimes surprised at how passionate people get about defending the THEORY of evolution. I hope 'anonymous' returns.


Anonymous said...

"I don't happen to interpret relevant passages to include macroevolution as a significant process in how life came to be the way it is, but some serious, Bible-believing Christians do."

What's the difference between macro and micro evolution? Do you subscribe to only one, or both, or none? If you subscribe to only one, how do the principles of one, not apply to the other? Isn't it all the same thing... evolution?


Rick Gerhardt said...


No, micro- and macro-evolution are not the same thing. I'll post about it, as that's the next part of Anonymous' quote that needs a response.

Anonymous said...

Great Rick! Thanks. Mike emailed me the following, but I still do not see the actual difference. I do understand that evolution explains the diversity of life, NOT the origin of life.

Hi Ben:

Micro & macro evolution are common names utilized to separate between the concepts of (1) observable minor changes in species, e.g. breeding, that all people recognize as being a clear fact, and (2) the more broad based theory of evolution that attempts to be an all encompassing explanation for all life as we know it. It is the second concept that is the battle ground. Generally speaking, I ascribe to 1, but not to 2, mainly because I think #2 is not substantiated by the fossil record (and other reasons) per Rick’s post on the subject.