What Do the Fossils Say?

by David N. Menton, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1997 - 2002 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Most evolutionists insist that the occurrence of evolution is an indisputable fact, even if it's exact mechanism must remain speculative. Since evolution is believed to occur far too slowly to be discernible in the time frame of human observers, we must examine prehistoric evidence in the fossil record if we are to observe the "fact" of evolution. In his book Historical Geology, evolutionist C.O. Dunbar said: "Fossils provide the only historical, documentary evidence that life has evolved from simpler to more and more complex forms." But what does the fossil evidence say, and does it really support the evolutionary view of origins -- or is it perhaps more consistent with Creation?

Fossilization typically occurs when organisms (either living or dead) are deposited from water into sediment. In some instances, the sediment solidifies making a cast of the entombed organism; in others, the organic material of the organism itself is replaced by mineral to form a stony replica. Conditions must be perfect for fossilization to occur, which perhaps explains why there is so little evidence of fossils being formed today. Both the burial of the organism and the hardening of the sediment must occur very quickly or the inevitable decay process will destroy the organism before it can become fossilized.

Evolutionists believe that fossilized organisms were gradually deposited in layers of sediment over hundreds of millions of years, giving us a visual record of at least some of the stages of evolution from the first simple organisms to the most complex. Most creationists, on the other hand, believe that nearly all fossils were formed over a relatively short period of time during and after a world-wide Flood. Thus creationists believe the fossil record reveals organisms that were mostly contemporary -- not an evolutionary sequence extending over millions of years. As these beliefs are sufficiently different, it should be quite easy to determine which is more consistent with the fossil record as it actually exists today.

To be consistent with evolution, the fossil record should show how organisms slowly transformed one into another through countless intermediate or transitional stages. Evolutionists, for example, claim that over one hundred million years were required for the gradual transformation of invertebrates into vertebrates; thus we would expect that the fossil record should show at least some of the progressive stages of this large-scale transformation. To be consistent with creation, on the other hand, the fossil record should show no obvious transitional stages between distinctly different kinds of organisms, but rather each kind of organism should appear all at once and fully formed.

It is now a generally recognized fact that the fossil record shows few if any unambiguous intermediate stages in the evolution of an organism into a distinctly different kind of organism. David B. Kitts, an evolutionist and paleontologist, said:

"Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of 'seeing' evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists the most notorious of which is the presence of 'gaps' in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them." (Evolution, 28:467)

Evolutionists have been aware of these missing intermediate or transitional forms since the time of Darwin, and have tried to dismiss the whole problem by appealing to the "incompleteness" of the fossil record. Evolutionists cling to the hope that the "missing links" which they believe formed a continuous chain of evolution may yet be found. But this seems unlikely, since most paleontologists believe that the majority of all existing fossilized species of plants and animals have already been found and identified. Even most currently living kinds of plants and animals have been found in essentially their present form in the fossil record! David Raup, a paleontologist at the Field Museum of Natural History, reported that the growth in our knowledge of the fossil record since Darwin's time provides even less support for evolutionary transformations. Raup writes:

"We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much -- ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information." (Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, 50:22-29)

Some evolutionists have argued that the absence of transitional forms is simply an "artifact" of classification. Others insist that the gaps occur only among the higher taxonomic groups, while still others insist that the gaps occur only among the lower taxonomic groups. The evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson conceded, however, that the gaps are a universal phenomenon:

"...every paleontologist knows, that most new species, genera, and families, and that nearly all categories above the level of families appear in the record suddenly and are not led up to by known, gradual, completely continuous transitional sequences." (Major Features of Evolution, 1953 p. 360)

Speaking of the highest level of animal classification, evolutionist Philip Handler claimed that:

"Some 25 major phyla are recognized for all the animals, and in virtually not a single case is there fossil evidence to demonstrate what the common ancestry of any two phyla looked like." (Biology and the Future of Man, 1970 p. 506)

As for the lowest level of taxonomic classification, the popular evolutionist Steven J. Gould said:

"In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and fully formed." (Natural History, 86:12-16)

This, of course, is exactly what creationists would expect to find.

While most evolutionists still insist that there are at least a few examples of transitional forms in the fossil record, a growing number question whether the fossil record provides any real evidence of the transformation of one organism into another. Evolutionist Steven M. Stanley concluded that: "The known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition." (Macroevolution: Pattern and Process, 1979 p. 39) Stephen J. Gould tells us that "the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology." (Natural History, 86:12-16) It would go a long way toward correcting the evolutionary bias in our public schools if even this one "trade secret" were revealed to the students.

Despite the "missing links" in the fossil record, few evolutionists have abandoned their faith in the so called "fact" of evolution. In an article defiantly titled "Who Doubts Evolution," Oxford zoologist Mark Ridley declared:

"If the creationists want to impress the Darwinian establishment, it will be no use prating on about what the fossils say. No good Darwinian's belief in evolution stands on the fossil evidence for gradual evolution, so nor will his belief fall by it." (New Scientist, 90:830-8)

We may conclude that the beliefs of "good Darwinians" are not supported by the fossil record while the beliefs of "good creationists" are.

Originally published in St. Louis MetroVoice, May 1994, Vol. 4, No. 5