The Hopeful Monsters of Evolution

by David N. Menton, Ph.D.

Since the time of Darwin, evolutionists have looked to the fossil record for historical evidence of evolution. Most evolutionists now concede, however, that the fossil record fails to show the progressive transformation of any living organism into a distinctly different kind of organism. This has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists -- but they have made it clear that they will not be dissuaded by the mere lack of evidence, nor will they turn to a Creator to explain this enigma. Rather, evolutionists hope that monsters may come to their rescue!

All animals and plants appear suddenly in the fossil record and are not preceded by continuous transitional stages. While some of these fossilized organisms have become extinct, many have persisted right up to the present time in what appears to be essentially their original form, showing only a limited range of variation. Bats, for example, appear suddenly in the fossil record with no evidence of "pre-bat" ancestors. Fossil bats have all the same distinctive features we see in bats today, including extraordinarily long webbed fingers on their fore limbs and "backward" facing hind limbs. (Bat knees and toes face to the rear!) Even the distinctive shape of the bat skull, which serves to channel sound to their ears for navigation by sonar (echo location), is found in fossil bats just as it is in all modern bats.

The absence of even a single example of a continuous fossil sequence showing the progressive stages of evolution of any plant or animal would certainly seem to be an insurmountable problem for evolutionism. Evolutionists have long been aware of this problem and have felt compelled to try to explain it away by any means possible, short of abandoning their faith in evolutionism itself. In 1944, the evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson spoke of these missing transitional forms in his book Tempo and Mode In Evolution:

“Their absence is so nearly universal that it cannot, off hand, be imputed to chance, and does require some attempt at special explanation as has been felt by most paleontologists.”

Paleontologists have indeed been trying to imagine some "special explanation" for how progressive evolution could occur without leaving any fossil evidence. Since evolutionary speculations have rarely been restricted by the demands of experimental verification, evolutionists have allowed their imaginations to run free and have now devised a really outrageous explanation for their lack of evidence.

In the 1930s, paleontologist Otto Schindewolf concluded that the missing links in the fossil record were not really missing at all, but rather were never there in the first place! Schindewolf proposed that all the major evolutionary transformations must have occurred in single large steps. He proposed, for example, that at some point in evolutionary history, a reptile laid an egg from which a bird was hatched! This bizarre notion was championed in 1940 by the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt of the University of California at Berkeley. Like Schindewolf, Goldschmidt resigned himself to the fact that true transitional forms were not found despite over a hundred years of searching for them, and that evolutionary theory would simply have to accommodate this fact.

Goldschmidt sought to advance Schindewolf's notion of evolution through single large steps by trying to imagine a plausible mechanism for it. He suggested that the answer might lie in what are known as embryological monsters, such as the occasional birth of a two-legged sheep or a two-headed turtle. Goldschmidt conceded that such monsters rarely survived very long in nature, but he hoped that over a long period of time some monsters might actually be better suited to survive and reproduce than their normal siblings. Goldschmidt named this monstrously hopeless speculation the "hopeful monster theory." Since there was not even the slightest shred of evidence to support the hopeful monster theory, it was dismissed with derision by almost all evolutionists of his time. But Goldschmidt was quick to point out to his critics that there wasn't the slightest evidence for their gradual evolution either!

The hopeful monster theory would have joined the "recapitulation theory" in the scrap heap of abandoned evolutionary speculations, were it not for Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge. In 1972, these influential evolutionists resurrected the long-discredited hopeful monster theory and gave it a more respectable name -- "punctuated equilibrium." This theory speculates that the intermediate stages in the evolution of organisms do not appear in the fossil record because these transitional organisms were short-lived, extremely unstable species which, as luck would have it, quickly evolved into stable species. Thus, the evolution of any organism is characterized by long periods of equilibrium (no evolutionary change) during which time many offspring, and thus many fossils, are produced -- punctuated by relatively rapid bursts of evolution that left no fossil record. In the May 1981 issue of Discover magazine, Gould explained that "two outstanding facts of the fossil record -- geologically sudden origin of new species and failure to change thereafter" actually "predicted" this new evolutionary theory!

While most evolutionists have now reluctantly accepted punctuated equilibrium as the only way out of a difficult situation (i.e., no evidence), a few stubbornly cling to classical Darwinism, and indeed it is this discredited version of evolution that is generally taught as "fact" in our schools. Eldredge challenged classical Darwinists by reminding them that they could disprove punctuated equilibrium theory if they were to find so much as a single series of intermediate forms in the fossil record; no one has. Of course the sudden appearance of relatively unchanging organisms in the fossil record is perfectly consistent with special creation, but most evolutionists find the idea of an omnipotent Creator to be simply unthinkable.

Many of the arguments that Eldredge and Gould have used to refute the beliefs of classical Darwinists sound like they are actually trying to support special creation, but this is hardly their intent. For example, in his regular column in Natural History magazine (May 1977 pp. 12-16), Gould chided the gradual evolutionists for appealing to the "extreme imperfection" of the fossil record in an effort to explain the missing links. He countered that even if we were to grant this "traditional escape," it still would not answer the biggest question -- the viability of the transitional forms themselves. Gould pointed out that it is difficult to even imagine how transitional animals passing through the intermediate stages of evolution would be benefited or even survive. He asked:

“Can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms, that is, viable, functioning organisms, between ancestors and descendants? Of what possible use are the imperfect incipient stages of useful structures? What good is half a jaw or half a wing?”

Now that's a good question: One only needs to imagine a mouse-like creature slowly transforming into a bat to appreciate what Gould is saying. The reader may well ask at this point, of what use is evolutionary speculation itself -- and why is it being taught as a "fact" in our schools?

Originally published in St. Louis MetroVoice, June 1994, Vol. 4, No. 6