Is the fossil record ‘overwhelming evidence for evolution’?
No, it’s evidence for Creation!
A commenter from Australia describes some of his exchanges with evolutionists and asks about some of the claims they made:
If evolution is only a philosophy, how do you explain all the fossils to support evolution? I was recently called an idiot, and very ignorant for believing in creation. I was told the evidence for evolution is overwhelming considering the thousands of fossils displayed in many museums around the world. These fossils include thousands of intermediate fossils to such an extent that evolution is no longer beyond reasonable doubt. I was told that people who don’t believe in evolution have never visited these museums, or considered the evidence, instead they deliberately ignore it. The majority of scientists say that evolution is one of the most robust and corroborated of modern scientific theories.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for writing in. Life will be much easier if you don’t give credence to these skeptics. By your own account, all they’ve done is insult you, committed the bandwagon fallacy, and given you a bunch of unsubstantiated claims. Don’t let them put you off balance. The following questions will help you see what is going on, restore your confidence, and help you ride over such hostile attacks.
Listening to scoffers
First, why should we give credence to people we don’t know who call us idiots? Their confidence doesn’t prove they’re right; it only proves that they’re confident in and arrogant about what they believe.
Second, why give credence to someone who makes such obvious blunders as claiming that creationists have never visited natural history museums and seen the fossils on display? These blunders prove they don’t know what they’re talking about. Who on earth seriously believes that skeptics of evolution have never set foot into a natural history museum? You can show this is ridiculous by looking at some articles on creation.com about fossils and noting the level of scientific competence of the writers. Note also that there are creationists with PhDs in paleontology (e.g. Marcus Ross and Kurt Wise). These creation scientists are familiar with fossil claims and with natural history museum exhibits. There are also plenty of creation geologists who have done fieldwork either on fossils specifically, or involving fossils (e.g. Steve Austin). It is the other way around. It is the skeptics who are uninformed about creationist research and writings.
Third, did they say anything more specific than “the evidence for evolution is overwhelming considering the thousands of fossils displayed in many museums around the world?” Did they give concrete examples or just wave their arms and say, “these fossils include thousands of intermediate fossils to such an extent that evolution is no longer beyond reasonable doubt”? I have found that when someone makes such confident assertions that you disagree with, we are well within our rights to ask them to back up their claims with specific examples. Indeed, that is an essential strategy.
The case for evolution from the fossils
Evolutionists do present a case from the fossils, and it goes something like this: we find fossils that are different from each other, and every now and then we find fossils that have a form that has some features in common with one fossil, and some in common with another. They usually also have some unique traits, but in many respects, their form is somewhat of a mix of the traits of the first fossils we found. This gets repeated from time to time, making the gaps in form between different creatures somewhat smaller, making it easier to think that such differences can be bridged through mindless processes of biological change. When we assess the overall patterns of these forms according to certain assumptions (on which see Cladistics, evolution, and the fossils), they give the impression that they fit quite well into tree-diagram patterns, which reflect family trees.
However, the picture is not the way it appears. There are patterns in the fossil record that conflict with evolution. Let me explain some of them.
Fossil problems for evolution
Disparity precedes diversity
First, evolution predicts that diversity precedes disparity; a population splits into different species, which then further splits into genera, and then eventually into families, orders, classes, and phyla (figure 1). In other words, disparity should grow with time (especially as many ‘branches’ of the evolutionary tree die off). However, with the fossils, the opposite is true for animals; disparity precedes diversity (figure 2).
Most of the phylum-level disparity appears very abruptly and almost entirely in the Cambrian (the lowest part of the ‘Phanerozoic’ (more or less the fossil bearing portion of the rock record), ‘dated’ to 541–485 million years ago by evolutionists). Above that, diversity grows within phyla (and lower forms of disparity arise e.g. at class and order levels), but we never see new phyla arising. In fact, evolutionists think most animal phyla arose in a 5–15 million-year period in the Cambrian.
Question: why hasn’t diversification within animals produced new phyla since the ‘explosion’ of phyla in the Cambrian? If evolution could do it then, why not now? And it’s not like there weren’t new niches to fill after it all happened in the Cambrian; there were plenty of places animals supposedly hadn’t colonized yet. Why has all the change in animals since then only happened within phyla? Both creationists (The Cambrian explosion) and evolutionists (The Cambrian explosion in colorful, zoological context) have noted this pattern. Even Darwin knew about it, and he considered it the best objection to his theory! Nothing has changed since Darwin’s day; the so-called ‘Cambrian explosion’ remains one of the biggest challenges to evolution.
Sudden appearance and stasis
There are a few other curious features of the of the fossil record that are harder to explain with evolution than creation. For instance, species appear suddenly in the fossil record, with few precursors. The first appearance of the animal phyla in the Cambrian is the starkest example of this, but there are many others. Moreover, fossil forms generally stay the same for their duration throughout the fossil record; a phenomenon known as stasis (see Stasis – Another problem for evolution from the fossil record and Punctuated equilibrium: come of age?). Furthermore, fossil types are rather clumped, as evolutionists Erwin and Valentine point out (The Cambrian explosion in colorful, zoological context):
“In fact, metazoan morphologies [animal fossil forms] are quite clumped—undispersed is the technical term—into clades [groups of organisms evolutionists think share a common ancestor] with unique body plans and with significant gaps in architectural style between them, and this pattern continues among classes within phyla and to some extent even among orders within classes”.
Tracks precede body fossils
“This is a pattern we see in several different groups, where their footprints are first, and their body parts are later. For the trilobites, for the amphibians, for the dinosaurs—the first time I find evidence of them in the fossil record, it’s from trackways, not from hard parts. From an old-earth perspective, that’s really weird, and hard to grapple with, because you have millions of years of trackway production, then ultimately the animal that made it. But that obviously doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Because if there’s trackways, there’s animals, and those animals have bones and teeth and shells to them, why aren’t they fossilized? Instead the pattern is telling us something different: there’s no time between when somebody leaves a track and when somebody’s buried.”
These are just a few of the many reasons to think that Creation and the Flood better explain the fossil record than evolution.
When your ‘evolutionary friends’ claim there is ‘tons of evidence’ they are referring to the tons of fossils people have found all over the world. We agree that there are lots of fossils. But fossils are just data, and everyone has the same data. When they say that the fossils are evidence for evolution, we can respond with something equally general: the fossils are evidence for creation. And when we examine the patterns of the fossils, we find they conflict with evolution, but they are consistent with creation. The important take-home point is that creationists and evolutionists interpret that same data according to different assumptions. So, don’t be intimidated by such aggressive assertions from evolutionists. When you consider these assertions calmly you will see that there are good scientific and biblical reasons to doubt evolution.