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Are there out-of-sequence fossils that are problematic for evolution?

by and

Published: 17 April 2014 (GMT+10)
This jellyfish fossil, which ‘dates’ to over 500 million years, provides two counts against evolutionary predictions regarding the fossil record: that soft organisms would not be preserved and that such a huge period of evolution sees no change in this creature, which has the same features as ones swimming in the oceans today. Image from PLOS, ref. 1.

In his debate with Ken Ham, Bill Nye (the ‘science guy’) dogmatically claimed, and asked Ham, to cite any out-of-order fossils in the geologic record, because if there were any, it would be problematic for the evolutionary model. Due to the seeming confidence of Nye’s assertion (and that it was not answered during the debate), many have contacted us for an answer on this single question. In addition, while out on ministry our speakers have mentioned how this question has often come up. At a recent event, Gary Bates encountered a Christian university student who said this question was being used as a club by lecturers and professors to ‘beat him with’. It appears that this seeming ‘knockout punch’ argument by Nye is being used as a ‘great’ falsification of the creation model.

A constantly changing story

So how can we answer this challenge? Is this a problem for creationists? First, by definition evolutionists would say there are no out-of-sequence fossils. They would claim that the fragmentary nature of the fossil record means that we don’t have a good idea of the entire period a fossil belongs in. So if we find a fossil in a stratum that is supposed to be 100 million years older than the species (using evolutionary dating for the sake of the argument), it simply means that it evolved 100 million years earlier than we thought. The evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record is so flexible that it can incorporate virtually any new change, no matter how unexpected. In other words, if an out-of-order fossil is found (according to their standard view), then it is just incorporated as new evidence to provide a better understanding of evolution! In short, evolution is assumed and then used to explain the fossils. So, no matter what we find, by the very nature of the way they interpret the facts, nothing would falsify evolution anyway!

Fossil photo and diagram from D. Fuchs, G. Bracchi and R. Weis, ref. 2.Fossil octopus remarkably preserved in Lebanon reveals details of the eight arms, suckers, ink, gills, mouth, eye capsule and more.
Fossil octopus remarkably preserved in Lebanon reveals details of the eight arms, suckers, ink, gills, mouth, eye capsule and more.

So a better way to counter this would be to ask whether evolution has made predictions about the fossil record that have been confirmed or otherwise by subsequent discoveries. And by this measure evolution falls dramatically short. For instance, Charles Darwin said that “no organism wholly soft can be preserved.” He was simply wrong, because we have many examples of this. For instance, hundreds of fossilized jellyfish and a fossilized squid, that look remarkably similar to the same creatures living today. Yet they were claimed to be 505 million years old (myo) and 150 myo respectively. The squid even contained an ink sac so fresh that the ink could be used to paint a picture. The ages assigned to these fossils comes from their position in the alleged geologic column and the dates assigned to the rock layers in which they were found. Remember that it is believed that the rock layers were supposed to have been slowly deposited over millions of years, and similarly, the process of burial and permineralization is supposed to have taken a very long time. But besides soft-bodied creatures, we have fossils like an ichthyosaur giving birth, and fish in the process of eating other fish, that capture moments in time. They must have been preserved quickly. Logically, if the fossils themselves provide evidence that suggests rapid burial then it only makes sense to presume that the sediments that buried them had to also be deposited quickly.


Lots of inconvenient fossils

In reality, there are a lot of fossils that don’t fit within the neatly-defined evolutionary order of things paraded in our geology and biology textbooks:

  • Trilobites, which are allegedly 500 myo in the Cambrian strata, have eyes that are far too complex for their place in the fossil record. That is, they have no precursors to their appearance.
  • Perhaps most astonishingly, pollen fossils—evidence of flowering plants—were found in the Precambrian strata. According to evolutionists, flowering plants first evolved 160 mya, but the Precambrian strata is older than 550 mya.
  • Dinosaurs are supposed to have evolved into birds. But Confuciusornis was a true beaked bird that pre-dates the ‘feathered’ dinosaurs that it allegedly came from. It also has been found in the stomach of a dinosaur.
  • Grass which has been found in fossilized dinosaur coprolites (fossilized dung). But grass is not supposed to have evolved until at least 10 million years after the dinosaurs went extinct.
  • A dog-like mammal fossil was found with remains of dinosaurs in its stomach—but no mammals large enough to prey on dinosaurs were supposed to exist alongside them.
Photo by Linda Lou Haywooddung-fossil

CMI’s Calvin Smith wrote:

“To the surprise of many, ducks,3 squirrels,4 platypus,5 beaver-like6 and badger-like7 creatures have all been found in ‘dinosaur-era’ rock layers along with bees, cockroaches, frogs and pine trees. Most people don’t picture a T. rex walking along with a duck flying overhead, but that’s what the so-called ‘dino-era’ fossils would prove!”

Tiktaalik! ‘You gotta be kidding’

© Ted DaeschlerTiktaalik fossil
Tiktaalik fossil.

Being the media entertainer he is, Nye waxed eloquently about the discovery of an alleged sea-to-land (fish to tetrapod) intermediate called Tiktaalik roseae. That he spent so long detailing the find of this ‘perfect missing link’, he obviously thought it was a ‘slam dunk’ for evolution. Indeed, Tiktaalik has appeared on the cover of numerous magazines, textbooks, and it even has its own theme song and website to promote evolution. Now, either Nye was ignorant of, or deliberately dishonest, when he conveniently failed to mention that fossil footprints that predated Tiktaalik have been in Poland predating Tiktaalik by some 18 million years. It can’t be the transition it is claimed to be if creatures that evolved ‘from it’ actually lived ‘before it’. That looks like a slam dunk for falsifying that evolutionary story, ‘wethinks’.

‘Living fossils’ are out-of-place for evolutionists

Piotr Szrek, Uppsala UniversityLimestone slab
Limestone slab from Poland with fossil footprints.

Another indication that the evolutionary story is flawed is the huge number of living fossils. That is, creatures that have been found in the fossil record have been assigned ages of hundreds of millions of years, yet are identical to creatures alive today. Dr Carl Werner has documented museum displays showing how many modern animals are found in dinosaur-era layers. Dr Werner said:

Fossil photo by Joachim Scheven, LEBENDIGE VORWELT Museum, Living coelacanth photo from Wikipedia.orgdung-fossil
“I found representative examples from all of the major animal phyla living today and all of the major plant divisions living today. Taking it one step further, within these bigger groups, I frequently found representatives of all the major groups or classes within a phylum.”

But if all these animals are found in dinosaur-era layers, what has evolution been doing for the last hundred million years? For example, if apes eventually became humans in just 6 million years, how, with ever-changing ecological pressures, can there be so many plants and animals that are basically unchanged from their forms supposedly millions of years ago?

For instance, the Wollemi pine was supposed to have thrived around 150 million years ago and to have been long extinct, but in 1994, they were found growing in a forest in New South Wales, Australia. Even evolutionists claimed it was “like finding a live dinosaur”. And the coelacanth was supposed to have gone extinct around the same time as the dinosaurs, but we know that this deep-sea fish is still living because fishermen have caught them and National Geographic has filmed them swimming around!

The ‘Cambrian explosion’ is an out-of-order problem for evolutionists?

In the Cambrian rocks (some of the alleged oldest complex-fossil-bearing rocks on earth—c. 500 plus myo), ‘index’ fossils of just about every major phylum can be found. Because next to no ancestors of these organisms appears below them, that is, they appear suddenly and simultaneously in the fossil record; it has long been a massive problem for evolutionists. As there is no smooth and gradual sequence to the appearance of these fossils, one could argue that the millions of creatures that represent the Cambrian explosion are out-of-sequence fossils by the evolutionists ‘own measure’.

There are many exceptions to the neatly portrayed order of the fossil record

In fact, the more fossils we find, the more random the picture becomes. This does not fit the orderly progression of ever-evolving specimens that evolutionists would predict. But it does fit very well with the creationist narrative of plants and animals created “according to their kinds”, and buried in a worldwide catastrophe.

Bill Nye actually did creationists a favour by inadvertently pointing out a major weak spot for evolution. In fact, the fossil record is evidence against Bill Nye’s position, and certainly evolutionists might want to think twice before drawing attention to such a vulnerable chink in their armor!

Editor's note: a previous version of this article contained an error in reference to a claim of an out-of-place mammalian fossil which has now been removed.

References and notes

  1. Cartwright, P., Halgedahl, S.L., Hendricks, J.R.., Jarrard, R.D., Marques, A.C., et al., Exceptionally preserved jellyfishes from the Middle Cambrian, Public Library of Science ONE 2(10):e1121. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001121, October 2007. Return to text.
  2. Fuchs, D., Bracchi, G. and Weis, R., New octopods (Cephalopoda: Coleoidea) from the Late Cretaceous (Upper Cenomanian) of Hâkel and Hâdjoula, Lebanon, Palaeontology 52(1):65–81, 2009.Return to text.
  3. Cretaceous duck ruffles feathers, BBC news, www.bbc.co.uk, 20 January 2005. Return to text.
  4. Mesozoic Squirrel, Nature 444:889–893, 2006. Return to text.
  5. Swimming with dinos, www.museumvictoria.com.au, 24 January 2008, accessed 1 October 2010. Return to text.
  6. Early Aquatic Mammal, Science 311(5764): 1068, 24 February 2006. Return to text.
  7. Dinosaur-eating mammal discovered in China, www. nhm.ac.uk, 14 January 2005. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Living Fossils book
by Dr Carl Werner
US $30.00
Hard Cover
The Fossil Record
by John D Morris, Frank J Sherwin
US $20.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Victor B.
As stated in the article the inconvenient fossils in the fossil evidence and the silence about dino-era fossils surely should be enough evidence of the fossil record being mostly the result of a rapid burial laid down in the global flood as opposed to millions of years. Thanks for presenting accurate information that can be checked and verified that upholds the truth of God's word.
Brian J.
The whole 'find a bunny in the Cambrian' is just an evolutionary strawman. Creationists wouldn't expect to find bunnies in the lower rock layers. Those creatures on the sea floor would have been buried first in the flood. On a side note we know that chihuahua's weren't on Noah's Ark. They came around through breeding after the flood and there's nothing saying that 'bunnies' as we know them today didn't come around the same way. As for 'out of place' fossils I think more should be said about the trilobite. Trilobites had heads, body, legs, nervous system, brains, hearts, reproductive organs, stomachs, mouths, complex eyes, the list goes on and on. As a matter of fact, take away the exoskeleton and add some cute ears and hair and you basically have a 'bunny' for all intents and purposes in the Cambrian. All of this with NO transitionals or intermediates in the Pre Cambrian rocks. So, trilobites are all but an 'out of place fossil' but it's been so fixed in our culture that they are some sort of evolutionary prediction as to what the first forms of life would have been like that no one thinks critically enough about them. I think the writers could emphasize the incredible complexities of the trilobite in more of their articles. We have very little in the Pre Cambrian and then *poof*, as if by evolutionary magic these amazing creatures appear.
Gary Bates
Thanks, but if you note the article did not go into depth regarding any of the organisms. The point was to simply highlight that there are lots of out of order fossils, contrary to Nye's claim. There are articles on this site with regard to most of the creatures we mentioned. For instance, if you typed 'trilobite' into the search engine you would see more in depth info.
Gary H.
One thing creationists and IDsts need to be conscious of is that under Darwinian 'logic', everything is transitional. YOU are transitional, and no matter what old bones are found anywhere, by Darwinian 'logic' again, they are necessarily transitional since everything is evolving all the time since day one. This obvious fact needs to presented more often to Darwinists since it means that NO fossil can be anything else BUT a transitional of some sort. That, in turn, means its not falsifiable by any means whatsoever, by very definition! So why the clamor and hype every time a 'new missing link' is allegedly found, when it doesn't even matter really what they find because all is transitional.

Anything can thus be claimed a link between two others of any similar morphology. Nothing can be falsified as a transitional since by definition everything is transitioning. Just imagine a person ignorant of canines, finding a skeleton of a say a smallish German Shepherd, lying between 2 geological layers (uniformitarian rules), with a modern wolf above and a Bulldog below, to see how foolish such systems of measure are.The unsuspecting paleontologist, using Darwinian rules, would assume the middle dog to be a link between the others. Evolution! A little too simplistic but you get the idea. How many times has that already occurred?

Darwinism is rooted and grounded in so many logical fallacies its amazing it ever survived this long and the only explanation is because it isn't science at all, but religion. The atheists origins myth. No other domain of scientific research would have lasted this long if it committed as many glaring logical errors as Darwinian fundamentalism. I.e. transitionals prove nothing but Darwinian gullibility and bad logic.
Gary Bates
I understand what you mean but I don't think it is quite correct to say that everything is transitional. In one sense it is, if every organism is moving onwards and upwards etc. But transitional, in the evolutionary sense, has a specific meaning. In that they are looking for intermediates between major groups: apes to people, reptiles to birds etc. If we said everything was intermediate we might actually be playing into the evolutionist's hands. What is missing are the major links between distinct groups. The lack of them, and the find of distinct kinds' supports the theory of biblical creation.
michael S.
(I understand if I can't have a 2nd bite, CMI. ;-D. John S said: "The way this argument falls on me is that there are a handful of out of place fossils, but in light of the preponderance of evidence of in-sequence fossils they amount to nothing but anomalies that perhaps one day will be explained." The fossil record fits evolution because they make the story fit it. That's all. It only is in "sequence" because they looked at the sequence. Do you think they would argue that mammals were the first organisms when they know that the animals at the bottom of the record are not mammals? Therefore your point is moot, you assume the evidence comes with an evolution-tag on it. It doesn't. The evidence also shows, by majority, vast chains of missing transitional ancestors, thereby showing the record has nothing to do with an evolution.
John S.
The way this argument falls on me is that there are a handful of out of place fossils, but in light of the proponderance of evidence of in-sequence fossils they amount to nothing but anomolies that perhaps one day will be explained.
My 2 cents - I'd love to see a chart that lists all the out of place fossils in one place, with photos since that helps alot of people :>)

Does 'Evolution, the Great Experiment' address this issue? I thought I saw a segment where they investigated and found museums with out-of-sequence mammals all through the fossil record that have been hidden away because they are 'out of sequence' or simply not that interesting to display.
Keaton Halley
The article did not mention all out-of-place fossils, but it does mention Dr Carl Werner's work under the "Living Fossils" heading.
Peter W.
I have made the argument before and this article confirms my assertion that the theory of Evolution does not qualify as a valid "scientific theory" because it is not falsifiable.
Every single time a falsifying evidence is uncovered, the theory itself "evolves" to incorporate the new (now non-contradictory) evidence thanks to the ever-changing parameters of the theory itself.

Evolutionists actually defend this fraud as feature "see, Science, unlike 'scripture' is self-correcting and unafraid to change its mind based on new information"

The favorite "falsifying" evidence I have seen evolutionists ask for is a "pre-Cambrian rabbit" ignoring all of the similar mammalian creatures found in the Cambrian layers. Truly pre-Cambrian (pre-flood) fossils of any kind would be rare as modern fossils, no?
Keaton Halley
I agree that, in practice, evolutionists refuse to let the evidence falsify their theory. However, we do not find mammals in the Cambrian layers. Yet why would we expect to, since the Cambrian layers are full of largely bottom-dwelling ocean creatures? Also, subscribers to our Journal of Creation can see how, in the current issue (not yet published online), Shaun Doyle addresses the evolutionary argument about rabbits in the Precambrian.
michael S.
Well done Gary and Lita, for managing to condense so much damning information. The end is Nye for evolutionary propaganda with folks like CMI at the helm!

Also I have one small logical offering. We have to remember that NOBODY should expect to find "out of place" fossils, in the sense that the pattern of the fossil record is already established.

Not "out of place" for evolution. What I mean to say is, "out of place" for the established record. I hope I get my point across, it's hard to explain.

It is a little bit like Vegetarian's arguing that meat eaters are saying that, "meat should be found in a vegetarian restaurant, and because we don't this condemns meat eaters."

Nye has conflated two subjects.

Subject 1. "evolution story"
Subject 2. "Established patterns of geological preservation" ('established', being the operative word.)

Please note that subject 2 has nothing to do with subject 1.
Nick K.
Thank you very much for all your articles! After reading this one I have only one question: why didn't my biology teacher tell me about this fossils at history-of-evolution lessons??
Ian C.
In his book, "Darwin's Enigma", Luther Sutherland documents the fact that a huge number of species were named and given a place in the geological column dishonestly (Chapter 5). When the fossil was found in a different geological period than others of the same species, it was declared a new species, so as not to disprove Evolutionary Dogma.
Joe T.
Very good points.
Walter S.
Fossils and formations are related by evolutionists. Thus, the bibliography containing about 200 references to peer reviewed articles describing wrong-order formations published in 8 parts by Dr. Lammerts in the Creation Research Society Quarterly (Vol. 21 nos.2,3,4 / Vol.22 nos.3,4 / Vol. 23 nos.1,3 / Vol. 24 no.1) would also argue against the geological column and evolution.
Sonica M.
I was speaking to a friend last night who had never heard of Creation Ministries and she got really excited after she admitted she had been feeling somewhat lost for answers to what evolutionists claim. I am so proud to be able to direct her to someone who knows better. I used to get angry or annoyed with people who point blank refuse Christianity or Creationism. Now I feel sorry for them and as the Bible says, there will always be those who believe and those who don't. It was nice to be able to confirm that evolution is after all not something that has been proven but a conclusion drawn from a lot of dots that might (and according to my belief does) make up a totally different picture. I would like Evolution to explain miracles. They are hypocrites and I bet they are running around like wild animals in the night because you are putting them to strict tests and they are starting to crumble like the walls of Jericho!
J. M.
This article is great!! :) it clears up a whole lot in my mind! i had wondered about that 'jag' Bill Nye used during the debate but this article answers all my questions on the out-of-sequence fossils (plus more!) and reinforces how unscientific that 'Science Guy' really is!
I have numerous debates in school with atheists and evolutionists in my class and articles like this are so helpful in encouraging me to stand up for God's Word. Thank you so much! :)
I am very thankful for the faith building material that your ministry produces. I hope that Bill Nye would sincerely observe these findings.
Jason T.
This is great information and yet another nail in the evolutionary coffin. I wish it had been at least partly addressed in the debate as Bill was so adamant about this point. We can only pray that he miraculously stumbles upon this information.
It just shows you how little many ‘scientists’ actually know about the very belief they are defending!
Christian R.
During the debate, Bill Nye said something like "if you found just one (with extra emphasis on "just one") out of place fossil in the fossil record, the scientific community will embrace you, they'll love you." But do creationists get embraced by secularists when they bring up "just one" out of place fossil in the fossil record? Nope! Evolutionists just either try to create a lame explanation and/or simply walk away in digust. I now know what the Bible means when it says people will be "willing ignorant".

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