Sunday, 3 December 2006

Guest Post: "...Shall I pile up the quotes from evolutionists having serious doubt about that fossil evidence?"

In a recent debate here at Not PC, I made this comment to a debater:'re beginning to look like a Creationist refusing to countenance the fossil evidence for evolution." Ah," they say as the fossil evidence keeps piling up, "but you haven't yet got enough evidence to shake my faith...
To this point, Berend de Boer replied: "Fossil evidence, yeah right. Shall I pile up the quotes from evolutionists having serious doubt about that fossil evidence?" I now post that "pile-up" and hereby claim my beer (and you can check Berend's argument), but not before re-posting another of Berend's comments for some context. James asked:
...while you are at it [Berend], please explain those pesky Dinosaur skeletons that keep being dug up all over the show....when in the last "6,000 years " did God sneak those in without us knowing...?
Berend's reply forms an instructive introduction to this post here today:
As to dinosaurs, I'm not sure what you mean. What's the sneaking? I've always wondered why people in the Middle Ages had pictures of creatures we now clearly identify as dinosaurs.

Obviously if we find a human foot print and a dinosaur foot print together, there has been contamination, because that can't be true.

And isn't it a bit annoying that dinosaur bones smell so strongly after those millions of years of decay? That stretchy tissue has been found in their bones, leading the main researcher to claim she found blood cells. Why, [if they have] been dead for tens of millions of years?
Settle back now, dear reader. Like you, I look forward to hearing about those "people in the Middle Ages [who] had pictures of creatures we now clearly identify as dinosaurs..." [You might also care to consider the arguments put forward in some previous posts here at Not PC:
The eyes have it: dismissing Creationism again
The passion of science
Closing of 'Intelligent Design' trial
Unintelligent design, Part 3
Unintelligent design, Part 2
Unintelligent design, Part 1 ]
* * *
BEREND: In a comment Peter Cresswell put forward the claim that Creationists just discard the fossil evidence for evolution. I claimed to be able to cite evolutionists also wondering what the fossils are actually evidence of. Peter offered to put any quotes I could find on his blog. Given that this has turned into a rather long article [make that "extraordinarily long" - Ed.] I suppose I have to compensate him for the space, so I'll buy you a beer Peter. One day. And without further ado here is the article.

It seems our preconceptions can prevent us from seeing things. One can see something and not see it. It's a very human thing it seems, even scientists cannot escape it.

Our perception appears to be so strong that it can even determine what we smell. A stark reminder of this is the recent event of Dr Mary Schweitzer's discovery of stretchy tissue in dinosaur bone. It was so sensational, so upsetting, Discover magazine titled the story: "Schweitzer's Dangerous Discovery" (Discover 27(4):37--41, 77, April 2006). After her find Schweitzer suddenly smelt something, something she had never smelled before, because it could not exist. 65-million-year-old bones don't smell. But she now clearly did smell a distinctly cadaverous odour. When she mentioned this to long-time paleontologist Jack Horner, he said: "Yeah, all Hell Creek bones smell."

It goes further. Our perceptions can even determine the facts that we allow to be accepted. The previously mentioned Discover magazine says: "When this shy paleontologist found soft, fresh-looking tissue inside a T. Rex femur, she erased a line between past and present. Then all
hell broke loose." Dr. Schweitzer had a hard time getting her work published:
I had one reviewer tell me that he didn't care what the data said, he knew that what I was finding wasn't possible," says Schweitzer. "I wrote back and said, 'Well, what data would
convince you?' And he said, 'None.'
And that leads us to fossils and our interpretations of these. Clearly there are fossils. But what do we see when we see fossils? Fossils don't come with an interpretation, that's something we humans attach to them. The evidence does not speak for itself, and facts should always trump theory. So what do we see when we look at fossils? Peter Cresswell claims that when we look at the fossil record, we see evolution. That is not exactly a clearly defined statement, so I
interpret that in the usual school text-book sense of seeing Neo-Darwinist evolution. We see primitive creatures gradually evolving into more advanced creatures. In particular we see an overwhelming amount of intermediate forms, creatures no longer around.

Before continuing I must first define evolution. The meaning of evolution has become a synonym for things that are definitely not evolution. When the word evolution is used, both micro-evolution and macro-evolution are included. Micro-evolution is natural selection, i.e. Darwin's Finches, but also breeding dogs and horses. It is a rearrangement of existing genetic material. No one is arguing that this is real and is happening.

But macro-evolution is different: it is the appearance of new genetic material, new functionality that didn't exist before. For example if a mouse evolved into a bat, he would not only need wings, but also the brain to use these wings: bats are not taught to fly, they know it. Macro-evolution is single cell to elephant, ape to man, goo to you.

The distinction between natural selection and evolution isn't something creationists have invented. The biologist L Harrison Matthews wrote in the preface of the 1971 edition of the Evolution of Species that the peppered moth example showed natural selection, but
not "evolution in action."

Does fossil evidence show evolution in action? What do we see? How do paleontologists interpret fossils? In this article I will quote various paleontologists and tell you what they think the evidence is saying.

Let's start with Darwin himself, writing in the Origin of Species:
Why is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory.
Yes, why not? Darwin was worried. It was clearly not the fossil evidence that swayed him, because he writes that there wasn't such a thing at that time. And he finds it the most serious objection that can be argued against his theory. Sure a hundred years later, things
have improved?

But exactly one hundred years after the first edition of the Origin of Species, in 1959, G.G. Simpson summarised the fossil record in an article prepared for the Darwin Centenary Symposium in Chicago of the same year:
Gaps among known species are sporadic and often small. Gaps among known orders, classes and phyla are systematic and almost always large.
Also in that year Norman Newell, past curator of historical geology at the American Museum of Natural History wrote in The Nature of the Fossil Record (Proc. of the American Phil. Soc, 103 (2)):
...experience shows that the gaps which separate the highest categories may never be bridged in the fossil record. Many of the discontinuities tend to be more and more emphasised with increased collecting.
Yes, the fossil evidence is overwhelming isn't it? Except if you ask a paleontologist. Twenty five years after that, in 1977, the most famous paleontologist of recent times, Stephen J. Gould, wrote (Evolution's Erratic Pace, Natural History, vol 86. (May 1977) p.14):
The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of preserve our favoured account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.
Oops. Nothing changed that in the time up to 2002. In his last book, the Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Stephen J. Gould wrote:
... since we have no direct data for key transitions that occurred so long ago and left no fossil evidence ... such entirely speculative scenarios must be understood within their acknowledged
limits -- that i as hypothetical stories, "cartoons" in Buss's words, invented to illuminate a potential mode and not as claims about any historical accuracy.
Stephen J. Gould also quotes George Gaylord Simpson:
... the greatest and most biologically astute paleontologist of the 20th century ... acknowledged the literal appearance of stasis and geologically abrupt origin as the outstanding general fact of the fossil record and as a pattern which would "pose on of the most important theoretical problems in the whole history of life."
Except in the fossil text books at public schools where there is no evidence of a problem at all. But sure, we could go to a museum and see a missing link, couldn't we? After all the evidence is
overwhelming. [NB., The reader should note that this did not stop Gould providing expert testimony against the equal-time creationism law in McLean v. Arkansas.]

In Darwin's Enigma Luther Sunderland interviewed five leading fossil experts from the world's major fossil museums. None of the five museum officials could offer a single example of a transitional series of fossilized organisms that would document the transformation of one
basically different type to another.

Dr Colin Patterson, a senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History and author of the book Evolution said (quoted in Darwin's Enigma, Luther Sunderland, 1988):
Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. As a palaeontologist myself, I am much occupied with the philosophical problems of identifying ancestral forms in the fossil record. You say that I should at least "show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived."? I will lay it on the line-
there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument. The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record.
Dr Colin Patterson, author of the book Evolution, and a senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History received a letter from a reader. The reader asked why he did not put a single photograph of a transitional fossil in his book. On April 10, 1979, he replied to the author in a most candid letter as follows:
... I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualise such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader?
Ideology has triumphed over the data. Dr David Pilbeam of the Boston Natural History Museum acknowledged this in "In Rearranging Our Family Tree", Human Nature magazine, June 1978. In that article he reported that discoveries since 1976 had shaken his view of human origins and
forced a change in ideas of man's early ancestors. Dr Pilbeam's previous views were wrong about tool use replacing canine teeth, evidence for which was totally lacking. He did not believe any longer that he was likely to hit upon the true or correct story of the origin of man. He repeated a number of times that our theories have clearly reflected our current ideologies instead of the actual data. Too often they have reflected only what we expected of them.

In Evolution by Mark Ridley, published in 2004, we learn why there has never been a Nobel Prize awarded for evolutionary theory. He states:
We need to keep in mind the status of the evolutionary biologist's argument here. The series of stages may in some cases not be particularly plausible, or well supported by evidence, but the argument is put forward solely to refute the suggestion that we cannot imagine how the character could have evolved. (p. 263)
He continues and concludes his argument in the following paragraph:
It is fair to conclude that there are no known adaptations that definitely could not have evolved by natural selection. Or (if the double negative is confusing), we can conclude that all known adaptations are in principle explicable by natural selection. (p. 263)
Fossil evidence for evolution? Why do people who claim that not have [all] paleontologists on their side? The stratigraphic record demonstrates only stasis. When this record is viewed through the lenses of information theory, it demonstrates trivial morphologic changes, no transitional forms of any type, and the outworking of natural selection.

But who needs data and facts? Richard Dawkins admits there are no missing links, but he doesn't need them:
But those fossil animals that have no fossil ancestors must have had ancestors of some kind. They can't have sprung from nothing. Therefore there must have been ancestors that didn't
fossilize, absence of fossils does not mean absence of animals. (p. 209);
Sad isn't it? There are no missing links, but that doesn't mean a thing, because our theories say it did happen. Again, where is the overwhelming evidence? Let's conclude with a biologist, S. Stanley (Macroevolution (1979)):
The known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic (gradual) evolution accomplishing a major morphological transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid.
One hundred years after Darwin wrote that the absence of intermediate forms was one of the strongest objections against his theory, Michael Denton wrote in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis:
Despite the tremendous increase in geological activity in every corner of the globe and despite the discovery of many strange and hitherto unknown forms, the infinitude of connecting links has still not been discovered and the fossil record is about as discontinuous as it was when Darwin was writing the Origin. The intermediates have remained as elusive as ever and their absence remains, a century later, one of the most striking characteristics of the fossil record.It is still, as it was in Darwin's day, overwhelmingly true that the first representatives of all the major classes of organisms known to biology are already highly characteristic of their class when they make their initial appearance in the fossil record.
I rest my case.

Berend de Boer, Auckland, 2006.

TAGS: Science Religion Philosophy


  1. Berend,

    How old do you think those fossils been discovered & dug up over the past few decades? Are they no more than 10,000 years old or are they in the millions (65) as the electronic measuring devices are telling us? If you think that the measuring devices are wrong that there are a whole lot of established Physics that need to be overhaul or overthrown completely.

  2. Falafulu, this debate is solely on the merits of the fossil evidence. What does it show? On one hand we have the paleontologists saying it doesn't show what Darwins should it should.

    On the other hand we have PC c.s. who say it is overwhelming evidence. Of what?

    The age of the fossils is an entirely different issue. This is are there missing links and how many are there?

    For example Stephen J. Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders of evolutionists, for him the absence of fossil evidence brought him to an entirely different kind of evolution. Speaking of which, I believe such accelerated evolution features prominently in the new series Heroes (not sure if it is showing in NZN already, but worth watching so far).


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