Part 3: The Fossil Record
The fossil record indicates a long history of extensive change in life forms. Typical statements by geologists about these changes are:
Contrary to what evolutionists claim, the above items do not prove that evolution occurred, i.e., evolution in the sense that one form of life gradually changed into another. But the evidence incontrovertibly shows a tremendous change through the geological ages in the types of animals that existed at any given time. This author thinks the change is better accounted for by creation, although the evidence is37a consistent with either position. The debate is really about the mechanism of the changes, not whether the changes actually occurred.
One of the more difficult problems for evolutionists is to find a reasonable explanation for the phenomenon they term "convergent evolution." Convergent evolution supposedly occurs when two distinct lines of creatures evolve structures that are outwardly similar or identical in function. For example, the shape of porpoises is very much like the shape of the extinct marine reptile Ichthyosaur. The Tasmanian wolf of Australia is nearly identical to the true wolf of Eurasia and the Americas, even though the one is a marsupial and the other is a placental mammal, and the two have been separated for more than 60 million years.38 It is difficult to see how evolution, driven by random mutation and unpredictable environmental factors, could possibly result in creatures so nearly the same.
The most extensive changes in life forms occurred during major episodes of extinction where, in relatively brief intervals of time, entire communities of animals and plants vanished, only to be replaced by a new set. As the book Extinction says:39
The Permian extinction wiped out at least 75% of all animal species, both on land and in the oceans.40, 41 The Late Cretaceous extinction eliminated at least 60% of all animal species, including all the dinosaurs.42
Smaller episodes of extinction occurred in between the largest. For example the Mesozoic Era, the so-called Age of Dinosaurs, had two. They defined the end of the Triassic and Jurassic Periods. These Periods themselves contained even smaller episodes of extinction. During the Cretaceous Period, a minor extinction coincided with the beginning of the rise of flowering plants.43
National Geographic Magazine contains a very clear chart showing the general outline of extinctions from the Cambrian Period to the present.44
The mass extinctions have a number of features in common. Animal life both on the land and in the sea was hit. Plant life was not affected nearly as much as animal life, and tropical animals tended to be particularly hard hit. Certain groups of animals tended to be hit in every episode.45 After an extinction a new set of animals would replace the old set in a geologically short time span. Just prior to an extinction the number of varieties of animals often decreased.46
There is much debate within the scientific community as to exactly what caused the extinctions, but the fact that extinctions occurred is merely an observation from the fossil record, and it is a fact that patterns can be observed in the extinctions. The fossil record shows that life forms came into being suddenly, lived a long time with virtually no change, and then died out. Often they were replaced by similar animals of different species. This evidence, that species remain fixed for long periods of time and are suddenly replaced, has within the last twenty years given rise to a theory called "punctuated equilibrium." The comments of paleontologist Robert Bakker about his own discoveries with regard to this general sequence, in the strata of the Morrison Formation of the Como Bluff and Sheep Creek areas in Wyoming, are notable:47
Bakker took note of the speed with which new animals appeared in the fossil record after extinction events. Concerning the appearance of duckbill dinosaurs, he said:48
Concerning the theory of punctuated equilibrium paleontologist Roger Lewin wrote:49
Early Life, Creation and Evolution
Creation's chapter 4 is entitled "Could Life Originate By Chance?" I won't spend much time on it, because most of the arguments rapidly become too technical.
On page 38, paragraphs 1 and 2 discuss the spontaneous generation of life. A paraphrasing of what a reader might think after reading paragraph 2 might be: "Respected scientists in the 17th century believed in spontaneous generation of life. Louis Pasteur proved them wrong in the 19th century. Ignoring this proof, scientists continue to assume spontaneous generation occurred because it is necessary for the validity of evolutionary theory."
What is wrong with the paragraph? For one thing, the experiments which Pasteur performed did not prove that life could not generate spontaneously. He only showed that spoilage of food products and infections in living organisms were caused by the invasion of microscopic organisms. A second problem is that paragraph 2 assumes that spontaneous generation is required for evolution to be valid. This is true for some versions of the theory, but others, such as Darwin's original version, postulate the creation of an original life form by means outside the bounds of the theory and go on from there. A third problem is that paragraph 2 speaks of the spontaneous generation of life as believed in the 17th through the 19th centuries as if it were the same spontaneous generation which is spoken of today with regard to evolution. It is not. The first concept of spontaneous generation referred to the growth of organisms such as mold or maggots in a short period of time from no apparent source. Spontaneous generation as applied to evolution refers to a process which occurred billions of years ago under special circumstances over an extremely long period of time. The term "spontaneous generation" applies to both situations, but with entirely different meanings.
Paragraphs 3 through 5 discuss the speculations of evolutionist Richard Dawkins on the origin of life. After saying that the "organic soup" model is extremely improbable, and that Dawkins admits this, paragraph 5 on page 39 says:
Creation is clearly attempting to imply to the reader that Dawkins 'knows' he is being unrealistic and has no good arguments to make in favor of his position. But Dawkins certainly doesn't think he is unrealistic, because the preface to his book said:50
The rest of chapter 4 is suspect because it relies heavily on the writings of paranormalist Francis Hitching, who has already been shown to have borrowed heavily from six-literal-day creationists. Here is a case in point. On page 44, paragraph 18 states:
This is misleading for several reasons. For one thing, no direct reference is given showing how this number was obtained, who derived it, what the conditions were, how long the time period was, etc. It turns out that it was taken from pages 67, 70-71 (pp. 50, 52-53 paperback) of Francis Hitching's book The Neck of the Giraffe, in a panel entitled "Can Life Form by Chance?" That is why Creation says that "evolutionists acknowledge" the probability to be only one in 10113 -- Creation calls Hitching an evolutionist because the author couldn't find his credentials. The argument, of course, is not attributed to anyone in particular, even though it is lifted from Hitching.
It gets worse. Hitching was merely quoting someone else's argument, which he reproduced in some detail with full attribution. The panel quotes Dr. Jean Sloat Morton, apparently a six-literal-day creationist, writing in Impact, December 1980, number 90. Impact is a publication of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, and is quoted elsewhere in Creation. Hitching's quotation said:
Creation is really plagiarizing the work of a young-earth creationist in the ICR pamphlet Impact, via Hitching. Note also that in the aforementioned paragraph, Creation claims that "Evolutionists acknowledge the chances to be 1 in 10113." That is an outright lie. It is not an evolutionist who is making the claim, it is a creationist.
In any case, this is a commonly used creationist argument, and is based on incorrect assumptions such as life must have originated completely in a form that we recognize today with DNA, RNA, enzymes, etc. No one today knows enough about biology to make even an estimate of the probability of proteins arising by chance, much less that for life itself.
Even in minor ways, Creation manages to distort what the original author of the Impact article said. The statement that "mathematicians usually consider 1 chance in 1050 as negligible" is turned into "any event that has one chance in just 1050 is dismissed by mathematicians as never happening." The statement that "Sir Arthur Eddington has estimated there are no more than 1080 (or 3,145 x 1079) particles in the universe" is turned into "an idea of the odds, or probability, involved is seen in the fact that the number 10113 is larger than the estimated total number of all the atoms in the universe." There is an obvious migration from tentative statements to authoritative, and a "dumbing down." The author of Creation has no idea what he is talking about and is clearly dishonest.
The Watchtower Society has long taken the position that the earliest forms of life appeared suddenly, at the beginning of the so-called "Cambrian explosion" of life.
However, life has existed far longer than the six hundred million years since the Cambrian Period began. We will examine the Society's position on this.
The Creation book, in Chapter 5, on pages 59-63, under the sub-heading "Life Appears Suddenly," gives its readers the false impression that no fossils of multi-celled creatures from earlier than the Cambrian Period have ever been found, and that the beginning of this era corresponds with the beginning of the Genesis account of the creation of life. It also glosses over the fact that many fossils from the three billion years prior to the Cambrian have been found. On page 60 Creation states:
Note that Jastrow says clearly that the first many-celled creatures appeared on earth "after some three billion years of invisible progress," during which bacteria and one-celled plants lived. One celled life is still life. Jastrow also does not state that many-celled life appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian Period, but instead mentions a time "about a billion years ago." The Cambrian began about 600 million years ago, so there is a difference of some 400 million years between the time Jastrow is speaking about and the start of the Cambrian Period. But Creation's author thinks that the two time periods are the same, since immediately after the above paragraph he says:
It is difficult to see how the author of Creation arrived at this conclusion. About what happened at the beginning of the "explosion" of hard shelled creatures he is thoroughly confused. There is so much information available about the time table of the history of life that it is clear the author of Creation does not understand his subject. If he had read the entire paragraph from which he took his first quotation from Jastrow he would have found that fossils consist not only of animal remains, but of the tracks they made. After describing the assumed early development of many-celled life from single-celled life, Jastrow says:51
Furthermore, if Creation's author had read the paragraphs immediately after the one from which he took his second quotation from Jastrow he would have found the following:52
So the "Cambrian explosion" records the first appearance in the fossil record of multicellular animals with hard parts. This is one of the concentrated episodes of diversification of life seen so many times afterward. Precambrian life was exclusively soft-bodied and so was not likely to be preserved.
Thus it is clear that the Creation book tries to make it appear that the start of the Cambrian Period saw the beginning of complex life. The author continues to be confused about these points on page 61:
Romer's paper from which Creation quotes was published in 1959. In 1989 Stephen Jay Gould, concerning the earliest life, said there is53
This information was available in many scientific publications at the time Creation was published. Paleontologists continue to publish new findings about Precambrian life every year.
Romer's paper was correct at the time it was written, but has become outdated because of more recent discoveries. Legend has it that in the mid-nineteenth century the physicist Lord Kelvin calculated that powered flight was impossible. The Creation book would do as well to quote Kelvin to prove the impossibility of air travel as to quote Romer or Darwin on Precambrian discoveries in the fossil record. Good scholarship requires one to use the latest information on any subject.
Scientific American reported some very recent findings on the Ediacaran animals:54
The article points out evidence that one-celled life has existed on earth for at least 3.5 billion years, that the "explosion" of animal life is relatively recent (about 700 million years ago), and the Cambrian "explosion" of hard-shelled animals is later still.
The section of Creation starting on page 59, under the subheading "Life Appears Suddenly," manages to disprove its own point. Paragraph 16 describes how life appeared sometime within the first billion years of the earth's history. Paragraph 17 makes the point that that first life was not so simple, as even "simple" cells are already extremely complicated compared to non-living matter. Paragraph 18 points out that it was another three billion years before multicellular life appeared. Paragraph 19 then describes the Cambrian explosion of complex sea life. Paragraph 20 says there are no links between the Cambrian life and that which came before. The remaining paragraphs then try to make the point that there was no Precambrian life at all! It should be quite obvious that if it took three billion years for life to get from one-celled to many-celled forms, it can by no stretch of the imagination be said that life appeared suddenly, which is the premise and title of the section. Quite apart from whether the evidence marshaled by Creation in this subheading is true, the evidence presented is contrary to the point being made.
The final paragraphs of Chapter 5 of the Creation book conclude that the theory of evolution is not supported by54a the fossil record, and to a great extent, it surely isn't. Instead the record can be regarded as supporting either creation or evolution, depending on one's starting assumptions. What these last paragraphs fail to note, however, is that the fossil record does not support the Genesis account either, according to the evidence presented in the previous section of this essay. As shown, Chapter 3 of Creation provides no support for Genesis. Creation errs in assuming that showing the fossil record inconsistent with evolution as it is currently envisaged automatically proves Genesis. A quotation from page 62 proves this is the author's intent:
There are a number of other possibilities that come to mind, not the least of which is that no one, including those who believe in Genesis, has any idea what really happened. The mere fact that major parts of the theory of evolution are in serious need of revision, and might be scrapped, does not support the creationist position. Francis Hitching, taking this view, asks:55
Another author comments:56
A third author said regarding the question of "creation-science" versus creation:57
So there are other valid viewpoints that the Creation book does not take into account. As expressed above, the fossil record is consistent in a broad sense with evolution or creation. However, the evidence presented in this essay forces the conclusion that the Genesis creation account is highly improbable.
35 Ashley Montagu, Science and Creationism, p. 55, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984.
36 ibid, p. 57.
37 ibid, p. 49.
37a A balanced view of what the fossil record contains and its relation to evolution and creation is presented in The Status of Evolution as a Scientific Theory, Robert C. Newman, et al, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, Hatfield, Pennsylvania, Research Report No. 37, 1990.
38 Roger Lewin, Human Evolution: An Illustrated Introduction, Second Edition, p. 25, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Boston, 1989.
39 Stephen M. Stanley, Extinction, p. ix, Scientific American Books, Inc., New York, 1987.
40 ibid, p. 96.
41 Rick Gore, "Extinctions," National Geographic Magazine, p. 684, Washington, D.C., June, 1989.
42 ibid, p. 664.
43 ibid, p. 689.
44 ibid, pp. 669-671.
45 Stanley, op cit, p. 17.
46 Robert T. Bakker, The Dinosaur Heresies, pp. 406-424, 436-438, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1986.
47 ibid, pp. 399-401.
48 ibid, p. 404.
49 Roger Lewin, op cit, p. 16, 1989.
50 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. ix, 1976.
51 Robert Jastrow, Red Giants and White Dwarfs, p. 249, Warner Books, Inc., New York, 1979.
52 Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, p. 23, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981.
53 Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life, pp. 56-58, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1989.
54 Andrew H. Knoll, "End of the Proterozoic Eon," Scientific American, pp. 64-73, New York, October, 1991.
54a Paragraph 38 quotes "zoologist [Harold G.] Coffin" to say that the fossil record supports creation, not evolution. Coffin is a six-literal-day creationist. His words are quoted from the magazine Liberty, published by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. A warning flag that a reader should beware of Coffin's credentials as a zoologist is his statement beginning with "To secular scientists..." This is most curious, to see Jehovah's Witnesses quoting Seventh-Day Adventists on creation. The Society would never think of quoting them on strictly religious issues, and their insistence that the six creative days of Genesis were literal twenty four hour days would seem to disqualify them as a source reference on creation. The Society says the contention is unscriptural, in the July 22, 1987 Awake!, on page 13. As to the Society's devotion to truth, it is inexcusable that the Creation book quotes a six-literal-day creationist without telling its readers. Coffin is quoted elsewhere in the Creation book as a zoologist, with no mention that he is also a six-literal-day creationist.
Concerning Harold Coffin, Science and Creationism, (Montagu, op cit, pp. 292-293) said that he is a member of the Creation Research Society (CRS) of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was called as a defense witness for the 1982 Arkansas law requiring "equal time" for the teaching of evolution and creation in schools: "Five of the State's witnesses defending Arkansas's Act 590 are members of CRS. The impossibility of such scientists conducting research objectively, rather than searching out data that support their biblically oriented hypothesis, was brought out when counsel Ennis cross-examined CRS scientist Harold Coffin, of the Geo-science Research Institute, Loma Linda University, California. The lack of scientific credibility of such scientists quickly became apparent:
Ennis: You have had only two articles in standard scientific journals since getting your Ph.D. in 1955, haven't you?
Coffin: That's correct.
Ennis: The Burgess Shale is said to be 500 million years old, but you think it is only 5,000 years old, don't you?
Ennis: You say that because of information from the Scriptures, don't you?
Ennis: If you didn't have the Bible you could believe the age of Earth to be many millions of years, couldn't you?
Coffin: Yes, without the Bible.
Ennis: Creation science is not falsifiable, is it?
Coffin: No, it is in the same category as evolution science.
Ennis: No further questions."
55 Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe, pp. 117-120, Ticknor & Fields, New Haven, Connecticut, 1982.
Francis Hitching was discussed earlier in this essay. The Neck of the Giraffe has many interesting things to say, but it makes a number of grievous errors. Hitching seems to be ignorant of much of the latest information on the fossil record, even what was readily available prior to the 1982 publishing date. For example, he claims on page 22 that no fossils exist to indicate how the four bones in the reptile jaw were transformed into the single bone of mammals. But by 1982, many fossils intermediate in time and structure were known and thoroughly described in the technical literature. This point is addressed in some detail later in this essay.
56 Steven M. Stanley, The New Evolutionary Timetable, p. 172, 1981.
57 Ashley Montagu, ed., op cit, pp. 58-59.
57a See also Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, p. 47.