Stephen E. Jones

Projects: "Problems of Evolution" (Outline): 10. Fossil Record

[Home] [Site map] [Updates] [Projects] [Contents; 1. Introduction; 2. Philosophy (1), (2), (3), (4) & (5); 3. Religion (1) & (2); 4. History (1), (2) & (3); 5. Science; 6. Environment (1), (2) & (3); 7. Origin of life (1), (2) & (3); 8. Cell & Molecular (1), (2) & (3); 9. Mechanisms (1), (2) & (3); 11. `Fact' of Evolution; 12. Plants; 13. Animals; 14. Man (1) & (2); 15. Social; 16. Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography A-C, D-F, G-I, J-M, N-S, T-Z] [Book "Problems of Evolution"]



"PROBLEMS OF EVOLUTION": 10. FOSSIL RECORD
1.	Not Darwinian
	1.	Not gradualistic
	2.	Lack of transitional forms
		1.	Gaps in fossil record
	3.	Not extremely imperfect
	4.	Inverted cone of diversity
	5.	Mosaic evolution
2.	Sudden appearance
	1.	Cambrian explosion
3.	Stasis (non-change)
	1.	Corollary is abrupt change
	2.	Living fossils
		1.	Coelacanth
4.	Extinction
	1.	Mass extinctions



"PROBLEMS OF EVOLUTION": 10. FOSSIL RECORD
1.	Not Darwinian
	1.	Not gradualistic
The fossil record fails to reflect the gradual change one would expect if Darwinian evolution was true (Mayr, 
2001, p.14). Two features of the fossil record that are particularly inconsistent with gradualism are sudden 
appearance fully formed, and stasis (Gould, 1977a, p.14). Yet for over a century and a half paleontologists had 
been "brain-washed, by the gradualistic uniformitarianism of Charles Lyell." (Ager, 1993, p.xi). Darwin himself 
had been greatly influenced by Lyell's gradualistic uniformitarianism (Davidheiser, 1969, pp.60-61) and based his 
theory of evolution by the "accumulation of successive slight favourable variations" on it (Ager, 1993, p.129). 
This caused paleontologists to publicly claim that the fossil record supports the Darwinian interpretation of the 
fossil record, while privately knowing all along that it does not (Eldredge, 1985, p.144)! [top]

	2.	Lack of transitional forms
		1.	Gaps in fossil record

	3.	Fossil record not extremely imperfect
Darwin required the fossil record to not only be imperfect (as everyone admitted) but to be extremely 
imperfect in order to account for the lack of transitional forms as predicted by his theory (Darwin, 1872, pp.157, 
161, 292-293, 303-304, 318, 342-343, 441, 443, 450, 461). But that was a false belief of Darwin and his 
followers, because in fact the fossil record is of sufficiently high quality to allow us to meaningful analysis even 
down to the level of species. (Stanley, 1979, p.1). While the fossil record is indeed extremely imperfect for some 
groups whose skeletons are not as readily preserved, e.g birds, it is much more complete in groups like marine 
invertebrates, which are more abundant, fossilise more readily, and have a world-wide distribution (Ager, 1993, 
p.151). Darwin's arguments in his Origin of Species on the imperfections of the geological record were 
ad hoc, and special-pleading, in order to explain away the differences between the predictions of his 
theory and the actual facts of the fossil record." (Eldredge, 1985, pp.27-28). [top]

	4.	Inverted cone of diversity. [top]

	5.	Mosaic evolution
"Mosaic evolution" is the name given by evolutionists for the unexpected finding that different parts of an 
organism change at different rates (Gould, 1978, pp58,66; Gould, 1993, p.255; Futuyma, 1986, p.293; Mayr, 
1991, p.182; Mayr, 2001, p.288; ReMine, 1993, p.289). Mosaic evolution is the rule rather than the exception, 
higher taxa arise not by parallel transformation of all their features but by sequential changes only in some 
(Futuyma, 1986, p.293). Mosaic evolution is particularly evident in the earliest fossil bird Archaeopteryx 
(de Beer, 1970, p.25; Futuyma, 1986, p.293; (Mayr, 2001, p.221) and in hominids (Gould, 1978, p.66; Gould, 
1993, p.255; Futuyma, 1986, p.293; Buettner-Janusch, 1973, pp.25,245,288). Evolutionists explain this as there 
having been "a greater selection pressure on some properties than on others" (Mayr, 2001, p.220).

To be sure, evolutionists can belatedly point to an isolated quote by Darwin (who managed to covered himself by 
contradictory statements about most things) that "there is no necessity for supposing that all parts of any being 
have been simultaneously modified" (de Beer, 1970, p.25). But in context, that was an afterthought by Darwin in 
a special Chapter VII in the last edition of his Origin of Species titled "Miscellaneous Objections to the 
Theory of Natural Selection" (Darwin, 1872, pp.194.192). And Darwin made it clear that these modifications 
would be so close in time that "they would appear to us as if they had been simultaneously developed (Darwin, 
1872, pp.194.192). That this was just another "ad hoc, special- pleading argument" (Eldredge, 1985, 
p.28) by Darwin to save his theory is evident by the fact that it is hardly the picture of the accumulation of "slight, 
successive, favourable variations" that "can produce no great or sudden modifications" but "can act only by short 
and slow steps" (Darwin, 1872, p.447; Dawkins, 1986, pp.317-318), without which his "theory would absolutely 
break down" (Darwin, 1872, p.170).

Evolutionists make a virtue out of necessity by claiming that mosaic evolution provides flexibility only a limited 
amount of change required by an organism to adapt to its environment (Mayr, 2001, pp.220-221; ReMine, 1993, 
p.290). But evolutionists overlook the huge disadvantage that there would have to be that many more sequential 
and rapid environmental changes for the same amount of changes to occur. Ironically a similar theory of multiple 
sequential environments proposed by Cambridge geneticist Gabriel Dover, is devastatingly refuted by Dawkins as 
one of Darwinism's "doomed rivals" (Dawkins, 1991, pp.313-316)! Also, if the appearance of a whole new suites 
of characters can arise as in Archeopteryx, with little movement in others, then this is not a picture of 
random mutations being selected by that environment (Wilcox, 1994, pp.202-203).  [top]

2.	Sudden appearance
	1.	Cambrian explosion
The "Cambrian Explosion", the geologically sudden appearance of the complex multicellular animal phyla in the fossil 
record of the Cambrian Period (545-495 Ma), has been called "evolution's big bang" (Hecht, 1995; Holmes, 1997; Kerr, 
1993). 

By the end of the Lower Cambrian, all the major phyla had appeared, as had most classes among the marine 
groups. No new phyla have appeared in the succeeding 500 million years. (Groups as distinct as flying 
insects and terrestrial vertebrates evolved later, but these are not designated as new phyla since they retained 
the basic body plans of phyla that had diverged in the Cambrian.) Never again did life radiate into as many 
different adaptive patterns, even after the most catastrophic extinctions. The Cambrian radiation was clearly 
a unique event in the history of life. it can be attributed to the combination of at least three major phenomena 
that were themselves unique: a substantial increase in the amount of atmospheric oxygen, the elaboration of 
Hox and other genes that enabled the development of complex organisms, and an Earth nearly devoid of 
other organisms with a comparable level of complexity. Knoll (1996b, p. 6) summarized the Ediacaran-
Cambrian diversification of animals as reflecting `the interaction of genetic possibility with environmental 
opportunity.'" (Carroll, 1997, p.348) 

"Even if evidence for an earlier origin is discovered, it remains a challenge to explain why so many animals 
should have increased in size and acquired shells within so short a time at the base of the Cambrian. At the 
moment, there are almost as many explanations as there are animals caught in this belated `explosion.'" 
(Fortey, 2001).

Geophysicist turned philosopherof science and intelligent design theorist, Stephen C. Meyer, argues that 
"the [Neo-Darwinian] mechanism of selection and genetic mutation does not constitute an adequate causal 
explanation of the origination of biological form in the higher taxonomic groups" with particular reference to 
the appearance in the fossil record "During the Cambrian [of] many novel animal forms and body plans 
(representing new phyla, subphyla and classes) ... in a geologically brief period of time." (Meyer, 2004). 
[top]

3.	Stasis (non-change)
"The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. 
Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil 
record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and 
directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady 
transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and `fully formed.'" (Gould, 1977a, p.14). "For 
millions of years species remain unchanged in the fossil record," said Stephen Jay Gould, of Harvard, 
"and they then abruptly disappear, to be replaced by something that is substantially different but clearly 
related" (Lewin, 1980, p.883). "At the core of punctuated equilibria lies an empirical observation: once 
evolved, species tend to remain remarkably stable, recognizable entities for millions of years. The 
observation is by no means new, nearly every paleontologist who reviewed Darwin's Origin of 
Species pointed to his evasion of this salient feature of the fossil record. But stasis was 
conveniently dropped as a feature of life's history to he reckoned with in evolutionary biology. And 
stasis had continued to be ignored until Gould and I showed that such stability is a real aspect of life's 
history which must be confronted .... For that was Darwin's problem ... Stasis, to Darwin, was an ugly 
inconvenience." "The principal problem is morphological stasis. A theory is only as good as its 
predictions, and conventional neo-Darwinism, which claims to be a comprehensive explanation of 
evolutionary process, has failed to predict the widespread long-term morphological stasis now 
recognized as one of the most striking aspects of the fossil record." (Williamson, 1981, p.214). 

"Scientists have dug up fossils of what they say are some of the earliest ancestors of modern sea turtles. The 110 million year old fossils of several turtles are the earliest remains of their kind found in Australia. Palaeontologists from the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide made the discovery, from the Early Cretaceous period, at a dig near Boulia in western Queensland. Research scientist Dr Ben Kear says the fossils suggest the Cheloniidae family of modern turtles had some of their earliest origins in Australia. "They look like they might be at the base of the modern sea turtle," he says. ... One of the Boulia fossils was "about as complete as you can get with fossils", Kear says, showing the turtle's blood vessels, nerve channels and muscles, and allowing detailed exploration of the brain cavity. He says the turtle closely resembled a modern sea turtle." (Skatssoon J., " Early turtle ancestor found," ABC, 21 February 2005) [Another example of stasis, i.e. no evolution. - for ~110 million years.]
"A spider relative called a harvestman trapped in amber could shed light on how arachnids were affected by the extinction that wiped out dinosaurs. The 100-million-year-old arachnid, which looks like it might have died last year, wandered though a dinosaur-dominated world. .... "This specimen came from the Mesozoic Era, so basically the same time as the dinosaurs and generally there are very few fossil arachnids from this period," said co-author Jason Dunlop. ... One of the reasons this specimen is causing excitement is that it might help tackle the question of how many arachnid groups managed to survive the great extinction of around 65m years ago. ... . The harvestman hit on a successful evolutionary "design" fairly early on and has changed rather little over the past few hundred million years. "We think they would have lived a similar life to modern harvestmen," said Dr Dunlop. "If you go back to a very, very ancient fossils and look at the internal organs, you see it actually has reproductive organs just the same as a living one; it has a breathing system the same as a living one. So, it looks like there hasn't been any major change in the body plan." ... [So yet another example of stasis (no evolution for ~300 million years! How many generations? How many environmental changes? And this "100-million-year-old arachnid, ... looks like it might have died last year"!] ("Arachnid's clue to dino wipeout," BBC. 18 May, 2005). [So yet another example of stasis, i.e. no evolution - for ~300 million years! How many generations? How many environmental changes? Yet no RM&NS? And this "100-million-year-old arachnid ... looks like it might have died last year"!] [top]
1. Corollary is abrupt change "Thus developed the combination of pattern and process that Steve Gould and I called "punctuated equilibria" in our joint 1972 paper that came hard on the heels of my original 1971 analysis: evolutionary pattern (stasis with its corollary of relatively abrupt evolutionary change-stability punctuated by change) plus mechanism (natural selection in the context of speciation). Speciation, the fragmentation of an ancestral species into two or more descendants, is a component of the evolutionary process." (Eldredge N., "Reinventing Darwin: The Great Evolutionary Debate," [1995], Phoenix: London, 1996, reprint, p.97) [top] 2. Living fossils "Natural selection ... plays a conservative rather than an innovating role. The mutations which diverge from the wild type or from the privileged genotype are swept away when the environment changes; hence the stability of the species. Panchronic species [living fossils], which like other species are subject to the assaults of mutations remain unchanged. Their variants are eliminated except possibly for neutral mutants. In any event, their stability is an observed fact and not a theoretical concept." (Grasse, 1977, p.87) [top] 1. Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) "The term `living fossil' is often used to refer to the coelacanth, a rare, deepwater fish with fleshy, lobed fins that was first caught in 1938 in waters off the east coast of South Africa, among the Comoro Islands. ... coelacanths may have changed little since they first appeared in the fossil record 60 million years ago" (Martini, 1998). "The bony-finned coelacanth, thought to be long extinct but rediscovered in 1938, has been approximately static some 450 million years (Avers 1989, 317). ... The nearly timeless species are not exempt from the changes of proteins that go on in all living beings, and they could surely vary in many ways without loss of adaptiveness, but their patterns have become somehow frozen. ... From the point of view of conventional evolutionary theory long-term stasis is hard to explain. Rapid evolution is comprehensive as species adapt to new conditions or opportunities but it is incongruous that species remain unchanged through changing conditions over many million years" (Wesson, 1991, 207-208). "For years, also, the primitive bony fish called the coelacanth which was abundant 400 million years ago, was quoted a being an intermediate, because of the way its fins had certain limb-like characteristics. It was supposed to have been capable of lurching forward on land in search of food, eventually staying there for longer and longer periods until, seventy million years ago, it disappeared from the fossil record. However, now that several dozen coelacanths have been caught off the coast of Madagascar, all apparently unchanged from their ancestral form, perfectly adapted to their natural deep sea habitat, and showing no signs of lurching about on land, they have been quietly dropped from the textbooks as transitional forms" (Hitching, 1982, p.32). "So, we have stasis. What are we to make of it? How do we explain it? Some of us would say that the lineage leading to Latimeria stood still because natural selection did not move it. In a sense it had no 'need' to evolve because these animals had found a successful way of life deep in the sea where conditions did not change much. Perhaps they never participated in any arms races. Their cousins that emerged onto the land did evolve because natural selection, under a variety of hostile conditions including arms races, forced them to. Other biologists, including some of those that call themselves punctuationists, might say that the lineage leading to modern Latimeria actively resisted change, in spite of what natural selection pressures there might have been. Who is right? In the particular case of Latimeria it is hard to know . ... Let us, to be fair, stop thinking in terms of Latimeria in particular. It is a striking example but a very extreme one ... It is conceivable that coelacanths stopped evolving because they stopped mutating perhaps because they were protected from cosmic rays at the bottom of the sea! - but nobody, as far as I know, has seriously suggested this ... " (Dawkins, 1986b, pp.246,247). [top] 4. Extinction 1. Mass extinctions [top]


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Created: 3 November, 2003. Updated: 12 March, 2006.

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