Part 1: The Fossil Record
The work for which Charles Darwin is primarily known, On the Origin of Species1, was finally published in November, 1859, more than 20 years after his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. Note that the title of Darwin’s book refers to Origin of Species, implying that the book addresses the question of where new species come from. The dominant view at the time was that that God created the individual species and endowed them with an essential nature that was immutable (unchanging) over time. In Origin of Species, Darwin set out to reduce or eliminate the need for a Creator in producing new species by proposing that a process he called Natural Selection could, over many generations, cause the transmutation of one species into another.
Others such as Robert Chambers2, Alfred Wallace3, Patrick Matthew4 and Charles’ grandfather Erasmus Darwin5 published works on transmutation (evolution) and natural selection, but none presented the concept on so large a scale or in such tedious detail. While Darwin did not offer any explanation for the origin of life, his theory appeared to explain the profusion of life that followed.
Darwin was a keen observer of nature. It was apparent to him that domesticated plants and animals showed more variation within a species than did the same species in the wild. He concluded that the potential variability of a species was considerable and that man could, by selective breeding, accumulate great changes in a species through successive, slight variations. In fact, “…the number and diversity of inheritable deviations of structure, both those of slight and those of considerable physiological importance, is endless6.” Darwin was a pigeon fancier and used pigeons to illustrate these points. He was convinced that all breeds of pigeons had descended from the common rock pigeon, and he marveled at the differences in physical characteristics among pigeon breeds such as the English carrier, tumbler, pouter, and fantail.7
Darwin had also studied population theories proposed by Malthus8. Malthus was concerned with “… the general question of the future improvement of society9,” and stated his concerns bluntly. “It is an obvious truth… that population must always be kept down to the level of the means of subsistence10.” According to Malthus, human populations can grow geometrically while food supplies grow, at most, arithmetically.11 In other words, nature had the ability to grow the human population far faster than the food supply could support. Darwin applied Malthus’ concepts “…with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdom”. He reasoned that every being was capable of producing so many offspring that, left unchecked, “…its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product.”12
The potential for any population to outgrow its food supply must inevitably lead to a struggle for existence as an overpopulation of individuals is left to compete for limited food. In this struggle for life, any variation, however minor, that could increase an individual’s survival fitness would likely be inherited by its offspring and could ultimately improve the survival fitness of the species. Darwin called this concept Natural Selection.13 Darwin convinced himself that Natural Selection had tremendous power to accumulate small, successive modifications within a species such that, over long periods of time, whole new species could be produced.
More than 25 years earlier, geologist Charles Lyell had observed this tendency of naturalists to get caught up in their own speculations. According to Lyell, the naturalist may imagine that almost anything can happen during the slow processes of geologic time and
“Henceforth his speculations know no definite bounds; he gives the rein to conjecture, and fancies that the outward form, internal structure, instinctive faculties, nay, that reason itself, may have been gradually developed from some of the simplest states of existence, –that all animals, that man himself, and the irrational beings, may have had one common origin; that all may be parts of one continuous and progressive scheme of development from the most imperfect to the more complex; in fine, he renounces his belief in the high genealogy of his species, and looks forward, as if in compensation, to the future perfectibility of man in his physical, intellectual, and moral attributes.” 14
An example of Darwin’s tendency toward speculation and conjecture appeared in Chapter VI of Origin of Species where he relayed an instance of a bear having been seen in North America swimming for hours with its mouth wide open to catch insects in the water. This anecdote obviously spurred his imagination for he says;
“… I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”15
Such a process of evolving a whole new species, should it occur, must inevitably pass through many intermediate forms between the original form (say a bear) and the final form (say a whale). Natural Selection, as perceived by Darwin, would accumulate small changes over long periods of time. In the process of evolving a new species, Natural Selection should produce several marked varieties of the original species until so much change had accumulated that the result could be classified as an entirely new species. Darwin himself commented on the need for intermediate forms between species that his theory required. In his conclusion of Origin, he says, “… on the theory of natural selection an interminable number of intermediate forms must have existed, linking together all the species in each group by gradations as fine as our present varieties…”16.
But there was a problem. The fossil record showed no evidence of the linking forms required by Darwin’s theory. In fact, Darwin himself asked “Why do we not see these linking forms all around us?”16 He was painfully aware of this weakness in his theory. In the process of new varieties taking the place of their parent forms over many generations, the number of intermediate forms that formerly existed on the earth must have been enormous.17. In pondering this point, Darwin asked “Why then is not every geologic formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?”18 But the fossil record did not show the intermediate forms linking evolving species as Darwin proposed. Instead the fossil record showed geologically abrupt appearance and disappearance of major animal groups with little or no evidence of linking intermediates.
Of course, Darwin wasn’t the only one aware of this glaring weakness in his theory. After reviewing Darwin’s landmark work, noted Harvard University paleontologist Louis Agassiz pointed out that Darwin had not produced any evidence to support his claim that one species could transmute into another. Said Agassiz,
“Had Mr. Darwin or his followers furnished a single fact to show that individuals change, in the course of time, in such a manner as to produce at last species different from those known before, the state of the case might be different…. The geological record, even with all its imperfections, exaggerated to distortion, tells now, what it has told from the beginning, that the supposed intermediate forms between the species of different geological periods are imaginary beings, called up merely in support of a fanciful theory.”19
Darwin’s answer to his own doubts and the criticism of others concerning the lack of fossil evidence for the intermediate forms his theory required was to question the fossil record. As only a small portion of the world had been explored at that time, he suggested that “…the geologic record is far more imperfect than most geologists believe.”20 He clearly knew that he was stretching credibility because he then said, “That the geological record is imperfect all will admit; but that it is imperfect to the degree which I require, few will be inclined to admit.”21 He believed, or hoped, that further exploration would uncover the fossils of the links between species that his theory predicted.
Now, more than 150 years later, the fossil record still does not provide the intermediate forms linking species that Darwin hoped that it would. Professor David B. Kitts summed up the situation this way,
“Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of `seeing’ evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists the most notorious of which is the presence of `gaps’ in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them.”22
Time Magazine made the point several years ago.
“Scientists concede that their most cherished theories are based on embarrassingly few fossil fragments and that huge gaps exist in the fossil record.”23
A few years later, Newsweek weighed in on the issue of missing fossils.
“The missing link between man and apes, whose absence has comforted religious fundamentalists since the days of Darwin, is merely the most glamorous of a whole hierarchy of phantom creatures … The more scientists have searched for the transitional forms that lie between species, the more they have been frustrated.”24
So let’s sum this up. When Darwin proposed his theory of the transmutation of species, he knew that the fossil record did not support him. He had developed his ideas based on observations of variations in domesticated and wild species, not on evidence of fossils linking a species to its presumed precursors. He recognized this weakness in his arguments and he was roundly criticized by others at the time his book was published for extrapolating to conclusions that ran counter to existing fossil data. In 2010 in his book God and Evolution, Jay Richards summarized Darwin’s work this way,
“Darwin simply proposed a designer-substitute by extrapolating from a somewhat trivial, known set of facts.” 25
Nevertheless, his theory was accepted in spite of the lack of evidence to support it. Today, more than 150 years later, the fossil record still fails to support Darwinian evolution. But now, in addition to a lack of evidence for Darwin’s grand theory, there is a growing body of evidence against the theory. Nevertheless, in many states Darwinian evolution is required to be taught by force of law and in many cases, teachers are not even allowed to present the weaknesses of the theory. We will have more to say about evolution in future articles.
The Darwin Myth, Benjamin Wiker, Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, DC, 2009.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, Jonathan Wells, Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, DC, 2009.
Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2013.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, John Murray, London, 1860. The full title of Darwin’s famous book is significant. His intention in the book was to explain show how whole new species are transmuted from earlier species by Natural Selection. In the struggle for life, favored races would be preserved over lesser races by Natural Selection. He applied these concepts to humans in his book, The Descent of Man where he said the following in Chapter VI, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”
- Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, John Churchill, London, 1844.
- Charles R. Darwin and Alfred R. Wallace, On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection, Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology 3, 1858, p. 45.
- Patrick Matthew, On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting, London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green; and Adam Black, Edinburgh, 1831.
- Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, London, 1796. The book can be found online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15707, as of 25 July 2014.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2006, p. 8.
- Ibid, p. 13 – 20.
- Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, J. Johnson, London, 1798.
- Ibid, preface.
- Ibid, Chapter 1.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2006, p. 41.
- Ibid, p. 40.
- Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, John Murray, Albemarle-Street, London, 1832, Volume 2, Chapter 2, p. 20 – 21.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2006, p. 116.
- Ibid, p. 290.
- Ibid, p. 176.
- Louis Agassiz, Professor Agassiz on the Origen of Species, American Journal of Science, June, 1860, pp. 144.
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2006, p. 291.
- Ibid, p. 292.
- David B. Kitts, [Professor of Geology, University of Oklahoma], “Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory,” Evolution, Vol. 28, September 1974, p.467.
- Time Magazine, Nov. 7, 1977.
- Jerry Adler, Is Man a Subtle Accident, Newsweek Magazine, November 2, 1980.
- Jay Richards, God and Evolution, Edited by Jay Richards, Discovery Institute Press, 2010, p. 256.