Why Transitional or Ancestral Species Might be Scant in the Fossil Record

by phil on Saturday Jun 4, 2005 12:33 AM

UPDATE: I don't feel great about my writing on this article anymore. See the next one for a better discussion.

William D. Rubinstein, a professor of modern history at the University of Wales - Aberystwyth, is claiming that "the theory of evolution is just a theory." His arguments are compelling, but we can come up with even more compelling counter-arguments.

Here is one of his points:

There are actually no "missing links" in the fossil record, a fact which, I understand, is continuously swept under the rug. According to Darwinian theory, such transitional species should have constantly appeared (and keep appearing), yet remarkably few have ever been observed. There are apparently no known transitional fossils in the whole fossil record of the plant kingdom, although millions of fossil plants have been found [Cited in William R. Corliss, ed., Science Frontiers II: More Anomalies and Curiosities of Nature (2004), p. 154]. What the actual fossil record allows us to infer is apparently that entirely new species appear, as it were, fully-formed.

My counter-arguments are as follows:


This is an illogical implication. If we had a complete collection of every fossil, and there appeared no transitional species, only then could we conclude that a species arrives fully-formed. Our fossil record is so tiny -- I'm guessing that we only have the records of one-billionth of the Earth's species -- that we can more likely infer that our fossil record strongly favors large, stable populations. The other alternative, that small, transitional species don't exist at all, is implausible.

I have three suggested analogies to try and debunk this argument at a cocktail party. Please let me know what you think of their efficacy.


Let's say a meteor kills all humans and destroys most civilization. What would curious aliens find? A cell phone screen here, a half-sneaker there, and some bits of a gun over there -- all traces of modern civilization. The odds of aliens finding any trace of transitional human societies -- spearheads from the Assyrians, horse-and-carriages from the British, or stone buildings from Babylon -- are a billion to one. An alien is a billion times more likely to find a bubble gum wrapper than a piece of papyrus. The alien would then naturally conclude that some "intelligent designer" must have created modern civilization as is, for there is none or barely any record of its gradual development.


Consider transitional species like experimental prototypes. For example, steam-powered automobiles existed for a hundred years before the internal combustion engine. Then there was a short period of innovation, including the invention of four-wheel breaks, the independent suspension, and the electric ignition -- the accoutrements of all modern cars. After that, major innovations ended, and a tremendous population expansion occurred. The car, once modernized into a viable mass-market product, exploded onto the scene. The billions of cars since then have remained as a cohesive species, with only superficial and minor changes. And so, from our aliens' perspective, having not seen the horse-and-carriage, nor any of the pre-modern cars before the 1930s, they would conclude that the modern car emerged spontaneously, fully-formed.


Let's say rock formations were species, with each mound or mountain representing a unique species with a different sized populations. Then, let's say a great flood raised the sea level by four miles; the only landforms visible from space would be the tips of the largest mountains. The aliens would encounter a vast seascape dotted with a handful of islands. Would it be fair for them to conclude that the only kind of land was mountain-rock? What about the billions of fledling boulders, hills, ridges, crags, and mounds that failed to mature into mountains. Would it be fair for the aliens to conclude that no such transitional species existed?

It suffices to use argument A, but it may be hard to explain. Arguments 1, 2, and 3 provide a visualization of argument A. Rubinstein refers to "millions," but we can describe many parallel situations with "one-to-billion" odds against discovering transitional or ancestral models. Your opponent should thus be discouraged from glancing at the lack of transitional fossils and then rushing to conclude that transitional species don't exist at all.

Good theories take evidence and then arrive at a conclusion. Unsound theories, like intelligent design, take a lack of evidence, then turn it into a suggestion, and then finally conclude that they have a valid theory.


charles Henderson said on September 16, 2005 4:35 PM:

You disproved your own point. If the fossil records are that dismally small, why do scientists continue to rely upon it for "proof" of evolution? Darwin's model for evolution is ignorant in the face of modern scientific discovery. Belief is a designer (God) makes as much sense as the current "scientific" theories such as "all possible universes" and totally refusing to examine the major problem of probability. The odds against the infinite number of "lucky" breaks blind evolution would have needed to overcome irreducible complexity in only a few billion years make it ludicrous. Evolutionists have simply made a paradigm shift that precludes them from imagining that there is a God. That is the only reason for their blind devotion to a worn out theory, certainly not because evolution has been proved or makes sense.

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