I was planning a longer post on this topic at some point. But when I saw the Evo News blog pick up on it, I had to jump in for a brief comment. The problem with the Biologos page on “What Does the Fossil Record Show?” is more serious than that post indicates. It is not just selective; it is factually wrong and very misleading:
Organisms have changed significantly over time. In rocks more than 1 billion years old, only fossils of single-celled organisms were found. Moving to rocks that are about 550 million years old, fossils of simple, multicellular animals can be found. At 500 million years ago, ancient fish without jawbones surface; and at 400 million years ago, fish with jaws are found. Gradually, new animals appear: amphibians at 350 million years ago, reptiles at 300 million years ago, mammals at 230 million years ago and birds at 150 million years ago.
When they say, “Moving to rocks that are about 550 million years old, fossils of simple, multicellular animals can be found,” they must be talking about the Cambrian animals. (If they are not talking about the Cambrian animals, then this omission would be even more deceptive.) But the Cambrian animals are not “simple” at all. They are highly complex. Trilobite eyes are astoundingly complex.
“Gradually, new animals appear . . .” This is simply false. As Donald Prothero explained in 2009, paleontologists agree that the overall pattern in the fossil record is one of sudden appearance and stasis, not “gradualism”:
Once “punctuated equilibrium” became a hot topic, it dominated the journals and scientific debates. I vividly remember sessions at each professional meeting during the 1970s as knock-down drag-out fights between the old-guard gradualists and the “Young Turks” led by Gould, Eldredge, and Steve Stanley. Gould and Eldredge (1977) effectively answered most of the early criticisms of the “punctuated equilibria.” By the mid-1980s, a consensus had emerged within the paleontological community that nearly all metazoans (vertebrate and invertebrate, marine and terrestrial) show stasis and punctuated speciation through millions of years of geologic time and strata, with only minor possible examples of gradual anagenetic change in size (Geary 2009; Princehouse 2009; Hallam 2009; Jablonski 2000, 2008). That has been the accepted view of paleontologists for more than 20 years now.
Yet one would never know this by looking at the popular accounts of the debate written by non-paleontologists, who still think it is a controversial and unsettled question. Even more surprising is the lack of response, or complete misinterpretation of its implications, by evolutionary biologists.
Who wrote the Biologos summary? Darrel Falk, a biologist.
Why is Biologos so interested in dumbing down the church as to the scientific consensus in this important area? Do they believe that Christians can’t handle the truth?
Biologos seems to prefer the “step way way back, blur the details” version of the fossil record. Thank goodness we have top paleontologists like Stephen Jay Gould to give us a more accurate account:
Step way way back, blur the details, and you may want to read this sequence as a tale of predictable progress: prokaryotes first, then eukaryotes, then multicellular life. But scrutinize the particulars and the comforting story collapses. Why did life remain at stage 1 for two-thirds of its history if complexity offers such benefits? Why did the origin of multicellular life proceed as a short pulse through three radically different faunas, rather than as a slow and continuous rise of complexity?
This quote barely scratches the surface of the problems posed by the fossil record, including the Cambrian Explosion and the Ediacaran Explosion.
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