Does the Fossil Record Support Evolution?

[Condensed from Chapter 13 of my book, "Dinosaurs--An Adventist View"]

          Mainstream scientists and science media often talk and write as if the fossils in the crust of the earth are strong support for the theory of evolution, the theory that all life forms that exist today descended from one or a few single-celled organisms.  But do the fossils really support evolution?

A.     The Lack of Transitional Fossils

          There are relatively few fossils forms that, because they are intermediate in certain respects, can be characterized as “transitional” from one type or species to another type or species.  By the time Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859, much fossil collecting had already been done, and few intermediate forms had been found.  Darwin acknowledged that, according to his theory, we should find many transitional forms in the fossil record and that, in fact, we do not:

. . . the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, [must] be truly enormous.  Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against the theory.[1]

Today, scientists can point to a few fossils here and there as possibly being intermediate between two types, but no one has ever found a finely graded series of intermediate forms.

          British science journalist Richard Milton, who is not a creationist, has described the failure of the fossil record to yield the type of evidence that Darwinism predicts:

The case for Darwinism would be made convincingly if someone were to produce a sequence of fossils from a sequence of adjacent strata showing indisputable signs of gradual progressive change of the same basic stock, but above the species level (as opposed to sub-specific variation).  Ideally this should be demonstrated in a long sequence, ten or twenty or fifty successive fossil species, showing major generic evolution – but a short sequence would be enough.  But this simple relationship is not what is shown in the sequence of the rocks.  Nowhere in the world has anyone met this simple evidential criterion with a straightforward fossil sequence from successive strata.  Yet there are so many billions of fossils available from so many thousands of strata that the failure to meet this modest demand is inexplicable if evolution has taken place in the way Darwin and his followers have envisaged.[2]

Stephen Jay Gould has written that, “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.  The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.”[3]  “All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.”[4] 

          According to Gould, fossil forms generally appear abruptly in the stratigraphical pile, they remain the same throughout their vertical range in the strata, then they disappear:

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 pretty 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.”[5]

As Niles Eldridge put it:

Paleontologists just were not seeing the expected changes in their fossils as they pursued them up through the rock record.  That individual kinds of fossils remain recognizably the same throughout the length of their occurrence in the fossil record had been known to paleontologists long before Darwin published his Origin.  . . .  The observation that species are amazingly conservative and static entities throughout long periods of time has all the qualities of the emperor’s new clothes: everyone knew it but preferred to ignore it.  Paleontologists, faced with a recalcitrant record obstinately refusing to yield Darwin’s predicted pattern, simply looked the other way.[6]

The fossil record does not show life forms evolving into different life forms.  The fossil record knows nothing of evolution.  Fossils appear in the stratigraphical pile at a lower level, they do not change, and then they disappear from the pile at a higher level.

B.     The Cambrian Explosion

          In addition to the lack of transitional forms, the fossil record contains another huge problem for Darwin’s theory:  the “Cambrian explosion.”  Darwin was also very much aware of this problem, and considered it a more serious problem for his theory than the lack of transitional forms.  “There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver,” wrote Darwin.  “I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks.”[7] 

          Darwin’s problem was that there were no transitional forms leading up to the Cambrian.  The earliest Cambrian animals are already well developed and could not have been the first animals of their respective phyla.  There had to have been evolutionary antecedents to the Cambrian fossils:

Consequently, if my theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest [Cambrian][i] stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the [Cambrian] age to the present day [over 500 million years]; and that during these vast, yet quite unknown, periods of time, the world swarmed with living creatures.[8]

This is a devastating admission.  Darwin was admitting that more than half of the fossil record predicted by his theory was completely missing!  There is simply no evidence whatsoever of more than 500 million years of evolution necessary to Darwin’s theory.

          Darwin had no glib excuse for the absence of more than half of the fossil record that must, under his theory, have existed:  “The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”[9]  He hoped that future exploration and study would solve the problem.  But the subsequent discovery of life forms below the Cambrian “has not matched Darwin’s prediction of a continuous rise in complexity toward Cambrian life,” wrote Stephen Jay Gould, “and the problem of the Cambrian explosion has remained as stubborn as ever – if not more so, since our confusion now rests on knowledge, rather than ignorance, about the nature of Precambrian life.”[10] 

C.    The Fossil Record Does Not Support Evolution

          The fossil record has always been a problem for Darwinists.  It certainly was in Darwin’s day, as Darwin himself was the first to admit:

The several difficulties here discussed, namely our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links between the many species which now exist or have existed; the sudden manner in which whole groups of species appear in our European formations; the almost entire absence, as at present known, of fossiliferous formations beneath the [Cambrian] strata, are all undoubtedly of the gravest nature.[11]

And things haven’t changed that much from Darwin’s day until now.  Mark Ridley (b. 1956), a professor of Zoology and a prominent British Darwinist, frankly admits that the fossil record is not evidence of evolution.  He writes of, “the false idea that the fossil record provides an important part of the evidence that evolution took place,” and notes that “no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation.  . . .  No good Darwinian’s belief in evolution stands on the fossil evidence for gradual evolution, so nor will his belief fall by it.”[12]

D.    The Fossil Record Supports a Worldwide Genesis Flood

          The configuration of fossil forms is just what a biblical creationist would expect to find. First, if the fossiliferous layers were formed during the Flood, we would expect that the plants and animals then existing would have been buried and preserved as fossils, and that is what we find.

          Second, a biblical creationist who believes that the Genesis Flood began in the oceans with the bursting forth of the “great fountains of the deep” would expect to find a large variety of sea floor creatures buried by turbidity currents during the early stages of the flood. He would not expect to find intermediate fossil forms leading up to those sea floor creatures; rather, they would all appear suddenly in the fossil record, an “explosion” of diversity and variety at the lowest fossiliferous level. This is exactly what we see in the Cambrian explosion.

          Third, a biblical creationist would not expect to find fossil evidence of any species changing into a different species. Rather, as each ecological zone was overtaken by the floodwaters, the flora and fauna of that zone were drowned and buried in sediment. After each zone was overtaken, the flora and fauna of that zone were eradicated, and not buried again in higher strata. This is why forms come into the fossil record, they do not change during their tenure of “geological time,” and then they disappear from the fossil record, but yield no evidence of having evolved into something else. This pattern of abrupt appearance, stasis, and disappearance is puzzling to Darwinists, but it is exactly what biblical creationists would expect, and exactly what we find.

          Thus, the fossil record, far from supporting Darwinian evolution, confirms the truthfulness and accuracy of the God's word, and the historicity of the worldwide Genesis Flood.  Indeed, Seventh-day Adventists have been told that the fossil record was intended to confirm our faith in Bible history:

In the history of the Flood, inspiration has explained that which geology alone could never fathom.  In the days of Noah, men, animals, and trees . . . were buried, and thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood.  God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history; but men, with their vain reasoning, fall into the same error as did the people before the Flood—the things which God gave them as a benefit, they turn into a curse by making a wrong use of them.[13]


[i] Darwin used the term Silurian, but changes in geological nomenclature were subsequently accepted, such that the lowest major division of fossiliferous strata is now called the Cambrian.  Darwin was referring to the Cambrian explosion.

[1] Darwin, On the Origin of the Species, at p. 291-292. (Chapter 10, par. 1) This is one of several places in which Darwin admits that innumerable intermediate or transitional forms are predicted by his theory.  “[T]he number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.  But assuredly, if this theory be true, such have lived upon this earth.”  Darwin, at 293.  “Geological research, though it has added numerous species to existing and extinct genera, and has made the intervals between some few groups less wide than they otherwise would have been, yet has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate varieties; and this not having been effected, is probably the gravest and most obvious of all the many objections which may be urged against my views.”  Darwin, at 307.  “But I do not pretend that I should ever have suspected how poor a record of the mutations of life the best preserved geological section presented, had not the difficulty of our not discovering innumerable transitional links pressed so hardly on my theory.”  Darwin, at 309.   It is almost as if Darwin thought that by repeating the problem over and over, he could make it go away, or at least convince the reader that he had adequately addressed it.   

[2] Milton, Richard, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism, (Rochester VT: Oak Street Press, 1992), p. 110.

[3] Gould, Stephen Jay, “Evolution's erratic pace,” Natural History, Vol. 86, No. 5 (May 1977).  See, also, Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), p. 181.

[4] Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, p. 189.  See, also, Gould, “The Return of Hopeful Monsters,” Natural History, 86:22 (1977).

[5] Gould, Stephen Jay, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, 86(5) (May, 1977).  See, also, Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, p. 182. 

[6] Niles Eldridge and Ian Tatersall, The Myths of Human Evolution (Reprint: New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. 45-46.

[7] Darwin, at 312.

[8] Darwin, at 313.

[9] Darwin, at 313-314.

[10] Gould, Stephen Jay, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1989), p. 57.

[11] Darwin, at 315-316.

[12] Ridley, Mark, “Who doubts evolution?” New Scientist, vol. 90, p. 830-832 (1981).

[13] White, Ellen, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 112, italics mine.