If the fossil evidence is as clear and simple as I’m suggesting it is, then even evolutionists would accept my description of the facts (even if they violently disagreed with my Biblical inferences), and they do. Leading evolutionists from around the world met for a major conference in Chicago in 1980. In chapter two, we discussed the “genetic conclusions” reached at that conference. Evolutionists at the Chicago conference also reached some remarkable conclusions about fossils.29,30 Without giving creationists any credit, the world’s leading evolutionists at that Chicago conference at least agreed on the same assessment of the fossil evidence reached (and predicted) by creationists long ago. As the summary in Newsweek put it:
Evidence from fossils now points overwhelmingly away from the classical Darwinism which most Americans learned in high school.
In building up to that monumental conclusion (which should be posted as a plaque in all the nation’s science classrooms), the writer starts with man:
The missing link between man and the apes … is merely the most glamorous of a whole hierarchy of phantom creatures. In the fossil record, missing links are the rule. … The more scientists have searched for the transitional forms between species, the more they have been frustrated. [emphasis added]
The concept of evolution touted in textbooks, then, is based on phantoms and figments of the imagination, not on fossils and the facts of science. Stephen Gould and Niles Eldredge31 put it this way: “Phyletic gradualism [gradual evolution] … was never ‘seen’ in the rocks.” Evolution was never seen in the rocks! Evolution is not a logical inference from scientific observations, because the observations were contrary to the theory right from the start, even as Darwin said.
If it wasn’t based on evidence or logic, then, where did the concept of evolution come from? Gould and Eldredge supply the answer: “It [gradual evolution] expressed the cultural and political biases of 19th century liberalism.” That’s what has been passed off in our school systems for 100 years as the “fact of evolution”—“the cultural and political biases of 19th century liberalism.”
When it comes to the fossil evidence, what are the facts? Believe it or not, when it comes to fossils, evolutionists and creationists now agree on what the facts are. The overwhelming pattern that emerges from fossils we have found is summarized in the word stasis. Stasis and static come from the same root word, a word that means “stay the same.” Gould and Eldredge are simply saying that most kinds of fossilized life forms appear in the fossil sequence abruptly and distinctly as discrete kinds, then show relatively minor variation within kind, and finally abruptly disappear.
Steven Stanley,32 fossil expert from Johns Hopkins University, provides several examples of stasis. Elephants (Primelephas) appear as a distinct group abruptly in the fossil sequence, diversify immediately into three subtypes, which then persist unchanged (except those which became extinct) without noticeably changing into anything else. Similarly, the modern horses (Equus) appear abruptly, Stanley says, “and their origin is not documented by known fossil evidence.” Stanley also notes that the excellent fossil history of bowfin fishes shows only trivial changes, and no basic shift of adaptation, making them very much like their descendants.
Stanley fully intends for the concept of stasis—sudden distinct appearance, minor variation, sudden disappearance—to stand out in stark contrast to the popular textbook and television picture of gradual, mutation-selection evolution. He singles out particularly the oft-taught “fact” of mammalian adaptive radiation, the idea that a mouse-like animal (without a mouse’s gnawing front teeth) evolved into swimming whales and flying bats and all the other mammal types within about 12 million years. Trying to explain that on the basis of slow selection of minor mutational changes that would need a million years to transform just one species, he says, “is clearly preposterous” (emphasis added). Creationists only wish that evolutionists like Stanley were around decades ago, when creationists were pointing to the evidence, both genetic and fossil, that seemed even back then to make such an idea “clearly preposterous!”
The victory of stasis over gradualism did not come easily at the Chicago conference. As Lewin33 mentioned in his summary for Science, “the proceedings were at times unruly and even acrimonious,” but, on the positive side, “many people suggested that the meeting was a turning point in the history of evolutionary thought.”
Perhaps the most dramatic response came from Francisco Ayala. After admitting that neo-Darwinists “would not have predicted stasis from population genetics [extrapolation from mutation and selection],” he concluded, “but I am now convinced from what the paleontologists say that small changes do not accumulate” (emphasis added). No one finds it easy to change years of thinking, but a willingness to adapt theory to fact is the mark of a true scientist, and Ayala deserves a lot of credit for his statement.
When the dust finally settled, Gabriel Dover of Cambridge University summarized the Chicago conference by calling species stasis “the single most important feature of macroevolution.” Note, again, that at least the creationists and evolutionists agree on what the fossil facts represent, namely, stasis: sudden appearance of complete forms, minor variation, and sudden disappearance.
But perhaps you also detected a note of irony in Dover’s comment. If stasis means anything, it means staying the same; if evolution means anything, it means change. It seems to me, then, that evolutionists are actually saying (without quite meaning to, of course) that the most fundamental fact of their theory of change is that everything stays the same!
Creationists prefer a much more direct approach to the evidence. Each basic kind of plant and animal life appears in the fossil sequence complete, fully formed, and functional; each classifies according to the criteria we use to distinguish groups today, with “boundary problems” generally no greater nor different for extinct forms than for those living today; and each kind shows broad but quite finite ecologic and geographic variation within its kind. The most direct and logical inference (to a heart and mind open to the possibility) appears to be, it seems to me, creation, and variation within the basic created kinds. Differences such as extinction and decline in size and variety seem to point to the corruption and catastrophe in the created order, not at all to “upward, onward” evolution.
When Darwin published Origin back in 1859, no one knew what discoveries would be made or what patterns would emerge in the new science of paleontology. On the basis of their theory and the observations of heredity and reproduction, creationists predicted that only distinct kinds would be found, variation only within kind, and persistence of the criteria for classification. Evolutionists predicted a series of links would be found to show how complex types today evolved slowly and gradually from common ancestral stocks that finally blurred into simple, indistinct, and difficult-to-classify early forms.
The real test of a scientific theory is its ability to predict in advance of observation. When it comes to fossils, creation has passed the scientific test with flying colors. The original Darwinian theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinist and punctuationalist views, have been disproven twice, both by genetics and by the fossil evidence.
In his final chapter, as he reviews his reasons for calling his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Denton34 makes the following strong, sometimes harsh, statements:
We now know, as a result of discoveries made over the past thirty years, that not only is there a distinct break between the animate [living] and inanimate [non-living] worlds, but that it is one of the most dramatic in all nature, absolutely unbridged by any series of transitional forms [“missing links”], and like so many other major gaps of nature, the transitional forms are not only empirically absent but are also conceptually impossible [p. 347, emphasis added].
Similarly, the sorts of scenarios conjured up by evolutionary biologists to bridge the great divisions of nature, those strange realms of “pro-avis” or the “proto-cell” which are so utterly unrealistic to the skeptic, are often viewed by the believers [in evolution] as further powerful confirmatory evidence of the truth of the paradigm. Evolutionary thought today provides many other instances where the priority of the paradigm [i.e., the assumption that “evolution is fact”] takes precedence over common sense [p. 352, emphasis added].
For the skeptic or indeed to anyone prepared to step out of the circle of Darwinian belief, it is not hard to find inversions of common sense in modern evolutionary thought which are strikingly reminiscent of the mental gymnastics of the phlogiston chemists or the medieval astronomers [p. 351].
In a very real sense, therefore, advocacy of the doctrine of continuity [i.e., evolutionism] has always necessitated a retreat from pure empiricism [i.e., logic and observation], and contrary to what is widely assumed by evolutionary biologists today, it has always been the anti-evolutionists [i.e., creationists], not the evolutionists, in the scientific community who have stuck rigidly to the facts and adhered to a more strictly empirical approach. … It was Darwin the evolutionist who was retreating from the facts [pp. 353–354, emphasis added].
On the positive side, Denton also notes that “there has always existed a significant minority of first-rate biologists who have never been able to bring themselves to accept the validity of Darwinian claims” (p. 327). At a conference in Sydney, Australia (April, 1987), where we appeared on the platform together, Denton was willing to cautiously extrapolate that “significant minority” to “perhaps a majority” of first-rate biologists. And he stresses also that those biologists willing to explore the design hypothesis do so for scientific reasons, apart from particular religious presuppositions (p. 341).
Creation-evolution was featured on CBS television “Sunday Morning” (Nov. 23, 1980) in a superb cover story put together by Richard Threlkeld35 (who ranks up there with CBC’s Tom Kelly as a fair, honest, thoughtful, and thought-provoking TV journalist). The 20-minute piece starts with my students and me “in the act of discovery,” hunting fossils in the desert east of San Diego. It continues with several evolutionists, other creationists, parents, students, and teachers in action; and it concludes with my favorite evolutionist, Stephen J. Gould, and with a clip from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series.
Threlkeld makes the inevitable trip to the site of the famous Scopes “monkey trial,” but he does not allow his thinking to be buried there. “The debate goes on,” he observes, “and why not?” After all, nobody was there to see how life came into being, he says; at bottom both views are assumptions. But he doesn’t stop thinking there, either. Instead, he treats the two ultimate assumptions, creation and evolution, as ideas which can be compared for their scientific merits and which must be compared before we can truly appreciate our origin as human beings.
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