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evolution, science

Evolution Predicts Gaps in the Fossil Record

Today, I want to address a very common claim by Creation Scientists (sic!).   It is said that the geologic column is incomplete, and that there are huge gaps where there ought to be gradual change.

What these poor scientific illiterates do not understand is that according to the theory of natural selection, we should not expect to find a complete record. In fact, the very things which cause speciation to occur would necessarily cause gaps in the fossil record.

To begin with, we must understand that speciation is a very, very long process in most cases.  In a single population, it is extraordinarily rare for a new species to just appear.  This is because of interbreeding.  Any new beneficial adaptation is overwhelmingly likely to be quite small, and it is also overwhelmingly likely to spread through the population relatively quickly, in evolutionary terms.

We must also confront a popular notion about species.  Species are not defined by their ability to mate.  Lions and tigers are different species, and yet, they can breed.  Breeding is necessary, but not sufficient, to label a species.  In other words, for something to be considered a species, it must be able to breed with itself, but just saying that two animals can interbreed does not make them the same species.  In determining species, one of the biggest factors involving breeding is whether they do so without outside interference.

With these two things in mind, we can examine how speciation does occur, and what the evidence would look like after millions of years.  In order for a particular population to become different enough from another population of the same species, there has to be isolation.  If there is no isolation, mutations will propagate through the whole population, and there will be no speciation event.  Let’s do a thought experiment with a rodent, some variety of rat.  Let’s suppose that this is a prairie rat, and it lives on a very large island.  Now, let’s suppose that a major geologic event occurs (what it is hardly matters) and the island is literally split in two, with a large body of water in between.  Some of the rats on both sides survived, and now we have two separate populations.

Since mutations occur essentially randomly, we should not expect both populations to continue down the same evolutionary path.  In fact, we’d be amazed if they did.  Instead, we will start to notice slight differences, even if the habitat of both populations is still quite similar.  Eventually, just from time and mutations, we will have two groups of animals that are different enough from each other that they will no longer interbreed if reintroduced.

The effect of culture upon speciation also cannot be overlooked.  The tiniest change in the expression of a gene can cause quite different social behavior.  Since we’re talking about rats, it’s worth mentioning that by introducing a single chemical into the brains of polygamous varieties of rodents, we can make them monogamous.  Since we know that this occurs, let’s suppose that one island of rats becomes monogamous while the other remains polygamous.  This, in itself, would probably be enough for scientists to make a case for a new species, since the two populations would not normally be socially compatible.

However, we’re trying to get at the fossil record, so let’s extend our thought experiment much farther into the future.  We need to imagine that enough time passes so that there are two species that are clearly recognizable by the fossil evidence.  This is only a matter of geologic time, so let’s suppose now that in one population, the rats grow quite large while in the other, they stay very small.

Here’s where the trick comes in, and evolution predicts gaps in the fossil record.  Suppose now that the two bodies of land are reunited.  Perhaps sea level drops, and there is now a land bridge.  Again, the method doesn’t really matter.  In any case, if our new giant rats come back across the land bridge, we can easily imagine that they might directly compete with the small rats for resources, and might drive them extinct within only a few generations.  (We see this kind of competition all the time when we inadvertantly introduce species into new environments.)

Now, jump another few million years into the future, and let’s imagine that sea level has risen again, and an archaeologist is digging about on the original site.  What will he find?  He will see small rat fossils through one strata, and suddenly, all the small rats will disappear, and very large rats will take their place — with no intermediate fossils.

As you can see, it is precisely because some kind of separation is necessary for speciation, and because the geology of the earth is not constant, that we should not expect to find, anywhere in the world, a complete geologic column.  All we will ever find is bits and pieces, and we must also reconcile ourselves to the fact that parts of the geologic record are gone forever, reconstituted into the earth’s core, or buried under the sea, or pushed upwards into mountain peaks, only to be eroded away by wind and rain.

Luckily, we are not dependent on the geologic column for our proof of evolution.  The phyolgenetic record can be put together without any need for it.*  That, of course, is a topic for another blog, lest this turn into several chapters of a book.  Before I leave the subject of the geologic column, however, I should point out that we do have complete evolutionary records of several species as they evolve.  When I say complete, I do mean absolutely complete in all ways.  We have the specimens themselves, and we have their complete genetic data.

How can this be?  Quite simply, they’re all still alive.  These are called “ring species.”  The best known of these is the Herring Gull/Lesser Black-backed Gull ring.  If you look at each of these birds, they are quite distinctly different species.  Even non-scientists can easily tell them apart.  The thing is, if you start in England with a population of Herring Gulls and follow them around, population to population, you will journey around the North Pole to North America, across to Alaska, across Siberia, and back to England again.  All along the way, you will find interbreeding groups, but as you travel westward from England, the Herring Gulls begin to look more and more like Lesser Black-backed gulls until you get to the middle of Europe where they are undoubtably not Herring gulls anymore.  If you take one member of each “end group” and put them together, they will not breed.  However, if you follow the chain either forwards or backwards from Herring Gull to Black-backed gull, you get a continuous chain of interbreeding populations.  We literally can see a complete, living example of speciation through separation, with absolutely no gaps in the record at all.

Herring Gull
Herring Gull

* This is not to say that the geologic column is useless.  Far from it.  Together with the DNA record, the two help us form a very parsimonious explanation of specific events in evolutionary history.  The geologic record helps us explain what we find in the DNA record, and vice versa.  That’s how science works.

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Discussion

41 thoughts on “Evolution Predicts Gaps in the Fossil Record

  1. Hamby,

    Do you have any peer reviewed articles that support your position that evolution predicts gaps in the fossil record or is this you simply trying to pass off your opinions as scientific facts…..again.

    .

    Posted by PG | November 13, 2010, 12:27 am
  2. Simple, clear and to the point.

    Good job

    Posted by LM | November 13, 2010, 8:02 am
  3. Okay, I am impressed! I am still learning about evolution and often find the material way over my head. However, you example of the rats is excellent and easily understood. Thanks.

    Posted by Interested | November 16, 2010, 1:21 pm
  4. So let me get this straight,

    Little rats evolve into bigger rats, and birds evolve into birds, and that dont want to have sex, proves evolution.

    Got it!

    Here is you problem though Hamby.

    As soon as that rat or bird evolves into an entirely different indentifiable species, those fossils would then be in the geologic column awaiting discovery.

    Atleast you admit that there is serious gaps in the fossil record…

    Posted by PG | November 20, 2010, 6:25 pm
  5. PG: peer reviewed articles to support Hamby’s position coming right up: http://www.phylointelligence.org/fossils.html

    You’re welcome.

    I recommend that if you’re going to continue to denounce evolution, that you educate yourself regarding the theory you’re attacking. There are plenty of articles on the above site which will serve you well in that endeavor.

    This is assuming that you want to be able to participate in the discussion. If you have hope that someone who is familiar with the theory you’re attacking will read what you have to say and actually consider it, then maybe you should educate yourself enough to be able to put forward relevant argument.

    Posted by Ian | November 20, 2010, 10:19 pm
  6. PG doesn’t care. He realizes he’s an idiot and enjoys it. Either that or he’s delusional. Let’s be honest, did anyone understand what he said?

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 20, 2010, 11:08 pm
  7. Alex,

    Now dont be a typical atheist and start spewing irrelelvent rebuttals. I believe in evolution, but just not the Dick and Jane darwinian version of evolution thats being spewed on this blog along with some lame deductions for why scientists cant find evidence of a gradual fossil transitions in the geologic column.

    How pathetic that atheists still promote an outdated theory of gradualism, natural selection and mutations, when when science is trying so hard to move forward with its new discoveries regarding evolution.

    When you get educated on the scientific discoveries that challenge your outdated Dawinian elovolution, you may then understand the relevant argument I put forth.

    Here is the first one…

    http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.2005.Gene.pdf

    .

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 3:00 am
  8. OMG, that totally convinced me. I’m for the Jesus now. Damn atheists are gonna rot in hell for eternity.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 21, 2010, 8:23 am
  9. Mocking science Alex?

    Dont like to read about other evolutionary scientists making discoveries that seriously question your Patron Saint Darwin’s gradualism theories?

    The only problem is that each new fascinating scientific discovery is reflecting higher levels of complexity, not simplicity, thus making your reductionists theories more obsolete…

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 2:27 pm
  10. Alex wrote:

    Let’s be honest, did anyone understand what he said?

    I’m not sure what PG’s argument is. Complexity = god did it?

    Posted by Ian | November 21, 2010, 3:32 pm
  11. It wasn’t science that I was mocking. Nice of you to inform me as to what I think. Once again, way off the mark but why start a new trend now. Despite your asinine ideas otherwise, I’m not an atheist in the strict sense, and certainly don’t venerate Darwin in any way.

    The only things I venerate are knowledge, truth, and logic. None of which are found by talking to you unfortunately. I do find entertainment, which I do value moderately, so thanks for that.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 21, 2010, 5:23 pm
  12. Alex says:

    I’m not sure what PG’s argument is. Complexity = god did it?

    No Alex,
    The arguement is that complexity = mutations and gradualism didnt do it.

    You see Alex, Darwinian evolutionary processes promote reduction of complexity down to simple processes of random mutation, natural selection, and gradualism. The problem is that science is finding more and more complexity even in the lowest levels of life forms, not less!

    This is creating a clear division in evolutionary biology. Their discoveries of Coded information, alorithms, transposition, horozontal gene transfer, are well documented empirical evidence that random mutations and gradualism at best plays a insignificant and minimal role in evolutionary processes.

    The problem is that these discoveries are met with disdain and resistance by the entrenched Darwinian community because complexity, information systems, and computer engineering structures are a dangerous challenge to their orthodoxy.

    And well we both know that any discoveries that appears to discredit the Patron Saint Darwin is unacceptable whether if its being done by creationists or by fellow evolutionists.

    .

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 5:25 pm
  13. Here’s a quote for you PG:

    It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.

    –Augustine of Hippo

    What do you think about that?

    You said:

    And well we both know that any discoveries that appears to discredit the Patron Saint Darwin is unacceptable whether if its being done by creationists or by fellow evolutionists.

    Let me direct your attention back to the above quote, especially to the part about “speaking so idiotically on these matters” and “could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw he totally in error they were.”

    Posted by Ian | November 21, 2010, 6:05 pm
  14. Im not a Christian you dumb fuck..

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 7:24 pm
  15. In addition Ian, I have only presented scientific papers by evolutionary biologists, not a bible or your lame website for that matter. I know using science to refute your position must seem to you like a creationist ripped off your arm and is now beating you with it…

    Now either present scientific papers to support your position or simply STFU and go awy!

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 7:33 pm
  16. BTW, did you simply quote mine fit your BS and that his final analysis actually refutes your position…

    “In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.” – De Genesi ad literam, 2:9

    Maybe you should refrain from posting until you have researched the subject matter of your references…

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 7:55 pm
  17. Actually you should refrain from posting until you know the difference between a scientific paper and a quote from Augutine.

    You paper needs to refute atleast one of the following scientific disoveries:
    Horontal Gene Transfer
    Transposition,
    Coded information in DNA

    Ill wait…

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 8:08 pm
  18. PG said,

    Alex says:
    I’m not sure what PG’s argument is. Complexity = god did it?

    No I didn’t.

    He also said,

    Im not a Christian you dumb fuck..

    And we’re not all atheists (and even if we were that says absolutely nothing about what we think on any topic other than the existence of “Gods”) you dumb fuck.

    Perhaps you should refrain from posting until you’re able to clearly articulate what you’re trying to say (not sure that’s possible given how contradictory you continue to be to yourself) and it actually has some bearing on the topic being discussed.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 21, 2010, 8:18 pm
  19. And as an afterthought, what the hell are you (you obviously believe something, just no clue what)?

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 21, 2010, 8:19 pm
  20. Alex, if you bothered to read before posting you would immediately realize that my posts were intended as responses to Ian and not you

    Peace out…

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 9:02 pm
  21. I knew that. Just wanted to make sure you realized who you were speaking to.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 21, 2010, 9:06 pm
  22. Alex,
    I have always advocated my position on this blog as an ID proponent and my proposition that I believe in directed evolution. Perhaps this blog will eventually come to realize that agnostics, deists, and theists are counted among its proponents, and that its not simply glossed over creationism.

    What I dont do is deal in absolutes. As I stated to you numberous times, science is still looking for answers with a priori commitment to materialism. Thnks fine, and good luck,

    But the truth is that the chasm is getting wider and wider with each new scientific disovery of complexity and directed evolution – regardless of ones religious beliefs!

    .

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 9:24 pm
  23. Whats cool Alex is that these discoveries:
    Horontal Gene Transfer, Transposition, Coded information in DNA, actually make a strong case for puctuated equalibrium. Too bad Steven Gould isnt around to witness these discoveries.

    The problem for non-theists however,is that these discoveries imply an element of intelligence and well, we cant let a designer get a “divine foot in the door”

    Posted by PG | November 21, 2010, 9:40 pm
  24. Intelligent Design does not imply “God”. It simply implies something above us on the proverbial food chain. It’s a lot more likely to be aliens (ancient astronauts theory).

    And yet again, that still doesn’t explain anything about how they came to exist (who created them? or did they “evolve”?).

    And also yet again, modern evolutionary theory takes into account those things (or what you are intending to say, which you’ve done poorly).

    And finally (yet again), DNA as a code does not imply a designer, despite your failed attempt at logic to imply otherwise.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 22, 2010, 7:47 am
  25. And p.s. ID is glossed over creationism. It has no real basis in science since it’s based entirely on your failed logic (all codes are designed, dna = code, thus dna is designed).

    The first premise is false, unprovable, and does not lead as a consequence to the second.

    When they find a DNA segment that says quite clearly “Copyright God, circa 4.57 BCE” and it’s in literally everything, you’ll have some science behind you. Until then, no.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 22, 2010, 7:50 am
  26. Too bad Alex, you rmind has been poisoned with atheist rhetoric.

    For example, intelligent alien theories research such as SETI are well within the intelligent design paradyn.

    Any discovery of intelligent design does not prove a god, but it does prove that Darwinists are full of shit.

    Posted by PG | November 22, 2010, 12:32 pm
  27. Alex,

    If you bothered to read the Robert Shapiro paper, he carried on Barbara Mclintocks work of which she recieved a nobel prize.

    I must warn you, College professors teach random mutations, not what Im about to share with you.

    Here is what Dr. James A. Shapiro of the University of Chicago discovered about protozoa.

    I want you to read and re-read this a few times to let it sink in.

    A cell under stress will splice its own DNA into over 100,000 pieces. Then a program senses hundreds of variables in its environment and then re-arranges those pieces to produce a new, better, evolved cell.

    Again Alex, I ask you to re-read that short paragraph and really consider the significance of it. A protozoa re-programs its own DNA and evolves. Intelligently.

    Random mutation plays no part in this process. If a protazoa has a program that SENSES ITS ENVIRONMENT, and Reprograms itself and evolves, what does the process of Sences its enviroment and Reprograming into a new and better cell imply?

    Before you answer, consider that the software in your computer does not reprogram itself into a new and better software.

    Again, does it prove a god? no, just that Darwinists are full of shit.

    Posted by PG | November 22, 2010, 12:49 pm
  28. Does this prove ID? It’s exactly what ID proponents are claiming is the basis for life. Again, who “designed” the designer?

    The point isn’t whether ID is how our “life” came to be. It’s whether that explains Life in general. It does not. Something had to “design” any “designed” lifeform. Where did the “Something” come from? ID will never be able to answer that.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 22, 2010, 1:52 pm
  29. PG, the “debate” over punctuated equilibrium has been over for some time. I’ve explained this to you before. No, evolutionary change is not a constant. It does fluctuate based on the changes (or lack of changes) in the degree of selection pressure. The “stairstep” graph of certain lines of evolution which illustrate Gould’s conception of punctuated equilibrium are simply magnifications of a smoother line.

    To illustrate, take a magnifying glass and closely examine a straight diagonal line on an older computer monitor. Notice that up close it looks like stair-steps, but from farther away, it’s a smooth line?

    That’s punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism. No conflict, no debate.

    Posted by hambydammit | November 22, 2010, 3:30 pm
  30. Alex,

    According to Barabra Mclintocks work on transpositions, both Punctuated equilibrium and gradualism is irelevent. Her initial findings and further supported by Shapriro findings conclude that DNA has the capacity to sense its enviroment and reprogram its own DNA, thus proving an engineering process, not a random mutation process…

    At first, Her work was met with hostility and was and still is today suppressed by Darwinists. It took the scientific community another 25 years to acknowledge Mcclintock with a Nobel Prize for her work.

    It will probably be another 25 years before entrenched evolutionists will reluctantly accept these discoveries..

    How long will it take you to accept it Alex?

    Posted by PG | November 23, 2010, 1:01 am
  31. To clarify:

    Unlike Gradualism or Punctuated equalibrium theories, Millions or even thousands of years are NOT required by Genetic engineering processes to evolve DNA and create new body plans.

    Posted by PG | November 23, 2010, 1:08 am
  32. PG said:

    Alex,

    According to Barabra Mclintocks work on transpositions, both Punctuated equilibrium and gradualism is irelevent…

    Why are you arguing with me? Where did I even bring these subjects up? I think you mean to be arguing with Hamby, but are too stupid to remember who said what?

    What I said can be summed up as: Where did the “Something” come from if “Something” designed life on this planet (a la ID).

    As to what else PG said:

    Unlike Gradualism or Punctuated equalibrium theories, Millions or even thousands of years are NOT required by Genetic engineering processes to evolve DNA and create new body plans.

    This would however require that every species and fossil record we’ve found would have had to have been perfectly designed for this environment, something so incredibly complex as to have been a monumental undertaking by our current standards.

    A species thus sufficiently advanced to have done so would explain a lot about ancient cultures fascination with the “divine”. That’s why I’m a fan of the ancient astronaut theory.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 23, 2010, 3:25 am
  33. As an aside, thank you for pointing out Barabra Mclintock. I cannot find where her work makes any of the statements you’ve claimed, but it is interesting reading (not having a very deep understanding of evolution myself, I’m always interested in learning about new topics).

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 23, 2010, 3:29 am
  34. Alex,
    “This would however require that every species and fossil record we’ve found would have had to have been perfectly designed for this environment, something so incredibly complex as to have been a monumental undertaking by our current standards.

    A species thus sufficiently advanced to have done so would explain a lot about ancient cultures fascination with the “divine”. That’s why I’m a fan of the ancient astronaut theory.”

    PG says:

    Bingo! we have a winnwer! : )

    I am a fan as well. A Panspermia event by no means proves or disaproves a god, but simply that there was an intelligent designer .

    Mcclintocks work was carried forward by Shipiro who has made more discoveries regarding the ability of DNA to reengineer and reprogram itself to best survive the enviroment!

    The history and learning channels have a couple of series that they have been discussing this very topic about alien intervention.

    Cool stuff!

    ..

    Posted by PG | November 23, 2010, 1:01 pm
  35. Sorry for the mix-up Alex. i was intending to respond to Hamby.

    Posted by PG | November 23, 2010, 1:05 pm
  36. PG, you completely missed the point. While being a fan of the ancient astronaut theory, I do not believe they would have “faked” our entire system of existence (the only conceivable way for this to occur would be via simulation) . I think rather they began the process (m|b)illions of years ago and then let evolution take over if they were involved at all and not merely bystanders who saw what was going on.

    Short of some group of aliens showing up and presenting us with hard evidence that they “faked” the fossil record and dating mechanisms and created every species (alive and dead) exactly as is in recent history (a few 1000 years is recent given the age of the earth), there is no other logical explanation for the current state and evidence available.

    It (any theory of ID) also doesn’t say anything regarding their origins (did they evolve or were they “designed” by something even older, in which repeat ad infinitum until we reach the first “beginning”). This is why even proving ID does nothing to detract from the arguments for evolution.

    To sum this up, evolution is a fact with regard to the processes by which the diversity of life on this planet came to be and ID is nothing more than conjecture until something significant changes (a la aliens show up and say “hi, we made you and here’s the proof”).

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 23, 2010, 3:03 pm
  37. Alex Hardman, on November 23, 2010 at 3:03 pm said:
    “PG, you completely missed the point……. I think rather they began the process (m|b)illions of years ago and then let evolution take over if they were involved at all and not merely bystanders who saw what was going on.’

    PG says;

    Alex ,
    we are on the same page. If you think aliens seeded the planet, then you also would be thinking like an ID proponent.

    I think as you do that possibly, aliens planted the seeds millions of years ago which incorporated algorythms and reprogramable coded information, and did not need to intervene in the evolutionary processes nor needed to incorporate random mutations to achieve their objectives. Mutations or coding errors destroy information, not improve it.
    Natural selection has been proven scientifically by shapiro to simply be the selection of the new information that was reprogramed.

    BTW, Most ID proponents do not believe in Young Earth creationism and many ID proponents do not specify a god.. Its just Atheist propaganda.

    To sum this up, aliens showing up or not, directed evolution is a fact, random mutation evolution is fast becoming an obsolete theory.

    Posted by PG | November 23, 2010, 4:13 pm
  38. we are not on same page. if they seeded the planet and we are all running some predetermined program, they are assholes. cancer and all these diseases would be part of the program, and that is jus plain cruel.

    I find it much more likely that either random mutation is the situation or some combination of random and pre-programmed.

    Either way that doesnt change the facts and questions: evolution is a fact and where did the designers (in ID) come from?

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 23, 2010, 8:12 pm
  39. BTW I do not think aliens seeded the planet, just that that is the most likely answer if we were designed not naturaly evolved as a planet.

    I find the ID argument extemely unlikely though. If it os the case, I find the simulation theory more likely than ID in the “real” world.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | November 23, 2010, 8:18 pm
  40. This is a great idea

    Posted by VlaD K0nT | November 27, 2010, 11:33 am
  41. Too funny. Predicts? What a stupid, stupid argument. You observed it was incomplete first, THEN tried to figure out why it’s incomplete. Prediction, lol. Is that what this is coming to? So desperate to make arguments for predictions because prediction implies scientific? Are u seriously this stupid? Get better arguments u baboon.

    Posted by LOL | February 3, 2013, 10:18 am

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