Home » Intelligent Design » Did Darwin Believe The Fossil Record Would Never Improve?

Did Darwin Believe The Fossil Record Would Never Improve?

In a comment to a prior post, “Roy” wrote:

Mr Arrington,

You wrote that:

Darwin thought after further exploration the fossil record would ultimately show the “finely graduated organic chain” his theory predicted.

This is false.

In the text that follows the section you keep quoting, Darwin went on to explain why geology doesn’t
reveal finely graduated chains. He discussed erosion, dissolution of skeletal remains, conditions required for fossil accumulation and the rarity of preservation. And at the end of that discussion, he wrote this:

If then there be some degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find, in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms which, on our theory, have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life.

Darwin did not think further exploration of the fossil record would uncover “finely graduated organic chain[s]”. He wrote that it wouldn’t.

I do not think you have deliberately misrepresented Darwin’s ideas. I think it is more likely that you either didn’t comprehend, or didn’t read, the rest of that chapter. But the fact remains that you have used Darwin’s words in support of a position diametrically opposed to the position he actually held.

Roy

Dear Roy,

Sadly, it is you, sir, who did not comprehend the rest of that chapter or Origin. You quote Darwin:

we have no right to expect to find, in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms

and conclude:

Darwin did not think further exploration of the fossil record would uncover “finely graduated organic chain[s]”. He wrote that it wouldn’t.

In summary, you extrapolate from a comment Darwin made about “our geological formations” to his view on the fossil record generally. This is an error.

By “our geological formations” Darwin did not mean the geological formations of the whole world. He meant the formations (mainly in Europe) that had already been explored extensively. He makes this clear later when he compares “our geological formations” with the rest of the world:

We continually forget how large the world is, compared with the area over which our geological formations have been carefully examined;

Darwin was, of course, the first Darwinist. And it is certainly true that he tried to explain away the fossil record in the geological formations that had already been explored extensively in his day (which he called “our geological formations”). This is the same tactic present day Darwinists use to explain away the fossil record as a whole now that 154 years of feverish searching have proven fruitless. I do not deny that.

But Darwin had a luxury that today’s paleontologists do not have – optimism about the product of future explorations of unexplored regions of the world. He firmly believed that further exploration of the record would vindicate his theory as the following passages (in addition to the one already quoted) indicate:

That our palaeontological collections are very imperfect, is admitted by every one. The remark of that admirable palaeontologist, the late Edward Forbes, should not be forgotten, namely, that numbers of our fossil species are known and named from single and often broken specimens, or from a few specimens collected on some one spot. Only a small portion of the surface of the earth has been geologically explored, and no part with sufficient care, as the important discoveries made every year in Europe prove.

From these and similar considerations, but chiefly from our ignorance of the geology of other countries beyond the confines of Europe and the United States; and from the revolution in our palaeontological ideas on many points, which the discoveries of even the last dozen years have effected, it seems to me to be about as rash in us to dogmatize on the succession of organic beings throughout the world, as it would be for a naturalist to land for five minutes on some one barren point in Australia, and then to discuss the number and range of its productions.

We should not forget that only a small portion of the world is known with accuracy.

The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained. To show that it may hereafter receive some explanation, I will give the following hypothesis . . .

of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries

In summary, Darwin clearly expected that his theory would be vindicated (especially with respect to the Cambrian explosion, about which he admitted he was at an utter loss) as the record was explored further. He was wrong, and that was my point.

Finally, I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert about Darwin’s views. But I think we can both confidentially accept the authority of world-famous Darwinists Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, who, as it happens, agree with me and not you. Testifying against interest they write:

Darwin himself, . . . prophesied that future generations of paleontologists would fill in these gaps by diligent search . . . One hundred and twenty years of paleontological research later, it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin’s predictions. Nor is the problem a miserably poor record. The fossil record simply shows that this prediction is wrong

Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myths of Human Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 45-46

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

13 Responses to Did Darwin Believe The Fossil Record Would Never Improve?

  1. I agrre that DArwin did think intermediates would be found in time.
    rEmember he said infinite intermediates would not be found but not gaps between big groups.
    INFINITE because infiniate changes occured if evolution was true.
    They are not there because its not true.
    Darwin would admit he was wrong because he was sharper in mind though wrong. He would be a creationist today perhaps.

  2. Like Mr Beyers said, another problem with Roy’s point is the word “infinite”.

    Sure, fossils are rare(although surprisingly numerous considering the global flood is rejected), but still out of those “infinite transitional forms”, even if they are not all preserved, still a good number should be preserved – which, it seems, is exactly what he did believe.

  3. Mr Arrington,
    I envisaged various ways in which you might respond, but this was not one of them.

    I’ll start with your title. The point I made was not whether Darwin thought more fossils would be found that vindicated his theory, but whether he thought that a “finely graduated organic chain” would be found. He did not, for the reason already stated, that the fossil record is both sparse and discontinuous. Thus your entire argument misses the point entirely, and the many quotes you’ve produced regarding the small percentage of the fossil record then known are irrelevant.

    Secondly, this:

    By “our geological formations” Darwin did not mean the geological formations of the whole world.

    is bovine faeces.

    The quote you provide refers to “the area over which our geological formations have been carefully examined,” with the clear inference that there are areas of “our geological formations” that have not been carefully examined, refuting your claim that “our geological formations” refers only to those areas extensively explored.

    Your use of Eldredge and Tattersall is an appeal to authority, and would be ignorable on those grounds alone even if the positioning of the ellipses didn’t suggest you lifted it from Harun Yahya or some similar secondary source rather than taking it directly from their text.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that quoting, as you do, this:

    The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained. To show that it may hereafter receive some explanation, I will give the following hypothesis …

    without quoting either the case or the hypothesis to which Darwin is referring, renders any attempt by you to deny that you quote out of context utterly worthless.

    Roy

  4. To tjguy:
    That’s the point. A few are preserved – which is what Darwin expected – but continuous series are not – which is also what Darwin expected. Barry claimed that Darwin predicted the finding of a “finely graduated organic chain”; the opposite of what Darwin actually wrote.

    Roy

  5. (I suppose I should make it clear that I am not accusing Mr Arrington of quote-mining. I am accusing him of using secondary sources which include mined quotes, of quoting without context, and of changing the subject. But I do not think he deliberately misrepresented Darwin; I think he believed that Eldredge and Tattersall correctly represented Darwin’s views, and consequently perpetuated their error, while incorporating that snippet of Darwin without checking the rest of the chapter)

  6. Where did Roy say or imply that Darwin believed that the fossil record wouldn’t improve? It’s a ridiculous assertion.  It’s difficult for me to even fathom how one could even interpret his post in such a way.  

    I’m not sure what’s going on, but it seems to be something beyond just reading comprehension.

    Of course Darwin believed the fossil record would improve.  How could it not?  And it has improved – dramatically.  I think for the most part that Darwin would be pleased at how well the fossil record has improved since his time.

    As the search for fossils widened, Darwin obviously expected more intermediates to be found (and indeed they have been), but he did not expect us to find a “finely graduated organic chain” of fossils. As he explains, there are a host of geological reasons (not unique to Europe) as to why that is. The conditions conducive to fossilization are rare, and even when fossilization occurs they are often subsequently lost due to erosion, etc.

    Also, I do think Niles Eldredge is mistaken in what he believes Darwin expected of the fossil record. Compare for instance, this statement from Eldredge:
    “Darwin’s prediction of rampant, albeit gradual, change affecting all lineages through time is refuted. The record is there, and the record speaks for tremendous anatomical conservatism. Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record.”

    With Darwin’s own words from Origin:
    “Many species once formed never undergo any further change … and the periods, during which species have undergone modification, though long as measured by years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retain the same form.”

  7. What Darwin expected:

    Darwin’s Dilemma – The Cambrian Explosion – In Darwin’s Own Words
    Excerpt: Consequently, if the theory be true, it is indisputable that, before the lowest Silurian or Cambrian 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; and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures…
    To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods, I can give no satisfactory answer…
    The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained. [emphasis added]
    —Chapter IX, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record,” On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin – fifth edition (1869), pp. 378-381.
    http://indigosociety.com/showt.....-Explosion

    What the fossil record reveals:

    Cambrian Explosion Ruins Darwin’s Tree of Life (2 minutes in 24 hour day) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQKxkUb_AAg

    Only Darwinists would deny there is no problem!

    further notes:

    Materialistic Basis of the Cambrian Explosion is Elusive: BioEssays Vol. 31 (7):736 – 747 – July 2009
    Excerpt: “going from an essentially static system billions of years in existence to the one we find today, a dynamic and awesomely complex system whose origin seems to defy explanation. Part of the intrigue with the Cambrian explosion is that numerous animal phyla with very distinct body plans arrive on the scene in a geological blink of the eye, with little or no warning of what is to come in rocks that predate this interval of time.” —”Thus, elucidating the materialistic basis of the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself, and cannot be explained away by coupling extinction of intermediates with long stretches of geologic time, despite the contrary claims of some modern neo-Darwinists.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....mater.html

    Dr. Stephen Meyer: Darwin’s Dilemma – The Significance of Sponge Embryos – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPs8E7y0ySs

    Does Lots of Sediment in the Ocean Solve the “Mystery” of the Cambrian Explosion? – Casey Luskin April, 2012
    Excerpt: I think the Cambrian fossil record is surprisingly complete. I think it may be more complete than we realize. The reason for that is, for instance, if you look at the stratigraphy of the world, if I go and collect Cambrian rocks in Wales and find certain fossils, if I then go to China, I don’t find the same species but I find the same sorts of fossils. If I go into Carboniferous rocks, I go to Canada, they are the same as what I find in this country. So there is a clear set of faunas and floras that take us through geological time. The overall framework is falling into position.
    - Simon Conway Morris
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....59021.html

    Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories By: Stephen C. Meyer; Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington
    “To say that the fauna of the Cambrian period appeared in a geologically sudden manner also implies the absence of clear transitional intermediate forms connecting Cambrian animals with simpler pre-Cambrian forms. And, indeed, in almost all cases, the Cambrian animals have no clear morphological antecedents in earlier Vendian or Precambrian fauna (Miklos 1993, Erwin et al. 1997:132, Steiner & Reitner 2001, Conway Morris 2003b:510, Valentine et al. 2003:519-520). Further, several recent discoveries and analyses suggest that these morphological gaps may not be merely an artifact of incomplete sampling of the fossil record (Foote 1997, Foote et al. 1999, Benton & Ayala 2003, Meyer et al. 2003), suggesting that the fossil record is at least approximately reliable (Conway Morris 2003b:505).”
    http://www.discovery.org/a/2177

    And of course the primary question that Darwinists refuse to ever honestly address:

    Dr. Stephen Meyer: Darwin’s Dilemma – Where did the information come from? – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CTKKrtSc8k

  8. 8

    Roy,

    It beggars belief, but I think you really do believe that Darwin thought that by 1859 the fossil record had been thoroughly explored all over world and there was no hope of finding any fossil bed anywhere in the world that would show the organic chain he envisioned.

    Self-delusion on this scale is invincible. Thus, further dialogue with you seems pointless.

    I invite the onlookers to go read Origin for themselves. After they have done so they can determine for themselves whether to believe “Roy” or to believe world-renowned DARWINIST scholars Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall.

  9. Mr Arrington,

    I have no idea how you came to that conclusion, since it bears no resemblance to anything I’ve said. Perhaps I should have used shorter words. Further dialogue is indeed pointless, but for entirely different reasons.

    Roy

  10. I have no idea how you came to that conclusion, since it bears no resemblance to anything I’ve said.

    Actually, I would say it’s not possible for anyone to come to that conclusion from what you’ve written.

    This can’t be merely a problem with reading comprehension. As I said, there’s something else going on, but it beats me as to what that is.

  11. From what i read of Darwin ITS that he believed what someone would believe who advocated his position.
    He said there is infinite graduations but these will not be caught by the fossil record.
    yet he believed what would be caught is good sections along the trails of evolution.
    Today its shown great gaps between important groupings. Crazy wide gaps!
    TThere should not be such a pure break in lineages relative to important changes.
    The fossil record NOT catching the changes I think would teach Darwin evolution never happened.
    He would understand this better then faithful evolutionists today.
    If evolution never created the complexity and diversity of biology it ALSO would be shown there is no fossil record of intermediates or in-betweens.
    Whose predictions are working??

  12. regarding the exchanges at UD over the fossil record, Barry wrote in the related thread:

    I am sorry if it appears that I am beating this horse long after it has expired…

    That’s ok, that’s far better than beating a live puppy (like you know who used to do simply from enjoying the sense of power).

  13. 13

    Roy, perhaps I have erred and further dialogue is in order.

    I wrote:

    I think you really do believe that Darwin thought that by 1859 the fossil record had been thoroughly explored all over world and there was no hope of finding any fossil bed anywhere in the world that would show the organic chain he envisioned.

    You replied:

    I have no idea how you came to that conclusion, since it bears no resemblance to anything I’ve said

    From your reply, I take it that you believe Darwin believed the fossil record had not been thoroughly explored all over world, and therefore there was in fact hope of finding a fossil bed in the future that would show the finely graduated organic chain he envisioned.

    Well, now we are getting somewhere. I have argued that is exactly what Darwin believed. And I have further argued that the fossil record did not turn out the way he expected, because no such finely graduated organic chain has been found. It seems that we agree after all. Thanks.

    But if that is the case, I am at a loss as to what your objection was and what all the fuss has been about.

Leave a Reply