Plants vs. Zombie: Fossil Record Contradicts Evolution

Darwin SignPopular myths are like zombies.  They invade your head and eat your brain. This series of articles concisely introduced some of popular theists and atheists myths. My aim is to give plants and fungi to both sincere atheists and theists brains’ soil to battle these waves of  zombies. So, lets get ready to soil our plants and fungi before these zombies eat our brains.

Myth II: Fossil Record Contradict Evolution

In Evolution? The Fossils Say No! Duane T. Gish wrote that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould argued that fossil record “does not produce evidence of the gradual change of one plant or animal form into another”(Gish 1979, 172) Gish pointed out that according to Gould fossil record produced evidence for “each kind appeared abruptly”.

A zombie appeared with the hidden assumption that if phyletic gradualism is wrong then Darwinism¹ must also be wrong. This zombie failed to see the difference between two schools of evolutionary biology.

It is true that Gould and Niles Eldredge contended that “[m]ost species, during their geological history, either do not change in any appreciable way, or else they fluctuate mildly in morphology, with no apparent direction.”(Gould & Eldredge 1977, 115) Punctuated equilibria explains the “overlooked phenomenon of marked stability, responding to a pattern where adaptive evolutionary change seems to be concentrated into (relatively) brief episodes, ‘punctuating’ vastly linger intervals where little or no change is accumulated.”(Eldredge 1989, 174)

According to Gould and Niles, most evolutionary modification is concentrated in rapid proceedings of speciation in small, marginally remote populations (1977, 117). Even if we were to assume that “graualistic tale were true, which it is not” (ibid 116) there is limited fossil date to establish the truthfulness such a tale. What were prima facie treated as gaps in fossil data are actually data, stasis period of species proliferation.

Although Charles Robert Darwin in his later works moved towards gradualism, his early stages works showed that he held saltationist view. On page 130 of his Red Notebook, for example, Darwin argued that were there is no gradual change and one species has changed into another, then “it must be per saltum- or species may perish”.

Darwin encountered what paleontologists  found and noted it as a good objection to his theory (Notebook E, 1838). Since “[o]n the theory of natural selection, we can clearly understand why she[nature] should not; for natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest and slowest steps.”(Darwin 1964, 194) Darwin resolved this objection by appealing to an incomplete fossil record (1964, 310-11)

Even though paleontologists failed to see gradualism, a slow, steady and gradual change of species in fossil record as the only paradigm of Darwinism, they harmonized that broad-spectrum patterns of evolutionary history displayed in the fossil record with another evolutionary biological paradigm, ‘punctuated equilibria’. It is prima facie contra natura non facit saltum of Darwinian gradualism but Darwinism nonetheless.


Darwin, Charles (1964) On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Gish, Duane T. (1979) Evolution: The Fossils Say No! San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers.

Gould, Stephen Jay & Eldredge, Niles (1977) ‘Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered.’ Paleobiology vol. 3: 115-151

Eldredge, Niles (1989) ‘Punctuated equilibra, rates of change and large-scale entities in evolutionary systems.’  Journal of Social and Biological Structures Vol. 12:173-184

Previous Myth: Hume Was An Atheist

[1] I used Darwinianism and Evolution synonymously.

30 thoughts on “Plants vs. Zombie: Fossil Record Contradicts Evolution

  1. Pingback: Palaeontologists and Evolution | All you would like to know about God!

  2. Prayson, Allow me to ask the question this way: “Regarding the fossil record, what is the evidence for saltationism/PE?”
    If the answer is “a lack of evidence for gradualism,” then perhaps Gish is correct in concluding that the fossil record needn’t be interpreted as supporting the evolution of life forms over billions of years.

  3. At the risk of staying on topic, I have some questions based on Prayson’s post. Prayson, I address this to you, but of course, I’d like to hear anyone’s thoughts. I’m not a scientist of any sort, so please keep your answer on a layman’s level.

    Prayson, I’ve read neither Gish’s book, nor Gould’s paper, but based on what you’ve presented, I wonder if you’ve misunderstood Gish’s point. Before Gould’s theory of Punctuated Equilibrium(PE,) for decades the world was told that the fossil record supported the theory of the gradual evolution of life forms over billions of years, but the lack of expected transitional forms continued to contradict this belief. Isn’t Gish simply saying that the fact that respected scientists like Gould and Eldredge could posit PE is proof that the fossil record doesn’t support gradual evolution? If the evidence fit the theory, then there would have been no need for the theory of PE. But then, weirdly, isn’t the proof for PE essentially the absence of evidence of evolution? Therefore, PE only makes sense if one presupposes the evolution of life forms in the first place. In other words, the evidence for PE in the fossil record is essentially indentical to evidence for creationism – the sudden appearance of various kinds of life forms with no transitional forms ?

    I’ve been following this debate for years, and I contend that both sides are doing exactly the same thing – embracing the data that supports their dogma, and explaining away that which doesn’t. It’s what all human beings do.

    • This is a good question. Gish led his reader to believe that since fossil does not support gradualism, then evolution is false. I think Gish is on mark, for those who equate evolution with gradualism (on both sides of the debate)

      Darwin and others held a similar to later punctuated equilibria(saltum jump/leap) long before gradualism became orthodox view of evolution. When Darwin let evidence shape his theory, saltationism(leaps in fossil) was what he came up with. Ignoring the evidence and hoping/believing he had incomplete fossil, theory shaped evidence, and gradualism was what he ended up with.

      But all in all, all these views are still in evolutionary biology. If when view is wrong, it does not mean evolution is wrong.

  4. From Wiki: “Modern evolutionary biology has terminology suggesting both continuous change, such as genetic drift, and discontinuous variation, such as mutation. However, as the basic structure of DNA is discrete, nature is now widely understood to make jumps at the biological level, if only on a very small scale.”

    And this small scale jumping is also exactly what we find in both physics and chemistry as well as biology.

    I don;t know any modern evolutionary biologists who insist only on very slow and gradual changes. Using reality rather than philosophy as our guide, we find natural selection as a mechanism determines this variable rate and not the other way around. All evidence points in this direction, putting to bed why the claim Natura non facit saltus to describe reality is factually wrong. Nature does indeed make small scale jumps all the time; but, remember, these changes may not appear to be the case in meta-scale changes like we find in the fossil record. Nevertheless, since the synthesis with genetics we have a much better understanding of how life changes over time to cause speciation.

    But let’s assume the opposite for a moment. What evidence is there to suggest some kind of POOF!ism at work and, more importantly, how does this ‘explanation’ then deal with the same evidence we have for how life changes over time? Well, to be blunt, it doesn’t. Yet that Herculean task remains squarely before creationists undone.

    To creationists everywhere should be the standard response to claims contrary to evolution: go do the work and then report back. In the meantime, stop making such ludicrous claims about POOF!ism as some kind of equivalent yet ‘alternative’ explanation. It’s not. It’s just making stuff up.

    • Evolution is a closed book, really?

      In reality, there are quite a few scientific flaws in the theory that provide reasons to be skeptical. Granted, none of these questions necessarily disproves evolution, but they do show how the theory is less than settled.

      There are many ways in which evolution can be criticized scientifically, but most of those criticisms are highly specific. There are countless examples of genetic characteristics, ecological systems, evolutionary trees, enzyme properties, and other facts that are very difficult to square with the theory of evolution. Detailed descriptions of these can be highly technical and are beyond the scope of a shot summary such as this. Generally speaking, it’s accurate to say that science has yet to provide consistent answers to how evolution operates at the molecular, genetic, or even ecological levels in a consistent and supportable way.

      Other flaws in the theory of evolution can be separated into three basic areas. First, there is the contradiction between “punctuated equilibrium” and “gradualism.” Second is the problem in projecting “microevolution” into “macroevolution.” Third is the unfortunate way in which the theory has been unscientifically abused for philosophical reasons.

      Overall, there are many solidly scientific reasons to question the theory of evolution. These flaws may be resolved by science, or they may eventually kill the theory all together. We don’t know which one will happen, but we do know this: the theory of evolution is far from settled, and rational people can question it scientifically.

      • It’s considered intellectual property theft to cut and paste without citing your source. Although lying for Jesus is a typical ploy by creationists in particular, I see with a quick search of this ‘comment’ you’ve posted that stealing for Jesus is very popular, too. But I’m sure there’s a commandment specifically aimed at people who steal, and if you care so little for your god that you defy him so blatantly here, then surely PD deserves better than doing so on his site. Tsk. Tsk. Where’s a moderator when one is required?

        As for these points you recycle, they are called PRATT: points refuted a thousand times. If you spent as much time learning why this is so as you do scouring the internet for what appear to be scientific counter-arguments to steal and present as your own, you would promote knowledge rather than deception.

        • Well, bless your heart. Stealing for Jesus reminds me of the song Steal Away To Jesus by Michelle Williams. When confronted by a soul possessed I just smile and say, Jesus commands you.

          For Christians reading this just know it is a fact that the Theory Of Evolution is the mechanism Atheists use to explain how we are here and how EVERYTHING you see around you all started “by chance” from primordial soup millions of years ago. Every plant and animal all evolved from a single cell in a mix of chemicals in mud. This Poofism we are supposed to believe with a straight face?

          But there is the rub. The Theory tries to explain how species evolve, not how they started. Really.

          Steal Away To Jesus

          My lord, my lord, he calls me. (calls me)
          He calls me by the thunder. (thunder)
          The trumpet sounds way down in my sanctified soul.
          I ain’t got long to stay here.

          Green trees are bending. (are bending)
          Sinners stand a-tembling. (a-trembling)
          The trumpet sounds within my soul.
          I ain’t got long to stay here.

          Steal Away. (in the midnight hour)
          Steal Away. (when you need some power)
          Steal Away.(when you heart is heavy)
          Steal Away to Jesus. (steal away to jesus)
          Steal Away. (steal away home)
          Steal Away home. (haven’t got long)
          I ain’t got long to stay here.

          My Lord , he calls me. (calls me)
          I can hear him calling me by the lightning. (lightnin’)
          The trumpet sounds within my soul.
          I ain’t got long to stay here.

          (its gonna be over after while)
          Steal away to Jesus. (oh)
          Steal away. Steal Away Home
          Steal Away to jesus.
          I aint got long to stay here.
          I ain’t got long to stay here. (hallelujah steal away)
          I ain’t got long to stay here.

          • So I’m ‘possessed’ to point out what’s true, eh? Wow. That’s some pious rationalization for you! Why not admit your mistake, apologize to PD for sullying his site, and then carry on explaining why you – a working biologist (ahem…) – understand why a foundation of modern biology is actually so dubious?

            Well, because you can’t. The science simply doesn’t support these stolen claims you recycle. Understand, please, that reality didn’t have to turn out this way. It could have clearly shown interventionist design. It could have clearly demonstrated separate kinds of critters. It could have clearly demonstrated a creation event. In all these case, the science would have supported what reality showed us to be true about it.

            But it didn’t show this. It doesn’t show this. Reality doesn’t show us this.

            That’s not the fault of atheists and its not a scientific conspiracy aimed at people who believe reality is different than it is. It’s just the way reality tells us how it really is.

            The question now becomes how to incorporate faith-based beliefs that stand contrary to reality to come into line with it (consider, for example, how you would treat people who continue to insist as a matter of piousness that the earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the earth as a matter of piousness, and so on. That’s the level of discourse with creationists that evolutionary biologists have to face every working day of their professional scientific careers: reality deniers in the name of piousness). Consider the frustration of having the science you do – just like chemists and physicists and using the identical method – be categorized by such knowledgeable people as yourself in such asinine terms and be expected to treat such self-righteous people entrenched in their denialism gently and kindly decade after decade after decade. There is a reason why New Atheists are populated by so many biologists, and it’s not because scientists studying the life sciences are by nature militant and angry and rude. It’s a conditioned response to a having to deal with people who vilify them and their work, who call them ‘possessed’, who think nothing of stealing and lying and misrepresenting and refusing to treat reality and the truth it contains as it is, in the name of god, in the name of Allah, in the name of Jesus, in the name of religion, in the name of morality, in the name of faith. Never in the name of what’s demonstrably true. What’s true doesn’t matter if it stands contrary to some archaic faith-based belief, you see. Creationists set themselves up to be agents of deception, agents who promote and sustain ignorance, agents who act as foes of reality, yet somehow seem able to rationalize their culpability from the same moral standards they feel should be imposed on everyone in the name of their special god-sanctioned piousness. Yet they’ll turn to modern medicine and utilize the applications, technologies, and therapies derived from evolutionary biology to keep death and unnecessary suffering at bay, and not for one second realize the demonstration of hypocrisy in action.

            Denying reality is not a very reasonable option for anyone, and yet this is exactly the plan of attack by creationists like yourself to support these misguided faith-based beliefs. You might be able to fool yourself into thinking that your religious beliefs define reality but please don’t assume this denial of reality is a virtue because it’s pious. It’s not a virtue because it doesn’t respect what’s true (regardless of the piety involved); it supports what is not true. Supporting what is not true is pretty dangerous and causes a disconnect with reality that produces significant dysfunction due to the medical condition known as delusion. Please look up the medical definition of delusion and see for yourself how it applies to those who insist their beliefs about reality define it rather than respect reality to arbitrate claims made about it. Maybe if you can recognize and be treated for your delusions only then you can rejoin the adults at the table of reality and be heard to some a positive contribution finding out how reality works and how we should respond to it in ways that aren’t quite so welcoming to death as the lovely diddly your commented on and more along the lines of affirming how to work towards obtaining a better quality of life.

          • Wow, and to think I’ve been accused of being long winded. Ark, where are you…

            Question 1 – Why would me saying. “Jesus commands you” upset you? You don’t believe in Jesus.

            Question 2- What exactly does reality show us?

            Question 3 – What credentials do you possess to prove you have the “truth”.

          • Yes, I am long-winded in order to explain my opinion.

            A1 It doesn’t. To me, it’s like being told “Intergalactic mushrooms command you.”
            A2 Reality shows us evidence of itself.
            A3 Proof is to be correctly used in a system with axioms. The “truth” does not possess axioms. The reason for the long-winded response was to show compelling reasons why my opinion was justified. When it comes to justified beliefs about reality, I require evidence-based reasons arbitrated by reality. In contrast, faith-based beliefs have no similar or equivalent justification but relegates evidence from reality to be waved away in the name of piousness.

            I notice that still don’t recognize why your theft matters, nor do I see you accepting responsibility for your actions and redressing PD for breaking a commandment on his site. Is this because you are unwilling or unable to act as an autonomous and ethical moral agent?

  5. Oh, no, oh no, oh Prayson no. Arguing about evolution? Come on Prayson, you’re better than this. You’re not one of these fundamentalist Christians who still deny scientific facts. Why are you arguing over this? Don’t feed the trolls, evolution is a closed book.

    Why do you base your post on such limited and outdated information without any use of counterpoint sources?

    • It seems you misunderstood my position Robert. I argued that fossil record according to Gould and Eldregde shows that evolution by gradualism is not the case. The picture told by fossil is evolution by punchuated equalibria. So I do not see how you drew me denying evolution from that 😉

        • Oh! You must have missed my first myth post. My aim is not to open debate but to create awareness that there is a difference between evolution by gradualism and evolution by punctuated equalibria. Creationists or traditionalists(who equate evolution with gradualism) show know that even though fossil record paint a picture against gradualism it does not go against evolution.

    • You missed the point of this article John. It is I who do not know where you are going with this. I could simply use Niles Eldredge’s 2006 essay “Confessions Of A Darwinist”, which pretty much held the same position. If you think this school is dead with later discoveries, then you are wrong.I used older works because there is where the myth that if gradualism is false then evolution is false.

      • Nope, still can’t understand where you’re going with this. No offense, but i can’t see where you’ve made a point pro or against. Are you denying evolution here, or calling Creationists out as idiots?

          • Wait up, wait up… Are you saying you’re NOT a creationist, Prayson? Are you saying you don’t believe in Genesis? You do realise, if you don’t believe in Genesis then you CANNOT be a Christian. Christianity is 110% anchored to original sin, and that exists in Genesis. The whole religion hinges on selling an imaginary cure to an imaginary disease: sin.

            No Genesis = no sin,
            no sin = no need for a blood sacrifice,
            no blood sacrifice = no Jesus,
            no Jesus = no Christianity.

          • I see that you want me to straw to issues I did not address. John,do not mix, as young earth creationist, Genesis 1-2 with literal interpretation. There over 4 interpretations which have been held throughout Church History. To be clear I follow St. Augustine view on Genesis 1-2, but that is another article in itself.

          • I’m not coaxing you anywhere. You put yourself in the firing line by bringing up evolution. I merely asked for clarification.

            Just so I get this straight: you’re cherry picking the (inerrant, infallible) bible, disregarding the ENTIRE creation story (and therefore disregarding the fundamental root of your religion), choosing instead to call it allegorical while holding onto Augustine’s thoughts that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by your Middle Eastern god, and not in seven calendar day literal account in Genesis.

            This, of course, contradicts the evolutionary/geological evidence, but that is where you stand, correct?

            Tell me Prayson, what fool proof method do you use to know what in the bible is allegorical and what is supposedly true? 😉

            If you don’t want to answer that here then perhaps you could write a post on it. I’d be very interested to hear about your methods for distinguishing biblical fact from fiction….

          • Sorry John I sadly wont straw that way. If you think being Christians requires literal understand, as young earth believe, good. I do not.

            As I said, it will take an article on itself to set that case. This article is to counter a myth that fossil record contradicts evolution. If we equate gradualism with evolution, parallel with young earth equating literal interpretation of Genesis with Genesis, then it looks like if gradualism is wrong then evolution is wrong (parallel if literal interpretation of wrong, then Genesis is wrong).

            This is simply a myth as I showed.

          • Well, all “creation” is a myth as we can clearly see, but i do look forward to your post regarding fool proof methods for distinguishing biblical fact from biblical fiction. That will indeed be interesting.

            Back to the post, i think you could have done a much better job presenting your case. It’s very confusing, and only made worse by using such old sources. That link i provided is excellent for dispelling any creationist nonsense. Right there in black and white.

            Any way, hope you have a great weekend planned.

        • Hey John,

          I think I know of a book that would be both educational and entertaining for you. It’s called “The Lost world Of Genesis One” by John H Walton.
          He sets up an exegetically sound and historically solid case for a proper interpretation of Genesis 1 as the ancient Israelites would have read it. Given the direction of much of your comments about this issue, I think you’d really enjoy it.
          Note: I’m fairly sure Walton is a theistic evolutionist, but I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, it might make for a good series of posts on your site.

          • Cheers Peter, but I’m really not sure if anything “educational” can be taken from the Judaic creation myth. For entertainment value the Vedic religions creation stories are far better, anyway.

  6. I need to study this more. Some of the terms mentioned in the post are foreign to me and so I need to do some homework. I haven’t delved into it as much as what I would like. I think that is what Darwin would want us to do.

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