fossil record - what does it really say?
Picture yourself as one of a group of detectives on a crime scene. As you look around you see broken windows, smashed chairs, drops of blood. You and all of the other detectives with you are all looking at the same scene, yet your theories about what happened can be drastically different.
It is this way with the many theories we have about the origin of life. We can all look around us and see all of the same things: the intricacy of cells, the similarities between some species, the fossil record. Yet there are many different ways that we can interpret what all these pieces of evidence mean. The two most well-known theories are the Theory of Creation and the Theory of Evolution. Both of these theories claim to be supported by the evidence we see all around us, including the huge amounts of information found in the fossil record. In this brief overview, I want to lay down for you facts regarding the fossil record. I want to show you the real evidence we have so that you can interpret for yourself what it really means. I’ll do this by looking at what fossils we see in the geological record, how we determine the age of fossils, and a few specific examples of fossils that we have found.
When talking about fossils and the fossil record, probably the most important factor is age. The difference between a fossil that is 6,000 years old or 200 million years old can change an entire theory. So before looking at the actual fossils, we should start out by learning how we date fossils. There are many different ways to date fossils, the most well-known method being carbon dating. Put simply, the way carbon dating works is that we know the rate at which carbon decays, and when we measure how much carbon is left in a specimen or fossil, we calculate how much has decayed. From that we determine how long it has taken for that amount to decay, and then we can find out how old the fossil is from that number. For example, if we know that it takes 1,000 years for half of the carbon to decay, and we find a fossil with only half of it’s original carbon, we know that the fossil is 1,000 years old.
However, this method is only reliable up to a few thousand years, and most fossils are dated at millions of years old. So how do paleontologists date those fossils? They mainly use a method called Potassium-Argon dating. This system works in the same way as carbon dating, only using Potassium instead of carbon because it takes longer for Potassium to decay, meaning we can tell the age of older fossils. Or at least, we think we can. There are many questions about the reliability of this means of dating because of many different variables involved; for example, possible contamination of the samples, and scientific assumptions. A scientific website states, 1"As much as 80% of the potassium in a small sample of an iron meteorite can be removed by distilled water in 4.5 hours." If 80% of the potassium can be removed by water in a matter of hours, that could throw off potassium-argon dating by hundreds of millions of years! This among other ways fossils can be contaminated raise doubts about the reliability of these method. (www.trueauthority.com/cvse/radiometric.htm, “Radiometric Dating Methods; A Thoughtful Analysis,” Jonathan A. Drake, February 15, 2010)
Yet the most obvious reason that carbon dating, potassium-argon dating, or any other dating method is hard to rely upon is the fact that much of the dating is based on assumptions. One assumption is the age of strata, and the other is basing the age of fossils on the strata. You see, there are many layers of rock in the earth’s crust that contain the fossil record. These layers, or strata, form the geological column, and they have a lot to do with how we calculate the age of the earth. Scientists attempt to determine how long it takes for these strata to form, and then add those numbers up. Most evolutionary scientists say that strata take millions of years to form, which leaves open to time needed for animals to evolve.
However, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 changed the way we look at strata. The amount of sediment laid down by the eruption made strata was supposed to have taken millions of years to form. As scientist Russ Miller states of this eruption, “In certain areas several hundred feet of … strata layers were laid down in a matter of minutes, proving that these layers can form quickly as opposed to slowly over never-observed millions of years of time.” What this shows us is that the assumptions made about the age of strata cannot always be trusted. (articledirectory.com/articledetail.php?artid=156036&cati, “Is It Possible for Strata Layers to Form Quickly?” Russ Miller, February 15, 2010)
The second major assumption is the way scientists date fossils according to what they believe the dates should be. For example, if a paleontologist is dating a fossil from a strata that he believes is, say, 30 million years old, then quite often scientists will throw out dates that don’t agree with their pre-conceived date until they can manage to get the date they think is right. "In conventional interpretation of K-Ar age data, it is common to discard ages which are substantially too high or too low compared with the rest of the group or with other available data such as the geological time scale." (A. Hayatsu, "K-Ar Isochron Age of the North Mountain Basalt, Nova Scotia," in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, Vol. 18, 1979, p. 974.) However, we saw that the dating of the geological column is also unreliable, so basing carbon dating on these dates is even less reliable. So as we looked at how we date fossils, we saw that these methods of dating are undependable at the least because they can be easily contaminated, and they are based on the dates of the strata, which are based on assumptions about how long it takes strat
a to form. So as we go into looking at what fossils we actually see in the fossil record, I’m not going to be as focused on the common dates of fossils, but instead we will look simply at the order in which the fossils are found.
There are about thirteen main strata in the earths crust. The one on which we are standing is called the Quarternary layer, and beneath it and layers such as Tertiary, Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic, Permian, Silurian, Cambrian, and lastly Pre-Cambrian. Because these strata were formed from the bottom up, we can use them to determine what organisms lived at what time in comparison to other organisms. We’re going to look at what is in the fossil record in order to lay out the facts so that from there we can make our own conclusions about the theories that really make sense.
So, we’ll start from the bottom strata, the Pre-Cambrian layer. In this layer, the majority of all fossils are single-celled organisms such as bacteria and other cells. In the latest parts of this time period, it is thought that there were a few multi-cellular organisms as well, such as sponges. The next layer, the Cambrian period, is probably the most famous strata of them all. Perhaps you have heard of the Cambrian Explosion. This name refers to the fact that in the Cambrian strata there is an “explosion” of life. In this stratum organisms and animals appear quite suddenly, faster than the Evolutionary time scale allows for such immense change. In a very short point in time, the fossil record goes from bacteria and sponges, to crabs, lobsters, squid, jellyfish, and many other complex animals. And the part that most challenges the modern theory of Evolution is that this sudden change happened with no discovered transitional links from the simple organisms of the Precambrian layer. In a very brief amount of time, we see a representative from every major animal group emerge right out of the blue, with no links to any previous life form. According to Evolutionary theory, simple life forms should slowly change into more complex animals over massive amounts of time. And if these organisms do change, there is no doubt that we should be able to find those transitional links everywhere. Think about it. If animals slowly and surely evolve over millions of years, we should not have a problem finding the transitional links between species. Even Evolution’s inventor Charles Darwin said in his book The Origin of Species, “The number of intermediate varieties [must be] truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? …this is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory.” (Darwin, Charles, “The Origin of Species,” Random House, Inc., Copyright 1859) He knew that in 1859, when he published his theory, that the fossil record did not support his theory, but he trusted that more transitional links would be discovered in the future. It’s 150 years later, and the ratio of the fossils of known species to fossils of supposed transitional links is even smaller than it was in Darwin’s time. And the few fossils that scientists claim are intermediate links are extremely controversial.
The most famous fossil that is claimed to be a transitional link is Autralopithecus afarensis, also called “Lucy.” Discovered in 1974, this fossil was acclaimed by the scientific community as the missing link between apes and humans. This is interesting because every bone in Lucy’s skeleton is an ape bone. To quote a biology textbook, “If the bones indicate that it is an ape, why is Autralopithecus afarensis considered an intermediate link? Well, the hip joint and ankle joint can be constructed in such a way as to make [Lucy] stand upright in a relatively comfortable manner, [similar to humans]…Thus, because it is possible that [Lucy] might have stood upright, it is considered an intermediate link between man and ape” (Wile, Dr. Jay L. and Marilyn F. Durnell, Exploring Creation with Biology, 2nd Edition, Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc., Copyright 2005).
And even this small possibility was determined to be incorrect when further studies looked closely at Lucy’s wrist bones and her ear canals. Her wrists we stiff like any other knuckle-walking ape, and her ears were scanned to show that the way she balanced would have caused her to walk on her hands, not upright. So Autralopithecus afarensis, the most famous transitional link known today, is not really a transitional link, but simply a skeleton of an ape. And many other such “links” that I have studied have had the same outcome. We simply do not have a fossil record that supports the evolution of species.
So, we've looked at the evidence in the fossil record. We saw some of the flaws in our current dating methods, and learned that strata can form quickly or slowly, making this evidence inconclusive as a basis for a theory. And we looked at the actual fossils we see in the geological column, such as the Cambrian Explosion.
You have now had the actual evidence laid out in front of you. As a detective, you know the facts of the issue, and now its up to you to make your conclusion about what it all means. Maybe more in depth research would help you form your opinion, and I would encourage you to learn the most you can. But most of all, I want you to no longer take for granted any theory that is not backed by the facts. Think for yourself, and know for yourself.
It’s up to you.
This is a re-worked version of my Original Oratory Speech from the 2010 NCFCA Speech season.