Large Gaps in the Fossil Record

“The single most important take-home message from this survey of the evidence is that the fossil record of the fish-tetrapod transition is actually very poor and consists mostly of gaps.” (Ahlberg, P.E., “Follow the Footprints and Mind the Gaps: A New Look at the Origin of Tetrapods,” Earth Environ. Sci. Trans. R. Soc. Edinb. 109, 2019, p. 131.)

“The cases in point include the origin of complex RNA molecules and protein folds; major groups of viruses; archaea and bacteria, and the principal lineages within each of these prokaryotic domains; eukaryotic supergroups; and animal phyla. In each of these pivotal nexuses in life’s history, the principal ‘types’ seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate ‘grades’ or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.” (Koonin, Eugene, “The Biological Big Bang Model for the Major Transitions in Evolution,” Biology Direct, 2007, 2:21.)

Tooth enamel “is the most enduring animal substance in the entire living world, defying the vicissitudes of time and subterranean burial, taking first rank among Nature’s hieroglyphics of the past.” (Osborn, Henry Fairfield, The Earth Speaks to Bryan, 1925, pp. 40-41.) “It must be stressed that we cannot regard the modifications of nonprismatic enamel into various kinds of complex prismless enamel and then prismatic enamel as an ordered progression. Although the available data suggest that these can be regarded as three grades of structural complexity, the precise evolutionary pathway remains unknown.” (Clemens, W.A., Tooth Enamel Microstructure, 1997, p. 105.)

“[T]he fossil record is less complete and there are large gaps between successive samples. There is then only less direct evidence of smooth transitions between species. The gaps are usually long, however (maybe 25,000 years in a good case, and millions of years in less complete records). There is enough time within one of the gaps for large evolutionary changes, and no one need be surprised that fossil samples from either side of a gap in the record show large changes…. The existence alone of fossils shows that there has been some kind of change, though it does not have to have been change in the sense of descent with modification.” (Ridley, Mark, Evolution, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, p. 64.)

“Gaps remain, of course, in the fossil records of many species, although a lot of them shrink each year as new fossils are discovered. These gaps do not indicate weakness in the theory of evolution itself. Rather, they point out uncertainties in our understanding of exactly how some species evolved.” (Miller, Kenneth, Levine, Joseph, Prentice Hall Biology, 2008, p. 383.)

“The fossil record is a unique source of evidence for important evolutionary phenomena such as transitions between major clades. Frustratingly, relevant fossils are still comparatively rare, most transitions have yet to be documented in detail and the mechanisms that underpin such events, typified by rapid large scale changes and for which microevolutionary processes seem insufficient, are still unclear….Normal microevolutionary processes seem insufficient to account for the rapid large scale changes that typify most transitions but, at the same time, the operation, or even existence, of alternative macroevolutionary processes is uncertain and controversial.” (Junchang, Unwin, David M., Jin, Xingsheng, iu, Yongqing, Ji, Qiang, “Evidence for Modular Evolution in a Long-tailed Pterosaur with a Pterodactyloid Skull,” Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 277:1680, 2010.)

“Although the transition from Australopithecus to Homo is usually thought of as a momentous transformation, the fossil record bearing on the origin and earliest evolution of Homo is virtually undocumented.” (Kimbel, W.H., Villmoare, B., “From Australopithecus to Homo: The Transition that Wasn’t, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 371:1698, 2017. )

“It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. …Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and (we) both reject this alternative.” (Dawkins, Richard, The Blind Watchmaker, 1996, pp. 229-230.)

“Given the fact of evolution, one would expect the fossils to document a gradual steady change from ancestral forms to the descendants. But this is not what the paleontologist finds. Instead, he or she finds gaps in just about every phyletic series.” (Ernst Mayr-Professor Emeritus, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, What Evolution Is, 2001, p.14.)

“The turtle body plan is evidently highly derived, indeed unique among tetrapods. The problem for an evolutionary biologist is to explain these transformations in the context of a gradualistic process. …Ribs can only be located either deep to, or superficial to, the scapula. There are no intermediates, and there is only one way to get from one condition to the other, which is the redirection of the migration, through the embryonic body, of the precursor cells that will form the ribs.” (Rieppel, Olivier, “Turtles as Hopeful Monsters,” BioEssays 23, 2001, p. 990-991.)

“All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. Gradualists usually extract themselves from this dilemma by invoking the extreme imperfection of the fossil record.” (Gould, Stephen J. The Panda’s Thumb, 1980, p. 189.)

“What is missing are the many intermediate forms hypothesized by Darwin, and the continual divergence of major lineages into the morphospace between distinct adaptive types.” (Carroll, Robert L., “Towards a new evolutionary synthesis,” in Trends in Evolution and Ecology 15(1):27-32, 2000, p. 27.)

“Given that evolution, according to Darwin, was in a continual state of motion …it followed logically that the fossil record should be rife with examples of transitional forms leading from the less to more evolved. …Instead of filling the gaps in the fossil record with so-called missing links, most paleontologists found themselves facing a situation in which there were only gaps in the fossil record, with no evidence of transformational evolutionary intermediates between documented fossil species.” (Schwartz, Jeffrey H., Sudden Origins, 1999, p. 89.)

“He [Darwin] prophesied that future generations of paleontologists would fill in these gaps by diligent search….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 was wrong.” (Eldridge, Niles, The Myths of Human Evolution, 1984, pp.45-46.)

“Many evolutionists view strict continuity between micro- and macroevolution as an essential ingredient of Darwinism and a necessary corollary of natural selection. Yet, as I argue in “The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change,” Thomas Henry Huxley divided the two issues of natural selection and gradualism and warned Darwin that his strict and unwarranted adherence to gradualism might undermine his entire system. The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change, and the principle of natural selection does not require it—selection can operate rapidly. Yet the unnecessary link that Darwin forged became a central tenet of the synthetic theory.” (Gould, Stephen J., “The Return of Hopeful Monsters,” Natural History 86 (June/July): 22-30)

“Despite the bright promise – that paleontology provides a means of ‘seeing’ evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists the most notorious of which is the presence of ‘gaps’ in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them. The gaps must therefore be a contingent feature of the record.” (Kitts, David B., “Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory,” Evolution, vol. 28, 1974, p. 467.)

About 80% of all known fossils are marine animals, mostly various types of fish. Yet there is no evidence of intermediate forms. “The most common explanation for the total lack of fossil evidence for fish evolution is that few transitional fossils have been preserved. This is an incorrect conclusion because every major fish kind known today has been found in the fossil record, indicating the completeness of the existing known fossil record.” (Bergman, Jerry, “The Search for Evidence Concerning the Origin of Fish,” CRSQ, vol. 47, 2011, p. 291. )

“So the creationist prediction of systematic gaps in the fossil record has no value in validating the creationist model, since the evolution theory makes precisely the same prediction.” (Weinberg, S.,Reviews of Thirty-one Creationist Books, 1984, p. 8.)

“We seem to have no choice but to invoke the rapid divergence of populations too small to leave legible fossil records.” (Stanley, S.M., The New Evolutionary Timetable: Fossils, Genes, and the Origin of Species, 1981, p. 99.)

“For over a hundred years paleontologists have recognized the large number of gaps in the fossil record. Creationists make it seem like gaps are a deep, dark secret of paleontology…” (Cracraft, in Awbrey & Thwaites, Evolutionists Confront Creationists”, 1984.)

“Instead of finding the gradual unfolding of life, what geologists of Darwin’s time, and geologists of the present day actually find is a highly uneven or jerky record; that is, species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the record, then abruptly go out of the record. and it is not always clear, in fact it’s rarely clear, that the descendants were actually better adapted than their predecessors. In other words, biological improvement is hard to find.” (Raup, David M., “Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology,” Bulletin, Field Museum of Natural History, vol. 50, 1979, p. 23.)

Chicago Field Museum, Prof. of Geology, Univ. of Chicago, “A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low-level textbooks, semi-popular articles, and so on. Also, there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions. In general, these have not been found yet the optimism has died hard, and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks…One of the ironies of the creation evolution debate is that the creationists have accepted the mistaken notion that the fossil record shows a detailed and orderly progression and they have gone to great lengths to accommodate this ‘fact’ in their Flood (Raup, David, “Geology,” New Scientist, Vol. 90, 1981, p. 832.)

“As we shall see when we take up the creationist position, there are all sorts of gaps: absence of graduationally intermediate ‘transitional’ forms between species, but also between larger groups — between say, families of carnivores, or the orders of mammals. In fact, the higher up the Linnaean hierarchy you look, the fewer transitional forms there seem to be.” (Eldredge, Niles, The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, 1982, p. 65-66.)

“Transitions between major groups of organisms . . . are difficult to establish in the fossil record.” (Padian, K., The Origin of Turtles: One Fewer Problem for Creationists, 1991, p. 18.)

“A persistent problem in evolutionary biology has been the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Long term gradual transformations of single lineages are rare and generally involve simple size increase or trivial phenotypic effects. Typically, the record consists of successive ancestor-descendant lineages, morphologically invariant through time and unconnected by intermediates.” (Williamson, P.G., Palaeontological Documentation of Speciation in Cenozoic Molluscs from Turkana Basin, 1982, p. 163.)

“What one actually found was nothing but discontinuities: All species are separated from each other by bridgeless gaps; intermediates between species are not observed . . . The problem was even more serious at the level of the higher categories.” (Mayr, E., Animal Species and Evolution, 1982, p. 524.)

“The known fossil record is not, and never has been, in accord with gradualism. What is remarkable is that, through a variety of historical circumstances, even the history of opposition has been obscured . . . ‘The majority of paleontologists felt their evidence simply contradicted Darwin’s stress on minute, slow, and cumulative changes leading to species transformation.’ . . . their story has been suppressed.” (Stanley, S.M., The New Evolutionary Timetable, 1981, p. 71.)

“One must acknowledge that there are many, many gaps in the fossil record . . . There is no reason to think that all or most of these gaps will be bridged.” (Ruse, “Is There a Limit to Our Knowledge of Evolution,” 1984, p.101.)

“We are faced more with a great leap of faith . . . that gradual progressive adaptive change underlies the general pattern of evolutionary change we see in the rocks . . . than any hard evidence.” (Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution, 1982, p. 57.)

“Gaps between families and taxa of even higher rank could not be so easily explained as the mere artifacts of a poor fossil record.” (Eldredge, Niles, Macro-Evolutionary Dynamics: Species, Niches, and Adaptive Peaks, 1989, p.22.)

“To explain discontinuities, Simpson relied, in part, upon the classical argument of an imperfect fossil record, but concluded that such an outstanding regularity could not be entirely artificial.” (Gould, Stephen J., “The Hardening of the Modern Synthesis,” 1983, p. 81.)

“The record jumps, and all the evidence shows that the record is real: the gaps we see reflect real events in life’s history – not the artifact of a poor fossil record.” (Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution, 1982, p. 59.)

“The fossil record flatly fails to substantiate this expectation of finely graded change.” (Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution, 1982, p. 163.)

“Gaps in the fossil record – particularly those parts of it that are most needed for interpreting the course of evolution – are not surprising.” (Stebbins, G. L., Darwin to DNA, Molecules to Humanity, 1982, p. 107.)

“The fossil record itself provided no documentation of continuity – of gradual transition from one animal or plant to another of quite different form.” (Stanley, S.M., The New Evolutionary Timetable: Fossils, Genes and the Origin of Species, 1981, p. 40.)

“The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.” (Gould, Stephen J., “Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?,” 1982, p. 140.)

“The lack of ancestral or intermediate forms between fossil species is not a bizarre peculiarity of early metazoan history. Gaps are general and prevalent throughout the fossil record.” (Raff R.A, and Kaufman, T.C., Embryos, Genes, and Evolution: The Developmental-Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, 1991, p. 34.)

“Gaps between higher taxonomic levels are general and large.” (Raff R.A, and Kaufman, T.C., Embryos, Genes, and Evolution: The Developmental-Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, 1991, p. 35.)

“We have so many gaps in the evolutionary history of life, gaps in such key areas as the origin of the multicellular organisms, the origin of the vertebrates, not to mention the origins of most invertebrate groups.” (McGowan, C., In the Beginning . . . A Scientist Shows Why Creationists are Wrong, 1984, p. 95.)

“If life had evolved into its wondrous profusion of creatures little by little, Dr. Eldredge argues, then one would expect to find fossils of transitional creatures which were a bit like what went before them and a bit like what came after. But no one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures. This oddity has been attributed to gaps in the fossil record which gradualists expected to fill when rock strata of the proper age had been found. In the last decade, however, geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years and no transitional forms were contained in them. If it is not the fossil record which is incomplete then it must be the theory.” (The Guardian Weekly, 26 Nov 1978, vol. 119, no 22, p. 1.)

“People and advertising copywriters tend to see human evolution as a line stretching from apes to man, into which one can fit new-found fossils as easily as links in a chain. Even modern anthropologists fall into this trap . . .[W]e tend to look at those few tips of the bush we know about, connect them with lines, and make them into a linear sequence of ancestors and descendants that never was. But it should now be quite plain that the very idea of the missing link, always shaky, is now completely untenable.” (Gee, Henry, “Face of Yesterday,” The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002.)

“Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn’t changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transitions than we had in Darwin’s time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information — what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appear to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. So Darwin’s problem has not been alleviated in the last 120 years and we still have a record which does show change but one that can hardly be looked upon as the most reasonable consequence of natural selection.” (Raup, David, “Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology,” Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, Jan. 1979, Vol. 50 No. 1 p. 25.)