The Fossil Record-Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Kurt Wise, Dr. David Menton; ©2003
Dr. John Ankerberg’s guests are Dr. Kurt Wise and Dr. David Menton for this discussion: Do we have an adequate fossil record? If so what does it show? Does it support evolutionary theory?

[Editor’s note: In June 1990 The John Ankerberg Show taped a series of interviews with men from several branches of the sciences regarding the evidence for creation. For techni­cal reasons we were unable to air these interview. Nevertheless, we have decided to re­lease portions of these interviews in a series of articles so you could read the arguments that were being made at that time—more than a decade ago.

Considerable effort has been made to quote the gentlemen correctly. We have at­tempted to find the correct spelling of the scientific terms used. However, the reader should keep in mind that this is a transcription of oral interviews. Mistakes in spelling and in the technical language should be laid at the feet of the editor.]

The Fossil Record—Part One

Dr. John Ankerberg: Guys, we’ll really get into this later, but comment, if you will on the fossil record. Do we have an accurate record, and does it support or oppose the evolution­ary model? Kurt?

Dr. Kurt Wise: Not only do we have evidence in the fossil record that major groups of organisms come into existence very rapidly, but we also see, it’s also possible that if you looked at the whole fossil record, you piled up all the rocks and looked at what you see, you’d find a major group coming in here and another one here, and another one here, and another one here, and another one here. And that’s not what we see.

Too often, for an evolutionary model, that is, we see a whole bunch of the major groups coming in all in one shot. The classic example is one that has already been brought up— the Cambrian explosion. Here we have, the major phyla of animals all coming into exist­ence during a rather short period of time. Some are even talking now about shrinking several of the units together and making somewhere on the order of fifteen to twenty major phyla, flying into the record in a very short period of time, evolutionary time, 30 million years, something like that, or less. Major groups, and a large number of them coming in in a very short period of time.

We also have, if you like, at the classes of echinoderms. Living echinoderms include starfish, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, and things like that, well those are the living echino­derms, but there are many, many more fossil classes or major groups of echinoderms than there are living groups of echinoderms. And they all shoot here in the Ordovician period in the upper part of the Cambrian.

Ankerberg: So instead of going from a few to many, you go from many to few.

Wise: That’s right. Exactly. Something that Stephen J. Gould has called decimation. You start out, and this occurs not just in the echinoderms, but also from Steve Gould’s book on the Burgess shale, it also occurs in the arthropods. Diagrams show a number of arthropod classes or major groups of arthropods that come into the middle Cambrian period, or at least we see them here for the first time, without any ancestors, simultaneously.

So not only do we lack ancestors, not only do they come in with incredible complexity, and some of these creatures are very complex, beautiful creatures if you like arthropods,

some people don’t, I find them fascinating, but we have a variety of very complex creatures coming into existence all in a very short period, or apparently if we are to read the fossil record literally.

So again, it emphasizes our point that we’ve already made, not only do we have a lack of evidence for evolution here of the major groups, but we have organisms coming in, very complex organisms coming in very rapidly without any ancestral forms. It seems to be a very powerful case for a polyphyletic, multiple origin of major groups of organisms. And they are so complex, so beautiful, if you’re a paleontologist and like that sort of things, that you conclude they must have been formed by design, otherwise there’s no known natural, series of natural causes without intelligence that could produce this incredible complexity.

Dr. David Menton: There’s one area where evolutionists and creationists do agree, I think there are several, but there is one important one we ought to bring up now and that’s this matter of extinction. Here we have no argument. Both sides agree that the vast major­ity of those organisms that have ever existed on earth are no longer with us and have become extinct.

Wise: No. I don’t agree. That’s incorrect.

Menton: Is that right?

Wise: The fossil record has 250,000 species, more or less, in its record, we…

Menton: What percentage do you think are extinct?

Wise: What percentage? I believe a very small percentage. We have over a million and half species living today, 250,000 fossil species. I mean, if we take things literally, most species exist today and not in the fossil record.

Menton: There have been estimates of how many organisms are becoming extinct today and one of the things that biologists get together and commiserate on and under­standably so, is the progressive loss of animal and plant species in our time by the process of extinction. Both sides recognize this extinction, neither side, I think, is denying it, whether in fact it has been a majority of a species that has become extinct or a minority, the point is that many species have become extinct even in our own lifetime. And this process appears to be continuing whether or not it is hastened by man. The intriguing thing I think for the evolutionist is, where are the new species to replace the old ones? We know we’re losing them at an alarming rate, but we should be getting new ones.

Wise: We’re losing them due to man’s destruction of the environment so the argument goes.

Menton: What about the great extinction that occurred….

Wise: Man

Menton: No, no.

Wise: Well again, the Pleistocene extinctions are thought to be mostly man-directed. And the other extinctions, the Permian, whatever others you want to bring in, were replaced by tens of millions of years of diversification according to evolution.

Dr. David Menton received his Ph.D. in cell biology from Brown University. Dr. Kurt Wise’s doctoral degree in paleontology was completed at Harvard.

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