Exposing the Evolutionist’s Sleight-of-Hand With the Fossil Record

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One of the most effective pitches evolutionists use to sell their theory is their claim that the fossil record supports evolution. This could not be farther from the truth; in fact the fossil record provides powerful and overwhelming evidence that evolution did not occur on earth. So how is the evolutionist able to effectively sell to their audience the precise opposite of what the data shows? They achieve this by employing a clever sleight-of-hand with the fossil data that can easily be missed by any reasonable person. The purpose of this article is to expose this sleight-of-hand, which will then dissolve the false illusion it creates. Once the curtain is pulled and the illusion exposed, the truth can clearly be seen – the fossil record is an overwhelming and devastating contradiction to evolution.

The Sleight-of-Hand

Here’s the catch, the magic behind the illusion. Whenever an evolutionist presents his line of evidence for evolution in the fossil record, he will without fail, virtually every time, present a vertebrate transitional fossil. Why is this important? The evolutionist is failing to mention to his audience that vertebrates constitute less than .01% of the entire fossil record, and of these fossils, most species are represented by a bone or less!1 What about the other 99.99% of the fossil record? That’s the other key piece of information the evolutionist is withholding from you. Complex invertebrates make up the vast majority of this portion of the record, roughly 95%. We have cataloged literallymillions of different species of these very complex creatures, and we have entire fossils, not just pieces here and there. In this rich and virtually complete portion of the fossil record, there is not a single sign of evolution, whatsoever!!!2

If evolution were true, the fossil record should be littered with countless examples showing many different transitions leading up to the millions of species of these complex creatures. YET WE DO NOT HAVE A SINGLE EXAMPLE! NOT EVEN ONE! The remarkable completeness of this vast portion of the fossil record thwarts evolutionists from cooking up "transitionals" because speculation is not so easy when you have entire specimens. There is not the wild guesswork inherent when dealing with willy-nilly fragments of a tooth here, a leg bone there.

The distribution of fossils is illustrated in the pie chart in Figure 1. As can be seen, complex invertebrates constitute 95% of the fossil record. The remaining 5% consists mostly of plants & algae, where again we find no fossil evidence of evolution, whatsoever.In the small portion that includes insects, again we find no fossil evidence of evolution, whatsoever.4

Figure 1 - Fossil Distribution

The problems only get worse for the evolutionist. Not only is there no sign of evolution leading up to the complex invertebrates, but also missing in action are the enormous number of transitionals that must have existed to bridge the gap between invertebrates and vertebrates. The transformation from invertebrate to vertebrate would have been a major event in the earth’s evolutionary history. Yet the fossil record does not leave a single shred of evidence for this enormous transformation!5. This problem has been exacerbated by recent finds in China of highly advanced and extremely well preserved vertebrate life forms in the lower Cambrian strata. These fossils have collapsed the available time for the invertebrate to vertebrate transformation by at least 50 million years, to between 2 to 3 million years!6. This is a blink of the eye in geological time (a period called the Cambrian Explosion), prompting the two primary Chinese scientists involved to bluntly admit that these fossils roundly contradict the theory of evolution. 

The nightmare gets worse for the evolutionist when we consider that the wide diversity of body plans that suddenly appear in this brief 2 to 3 million year window are markedly distinct morphologically from each other. This disparity of body plans is followed by stasis, where there are no incremental alterations to the body plans through the entire history of the fossil record up to the present!8 This is precisely what one would expect if special creation were true, and a stark contradiction to evolution.

So all that is left is a sliver of a corner of the fossil record, the vertebrates. This is the rabbit in the hat for the evolutionist. The bulk of this sliver is made up of fish, where we again find no sign of evolution whatsoever.5 A small remainder of this miniscule sliver is left for the land-dwelling vertebrates. Of the land-dwelling vertebrate species unearthed, 95% are represented by a bone or less1. Yet this is where the evolutionist concentrates all his efforts to "show" to his audience that "the fossil record supports evolution"! Their audience is completely unaware that all of the examples they are being shown come from an incredibly puny section marred with incomplete data. They are conveniently left in the dark regarding the other 99.99% of the data, from a portion of the fossil record that is far more complete, that shows NO HINT OF EVOLUTION WHATSOEVER! This is their sleight-of-hand. This is a sham. This is brainwashing. There is no other way to put it.

The Sliver Considered

What about this miniscule and fragmentary portion of the fossil record where evolutionists have been forced to spend so much of their time & energy? We would expect that due to the subjective nature of such fossils, many examples put forth from this group by evolutionists would be either 1) disputed by other experts in the field, or 2) later disproved by new, more complete data. Indeed we have an abundance of examples of both of these expected outcomes.

Take Archaeopteryx, for example. Many evolutionists hail this fossil bird as an intermediate between dinosaur & bird. Yet a decent number of leading bird experts, who are themselves evolutionists, roundly dispute this claim.9 The alleged ape-man ‘Lucy’ is another example championed by many evolutionists, but disputed by other qualified evolutionist scientists. Renowned anatomist Lord Solly Zuckerman once scornfully denounced the australopithecines as nothing more than “bloody apes”!10 He became so frustrated with the claims of his fellow evolutionists that he declared there was “no science to be found in this field at all”.11

There are also many examples where later fossil data overturned prior misconceptions. Consider Mesonychid, an alleged whale ancestor. In a recent debate between evolutionist Pigliucci and creationist Walter Remine, Pigliucci confidently touted Mesonychid as an ancestor to the whales.12 He was apparently unaware that two years earlier the original champion of the Mesonychid link had retracted it because additional fossils falsified the original assessment.13

For more than 20 years Ramapithecus was proudly displayed in museums across the country as man’s first direct ancestor, based entirely on jaw and teeth fragments!14 When a complete jaw was found, evolutionists where forced to admit that it was actually a relative of the orangutan! There are many more examples, such as the now debunked Nebraska man, the chordate Pikaia as a vertebrate ancestor7, the eventual removal of Neanderthal man as a human ancestor, etc.

What about dinosaur fossils? Take a look at Figure 2, taken out of the most recent copy of the Britannica Encyclopedia. All of the light red lines and the dashed lines refer to fossils that have NEVER BEEN FOUND! These lines represent "inferred" fossils! In other words, evolutionists cannot offer a single example of an ancestor of the dinosaurs.

Figure 2 - Dinosaur Family Tree, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

(click for larger image)

Finally, even when we do find well preserved, intact fossils, a great deal of speculation is still required to determine its place in an evolutionary tree, especially when we do not have any of the soft anatomy available to analyze. In his book “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis”, Dr Michael Denton wrote: “Because the soft biology of extinct groups can never be known with any certainty then obviously the status of even the most convincing intermediates is bound to be insecure.”15 He gave as an example the Coelacanth, a fish once believed to have gone extinct over 100 million years ago. For nearly a century the Coelacanth had been considered an ideal intermediate between fish and terrestrial vertebrates based on its well-preserved skeletal fossil remains. But after one was discovered alive and well in 1938, analysis of the soft anatomy quickly revealed that it had all the characteristics of a fish, not the characteristics of an intermediate the evolutionists had hoped for.

An Analogy

Image John the evolutionist and Fred the creationist entering a huge 50-story museum filled with all the fossils that have ever been unearthed. The curator of the museum explains that most of the complete fossils are displayed in every single room up to the 50th floor, while the incomplete fossils are kept in a small closet in the basement. The curator tells John and Fred that the fossils throughout the building represent all the invertebrate phyla discovered, literally billions of complete specimens representing millions of different species of complex invertebrate animal life, from clams, to trilobites, to sponges.

The curator then tells John & Fred about the small closet in the basement. They are told that the fossils in this small room constitute only .0125% of the fossil record, and most of these are fish. He then adds that the remaining fossils in this small room that aren’t fish make up all the remaining vertebrate fossils, 95% of which are represented by less than a single bone.

John and Fred scurry through all the evidence throughout the massive building, ignoring that little closet in the basement, realizing that it’s the most unrevealing data to look at. As the huge cache of complete fossils is examined, panic soon begins to set in for John the evolutionist because THERE IS NOT A TRACE OF EVOLUTION IN ANY OF THE EVIDENCE! NONE! THERE IS NOT A SINGLE LINK TO THE COMPLEX INVERTEBRATES, AND NOT A SINGLE LINK BETWEEN INVERTEBRATES AND VERTEBRATES!

In a total state of panic and defeat, John suddenly remembers something the curator had mentioned. That little closet in the basement! John quickly runs to the basement and opens the door to the small closet. Soon his mind begins whirling, he becomes excited, and before long he has found “evidence” for evolution! These fragments of bones allow John to make all kinds of wild, fanciful speculation. “Hey, this is ‘evidence’, man!” John gleefully declares. The curator quickly reminds John that many similar past speculations made from observations from this tiny room have long since been refuted. He’s reminded of Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Ramapithecus, Mesonychid, Pikaia, and so on and so forth. But John is so excited about his speculation that he chooses to ignore this very important and revealing truth.

John goes on to gleefully tell others that “the fossil record supports evolution”, and gives them his “examples” from the closet in the basement. He fails to mention to them that his evidence is from a tiny closet full of incomplete specimens. He also fails to mention that all of the other rooms in the 50-story building contained complete specimens, yet yielded NO sign of evolution whatsoever. He tells his story over and over again, and before long, many begin to share in his fantasy, themselves telling the story to others over and over again. Eventually, their myth emerges as reality to countless unsuspecting listeners.

Answering the standard evolutionist objections

Some evolutionists argue that since soft-bodied organisms do not fossilize as easily as invertebrates with hard shells, we should not expect a good history of the transition that would have produced the complex invertebrates. But this excuse no longer carries much weight, even with many evolutionists, since discoveries in recent years have yielded a wealth of soft-bodied organisms from early Cambrian and pre-Cambrian strata.

Numerous soft-bodied specimens from the Ediacara fauna, organisms in pre-Cambrian strata, have now been found in more than 30 localities worldwide.16 These creatures are so diverse and unusual that many evolutionists recognize that they cannot possibly be ancestors to the complex invertebrates, and consider them an evolutionary dead-end. This fauna also appears in the fossil record suddenly with no trace of ancestors whatsoever, compounding the problem for evolutionists even further.

The Burgess shale fossil formation in Canada also consists of numerous soft-bodied fossils. Since this fossil bed was discovered, a rich diversity of over 60,000 detailed soft-bodied specimens have been unearthed.17

More recently an impressive cache of soft-bodied fossils was discovered in China (called the Chengjiang fauna). One of the discoverers of the early Cambrian vertebrate fossils at Chengjiang stated: “Since the identification of the Lower Cambrian Yunnanozoon as a chordate in 1995, large numbers of complete specimens of soft-bodied chordates from the Lower Cambrian Maotianshan Shale in central Yunnan (southern China) have been recovered.”18 [emphasis mine]

Some evolutionists who realize the soft-bodied excuse no longer carries weight are invoking strange ideas in an attempt to deal with this mammoth problem of the sudden arrival of such complex and diverse life. One evolutionist has proposed that all the animal phyla before the Cambrian explosion had nearly identical genes, and that “differential usage of the same set of genes” accounted for the extreme diversities of body plans.19 There are two primary problems with this: 1) he offers little evidence to support his hypothesis; 2) even if true it would only serve to push the problem back in time - it would then fail to explain why the fossil record left absolutely no trace whatsoever of such a massive accumulation of all this shared genetic information.

Another just-so story offered up by some evolutionists in an attempt to shrink the enormous gap between invertebrate and vertebrate is the claim that many “new” vertebrate structures are derived from just a few “new” embryonic cell types.20 Again this has very little evidence to support it. It also is very difficult to image how such a mechanism could arise via random mutation alone. Selection would be impotent since such a mechanism would not logically be expected to have a selective advantage until virtually intact. Regardless, this still would not solve the enormous dilemma of the complete lack of ancestors leading up to the complex invertebrates that represent 95% of the entire fossil record.

In Their Own Words

Even if we ignore the evolutionist’s sleight-of-hand described above, their own words reveal convincingly that the fossil record does not support evolution. Consider the following predictions  (or expectations) of the fossil record if evolution were true:

1)     Gradualism
2)     Simple to complex
3)     Clear-cut lineages
4)     Identifiable common ancestors

Now consider the predictions of the fossil record if special creation is true:

1)     Sudden appearance
2)     Fully formed
3)     Stasis

All of the predictions for evolution have failed miserably, while all of the predictions for creation have been overwhelmingly borne out by the evidence. For each of the individual predictions above, it is very easy to find an evolutionist scientist who substantiates the creationist viewpoint for that particular prediction. On the following web page I have provided such substantiations from leading evolutionists.  For brevity I have included two quotes for each expectation/prediction:

Evolutionist Quotes on the Fossil Record

It is truly amazing that evolutionists, including those whom I cited in the preceding page, still unabashedly tell the world the myth that the fossil record supports evolution.

Conclusion – Be prepared to dismantle the Illusion!!!

Darwin wrote that in order for his theory to be true, the number of transitional links "must have been inconceivably great".21 A century and a half later, the tons of fossils we have since unearthed have not produced even the slightest inkling of what must exist if evolution occurred on earth. When we examine the most intact and thorough portion of the fossil record, a portion that represents more than 99.99% of the entire fossil record, we do not find a single one of Darwin’s necessary links, not even one that evolutionists can agree on. None. Nada. Zippo. Creationist Dr Duane Gish summed it up very well:

“All of the complex invertebrates appear fully-formed without a trace of ancestors or transitional forms linking one to the other.... If evolution is true, the rocks should contain billions times billions of fossils of the ancestors of the complex invertebrates.  Yet, not one has ever been found!  Even more convincing, if that can be said, is the total absence of intermediates between invertebrates and fishes, and the total absence of ancestors and transitional forms for each major class of fishes... It is physically impossible for millions of years of evolution to take place, producing a great variety of major types of fish, without leaving a trace…The evidence from the fossil record ... has established beyond any reasonable doubt that evolution has not taken place on the earth.”22 [emphasis in original]

The fossil data has clearly produced a nightmare scenario for the evolutionist. There is no way one can examine the fossil data and come away with the conclusion that the fossil record supports evolution. Yet this is what virtually every evolutionist continues to do. They find themselves pushed into a very tight corner by the fossils, but make their escape with a sleight-of-hand, erecting an illusion by scraping bits & pieces together from this tight corner of the fossil record and molding them to make it appear they tell the story of the entire fossil record. Once out of the corner, the evolutionist storyteller is free to spread the illusion to a mostly unsuspecting public. We should be ready to quickly expose this fallacy and tear down the illusion erected by the evolutionist storyteller. It’s time to hold the evolutionists accountable for this deception.

When an evolutionist presents his vertebrate transitional, if you deal with his specific claim without pointing out the sleight-of-hand, you are playing right into the illusion. While I believe we should continue to address specific claims, we should first demolish the illusion being erected. Begin by asking the evolutionist why he is presenting you with a piece of data that comes from such a fragmentary and incredibly miniscule portion of the fossil record. Show him the chart in Figure 1. Ask him why he will not show you examples of evolution that fall within the other 99.99% of the chart, a portion that not only represents the bulk of the data, but a portion where the data is far more robust and complete. Then return to their original claim that “the fossil record supports evolution”. Ask them how they can make such an audacious claim given the fact that they cannot provide you with even a shred of evidence where it should be the most abundant, from that 99.99% portion they had originally failed to mention to you.

Once the curtain is pulled and the illusion is exposed, it is much easier to deal with the fragments of bones the evolutionists scrape out of that closet in the basement of the large 50-story museum. We would expect many of these speculative claims to fail even loose standards, and indeed this is exactly what occurs. When the entire scope of the fossil record is considered, the nature of these speculative claims quickly comes into context with clarity. The only reasonable conclusion that remains is clear and undeniable: The fossil record sharply and powerfully contradicts evolution.

1.    The fossil distribution data comes from Answers is Genesis, and is based on various sources (including Paleontologist Dr. Kurt Wise). This data is not disputed by informed evolutionists, which includes frequent Talk.Origins regular Andrew Macrae.

2.    For example, in the widely used college undergraduate textbook “Evolutionary Biology” (3rd Ed. 1998), author Douglas Futuyma does not list one single transitional leading up to the complex invertebrates (see chapter 6 in particular, “Evolving Lineages in the Fossil Record”). All his transitional examples spanning orders or classes are vertebrates! His only mention of the "evolution" of the complex invertebrates is a brief snippet on the changes in rib numbers on trilobites! This of course is nothing more than small-scale variation, or micro-evolution. Also see “Invertebrate Beginnings”, Paleobiology, 6: 365-70, R.D. Barnes, 1980. Also see Dr Chen’s comments in the Boston Globe article A Little Fish Challenges A Giant Of Science (see footnote 7).

3.    Botanists at the University of Nebraska recently wrote: “The mystery of the origin of flowering plants was and still is complicated by the lack of any obvious candidates for next-of-kin for the group.” See The Abominable Mystery Of The First Flowers: Clues from Nebraska and Kansas, by M. R. Bolick and R. K. Pabian. The words of widely recognized evolutionist botanist E.J.H. Corner of Cambridge University still ring true 40 years after he wrote them: “But I still think that, to the unprejudiced, the fossil record of plants is in favor of special creation ... Can you imaging how an orchid, a duck weed, and a palm have come from the same ancestry, and have we any evidence for this assumption? The evolutionist must be prepared with an answer, but I think that most would break down before an inquisition” -Contemporary Botanical Thought., MacLeod, A.M. and Cobley, L.S. (eds) 1961. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, p 97.

4.    The 2001 Encyclopædia Britannica Online states: “No fossils have yet been found from the Late Devonian or Early Carboniferous periods, when the key characters of present-day insects are believed to have evolved; thus, early evolution must be inferred from the morphology of extant insects.”- Insect: Insect Fossil Record,Encyclopædia Britannica Online 2001.  <>  

5.    The lack of fossils intermediate between invertebrate and vertebrate is well documented in the scientific literature. Carl Zimmer in Science magazine recently wrote: “But the record provides few clues to help resolve this contradiction, because there are no animal fossils that old and no examples of an intermediate species.”(‘In Search Of Vertebrate Origins: Beyond Brain And Bone’, Science, March 3, 2000  [emphasis mine]). I also chose to cite this article because it subtly alludes to the fossil illusion this article addresses. 

“The extensive marine beds of the Silurian and those of the Ordovician are essentially void of vertebrate history”- “Fish", Encyclopædia Britannica Online 2001[emphasis mine] 

6.    Chinese National Geography 467 ( Sept 1999): 6-25 

7.    â€˜A Little Fish Challenges A Giant Of Science’ - The Boston Globe, May 30, 2000, Pg. E1; Fred Heeren, Globe Correspondent. From the article: “According to Chen, the two main forces of evolution espoused by neo-Darwinism, natural selection ("survival of the fittest") and random genetic mutation, cannot account for the sudden emergence of so many new genetic forms.” Chia-Wei Li was more blunt: “No evolution theory can explain these kinds of phenomena.” 

8.    In his college textbook Evolutionary Biology (3rd ed. 1998, p 173), Douglas Futuyma asks “why did fundamentally different body plans evolve in such great profusion early in evolutionary history, but hardly at all thereafter?” In Early Life on Earth, ‘Ideas on early animal evolution’ (1992, NS 84), Jan Bergström wrote “There is absolutely no sign of convergence between phyla as we follow them backwards to the Early Cambrian. They were as widely apart from the beginning as they are today.” 

9.    Leading ornithologist Dr. Alan Feduccia wrote "Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound feathered dinosaur. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of "paleobabble" is going to change that". Cited in J. Sarfati, Refuting Evolution, p 58, from Science, 259(5096), p 764-65. Dr Storrs Olson, Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, equated the belief that birds are descended from dinosaurs to “…one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age — the paleontological equivalent of cold fusion.” – Open Letter to National Geographic Society, 1999 

10.  Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention, 1987, p.164, 165 

11.  Lord Solly Zuckerman, Beyond the Ivory Tower, 1970, p. 64 

12.  Walter ReMine vs. Massimo Pigliucci Debate, University of Minnesota, August 12, 2000 (video

13.  â€˜New Views of the Origins of Mammals’, Science, Aug 7, 1998, p775 

14.  "Ramapithecus" Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <

15.  Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1986, p. 180 

16.  â€˜Ediacaria Biota, Ancestors of Modern Life or Evolutionary Dead End?’, The Miller Museum of Geology Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. 

17.  "Burgess Shale" Encyclopædia Britannica Online.<>  

18.  â€˜An early Cambrian craniate-like chordate’, Nature 402, 518 - 522 (1999), Jun-Yuan Chen, Di-Ying Huang and Chia-Wei Li. 

19.  Susumo Ohno, “The notion of the Cambrian pananimalia genome,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA: Vol 93, No 16, 8475-78, August 6, 1996. Dr Ohno proposes his just-so story because he is well aware of the enormous problem the sudden appearance of life in the fossil record puts on population genetics. He writes: “Assuming a spontaneous mutation rate to be a generous 10 -9 per base pair per year and also assuming no negative interference by natural selection, it still takes 10 million years to undergo 1% change in DNA base sequences. It follows that 6-10 million years in the evolutionary time scale is but a blink of an eye. The Cambrian explosion denoting the almost simultaneous emergence of nearly all the extant phyla of the Kingdom Animalia within the time span of 6-10 million years can’t possibly be explained by mutational divergence of individual gene functions.” 

20.  Carl Zimmer, ‘In Search of Vertebrate Origins: Beyond Brain and Bone’, Science 2000 March 3; 287: 1576-1579. 

21.  Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Chapter 10 - On The Imperfection Of The Geological Record 

22.  Duane Gish, Evolution: the Fossils STILL say NO!, 1995, p. 81

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