Discontinuities in the Fossil Record

One of the biggest problems with most creationist arguments is the excessive granularity evident in the way they conceptualize the evolutionary process. They see discontinuities in the fossil record, and they interpret them as proof that there is no larger pattern. If you're not sure what I just said, then think of it this way: what happens when you "pixelate" an image? Consider the following images (both taken from "Aliens", with apologies to James Cameron):

Vasquez and Drake
Vasquez and Drake, unprocessed

Vasquez and Drake, pixelated
Vasquez and Drake, pixelated

These are both the same image, but one has been "pixelated". Smooth lines and graduations have become sharp lines and divisions. One could easily look at the second image and conclude that there is no pattern, but would that be an accurate assessment, or would that simply be the result of low intelligence, which results in poor pattern recognition capabilities? As we discover more and more of the fossil record, our "resolution" continues to improve, and so far, the more we discover, the more we find that early impressions of the "overall picture" were correct.

The most common creationist tactic is to claim that there are sharp divisions between animals. Instead of being one smooth, interrelated family, the life forms on this planet are supposedly distinct, separate "kinds". An analogy for their approach is seen in the above pictures: a poor resolution image (analogous to our improving but still incomplete picture of the fossil record) has a pattern which is obvious to anyone who cares to look, but it also contains apparent discontinuities which an unimaginative or unintelligent person might seize upon, in an effort to "prove" that there is no pattern at all.

Is it true that a picture says a thousand words? I hope so. Look at the pictures, and ask yourself what it means when a creationist insists that the presence of any apparent discontinuity "conclusively disproves the existence of a pattern".

Last updated: July 29, 2001

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