Creationism vs Logic: Gaming the gaps in the fossil record

June 9, 2006 | By | 6 Replies More

The discussion this week about cognitive dissonance has gotten me thinking about creationism, a religious “theory” that virtually screams with cognitive dissonance.  Let’s look at how creationists game the gaps in the fossil record.  Let’s imagine we start with two fossils — we’ll call them A and Z to illustrate that they are widely separated in geologic time. 

“There’s no evolution,” says the creationist, “Look at that gap between your fossils.  Where is the transitional form between them?” 

So, we go out and find another fossil — we’ll call it M to illustrate that it is somewhere between A and Z. 

“There’s no evolution,” says the creationist, “Look, you now have TWO gaps [A-M & M-Z], so you’re missing TWO transitional forms.” 

So, you go out and find another fossil Q.

“There’s no evolution,” says the creationist. “Look, you now have THREE gaps [A-M, M-Q & Q-Z].  You’re now missing THREE transitional forms.  Your theory of evolution sure is a mess.” 

So, you go out and find five more fossils — C, F, G, R & W.

“There’s no evolution,” says the creationist, “Look, you now have EIGHT gaps and EIGHT missing transitional forms.  Your theory of evolution is nonsense.  How can you possibly believe your theory of evolution is correct when there are so many holes in your data?”

And so it goes.  To the archeologist, each new fossil serves as a bridge across one of the gaps in the fossil record; but, to the creationist, each new fossil creates an *additional* “gap” in the fossil record — or, rather, a new opportunity for obfuscation.


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Category: Evolution, Religion, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (6)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Finding more fossils, then, is actually causing science to move backwards. The more gaps science fills, the faster science moves in reverse. This brings to mind the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea.

    It repeatedly surprises me that those who find such fault with minor fossil gaps have no difficulty with huge gaps in the Bible stories that motivate their criticism of science.

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    One of the more interesting critiques from the evolution denier side that I heard was not about the fossil record, which this person thought proved nothing at all–God saw fit to make a variety of models on the same frame, that didn't mean they came from each other. No, this one's problem was that one did not see any transitional forms walking about NOW. You see no half-ape/half-human. Or half anything else on its way to becoming…whatever. When I pointed out that all the forms one sees now are transitional–one form on its way eventually to becoming something else–the notion was rejected. Obviously all life forms are what they are, and wholly so–not half so.

    Go figure.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jason: Your anecdote reminds me that what appears to be ignorance is often the result of a lack of imagination.

  4. Mariann says:

    In response to the first comment: You're right, if anyone was to question them on the gaps in their Bible stories, there'd be silence.

    I just find it amusing (or exasperating) that they don't subject their religious views to the same criticism as evolutionary theory. Why is that? Why is it so difficult to accept evidence that doesn't necessarily go against theism? There are plenty of Creationists who also happen to be Evolutionists (and physicists) as well-

    I really do believe there can be a middle ground for Christians who want to embrace their faith, and the evidence science provides of the origins of life. Not to say I believe in an almighty sky daddy, but I am agnostic and happen to place my belief in evolution as well. Granted, I'm leaning toward atheism so perhaps it's "easier" for me. 😉

  5. Jason Rayl says:


    Faith, by its nature, is not subject to tests of proof or rigorous analysis. Like a sense of humor, often you either have it or you don't.

    Most will not subject their religious beliefs to scientific analysis (or any other kind) because they have lived their lives comfortable that there is (a) no need to and (b) no thought that it could be compatible with science. Others are afraid of proof–because they would still believe, after having their faith shattered, that Hell is waiting for them in the instant they doubt.

    Besides, without religion, where would we get our set of behavioral restrictions and the punishments necessary to make people follow them?

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A lot of so-called Christian Scientists, the creationists that argue scientific proof of creations, fall victim to this fallacy. Isaac Azimov called this "The Judo Argument" trying to use your opponents strength against him. The fallacy in citing a lack of supporting evidence of a theory as evidence against said theory is is quite nonsensical.

    Logic acknowledges three states of veracity: True, False, and Inconclusive. ( Or in the words of the computer in the original StarTrek series "Insufficient Data for a conclusion."

    A lack of continuity in the fossil record could indicate many things, but until new data is found to explain it, the discontinuity is inconclusive. On the otherhand, if the new species fossils were found with God's signature written neatly inside the bones, that might be consideed evidence for creation.

    If some evidence that is qualitative and quantitative were found and indepenently verified by objective people, I would believe. But since theology demands total faith and denies proof, then it is not likely to happen anytime soon.

    Back in the 1980's, I attended a very interesting lecture by one of Carl Sagan's coworkers, an exobiologist whose name escapes my memory(actually I remember his name, but I don't recall how to spell his name.)

    During an interesting slide show of the Viking missings, he made a joke that went something ike this:

    JPL scientist: The lander's biological experiments package failed to detect in life forms in the Martian soil.

    Arthur C. Clark: That's because the Martians figured out where it was going to land, and ran out and cleaned the spot up real quick.

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