Richard Dawkins Dumps the Fossil Record

Dawkins Richard IIThe fossil record was no friend of Charles Darwin in 1859. Now, more than 150 years later, the fossil record is no longer a friend of Richard Dawkins, either. “Why does not,” Darwin pointed out, “every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of the forms of life?”

The question was unavoidable, the elephant in the room, yet troubling since Darwin recognized that the fossil record could eventually either make or break his theory:   

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ exists which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

“The distinctiveness of specific forms [fossil record],” Darwin acknowledged, “and their not being blended together in innumerable transitional links is a very obvious difficulty.”

Evolutionary palaeontologist Stephen Gould in the book entitled The Panda’s Thumb reflecting on Darwin’s angst notes: “fossil record had caused Darwin more grief than joy.”

In the face poor evidence, even contradictory evidence, Darwin excused the problem reasoning that “only a small portion of the surface of the earth has been geologically explored.” His reasoning kept hopes alive that further explorations would uncover the ever elusive “in innumerable transitional links.”

Things have not changed much in 150 years. “We need more fossils” Dawkins pleaded in his 2009 book entitled The Greatest Show on Earth. In turning from the fossil record Dawkins advances the concept of “comparative evidence”

“Comparative evidence has always, as I suggested at the beginning of this chapter, told even more compelling than fossil evidence”

Regardless of what the “comparative evidence” actually is, Dawkins did not say what it is−dumping the fossil record as essential evidence for Darwin’s theory –

“We don’t need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact.”

As far as Dawkins is concerned the fossil record should just be moved out of the picture, even one of the most notorious icons in the history of evolution−the Archaeopteryx. “To put up a single famous fossil like Archaeopteryx panders to a fallacy,” Dawkins declared The Greatest Show on Earth.

When Darwin was disparate for evidence to “innumerable transitional links,” he had quickly turned to the newly discovered Archaeopteryx discovered in Germany. For Darwin, the Archaeopteryx emerged as a kingpin transitional link between birds and reptiles –

“Even the wide interval between birds and reptiles has been shown by [Huxley] to be partially bridged over in the most unexpected manner, by the ostrich and extinct Archaeopteryx.”

The dumping of the Archaeopteryx as a missing link between birds and reptiles by palaeontologists during the late twentieth century, however, was gaining solid support. According to Larry Martin, an American vertebrate paleontologist and curator of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas, the

Archaeopteryx is not ancestral of any group of modern birds.”

Missing link status of the Archaeopteryx is only an illusion; a “once upon a time” story according to Henry Gee a British paleontologist and evolutionary biologist and senior editor of the prestigious journal  Nature.

Abandoning the Archaeopteryx as a transitional link was actually only a tip-of-the-iceberg of the larger fossil record problem for evolution. Geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig of the Max-Planck Institute in Germany in the book entitled The Evolution of the Long-Necked Giraffe, like Dawkins, candidly points to the fact that a “gradual series of intermediates in Darwin’s sense has never existed and hence will never exist.”

Evolution was once a theory in crisis, now evolution is in crisis without a theory. 

Without fossil record evidence of missing links, in Darwin’s own words, “my theory would absolutely break down.” The dumping of the fossil record by one of Darwin’s last remaining hard core advocates, signals the end of the  Darwinism era.

Biological evolution only exists as a fact in philosophy, not in science.

27 Responses to “Richard Dawkins Dumps the Fossil Record”

  • Jon:

    What an utterly misleading piece of writing

  • The Play:

    “‘Comparative evidence has always, as I suggested at the beginning of this chapter, told even more compelling than fossil evidence’

    Regardless of what the ‘comparative evidence’ actually is, Dawkins did not say what it is”

    “comparative evidence, looking at modern species and comparing […] their genes” beginning of the chapter, exactly where he said it is

    the fossil record is not needed because genetic evidence is now widely available and easily viewed in at least a dozen free genome browsers

    a transitional form exhibits traits of an ancestral group and a derived descendant group, no one is abandoning archaeopteryx

    RIP Larry Martin

  • Would like to know what exactly you think is misleading.

  • Greetings, Larry! You are exactly right. Dawkins, ever, never does clarify what he means. I would agree with you that he is most likely referring to a spectrum of evidence from molecular biology.

    The fact is though, he undoubtedly knows the scientific evidence for Darwin’s “slight, successive” changes in molecular biology, including genetics, just isn’t there. For an example, see the article “Turtle genome, insight into more evolution problems.”


  • John Fabiani:

    You could not have mischaracterized Dawkins “The Greatest Show on Earth” more.

  • George Gri:

    This article has nothing to say.

    Look, disproving evolution is _EASY_. All that these creationist pseudo-scientists need to do is find ONE, yes, ONE fossil that is out of place. It can be a rabbit in the Precambrian period, it could be a human in the Jurassic period, it doesn’t matter. At least ONE fossil that is out of place?

    So, can they produce this sort of evidence? No.

    Can they write a pretentious article to make it seem like the fossil record is wrong WITHOUT HAVING TO PRESENT PROOF? Yes.

    But as long as they’re limited to pretty much only being able to kick and scream as we drag them through the 21st century, science has nothing to fear.

  • Mike:

    “The Play” which is an interesting screen name has been dealt some cards and now is making a bluff…

    “the fossil record is not needed because genetic evidence is now widely available and easily viewed in at least a dozen free genome browsers”

    A press release from Vanderbilt University was recently published which says…”These days, phylogeneticists – experts who painstakingly map the complex branches of the tree of life – suffer from an embarrassment of riches. The genomics revolution has given them mountains of DNA data that they can sift through to reconstruct the evolutionary history that connects all living beings. But the unprecedented quantity has also caused a serious problem: The trees produced by a number of well-supported studies have come to contradictory conclusions.”

    Nice play but you only bluffed! DNA data has only increased problems not solve them within evolution’s framework.

  • Greetings – John!

    Thanks for your comment. Just wondering – what aspect do you think was mischaracterized?


  • Greetings – George! Thanks for your comment. I agree with you – “science has nothing to fear.”

    Would be interested, however, in knowing what specific aspects of the article you would like to challenge.


  • ashley haworth-roberts:

    My comment here (Issac Bourne rudely deletes comments he receives so I’m posting here instead):

  • The Play:

    my favorite part of
    “Turtle genome, insight into more evolution problems.”

    “the team also reported that the chicken has 9 genes the turtle has 532 genes. Humans have 61 genes.”


  • ruben:

    Fossil record is not an accurate record. In fact diggers found fossils mixed altogether around the different strata of the earth..That is to say younger fossils are mixed with older fossils which make the fossil record even more of a burden rather than proof. Should there be any transitional links, they should have populated the earth. There is no common link between man and ape.Evolution is another definition of baloney. Educate yourself.

  • Science is Observation:

    If Science is truly based on observation, then the whole idea of ORIGINS is NOT SCIENTIFIC and PSUEDO-SCIENCE no matter which of the ideas one adheres too!

  • Science is Observation:

    to clarify last statement ORIGINS is NOT SCIENTIFIC, it is PSUEDO-SCIENCE, regardless of which of the myriad of ideas one adheres to.


  • Where Darwin writes “which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down,” can you tell me the next sentence in his writing?

  • Greetings – Michael! Thanks for your question. This sentence is taken from the first sentence of the second paragraph on page 189 of the chapter VI of the first edition of The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection for the Preservation of Favour Races in the Struggle for Life entitled Difficulties of the Theory. The following is the complete paragraph.

    “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.”

    Darwin continued to be very critical of the fossil as evidence to support his theory throughout his writings, including the following statements.

    “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory.”

    “The distinctiveness of specific forms and their not being blended together in innumerable transitional links is a very obvious difficulty.”
    As is the practice of Richard Dawkins, Darwin forged an epidemic of contradictory statements. Darwin, Then and Now highlights how Darwin contradicted himself on 15 different aspects of natural selection alone.

    Although Darwin does back peddle on the next sentence, Darwin did not repudiate his statement.

    In the end, it was embryology that provided the best argument for his theory – not the fossil record.

    “Thus, as it seems to me, the leading facts in embryology, which are second in importance to none in natural history, are explained on the principle of slight modifications not appearing, in the many descendants from some one ancient progenitor, at a very early period in the life of each, though perhaps caused at the earliest, and being inherited at a corresponding not early period. Embryology rises greatly in interest, when we thus look at the embryo as a picture, more or less obscured, of the common parent-form of each great class of animals.”

    Will be checking out your website. Do you have a new book?


  • […] « Richard Dawkins Dumps the Fossil Record […]

  • […] the realm of paleontology, Darwin’s missing transitional links in the fossil record are still missing, and apparently, never existed. Even Richard Dawkins has dumped the fossil […]

  • Ace:

    There is a problem with associating the fossil record with the geologic column. For years scientist have put an age on fossils based on the layer they were found in. It is also how they put a timeline on strata ,based on the fossils that were found in each layer. You have a problem with circular reasoning. This is what Charlie D couldn’t realize.

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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

With over 1,000 references, Darwin Then and Now is a historical chronicle of the rise and fall of the once popular theory of biological evolution.