Other Errors in Chapter 3

Four miscellaneous problems found in Chapter 3.

Time Represented in Outcrops

Time Represented in Rock Outcrops

The strata in Figure 1:1 show a relatively small segment of rock. Figure 1:1 also shows four fossils--a one-toed horse, a frog, a trilobite, and a coral.

While the one-toed horse (genus Equus) dates from less than 5 million years ago (Ma), the coral could be Cambrian (>500 Ma). This makes a several meter outcrop of rock appear to show a half-billion years of rock deposition. While there are certainly gaps (unconformities) of this much time, what one would tend to see would be the old corals set right below the younger horse, without trilobites and frogs in between.

Figure 1:1, therefore, is misleading in that it suggests a very long span of geologic time can be shown in a few layers on the side of a cliff. This might be a tenet of Young Earth Creationism, but geologists would tend not to find such a range of fossils in such a short succession of strata.

Explore Evolution claims:

Another problem is that fossils don't always appear in the order they're predicted to.
Explore Evolution, p. 27

This is blatantly false. In fact, fossils show a great uniformity in terms of their stratigraphic position in rock outcrops. In every case where, for example, an older fossils is set stratigraphically above a younger fossils, this can be explained by features such as reverse faulting.

The fossil record seemed to show a trend from simple to complex.
Explore Evolution, p. 17

Complexity in organisms can be subjective. In many ways, fossils from the middle Cambrian show features as complicated as modern animals: eyes, teeth, claws, digestive tracts, articulated limbs, exoskeletons. While we can discern an increase in brain size and complex behaviors in our own species as it evolved from earlier hominids, complexity in body design is more problematic.

Geologic "Closeness"

How much time is shown in a rock outcrop?

Explore Evolution says:

Textbooks also frequently fail to mention that the different skeletons shown in transitional sequences (including the mammal-like reptiles) were not found close together geologically.
Explore Evolution, p. 27

The problem with this idea is the definition of "close." To a Young Earth creationist, close might mean hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. To a geologist or paleontologist, gaps of tens of millions of years are commonplace.

To give you an idea of the scale gaps involved, let's examine the layers (stratigraphy) of the Grand Canyon. The oldest rocks of the Grand Canyon, called the Vishnu Schist, began forming about 2 Ga (billion years ago) as marine sediment that was then metamorphosed and intruded by the younger Zoroaster Granite. All this completed by about 1.7 Ga.

The next sequence of rocks in the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Supergroup, is a set of highly-tilted sediments deposited between 1.2 and 0.8 Ga.

The third sequence involves the relatively younger, flat-lying rocks that make up the majority of what one sees in the Grand Canyon's cliffs. These were deposited between ~500 Ma to ~250 Ma.

To summarize:

Sequence Age Range Time Gap
Upper Sequence 500-250 Ma 250 Ma missing above, 300 Ma missing below
Grand Canyon Supergroup 1.2 - 0.8 Ga 300 Ma missing above, 500 Ma missing below
Vishnu Schist 2.0-1.7 Ga 500 Ma missing above

These kinds of sequences--where more time is missing than is shown--are common in the rocks of the world. Geologists call these gaps "unconformities"; unconformities are so common that it is rare to find a continuous, uninterrupted sequence of rock. Therefore, to argue that fossil finds not being "close together geologically" is evidence against them is to misunderstand the nature of how rock layers are actually deposited.

Explore Evolution goes on to quote Henry Gee:

As zoologist Henry Gee writes, referring to fossil vertebrates in general, "The intervals of time that separate the fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent."
Explore Evolution, p. 29

Gee's full quote is:

It is impossible to know, for certain, that the fossil I hold in my hand [found at LO5] is my lineal ancestor. Even if it really was my ancestor, I could never know this unless every generation between the fossil and me had preserved some record of its existence and its pedigree…It might have been, but we can never know this for certain… We cannot know if the fossil found at LO5 was the lineal ancestor of the specimens found at Olduvai Gorge or Koobi Fora. It might have been, but we can never know this for certain. The intervals of time that separate the fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent.
Henry Gee, 1999, In Search of Deep Time 068485421x, p. 22-23

Gee was therefore not, as Explore Evolution claims, talking about fossils in general, but about a specific hominid tooth, which he recognized to have some relationship to his own species. The real doubt in his mind was exactly how direct the connection was. Moreover, Gee explains that the only way he could know for sure would be to have some preserved record of the entire family sequence, and he recognizes that this would be an unreasonable standard of evidence.

Gee makes a broader point, which he summarizes as:

The disconnection and isolation of events worsens further as centuries turn into millennia, tens of millennia, and finally into millions of years: intervals so vast that they dwarf the events within them… This is geological time, far beyond everyday human experience.
Henry Gee, 1999, In Search of Deep Time, 068485421x, p. 26

Gee is correct to point out that the fossil record does not contain an exact, year-by-year sequence of evidence, which is how most people think of time. By acknowledging his personal connection to the hominid tooth he is discussing, Gee posits that despite the gaps in time, we may still understand relationships between fossils, even if "we cannot say anything definite."

The Three Domains


The 3 Domains

Page 23 is a sidebar showing "Biological Classification." The page correctly points out that the most fundamental taxonomic split of organisms is into the three domains: Bacteria, Archaea, Eukaryota. Of these domains, Explore Evolution says, "Each of these has a fundamentally different cell structure."

While true, this is only half the story--the most important differences are genetic, not morphological. In fact, bacteria and archaea have such a close superficial resemblance that for a long time they were not distinguished into different domains.

The 3 Domains model is relatively new; it was proposed by Carl Woese in 1990. (Woese C, Kandler O, Wheelis M (1990). "Towards a natural system of organisms: proposal for the domains Archaea, Bacteria, and Eucarya.". Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 87 (12): 4576–9.)

Weasel Words

"Weasel Words"

Chapter 3 is replete with "weasel words" --phrases that imply something without explicitly stating it, that make statements without backing, that cite sources without naming those sources.

The type of weasel word most commonly used in Explore Evolution involves making statements attributed to "some scientists" or "some critics." In almost every case, Explore Evolution does not name who these critics are. Even when Explore Evolution does cite a scientist, as in the case of Paul Chien (as discussed at length here ), Explore Evolution misrepresents his credentials, calling him a "paleobiologist," a description that does not match his education, research, or publications.

"Some critics" think Explore Evolution is, according to "some sources," a work of fraud that can be debunked simply by looking at its language. You might want to know who these sources and critics are--but if I refuse to identify them, you cannot verify that I have represented their positions correctly. I could be lying. I could have made up the sources. I could have used real sources but used them incorrectly. Science needs a mechanism for checking sources.

A few examples from Explore Evolution, with weasel words italicized:

p. 20: "Recently, some scientists think they have discovered a transitional fossil sequence…"

p. 20: "[unnamed] Paleontologists have identified many gaps…"

p. 21: "[unnamed] Advocates of Common Descent also point out…"

p. 22: "Most critics of the fossil succession argument agree…"

p. 22: "For this reason, many scientists think…"

p. 24: "Critics of the fossil succession argument point out…"

p. 24: "As a result, critics say the pattern of fossil appearances does not support Darwin's picture…"

p. 26: "Critics of fossil succession point to a second feature…"

p. 26: "No, say the critics…"

p. 26: "In much the same way, critics point out…"

p. 27: "For this reason, critics argue that Darwin's theory…"

p. 27: "In the overwhelming majority of cases, Common Descent does not match the evidence…"

p. 27: "Scientific critics of the Fossil Succession…"

p. 27: "Some critics are unpersuaded…"

p. 27: "Given the millions of different fossil forms in the fossil record, critics argue…"

p. 27: "Some textbooks alter the scale of pictures…"

p. 30: "Many paleontologists would argue…"

p. 31: "Critics agree that…"

p. 33: "And that's the dilemma, say the critics."

p. 34: "Critics of both argue…"

p. 34: "We have seen that scientists disagree over how to interpret…"

p. 35: "For example, some scientists say…"

p. 35: "Even so, some advocates of punctuated equilibrium…"

Explore Evolution seems afraid to name specific sources for its information, and with good reason.