Is the fossil evidence modified?

Hello! I’m new here and I’m a devout Christian who loves the sciences and have worked on and off throughout the years to try to come to an intellectually and spiritually satisfying conclusion on the topic of biological origins. I’m familiar with some of the basics of biological evolution and I’m very familiar with the text of Genesis 1 and the many ways it is interpreted. I have a question though. I have read the assertion that scientists reshuffle the fossil record to make an evolutionary lineage work out instead of taking the data as it is presented in the fossil record. I’m just curious if any of you have heard that assertion before and what evidence to the contrary of that statement there is. I’m not a YEC and do believe the universe to be the approximately 14 billion years old that astrophysicists have calculated. I say that just to let you all know that we can sidestep any discussions normally needed to address that set of beliefs. Thanks ahead of time for your help!

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Hi, Justin, and welcome.

I’ve heard things like this too. What might lead to this impression is that real science(s) are responsive to data. So as crude evolutionary trees were being formed, it would be expected that all sorts of refinements to the tree would become necessary as new data and fossils are taken into account (especially the more recent genetic considerations - which, as I understand it, helped to correct prior guesses based only on morphology). Hence the cry that “evolution can’t be disproven because it always just accommodates whatever new data!” Well - yeah - there is a grain of truth to that. That’s what real science does. But what hasn’t happened (again - subject to correction here by actual scientists in the relevant fields) is some revolutionary data point that upsets the entire system (the so-called ‘rabbit in the Precambrian’). Refinements happen - yes. But a documented and verified major upset would indeed cause earthquakes to the well-established parts. And perhaps some developments have indeed been close to that - it would be a continuum I’m sure. But nothing has been discovered yet that upsets the entire system so as to throw the whole theory into question the way some creationists would want. And in fact, in the mountains of data found over the last centuries, it’s the special creation paradigm that has been (and continues to be - for those still interested) most thoroughly upset.

At least that’s my read on the historical situation. Others can correct, clarify, and fill in details.

[And now when I re-read your observation (the very one I quoted!), I realize I didn’t quite address what you actually said: that they’ve been accused of altering the data. That would indeed be dishonest science. But there would probably be a cautionary note to go along with that: it could be that there have been ambiguities in the fossil column. Some fossils may be found in overlapping sets of strata - maybe one just above another causing initial guesses about it to be that the higher one was a later development. But it could be that other data may refine that, causing a hypothesis to be altered to match other more prevalent or superseding (perhaps genetic) data. Just because a fossil is found in a certain layer doesn’t mean that the same species didn’t originate in a prior time period from which no fossils have yet been found. But again these sorts of refinements probably won’t represent major changes. It might be a bit like an astronaut coming back and trying to show everybody a picture she took from space showing a flat earth. We would all chuckle at the joke, and it would fail to become some new ‘data point’ on that issue because it’s already been settled by mountains of other observations and data. Biological evolution as a whole is that same sort of thing. It would take more than a bit of hear-say to cause everyone to jettison all the other mountains of data already accumulated that fits. Any truly revolutionary fossil find had better be well-documented indeed - and rightly so!]

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I have heard that assertion before, but not from any of my numerous acquaintances who actually have PhDs in geology or paleontology.

Basically this is asserting that there is a global, centuries-long conspiracy that all scientists (except the select few “creation scientists” which make up less than .01% of the population of scientists) are conspiring together to intentionally promote a lie and hide the truth. This is conspiratorial, delusional thinking.

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That is a usual YEC claim usually based on the “rocks are used to date fossils and fossils are used to date rocks” which is a circular argument. Truth is rocks are usually dated radiometrically if possible and if not then layers above and below that can be dated radiometrically are then used to place a bound on the age of the layer in question. It would be younger than the lower layer and older than then the upper layers. This is the law of superposition originally proposed by Danish geologist Nicolaus Steno and outlined in his book De Solido Intra Naturaliter Contento Dissertationis Prodomus (1669) well before the theory of evolution. Index fossils can be used to date rock layers but the sequence of index fossils was determined by the same law of superposition and the sequence was not determined by the age of rocks.

Hope this helps.

Edit: Got my younger and older backwards.

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What I’ve heard is that paleontologists are so committed to honesty that they do a lot of the work of excavating fossils themselves along with trusted students. Digging is hard physical work, and that’s why they tend to look like sunburned cowboys. They’re actually out doing the hard work of science, instead of sitting on their behinds proclaiming this and that.

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The idea that scientists are modifying data, misreporting their findings, or otherwise reshuffling the fossil record to give them the conclusion that they want to get, is basically a conspiracy theory that preys on people’s lack of understanding of how science works.

The thing about science is that a lot of the techniques involved are complex, mathematical and technical. They are also never used in isolation, but are cross-checked against each other. This means that to understand them, you need a certain amount of background knowledge and understanding of the context in which they are used.

Unfortunately this means that it’s very easy for someone without that background knowledge to see scientists doing something perfectly legitimate and mistake it for some kind of fudging or other. This is a very easy trap to fall into if you’re approaching science with a mindset of being on some kind of “ammunition gathering exercise” to support whatever agenda you’re trying to push. But such arguments usually overlook important details and view the techniques concerned in isolation rather than taking into account the context behind them.

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You are probably thinking of claims like the one found here:

Apparently the Grand Canyon is explained in short order via a global flood. The problem many people have is the very consistent track record of bad science in young earth creationism and websites like this in general. After analyzing lots of arguments from young earth creationists and seeing how bad they are, sooner or later you end up just dismissing everything they say out of hand. It’s the boy who cried wolf on steroids.

The main problem I see it is the different methodology employed between actual science and creation science

Science starts with basic observations of the world, makes a falsifiable claim and then lots and lots of data is collected and analyzed in order to arrive at a conclusion about the claim.

Creation science mostly starts with the conclusion (the flood caused the fossil record and sedimentary layers) and attempts to make the data fit that conclusion. You get countless uncritical statements like: “but this data is more consistent with the global food.” That the earth is young and a global food happened is known ahead of time from reading the Bible. For example, that website claims tracks of reptiles and trilobites in the record before their bodies indicates they were scurrying around trying to survive during the flood. This is starting with a conclusion and claiming data is based on it. That’s not science. We might alternatively say the conditions were better at preserving trace fossils than body fossils and ask if this is always the case in this layer? Not a single dumb human ends up in the fossil record paleontologists think occurred millions of years ago but creation scientists think occurred 6,000 [edit ~4500] years ago.

For scientists, the conclusion is at the end, for creationists it’s at the beginning. For the latter, there is no real possibility of doing objective research if you know the answer before you even start.

A few websites about the Grand Canyon and general creationist claims:

http://www.csun.edu/~vcgeo005vv/wise.htm
http://www.jwoolfden.com/GC_rocks.html

Vinnie

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Here’s an example where re-checking dating has made a significant difference to the age assigned: southeastern US marine faunas.

Before the 1960s or so, this was the picture of how they matched up with European faunas (based on extinction rates):

Pleistocene:
Wando, Canepatch, James City, and equivalents

Pliocene:
Bermont, Waccamaw, Chowan River, and equivalents

Miocene:
Duplin, Yorktown, Pungo River and equivalents

Oligocene:
Chipola, Belgrade, and equivalents

Eocene:
Castle Hayne, and equivalents

After:
Pleistocene:
Wando, Canepatch, James City, Bermont, and equivalents.

Pliocene:
Waccamaw, Chowan River, Duplin, Yorktown, and equivalents

Miocene:
Pungo River, Chipola, and equivalents

Oligocene:
lowest bit of Chipola, Belgrade, and equivalents

Eocene:
Castle Hayne and equivalents

Notice that radiometric dating keeps the order exactly the same. There was a study that cited Strontium dates on the Waccamaw of 1.6 MYA. That was known to be wrong, given that strontium dates are notoriously unreliable under 10MYA, and the Bermont (which has an extinction rate of 5%, versus the Waccamaw’s 60%) was reliably dated at 1.6 MYA.

In most cases the Carolinian faunas are not directly datable, as they have no igneous material in them, however, the Floridian ones do, and the equivalences had been noticed long before radiometric dating was known to be theoretically possible.

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I recently heard another hilarious conspiracy theory–scientists give fossils long, difficult names to confuse lay people and promote evolution. Never mild that binomial nomenclature was introduced by Linnaeus, a creationist back in the day.

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Yes, I saw that one as well. You really can’t make some of these things up.

It must rank alongside the guy who told me that DNA is “just carbon.” It’s hard to get more clueless than that.

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Another that you can’t make up is when after I said that truth comes from reality, a YEC asked me for chapter and verse were the Bible said that. :neutral_face:

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That makes me think of the YECs (about half a dozen so far and counting) who insist that I’m taking Deuteronomy 25:13-16 out of context by applying its demands for accurate and honest weights and measures to science.

Such an accusation is tantamount to demanding the right to flat-out lie.

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Thank you for the information. I moved my reply so that it was done in a way that others.would be notified and receive my thanks! I take truth very seriously. As my pastor says, if we as Christians are entertaining and repeating conspiracy theories and lies how can we expect people to believe us when we proclaim Christ resurrected. I’m committed to finding the correct information on all of this and your input helps me to parse some of the information I am coming across. Thanks again. I appreciate you all.

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An obvious point against that is that the ICZN officially disapproved of Benedykt Dybowski’s Lake Baikal amphipod names for being excessively long ( Gammaracanthuskytodermogammarus loricatobaicalensis Dybowski,1926 was the longest)

Bacterial names can be longer: the soil bacterium Myxococcus llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochensis Chambers et al., 2020 is accepted (named for the small welsh town it is known from) (for reference on how to pronounce that, w sounds like oi when preceded by a hard consonant).

And they are no more difficult than other binomens: Santeevoluta wilmingtonensis (Brown & Pilsbry, 1912) [a weird Eocene volute] is on par with Pseudotorinia retifera (Dall, 1892) [a modern sundial].

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Thank God we can abbreviate the genus name to a single letter.

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There are two sides to every story.

First, let’s talk about radiometric dating. On the website evolution.berkeley.edu it states that up to 50,000 years, sedimentary rocks can be dated using radioactive carbon dating. UC Berkeley should be pretty authoritative, huh? But of course, rocks cannot be dated using carbon dating, only something that was once alive.
But igneous rocks can be dated using radioactive dating and several methods. The interesting thing is that when we actually know the dates of the igneous rocks, the dating is often wrong. But we assume that when we don’t actually know the dates, this method gives us the correct dates. Of course, there are “reasons” why these errors exist, and “reasons” why we know it is correct in other cases. One example was the expedition to Novarupta in Alaska in 2012 on the hundredth anniversary of the eruption. The samples brought back dated at about 100,000 years if my memory serves me, not the 100 years since they were formed. Yeah, they were dated at one of the same laboratories that the deep time geologists use. So maybe there are problems with the assumptions behind radiometric dating of rocks. But of course, these were brought out by a dentist, not a PhD geologist, so we can dismiss the results with the wave of our hand. Or maybe we can’t just dismiss this team because they did the very hard work of getting off their duffs and actually hiking in to get their samples as YEC folks often do, contrary to other statements in this forum.

Are there fossils that are “out of order? The answer is “yes.” Birds supposedly evolved from dinosaurs, but for one example, there are bird fossils found together with dinosaur fossils. And there are often new names given to ancient fossils that are remarkably like species alive today, or fossils found in other parts of the world that are also alike. Dr. Carl Werner (an MD, not a paleontologist or geologist, so of course, his observations are by definition “invalid”) visited digs and museums around the world and found this to be the case. Or maybe the Werner’s get some respect for travelling around the world using their own money to personally research their questions on origins–again contra to the assertion that YEC folks sit on the butts rather than do the hard work that other (generally tax supported) folks do.

Check this out – it is not about radiometric dating, it is about extinct radionuclides (and Ken is a Christian):

Radioactive Atoms — Evidence about the Age of the Earth - Ken Wolgemuth

Just because birds evolved from dinosaurs doesn’t mean all of the dinosaurs immediately died out. When you were born did that mean your grand-parents had to be dead or your distant cousins?

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The answer is “no”. Do you really think that for birds to evolve from dinosaurs, that all dinosaurs everywhere would have suddenly turned into birds? Stegosaurus birds would be huddled with budgies, flying Sauropod birds would block out the sun?

The problem for creationists is that the fossil record is in order, and this observation is incompatible with flood geology. There is no good reason, given Noah’s flood, that modern mammals would not be mixed in together with dinosaurs.

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