The fossil record fits best with progressive creation

(Chris Falter) #474

If the scientific explanation is mathematically sound, comports with the fossil evidence, and is supported by other classes of evidence such as ecology, geology, and fossil DNA, then the gaps are irrelevant.

Your claims about gaps are much like those of climate science deniers who say “It’s a cold winter in Cheyenne, this global warming theory must be a hoax.” Such a denial ignores the vast amount of other important data, such as the temperatures at other points on the planet, the temperature of the oceans, the known properties of CO2, etc. Such a denial also ignores the stochastic nature of weather observations.

Just as you are not paying attention to the stochastic nature of fossil observations. And the other classes of evidence.

Look, if you want to say that you don’t think natural history is important because it has not yet cured cancer, that’s your prerogative. But if you don’t think it’s important, why have you spent countless hours making dozens of posts?

I am trying with all my might to help you understand the science. It would be quite gratifying if you were to respond in a manner indicating that you were actually thinking carefully about the science. Are my hopes unrealistic?

Enjoy God’s grace, brother.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #475

Hi Edgar,

First off, I want to thank you for continuing to come back for this conversation. It keeps our Forum discussion from stagnating into an echo chamber.

It’s especially laudable that you’ve continued to come back even when you probably feel you’ve been piled onto, which is a very unpleasant feeling. Just a bit of empathy here.

As I thought about this thread, it occurred to me that being accused of quote mining is a bit like being accused of racism. Nobody likes such accusations, and when someone is so accused, it shuts off productive conversation, as the accused automatically shifts into defensive mode. Furthermore, as with racism, there is actually such a thing as quote mining, and it is altogether possible to vehemently deny engaging in it while also quite evidently engaging in it.

I realize that it’s not pleasant to backtrack at this point. Nevertheless, would it be possible just to recognize that there could possibly be something to what everyone is saying? I think such a humble move would gain everybody here’s immense respect.

What’s odd is that in principle you and we have so very little to argue over, since you’ve already said you don’t have a problem with nonhuman evolution.

So what say you, friend?


@Edgar There is compelling reason to think that the main reason for gaps in the record is due to the extremely rare process of fossilization. I mentioned this above but never heard your response.

Have you learned about the conditions required for fossilization? The vast majority of deceased organisms (probably over 99%) leave behind no evidence of their existence in the fossil record. For organisms to leave fossils, they must be buried quickly after death in sediment to be protected from scavenging and environmental erosion, and then preserved in low oxygen conditions for protection against decomposition from saprotrophs and oxidative damage. This is just for starters.

It’s a common and erroneous assumption that the fossil record must show some high percentage of organisms that have ever existed. Rather than parroting about gaps in the fossil record, you would do well to investigate the vast comparative genomic data which demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that we share a common ancestor with chimpanzees.

I was also a progressive creationist until I came to terms with the genomic evidences for common ancestry. I understand the skepticism you are experiencing if you primarily look at the fossil record.

(George Brooks) #477

@pevaquark (@Marty)

I know it won’t necessarily impress you, but @Swamidass and I have to address these distinctions frequently at PeacefulScience.Org.

And our points usually go like this:

When we speak of God-Guided or Theistic Evolution, we are speaking THEOLOGICALLY about science.

When we speak of Evolution, or the Modern Thesis, we are speaking SCIENTIFICALLY about Evolution, which may or may not have theologically implications.

The advantage of these distinctions is, for one, the distinctions are valid.
Secondly, they are almost ALWAYS needed to discuss the business of BioLogos.Org and the business of PeacefulScience.Org!

There’s really no way to avoid it.

Whenever I hear someone throw down a glove and say, JUST SAY EVOLUTION - - doesn’t that always mean he doesn’t want to talk about God’s involvement?

So when I find “helpful atheists” arguing with Creationists about Evolution-Without-God, it is almost Always a Lose-Lose discussion. The Creationist comes away thinking all pro-Evolutionists give no ground for God… and all the “Just-Evolution-Please” people get are frustrated… and muddy the waters for Christians-who-Support-Evolution, who are generally more clear about Science vs. Theology.

The irony here, of course (and it has been noted by many over the past 2 years or more) is that BioLogos and the Design people frequently speak in agreement (and/or should) about God having a role.

So I am constantly reminding the folks at PeacefulScience that the dispute is NOT about design really.

The dispute is whether Science will ever have the scope to detect or prove God and/or his influences.

Obviously, here, we reject this idea. And Joshua continues to reject that idea. And the Design folks continue to arrive to argue about Design… and we try to say:

"Hey you win… God designs! But about this messed up definition of Science you have…"


You need to explained why we shouldn’t see gaps in the fossil record if evolution is true. We keep finding new fossil species all of the time which shouldn’t be happening according to your claims.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #479

Yes! And it bears noting that any gaps Gould wrote about are decades old and possibly filled in, no?


Okay, thanks. That’s interesting.


Very well … but I hope you realize that you ruined my fascinating back-flip story. I thought I was on to something there.


Please stop exposing the shallowness of my knowledge and the subsequent weaknesses in my argument!


Thank you for your thoughts, Chrissy; you make some valid points.

I’ve been thinking about everything I been told by the good folks here at Biologos, and it seems to me there are compelling reasons to conclude that the history of life is one of biological evolution. In this regard, I’ve been reading a bit about the views of the late French biologist, Pierre-Paul Grasse (a Christian), who concluded from the fossil record that the history of life on earth is one of biological evolution. But he seemed to think that science is incapable of explaining the mechanism by which that evolution happened. This point of view appeals to me, as it leaves room for the possibility of divine intervention in the evolutionary process - an important consideration as far as I’m concerned, as I often find purely natural explanations of evolutionary change to be far-fetched and unconvincing.

But my hangup with evolution is this - I don’t think I will ever be able to accept human evolution … which has me leaning back towards some kind of progressive creation model.

… speaking of which, I recently read about a very interesting progressive creation model which makes more scientific sense than my simplistic model:
We know from Genesis 2 that God used existing matter to create man and the first forms of life. So, having created the first life-forms from existing matter, God repeated that process - He took matter from these first life-forms to create other life-forms … and so on, all the way down the line of the history of life on earth. The genetic data that suggests evolutionary common descent could be evidence of a different form of common descent - that of separate, but genetically-related creations.

So according to this model, the DNA of humans is truly, physically related to “remote ancestors” (so to speak), because God created each new stage of life using the physical genetic matter of the preceding stage.
Another thought along these lines is the description of Eve being created from Adam’s “rib” - this could be a symbolic description of God creating Eve from Adam’s genetic matter.

(Christy Hemphill) #484

I’m glad you’ve got something out of all the discussions. It is often a long journey figuring stuff out and finding a place to land that answers your questions but honors your convictions as well.

Science has unanswered questions and things they still cannot explain, that’s true. It’s something I think every scientist around here would affirm. As I understand it, there are good explanations for several important natural mechanisms that drive evolution. Do they explain the whole story? Maybe not, and that is why curious people keep looking for refined and more in depth explanations. But there is a difference between acknowledging where the current models don’t explain everything and the Creationist argument that they can’t explain anything.

You would be in good company. Some people really delve into the idea of an eternal soul or the image of God and focus on God’s special creation of humanity in a spiritual/theological sense. In other words they believe that the human species evolved like other animals in terms of biology, but at some point in history God specially created in them their “humanity.” Others believe that Adam and Eve were specially created at some point in time and their children intermarried with people who were on earth as a result of common descent, but the image of God spread through their relationship to these specially created humans. There are people trying to reconcile science and more traditional biblical views about humans.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #485

This delightfully self-deprecating humor wins the internet today. Well played, sir!


There are so many uncertainties in palaeontology, it’s a wonder anyone bothers to predict anything from it.

When enough gaps are filled in, I might have to become an evolutionist. Don’t ask me to define “enough”.


Thanks. It’s all rather confusing; I don’t know who or what to believe.


Thanks, I appreciate that. The history of life on earth is a fascinating subject, so I guess that’s what keeps me coming back, and I can learn a lot a Biologos.
But now I’ve got an angry-sounding Steve Schaffner on another thread wanting a piece of me, so my time on this planet is probably at an end.

I accept that there must be a lot of solid evidence for evolution - as so many great scientific minds say so - but I seem to have a psychological barrier to accepting it as fact.

(Christy Hemphill) #489

Steve doesn’t bite. He usually doesn’t even bark much. He’s one of the a real deal scientists who chimes in on occasion, and gives really reliable answers to science questions.

(Laura) #490

I appreciate your candidness, @Edgar. Human evolution has been one of my biggest hang-ups too, both for theological and scientific reasons (though the science part is harder to understand). I’m still not sure how/what to teach my children about it, but I try to emphasize “the image of God” more than anything else, because it seems that is one of the more important theological ideas we get about humans from the first chapters of Genesis.


And yet the theory of evolution does make predictions which have been supported time and again. The theory of evolution predicts that fossils will fit into the same nested hierarchies that we have for living species, and that is exactly what we see.

If you are going to claim that these gaps are real then you also have to claim that we have found a fossil for every species that has existed. Finding new fossil species shows that you are wrong. As we continue to find new fossils it supports the claim that the gaps in our fossil records are due to gaps in our search, not real gaps in natural history.

(Marty) #492

It’s a week later! It would be a lot of fun and take time to sit down together and learn from each other! Yet writing takes SO much longer! Still, this forum will have to do for now.

It looks like we need to have a philosophical discussion first. I may or may not need to spell this out in this much detail, but hope it’s helpful.

I don’t see Progressive Creation (PC) as a scientific “theory.” I see it as an inference to the best explanation based on what we have learned from science. As you know, science can only look at/for natural causes and effects, so divine intervention cannot be detected directly by the scientific method. However the search for intentionality goes on every day in Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), where the scientific clues may indicate intentionality or perhaps indicate something was an accident. And so intentionality can be inferred from the data, recognized indirectly. And since much of evolution is a historical study, it shares a lot in common in this regard with history, archaeology, and CSI.

In evolution, random mutation and natural selection (RM&NS) are the scientifically recognized natural processes. Microevolution is obvious, seen in geographic speciation and drift, and especially obvious in petri dishes where generation times are fast and populations are high.

The question is whether these processes are adequate to produce all the complexity we see in longer generation times and smaller populations, especially in massive changes such as the Cambrian explosion, or the supposed evolution (by these natural processes only) of a land mammal into a whale. In general the fossil record is kinda stair-step-like, and in some cases the steps are huge (the original topic of this thread). This issue is handled in both unguided evolution and in PC (and other views) not by science but by a narrative, stories that fit together the data and the world view of their holder.

I think “macro-evolution by micro-evolution only” is an inference to the best explanation based on naturalist assumptions and/or opinions. In this way it is a narrative just like PC. There are other narratives also, and without trying to offend, I think evolutionary creationism is one. We all have them. I think that unguided evolution is a narrative based on the unproven assumption that we know all the mechanisms of evolutionary change. It is not a scientific statement that “macro took place by micro only” because it cannot be tested.

The fact that unguided evolution is a naturalist narrative helps it align nicely with a scientific approach whether those overarching naturalist assumptions are proven or correct or not. I would love to have someone come up with a way to test whether macro-evolution was by micro-evolution alone! But ultimately the math of randomness is the problem for me – you can’t get RM to offer this much complexity to NS in the times available. It is a probability issue for me, and any way you look at it, the denominator is an unfathomably large number (and yes, lots of items go in the numerator also like 10^17 seconds and the volume of the oceans, but the denominator just utterly overwhelms those).

So PC is held by those of us who 1) are skeptical that RM can accidentally provide enough useful information to NS in the time frames given, 2) see the bigger steps in the fossil record as probable indications of real “steps” in the history of life (the topic of this thread), and 3) probably already have other reasons to hold that there is a deity who is willing to take action in our realm. (Sidebar: the big three places I see divine action outside the Biblical include: 1) the fine tuning of the universe for life, 2) the absurdity of a naturalist origins of life on early earth (my favorite), and 3) the nature of humans. I’m here discussing evolution because that’s the topic of the thread, though I think those other three, especially origins of life, show stronger evidences of divine intervention).

Honestly, if I thought God had kicked off life and made a process (we call it evolution) that developed it to it’s current complexity without his involvement, I’d be OK with that. But I just don’t think he stayed out of it. That’s where the evidence takes me.

Regarding evolutionary software, somehow we are missing each other on this one. I’m not saying software evolves, but that snapshots of the software over time show similar characteristics to the fossil record. Hence the fossil record matches either narrative.

As regards Levin’s critique of Behe, a review with that much invective is never fair. It would be possible for Levin to comment on Behe’s actual arguments rather than demolish straw men, but he chose the latter. Behe is neither a scoundrel nor an idiot. Let’s not work with this agenda driven diatribe, but perhaps try to find someone who has critiqued the work fairly.

I’m gonna stop here cuz this has taken far too long. Hope it’s at least helpful!


That isn’t entirely true. Science can only look at objectively measurable phenomenon and can only use testable and falsifiable hypotheses. Notice that I don’t use natural or supernatural anywhere in there. It just so happens that most people define the supernatural as something which is not measurable or testable.

This is what we would expect to see with evolution and an incomplete set of fossils. We would also expect the fossils we do have to fit into a nested hierarchy if evolution is true, and this is exactly what we see. ID/creationism can’t seem to explain why we see this pattern of shared derived features and not some other pattern.

It is the best inference based on observed natural mechanisms and observations, not assumptions. We observe that random mutation and natural selection produce noisy phylogenies in living populations. This is the same pattern observed in the fossil record and when we compare genomes across many species. The observations match what we observe in living populations that are evolving through random mutations, selection, neutral drift, speciation, and other evolutionary mechanisms. Again, this is not an assumption. This is observation.

What we can do is see if the data matches the theory, and that is exactly what Dr. Stephen Schaffner (@glipsnort) did in this Biologos essay:

I would hope that you start to read up on the science that directly addresses your skeptical outlook.