May 9, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

How to Fill In Missing Fossils: Imagine Them

Evolutionists have long known of systematic gaps in the fossil record.  This has been a frequent criticism lodged by Darwin skeptics against the evolutionary notion of a gradually unfolding tree of life.  Now, however, it appears that evolutionists have revived use of a tool in their arsenal for combating the critics: imagination.  Missing transitions in the record?  No problem.  Fill them in with “evolutionary thinking.”
    This tactic was illustrated in a cheerful article about Dr Marcello Ruta of the University of Bristol, posted on Science Daily, describing his research into the Permian extinction – an evolutionary scenario that supposedly wiped out the majority of life forms on earth 250 million years ago.
    In particular, parareptiles,1 “a diverse group of bizarre-looking terrestrial vertebrates which varied in shape and size,” had been thought to have been hit hard by the extinction event, whatever it was; but the Bristol team is now claiming that, to the contrary, “parareptiles were not hit much harder by the end-Permian extinction than at any other point in their 90 million-year history.”  They lived merrily on for another 50 million years, declining and diversifying repeatedly during their long tenure on earth.
    At first glance, the article seems to score wins for Darwinism: the team at Bristol has made strides connecting the dots and filling in the gaps.  After all, they were “studying the fossil record,” the article alleged.  A closer look at their gap-filling material, however, shows it lacks empirical substance:

  • However, as the quality and completeness of the fossil record varies considerably, both geographically and stratigraphically, palaeontologists need to find a way to ‘join the dots’ and piece together the fragments of a complex mosaic to give a more satisfactory and better picture of ancient life’s diversity.
  • The team led by Dr Marcello Ruta of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences … used the evolutionary relationships among known parareptiles to produce a corrected estimate of changing diversity through time.
  • Dr Marcello Ruta said: “Evolutionary relationships can be superimposed on a time scale, allowing you to infer missing portions of past diversity.  They are powerful tools that complement and refine the known record of extinct diversity.  If you visualize evolutionary relationships in the form of branching diagrams and then plot them on a time scale, new patterns begin to emerge, with gaps in the fossil record suddenly filling rapidly.

One of the team members elaborated on the success of visualization and imagination as gap-filling strategies.  “It is as if ghosts from the past appear all of a sudden and join their relatives in a big family tree – you have a bigger tree,” he said.  “This way, you can start analysing observed and extrapolated abundance of species through time, and you can quantify novel origination and extinction events that would otherwise go unnoticed if you were to look at known finds only.”
    How big a part do the known finds play in this game?  Apparently, not that much.  Another co-author of the paper emphasized the role of “evolutionary thinking” as a substitute for real bones: “Classic text-book views of waxing and waning of groups through deep time will certainly benefit, where possible, from the use of evolutionary thinking.”
    A peer from the University of Washington seemed delighted with this first-ever detailed study of parareptile relationships, because “we still know very little about their biology.”  The study was published in the journal Palaeontology.2  The abstract states that they provided “Phylogeny-corrected measures of diversity” and examined “ghost lineages” – i.e., lineages that should be there if evolution were true, but left no fossils.  Paul Nelson at the Discovery Institute described ghost lineages in a pair of articles for Evolution News in January 19 and February 4, 2011.


1.  The Wikipedia article on parareptilia states, “Whether the term is valid depends on the phylogenetic position of turtles, the relationships of which to other reptilian groups are still uncertain.
2.  Ruta, Cisneros et al, “Amniotes through major biological crises: faunal turnover among parareptiles and the end-Permian mass extinction,” Palaeontology, first published online: 27 APR 2011, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2011.01051.x.

It appears that the fossil evidence of parareptiles, if that taxon even exists, is a scattergram that does not support any kind of evolutionary story.  According to the abstract, “Available data are not consistent with a model of sudden decline at the end-Permian but rather suggest a rapid alternation of originations and extinctions in a number of parareptile groups, both before and after the Permian/Triassic boundary.”
    One might think this anomaly amounts to a falsification of the Permian extinction idea itself, and would present a serious challenge to the idea of evolutionary progress.  But if one thought that way, one would underestimate the creativity of the Darwinian imagination.  No amount of data ever falsifies Darwinism, because imagination is always on hand to insert flexible caulking to keep the HMS Charlie afloat (see four examples from last year, 05/27/2010).  That’s why it is unsinkable.  You can’t sink an imaginary ship on an imaginary ocean hitting obstacles, real or imaginary, when magic caulk is available in infinite supply.  Read Paul Nelson’s articles and the tactic will become clear.
visualizing evolutionary relationships” and filling in all the gaps with “ghost lineages” that left no trace.
    This is not science; this is divination – peeping and muttering with a few bones to invoke the Spirit of Charlie, so that the peasants continue to worship and make sacrifices at the shrine of the great liberator with his magic tree, who freed the scientists from observational rigor and gave them an easy life of storytelling (12/22/2003 commentary).  Note: evolutionary thinking is an oxymoron. 

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