Reasons to Believe

Mismatches between Genetic Data and the Fossil Record

Charles Darwin acknowledged that one of the issues faced by his theory of evolution was that the fossil record didn’t match the theory.1 Specifically, his theory held that new species should be emerging continually, but the appearance of new, large-bodied species draws to a halt with the arrival of modern humans. Additionally, the fossil record lacks the broad expanse of transitional species predicted by evolution. Darwin hoped that with the passage of time and the discovery of more fossils, the mismatch would be resolved, but it has not been.

In the absence of a fossil record that provides the anticipated data, evolutionary scientists have now turned to genetic sequences to supply the missing data to support their theory. However, genetic data is proving to be just as confounding as the fossil record. A recent scientific paper describes the quandary:

Historical patterns of species diversity inferred from phylogenies typically contradict the direct evidence found in the fossil record…This striking inconsistency between phylogenies and fossils limits our understanding of macroevolution.2

The observed contradiction is a mismatch between the number of species expected to exist based on genetic sequence data phylogenies and the number of species in the fossil record. The genetic data implies that many more species should exist than the record shows.

The number of species present at any point in Earth’s history is due to a combination of factors: the number of species that already exist, new species that come into existence, and species that have gone extinct. The genetic data incorrectly (for evolutionary theory) predicts new species coming into existence (especially in the recent past) and the number of species that went extinct.

Following the scientific method, when researchers observe theory-based data mismatches of the extent discussed here, it should prompt a reconsideration of the validity of the theory––in this case, evolution. However, that has not happened. Instead, using the fossil history of whales on the earth as a guideline, scientists have attempted to revise the mathematical equations used to predict the number of species based on genetics to generate results that match the fossil record. Even this effort has encountered difficulties. In reviewing the latest suggested method to “correct” the equations as well as earlier attempts, theoretical biologist Tanja Stadler explains that all such efforts will fall short because in the recent past (since the arrival of modern humans), new species have not been accumulating.3

These results may be surprising to evolutionists, but they are consistent with Reason To Believe’s creation model. Throughout Earth’s history, God has created new species to fit the current ecology of the world, then removed those species at appropriate times as the ecology changed and replaced them with new species more suited to the times.4 These cycles of extinction followed by new creation events ended with the creation of modern humans, a fact that is consistent with the fossil record and with Scripture.

Subjects: Molecular Evolution

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1. Hugh Ross, “Designed to Live, Designed to Die”.

2. Helene Morlon, Todd Parsons, and Joshua Plotkin, “Reconciling Molecular Phylogenies with the Fossil Record,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA Early Edition doi/10.1073/pnas.1102543108.

3. Tanja Stadler, “Inferring Speciation and Extinction Processes from Extant Species Data”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Early Edition.

4. Psalm 104:29–30 (NIV).