Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Tulsa World, which boasts having “the largest news staff in Northeast Oklahoma.” The letter is titled Fear Alternative. We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. As we usually do we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. Okay, here we go:
Did all organisms evolve over time from a common ancestor, a single-celled organism? Charles Darwin said that his hypothesis of evolution would be proved or disproved by the fossil record.
Did Darwin really say that? One would think that when attributing statements to famous people whose works are freely available online, creationists would provide the appropriate quote with a link to its source. We can’t find such a statement by Darwin, but he made several statements about the sketchy nature of the fossil record. Here’s Darwin’s Origin of Species. In Chapter 9 – On the Imperfection of the Geological Record, he says:
But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
He then goes on for pages explaining why the fossil record is necessarily incomplete. But nowhere does he even hint that this is a defect in his theory. Indeed, much later in that chapter he says:
If then, there be some degree of truth in these remarks [about the imperfect nature of the geological record], we have no right to expect to find in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms, which on my theory assuredly have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life. We ought only to look for a few links, some more closely, some more distantly related to each other; and these links, let them be ever so close, if found in different stages of the same formation, would, by most palaeontologists, be ranked as distinct species. But I do not pretend that I should ever have suspected how poor a record of the mutations of life, the best preserved geological section presented, had not the difficulty of our not discovering innumerable transitional links between the species which appeared at the commencement and close of each formation, pressed so hardly on my theory.
Aside from that, a striking number of transitional fossils have been discovered (see List of transitional fossils). So much for the letter’s first paragraph. Oh, we noticed the letter-writer’s cunning use of the word “hypothesis” instead of theory. That’s not worth commenting about. The letter continues:
Instead of housing an orderly progression of organisms in successive layers, the fossil record reveals a sudden, simultaneous explosion of life forms. Simple fungi, arthropods, dinosaurs and humans (yes, humans!) show up together in the same rock stratum in Glen Rose, Texas.
Lordy, lordy. That old canard. See The Texas Dinosaur/”Man Track” Controversy. On with the letter:
Meanwhile, significant transitional-life-form fossils remain undiscovered. It only takes one observation of fact to disprove a hypothesis, no matter how beloved that hypothesis might be.
That nonsense in Glen Rose, Texas isn’t going to do the job, so why doesn’t the letter-writer go out and find the elusive Precambrian rabbit? The letter ends like this:
Darwin’s hypothesis is disproven. Flora and fauna did not evolve gradually over millions of years. Yet the intelligentsia and the local newspaper editors howl about any attempts to teach this fact to schoolchildren. Why? Because they fear the alternative?
He’s figured it out. We’re afraid!
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