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Re: It's really 1860 folks!!



Jeff, 
 
>    I have received yet another "even Charles Darwin acknowledged the lack of
> transitional forms in the fossil record" e-mail.  Frankly, I'm sick of
> shooting this down constantly and would like to publish an article on the 
> topic.
> 
>    Does anybody know if there's a published reference to how much, or what
> per centage, of the fossil record has been discovered between Darwin's death
> in 1882 and 1997 (or recent year)?
> 
>    Any good reference on whether Darwin truly "acknowledged" this?
> 

My impression is that this is another creationist-jokebook claim which
is at best only partly right.  It's true that Darwin considered the lack
of intermediate forms to be "perhaps, the most obvious and serious
objection which can be urged against the theory."  However, he also
devoted a considerable amount of space to answering this objection.  One
entire chapter, "On the Imperfection of the Geologic Record," is about
possible reasons why there were few intermediates known.  It's
impressive how similar the list is to one that might be drawn up today. 
Darwin was extremely quick to point out that a) the geologic record was
incomplete when deposited, and b) our knowledge of the existing record
is also imperfect.  He names several groups that were thought to have
appeared suddenly at such-and-so a level in the record, only to have
specimens suddenly turn up in newly explored deposits of much older
ages.  However, in the end he had to admit that in large part the
question had to await further explanation.  

Then in the next chapter ("On the Geological Succession of Organic
Beings") he describes several examples of groups that have been
connected by fossil intermediates.  Even the first edition, published in
1859, contains some of these.  One example is how Owens had to pretty
much dissolve Cuvier's "Pachydermata" when he (Owens) demonstrated that
pigs could be linked to ruminants by a succession of known fossils.  

As for how much of the record has been discovered since Darwin died: I
don't know invertebrate or fish paleontology worth a darn, but I'd guess
that more than half of all known tetrapods were discovered in the last
century.  The assembly of the horse series post-dates even Darwin's last
edition of the ORIGIN.  Likewise most fossil whales, at least half the
known dinosaurs, many mammals from both the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, many
archosaurs, primates, primitive amphibians, primitive reptiles,
synapsids, many pterosaurs, most Mesozoic birds, and on and on.  

-- JSW

PS: If any of the above is wrong, then I hope _somebody_ will correct me
on it!  The above is my best effort based on my current knowledge, but
paleontology is only a hobby and I know there are massive gaps in my
background.