Evolution and the fossils March 16, 2011


I had an interesting letter from an evolutionist friend the other day and he has kindly agreed that I should share it with you on this blog. It relates to the Oxford Union debate in 1986 in which I debated creation and evolution with Richard Dawkins and others and reads as follows:

Dear Prof. Andrews

I have just re-listened to the contribution of Richard Dawkins to the Oxford Union debate on evolution and creation that took place in 1986. During the debate a member of the audience asked Richard Dawkins a very pertinent question, and I quote;

       “This despatch box bears a great resemblance to that despatch box and the difference between them is very slight. Are we to deduce then, this despatch box evolved from that despatch box?” Professor Dawkins paused for several seconds and then uttered something that truly reflected his position although he wasn’t really aware of it; “Madam President, I am simply at a loss”. He also went on to say; “What has this got to do with evolution?”

       Well the point is that the inference in the original question, that just because two things are similar in form does not prove they are related, does have a lot to do with evolution.

       The way the question was phrased, it was obvious to me that the person who asked it was aware of the powerful and insurmountable philosophical objection to fossils being proof of the process of evolution. What we do see in fossils is a ‘formal’ relationship; i.e. one set of fossils in one stratigraphic layer bears a resemblance, albeit with minor changes, to fossils in higher or lower strata. That is, fossils in different layers are similar in form, just as the two despatch boxes were similar in form. However, the important question is, do the fossils have a ‘temporal’ relationship? Are they actually related one to another? Did one evolve into the other?

       As an evolutionist I believe that they did, but the operative word here is believe. I don’t know that they are related, and there is no way of proving that they were. We cannot apply the scientific method to the fossils and determine whether they are related and that one evolved into the other. This critique of the ‘fossil record’ is well established and taught in colleges of education, at least it was so in my case.

       The thing that really concerns me here is that you could tell from his response to the despatch box question that Professor Dawkins was not aware of this standard philosophical objection to the assertion that fossils are proof of evolution. They are not.

C. S. Milkins, ‘perplexed evolutionist’.