I am getting mixed impressions about what Charles Darwin predicted would be found by future paleontologists.

On the one hand, from reading what he wrote in the Origin, especially chapters 6 and 10 (9 in earlier editions) (I've looked at editions 2 and 5), I get the impression that he doesn't think that it is reasonable to demand that future paleontologists will find fossils showing smaller-scale stages of evolution, or fossils connecting large taxa of organisms. Representative quotes seem to include (from the second edition): "This could be effected only by the future geologist discovering in a fossil state numerous intermediate gradations; and such success seems to me improbable in the highest degree." And: "If then, there be some degree of truth in these remarks, 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 pal├Žontologists, be ranked as distinct species."

On the other hand, the following quote suggests to me that Darwin did think it was reasonable to demand that future paleontolgists come up with fossils showing smaller-scale stages. (From memory, I seem to remember seeing similar quotes about fossils connecting large taxa.) (Ironically, I am pasting from the Quote Mine Project item #37 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/ … ml#quote37 , without going to the source.)

"That individual kinds of fossils remain recognizably the same throughout the length of their occurrence in the fossil record had been known to paleontologists long before Darwin published his Origin. Darwin himself, troubled by the stubbornness of the fossil record in refusing to yield abundant examples of gradual change, devoted two chapters to the fossil record. To preserve his argument he was forced to assert that the fossil record was too incomplete, to full of gaps, to produce the expected patterns of change. He prophesied that future generations of paleontologists would fill in these gaps by diligent search and then his major thesis - that evolutionary change is gradual and progressive - would be vindicated. One hundred and twenty years of paleontological research later, it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin's predictions. Nor is the problem a miserably poor record. The fossil record simply shows that this prediction is wrong.

"The observation that species are amazingly conservative and static entities throughout long periods of time has all the qualities of the emperor's new clothes: everyone knew it but preferred to ignore it. Paleontologists, faced with a recalcitrant record obstinately refusing to yield Darwin's predicted pattern, simply looked the other way. Rather than challenge well-entrenched evolutionary theory, paleontologists tacitly agreed with their zoological colleagues that the fossil record was too poor to do much beyond supporting, in a general sort of way, the basic thesis that life had evolved."

Please clarify:
1. What "gaps" did Darwin predict future paleontology would fill in?
2. Where is this prediction/s recorded?
3. How should I reconcile it with (my reading of) the Origin?

(To be clear: I am not asking about what kind of fossil record should be expected according to the theory of evolution. I am also not asking what kind of fossil record would be expected if evolution worked Darwin's way, and/or if evolution worked only by gradualism and not by the punctuated equilibrium model. I am just confused about and asking about Darwin's predictions for which organisms would be found.)

Thank you in advance.

Hi Yisroel. It's hard to directly answer your questions, as 'smaller-scale' evolutionry changes could be anything. The worry is that we get into the creationist argument that there should always be another intermediate...

It comes down to what you consider 'smale-scale' changes to be. Darwin talks about the theory - all ancestors are gradually evolving, with the reality - not all ancestors are preserved. However complete the fossil record, be it 1% or 99%, your quotation from Darwin is still correct - we can never see all ancestors, so the very finest, contiuous change, is unlikely to ever be found.

(We could argue that archaeopteryx is a gap-filler, or we could use the myriad of feathered dinosaurs which provide dozens of transitional forms for the same transition (dinosaurs->birds)).

So if I read your question correctly, your reading is that Darwin found it unreasonable to suggest palaeontologists would find all small-scale transitionary forms, which is fair, and I don't think direct examples of predicted gaps and them being subsequently filled affects that.

I can't answer 1) and 2) I'm afraid, as it's a while since I've read Darwin and I can't recall distinct predictions about gaps being filled. Perhaps another site expert can be bit more specific in this regard.

Last edited by Peter Falkingham (2nd Jun 2014 11:24:54)

Yisroel then posted again

I asked on May 25th about a (seeming) contradiction between Darwin's writing, and Darwin's opinion as paraphrased by Eldredge and Tattersall. (It's about Darwin's confidence in future paleontolgists finding "a lot of" "transitional" fossils, etc.) On June 2nd, Peter Falkingham gave a partial response; thank you. So are Eldredge and Tattersall wrong about Darwin, or what? Thanks.