The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

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The Fossil Fallacy

Creationists’ demand for “just one transitional fossil” reveals a deep misunderstanding of science
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Nineteenth-century English social scientist Herbert Spencer made this prescient observation: “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” A century later nothing has changed.When I debate creationists, they present not one fact in favor of creation and instead demand “just one transitional fossil” that proves evolution. When I do offer evidence (for example, Ambulocetus natans, a transitional fossil between land mammals and modern whales), they respond that there are now two gaps in the fossil record. This is a clever debate retort, but it reveals a profound error that I call the Fossil Fallacy: the belief that a “single fossil” — one bit of data — constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence. In fact, proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry — multiple, independent inductions all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion. (continue reading…)

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