Rewriting Evolution History

... but how many times can it be rewriten?

Last updated: January 16, 2015

how many times can history of evolution be rewritten

From Haeckel's embryos depicted above, to Piltdown man and Nebraska man, the history of evolution is marred by fraud. But there is another strange feature of evolutionary history: it keeps being rewritten after almost every new significant discovery. This article examines this phenomenon in more detail.

A Very Dynamic Field?

A Google search for "Rewriting Evolution History" returns about 487,000 results. Here is a sampling of some typical results title pages:

  • Fossil from Madagascar Rewrites Evolution of Mammals
  • Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human History
  • This skull may have just rewritten the book on human evolution
  • Tasmanian researchers rewrite evolutionary history
  • Marine Reptile Fossil Rewrites Evolution
  • Neanderthal Genome Rewrites Human Evolution

There are also numerous variations on this theme:

  • new study changes everything about our understanding of mammal evolution.
  • animal is not as primitive as we thought, or is more evolved than had been previously thought
  • new analysis turns an old evolutionary view on its head
  • ancient fossil may rewrite fish family tree
  • new genetic study helps redraw a certain family evolutionary tree

Having stumbled across such headlines one too many times, I wondered what was the story behind them. Below are some of my thoughts on this issue.

Just Attention Grabbing Headlines?

Some have argued that these catchy phrases are just hyperboles used by mainstream media to attract readers. To a certain extent, this makes sense. There is a steady flow of evolutionary story-telling in the media, and I can see how, after a while, it gets boring. You are more likely to have people read your article if you include in your title some transformative adjective in reference to the theory of evolution, or to the history of the animal or plant in question. Sensationalism is a time-proven tool that most journalists have in their toolbox. But there is a grossly disproportionate use of these qualifiers in stories about evolution, compared to any other field of science. There is something else going on here.

Normal Process of Science?

Others have defended this practice by invoking the change inherent in scientific data gathering and interpretation. Again, at first sight, this appears to be a reasonable argument: new discoveries are made, which lead to new interpretations, especially if the branch of science in question is young, and there are still lots of gaps to be filled. This seems to be the case the authors of "Is evolutionary history repeatedly rewritten in light of new fossil discoveries?" want to make.

The weakness of this argument, though, is the very process it invokes. As more data is gathered, the overall picture gets clearer and clearer, just like a puzzle makes more and more sense, as more and more individual pieces are placed in their proper places. There are now millions of fossils of all kinds of plants and animals that have been discovered and studied. The genomes of humans and numerous other animals and plants have been sequenced. An army of biologists, paleontologists, geneticists, geologists, etc. have been publishing articles relevant to the theory of evolution for decades. If, for example, Darwin could invoke the paucity of fossils available during his time to explain away the absence of the numerous transitional forms he predicted to have existed, such major gaps should no longer be a problem for evolution today.

For a theory whose proponents insist is proven beyond any doubt, at a century and a half after Charles Darwin published his "Origin of Species", one would expect to see much fewer surprises and a lot more data that actually fits what the theory predicts. Again, this is a situation totally unprecedented in the history of science.

How Many Times Can Evolutionary History Be Rewritten?

I don't consider myself susceptible to conspiracy theories, but this phenomenon is the closest that would make me wonder. Main-stream media almost seems to have a pre-written template, with a set of mandatory clich├ęs that have to follow a pattern like this:

Such and such animal is surprisingly more (or less) this or that way than previously thought, which is likely to cause the rewriting of the evolutionary history of that animal's family.

At a more profound level, though, I think the constant rewriting of evolutionary history is yet another indication of the vulnerability of this theory. Nowhere else in science there is such a push for people to accept it as fact. Nowhere else are doubt and critical thinking censored to such absurd levels. Nowhere else are dissenters ridiculed and banished in ways reminiscent of Middle Age practices.

I would argue that there is a limit, even for non-experts, to how many times the phylogenetic tree of life can be torn down and rebuilt, before it ends up being nothing else than an icon of a theory that lacks a cohesive mechanism, with no truly scientific facts to back it up.

It is one thing to arrange living plants and creatures, based on morphological or genetic or other similarities, on a phylogenetic tree. It is an entirely different thing to show, either in the fossil record, or among the billions of organisms alive today, that there were billions of transitional forms, and that macroevolution actually takes place. The first is very easy to do. The second has eluded the army of evolutionary scientists mentioned above, and will continue to elude them for one simple reason: life on earth has its origin in an act of creation performed by an intelligent, loving, all-knowing God, and not by purposeless molecules brought on earth by comets, meteorites or aliens, or formed here on earth, through mindless processes, over billions of years.