Fossils, Faith, and Fallacies
by Melissa Travis
I see this bumper sticker around town occasionally, and it always makes me shake my head. While I get a measure of amusement from such a blatant logical error (which I will explain below), I’m mildly frustrated by the apparent lack of education of those promoting such a slogan.
Now, what exactly is meant by the statement, “We have the fossils. We win.”? The implied claim is that the fossil record supports an evolutionary emergence life’s grand diversity, therefore, gradualistic evolution is the correct view of natural history. If you run a web search of this slogan, you will find that promoters of the bumper sticker (and of the meme graphic that floats around on social media) use it specifically against Intelligent Design theory (ID) and various forms of creationism. They often go even further, making the metaphysical claim that the fossil record disproves Christian theism and supports atheism. The little fish-with-legs symbolizes this far more extreme implication by making a mockery of the Christian ichthus symbol.
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Now, whether or not the fossil record supports a gradualistic, branching emergence of species diversity has been hotly debated. Some (even some non-theists) have argued that what the record truly exhibits is a pattern of appearance–stasis–extinction of animal types. For the sake of the argument, I am going to grant the claim that the record exhibits some gradualistic change of plants and animals and a discernible sequence of species appearance, showing an increase in the sophistication and diversity of life over time. Make no mistake; I am NOT granting that the record exhibits an unbroken biological genealogy from one or several ancestral life forms, because it cannot; this is an inherent limitation of paleontological records. Inferences to that effect may be drawn of course, but those inferences go beyond the actual fossil evidence.
The focus of this post is to demonstrate that the bumper sticker above and its promoters commit both the straw-man and the false dichotomy fallacies. The sticker’s intended implications cannot be used against ID theory or as a legitimate argument against Christianity…
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