Evolution: The Fossil Evidence

March 8, 2013 the Provocateurs and Peacemakers hosted paleontologist Keith Miller, Ph.D., of Kansas State University, to present and lead a discussion on “The Overwhelming Fossil Evidence for Evolution and Why People Don’t See It” at Perkins restaurant in Overland Park.

After the presentation, we met for more conversation at The Green Mill across the street.
In Professor Miller’s words:

The fossil record overwhelmingly confirms the expectations of the branching model of the evolutionary history of life. The observed patterns of anatomical change in the fossil record, the abundant presence of transitional forms, the geographic distribution of fossils and the repeated confirmation of evolutionary predictions all provide great confidence in the evolutionary tree of life.

However, many people will not be convinced by the fossil evidence alone because of prior false views of evolution and science in general. Commonly held erroneous views that create obstacles to accepting evolution include: 1) that the fossil record shows discontinuity rather than evolutionary continuity between different taxonomic groups, 2) that the expected temporal pattern of evolution is linear and ladder-like, 3) that evolutionary hypotheses are not subject to scientific test, and 4) that the evolutionary model can be overturned by a single observation. These views negatively impact the understanding of paleontology and the history of life in a number of ways, and must be specifically addressed when presenting the fossil evidence.

Keith Miller received his master’s degree in geology from the University of New York at Binghamton in 1982 and his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Rochester in 1988.  Miller came to K-State as a postdoctoral research associate in 1990 and was promoted to research assistant professor in 1995. He is a co-author with Ronald West and Lynn Watney of The Permian System in Kansas, a new comprehensive summary of Permian geology published by the Kansas Geological Survey. He frequently teaches classes on natural disasters, and he originated a course on dinosaurs. He is also particularly interested in issues in science education and fundamentalist opposition to evolution, and he served as editor of a book on the subject.

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