The Fossil Record is Incomplete

Clockwise, from the top left, we have a solenodon, a naked mole rat, and a Portuguese man o’ war. What do all of these animals have in common? None of these are known from the fossil record.

“The fossil record is incomplete.” You occasionally hear this retort when evolutionists are challenged with the absence of transitional fossils (the so called “missing links”). They insist that the transitional forms must have existed, but the fossil record is incomplete, so they just haven’t been found yet.

Pretty ridiculous thing to say, that fossils are “missing” from the fossil record, right?

Well…

The truth is, as creationists, we know for a fact that the fossil record is incomplete. There are indeed missing fossils. Let me demonstrate how we know this.

Are you familiar with solenodon? It is a venomous mammal that lives on Cuba, Hispaniola, and Haiti. It looks a bit like a big shrew with a long snout. There are only two species known, both of which are alive today. And both of these species belong to a family that is separate from all other mammals, which indicates that the solenodons are their own kind.

Now, as a distinct kind of animal, we know from the Genesis account that the solenodon kind was created on day six of Creation Week, since solenodons are terrestrial animals. They likely are part of the animals that creep along the ground. As such, the solenodon kind must have survived the Flood, since it is still alive in the present time. However, despite this inferred history, there are no known fossils of solenodons: they are known only from the two living species.[1] 

It is more than just solenodons. Another example of a small mammal kind that lacks a fossil record is the naked mole rat. These naked, burrowing rodents are native to Africa and are famous for being one of the few eusocial mammals. A eusocial creature is something that lives in colonies where the members of the colony have distinct roles to play. The most famous eusocial creatures are bees and ants, insects that have distinct castes: queens, workers, and drones. Naked mole rats have a similar social structure: there is a queen who does all of the breeding and several sterile females who act as workers, for example.

Now, for a long time, naked mole rats were classified in the family Bathyergidae, which includes the other African mole rats. These other African mole rats are also burrowers, but they have hair and most of them do not have a eusocial lifestyle. Recently, however, it has been determined that naked mole rats are distinct enough to warrent being put in their own family, Heterocephalidae.[2] If this is accurate, and if it reflects a separation of kinds, then it means that the living naked mole rat is the only known member of its kind, meaning it too lacks any kind of fossil record.

So far, we have been beating around the bush. “There is a small, obscure mammal with no fossil record here, there is another small, obscure mammal with no fossil record here.” What about something big? What about an entire order of animals containing 19 families? Is there a group of animals that large that lack a fossil record? In fact, there is.

Siphonophorae is an order within the phylum Cnidaria. Cnidaria is most famous for jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals. The siphonophores are an interesting group of colonial animals. The most well known member of the group is the Portuguese man o’ war. Yes, believe it or not, that floating sac with trailing tentacles is not a single animal, it is an entire colony of animals that are so specialized, each one performs a specific function for the whole colony. For example, one animal makes up the floating sac. Several animals make up the tentacles. Some animals act as the stomach, digesting food.

Now, I want to emphasize that there are at least 19 different families of siphonophores. If each of these families represents a single kind of animal, then this one order contains 19 different kinds of animals. And not a single one of them is represented in the fossil record.[3] Since these are ocean-going creatures, we know that they must have been created on day five of Creation Week. Since they are alive today, they must have survived through the Flood, yet not a single one has been identified as a fossil.

The solenodon, naked mole rat, and siphonophores are just examples. I am sure there are more creatures that can be found that lack a fossil record. However, we also have to consider the possible division between the Flood record and the post-Flood record. That is, we have to consider where in the fossil record lies the boundary between Flood deposits and post-Flood deposits.

The two most popular possible separation between the Flood/post-Flood boundary are between the Cretaceous rocks and Tertiary rocks (the K/T boundary) and the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary. Think of the former as the classic “end of the age of the dinosaurs” boundary and the latter as the separation between the Ice Age fossils (the Pleistocene layers) and everything below it. Now, creationists are still debating where the true boundary between the Flood and post-Flood sediments lies, but the point I want to make is this. If the boundary lies as deep as the K/T boundary, then the problem of missing fossils only becomes more exacerbated. While there are several creatures alive today that have fossils known from Cretaceous rocks or lower (alligators, gars, bowfins, certain frogs and lizards), there is no known living mammal kind that has fossils that come from Cretaceous rocks or lower. That means, if the Flood/post-Flood boundary is the K/T boundary, then every single living mammal lacks a fossil record from the Flood. Since all living mammals were created on day five or six and therefore must have survived the Flood, that is a huge amount of missing fossils.

On the other hand, if the Flood/post-Flood boundary is the Pliocene-Pleistocene boundary, most animals are represented by fossils buried during the Flood. However, there are still things out there, like solenodons, naked mole rats, and siphonophores, that somehow managed to avoid leaving a fossil record or they left a fossil record that has not yet been found.

Regardless of where we place the Flood/post-Flood boundary, we know that the fossil record is incomplete. That just goes to show how little we actually know about the life before the Flood and the transition to the modern world. Perhaps we should have some humility before loudly declaring that evolutionists hide behind “silly arguments” like “the fossil record is incomplete.” We as creationists do not have a monopoly on a “true and accurate” knowledge of the fossil record. We struggle to interpret properly, too.

Thoughts from Steven


[1]Mark Springer, William Murphy, Alfred Roca (2018) “Appropriate fossil calibrations and tree constraints uphold the Mesozoic divergence of solenodons from other extant mammals” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 121: 158-165

[2]Bruce Patterson and Nathan Upham (2014) “A newly recognized family from the Horn of Africa, the Heterocephalidae (Rodentia: Ctenohystrica)” Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 172: 942-963

[3]Alejandro Damian-Serrano, Steven Haddock, Casey Dunn (2021) “The evolution of siphonophore tentilla as specialized tools for prey capture” PNAS 118(8): e2005063118