Evolutionists sometimes use a circular argument regarding fossils and how old they are. Sometimes, evolutionists date the fossils based on the strata (rock layers) that they are found in. Other times, however, they actually determine how old a rock layer is by the fossils it contains. 1 This type of reasoning is dangerous and circular.
Evolutionist: This reasoning is not circular, it is just obvious based on our findings. For instance, a scholar finding a Dead Sea Scroll can know with certainty that the scroll contains some of First Samuel from the Old Testament because of what is in the scroll. Likewise, paleontologists can recognize which layer of rock they are dealing with by looking at the fossils it contains. 2
Response: The analogy to the Dead Sea Scrolls is different from the fossil evidence in a couple of ways.
(1) First, we know for sure what the book of First Samuel contains. With fossils, on the other hand, we cannot know for sure that an index fossil is found only in certain rock layers unless we have searched all of the rock layers in the entire earth, which we have not, and unless we have dated these rock layers by independent means (not by the fossils themselves).
(2) Second, intelligent writing like portions of First Samuel are highly specific and ordered, containing exact words and phrases in a specific order. Fossils, on the other hand, are not this way, and although they may contain general patterns, they are not nearly as specific as intelligent writing.
(3) Third, evolutionists often use index fossils as evidence for evolution. 3 However, since they assume that the index fossils are reliable (in dating certain strata), this does present circular reasoning.
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Dawkins, R. (2004). The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cotner, S., & Moore, R. (2011). Arguing for Evolution: An Encyclopedia for Understanding Science. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood.
- http://www.icr.org/article/circular-reasoning-evolutionary-biology/ ↩
- Dawkins, 2004, p. 14: “Devonian rocks are recognizable as Devonian wherever they may be found, partly because of the quality of the rock but also because of the internal evidence of the fossils that they contain. This sounds like a circular argument but it really isn’t: no more than when a scholar recognizes a Dead Sea Scroll, from internal evidence, as a fragment of the First Book of Samuel. Devonian rocks are reliably labeled by the presence of certain characteristic fossils.” ↩
- Cotner and Moore, 2011, p. 49: “Not a single authenticated discovery of a fossil in the ‘wrong’ sediment has ever been documented.” ↩