Created: September 9, 2015
Revised:Synopsis Sept 2017  

The Creation Narrative of Science and the Bible

Dr. David C. Bossard

Dr. David C. Bossard
Biographical Information

The Magnates Walk First

The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.
Freeman Dyson (1979)M.31

We know, further, so far at least as we have yet succeeded in deciphering the record,—that the several dynasties were introduced, not in their lower, but in their higher forms; that, in short, in the imposing programme of creation it was arranged, as a general rule, that in each of the great divisions of the procession the magnates should walk first.
Hugh Miller (1850)M.32

Hugh Miller, one of the prominent early geologists, states that in the course of creation, the earliest members of a race are not the simplest but tend to be the most complex, the "magnates", with simplification and specialization, rather than its opposite, occurring with the passage of time. This is a theme that recurs many times throughout the creation narrative. Louis Agassiz, another prominent geologist of the mid-19th Century calls such evidence of pre-planning "prophetic types". Sir Charles Lyell made a similar remark (see below)M.33.  Another term for this is Reductive evolution, the concept that the ancestors of a given species are more complex than the descendents.

This phenomenon was widely regarded by some early geologists as plausible evidence for a divine Creator because of the lack of fossil precursors, and as a counterpoint to the apparent general rule of progressive development (which is also clear in the fossil record). Perhaps the classic example of this is the trilobite, an arthropod that appears in the early Cambrian strata suddenly and full-formed.

When Darwin's Origin of Species appeared in 1859, there was a wholesale movement towards the adoption of evolution by purely natural means. This meant, in effect, that the sudden appearance of novel classes was overlooked, "removed into a more distant and dimmer region" as Lydia Miller noted about 10 years later, in 1869.M.34  The facts still remained but were de-emphasized and in the end, ignored.

Given the complex ancestor, one may construct a plausible chain of evolutionary events to explain reductive evolution: the elimination  of superfluous features (such as the eyes of blind cave fish) or the elimination of redundant and overlapping genes. Such change towards simplification  may be understood to be plausible and reasonable; but this reasoning does not explain a complex ancestor that appears to have no precedent. The usual "explanation" is the incompleteness of the fossil record, or the lack of hard parts which can be fossilized.

The recent ability to conduct detailed genetic studies has led to the conclusion that even "the first eukaryote" appears to have been an example of this phenomenon—see below, The Eukaryotic Big Bang.

The following are direct quotes from early geologists regarding this feature of the fossil record.

Early Geologists on "The Magnates Walk First"

William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (2nd Edition, 1837)

p.294 [regarding fossil fish] "A kind of retrograde development, from complex to simple forms, may be said to have taken place. As some of the more early Fishes united in a single species, points of organization which, at a later period, are found distinct in separate families, these changes would seem to indicate in the class of Fishes a process of Division, and of Subtraction from more perfect, rather than of Addition to less perfect forms. ... In no kingdom of nature, therefore, does it seem less possible to explain the successive changes of organization, disclosed by geology, without the direct interposition of repeated acts of Creation."

p. 312 "The history of Chambered Shells tends further to throw light upon a point of importance in physiology, and shows that it is not always by a regular gradation from lower to higher degrees of organization, that the progress of life has advanced, during the early epochs of which geology takes cognizance. We find that many of the more simple forms have maintained their primeval simplicity, through all the varied changes the surface of the earth has undergone; whilst, in other cases, organizations of a higher order preceded many of the lower forms of animal life; some of the latter appearing, for the first time, after the total annihilation of many species and genera of a more complex character [emphasis added]".

Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology (1850) Eighth Edition, Ch. 35: "Transmutation of Species"

p. 546 "Lamarck enters upon the following line of argument: The more we advance in the knowledge of the different organized bodies which cover the surface of the globe, the more our embarrassment increases, to determine what ought to be regarded as a species, and still more how to limit and distinguish genera. ... The greater the abundance of natural objects assembled together, the more do we discover proofs that every thing passes by insensible shades into something else. …  [p. 549] I must here interrupt the author's argument, by observing, that no positive fact is cited to exemplify the substitution of some entirely new sense, faculty, or organ, in the room of some other suppressed as useless. All the instances adduced go only to prove that the dimensions and strength of members and the perfection of certain attributes may, in a long succession of generations, be lessened and enfeebled by disuse; or, on the contrary, be matured and augmented by active exertion. It was necessary to point out to the reader this important chasm in the chain of evidence, because he might otherwise imagine that I had merely omitted the illustrations for the sake of brevity; but the plain truth is, that there were no examples to be found; and when Lamarck talks "of the efforts of internal sentiment," "the influence of subtle fluids," and "acts of organization," as causes whereby animals and plants may acquire new organs, he substitutes names for things; and, with a disregard to the strict rules of induction, resorts to fictions, as ideal as the "plastic virtue," and other phantoms of the geologists of the middle ages. It is evident that, if some well-authenticated facts could have been adduced to establish one complete step in the process of transformation, such as the appearance, in individuals descending from a common stock, of a sense or organ entirely new, and a complete disappearance of some other enjoyed by their progenitors, time alone might then be supposed sufficient to bring about any amount of metamorphosis. The gratuitous assumption, therefore, of a point so vital to the theory of transmutation, was unpardonable on the part of its advocate."

p. 560 "We must suppose that when the Author of Nature creates an animal or plant, all the possible circumstances in which its descendants are destined to live are foreseen, and that an organization is conferred upon it which will enable the species to perpetuate itself and survive under all the varying circumstances to which it must be inevitably exposed."

Adam Sedgwick, Discourse on the Studies of the University, 5th Ed, (1850)

p. lxiv    (in a critique of Vestiges by Robert Chambers) "All our most ancient fossil fishes belong to a high organic type; and the very oldest species that are well determined fall naturally into an order of fishes which Owen and Müller place, not at the bottom, but at the top of the whole class." ... "Fishes of the very highest organic type existed during the period of some of our old Palaeozoic strata; and no Fishes of an inferior organic grade have been found below them." [Reference to order of fishes is to: Sir Richard Owen, Anatomy of Vertebrates, Vol. I, Fishes and Reptiles, 1866; Johannes Peter Müller of Humboldt University in Berlin].

Edward Hitchcock, Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851)

p. 255 "But a special appeal has been made on this subject to geology. The history of organic remains, it is thought, corresponds to what we might expect, if the hypothesis of development is true. In the oldest rocks we find chiefly the more simple invertebrate animals, and the vertibrated tribes appear at first in the form of fish, then of reptiles, then of birds, then of mammals, and last of all of man. What better confirmation could we wish than this gradually expanding series? ... But the tables are turned when we descend to particulars. ... for the onchus (a genus of fish) has been found in the ... lower silurian rocks [modern Ordovician—dcb] of Bala. (¶) It is also a most important fact, that this fish of the oldest rock was not, as the development scheme would require, of a low organization, but quite high on the scale of fishes. The same is true of all the earliest species of this class ... the very oldest species that are well determined fall naturally into an order of fishes which Owen and Müller place, not at the bottom, but at the top of the whole class."

Hugh Miller, The Old Red Sandstone (7th Edition, 1858—First published 1841)

p. 325 "We know, further, so far at least as we have yet succeeded in deciphering the record,—that the several dynasties were introduced, not in their lower, but in their higher forms; that, in short, in the imposing programme of creation it was arranged, as a general rule, that in each of the great divisions of the procession the magnates should walk first."

p. 40 "The argument is a very simple one. Of all the vertebrata, fishes rank lowest, and in geological history appear first. We find their remains in the Upper and Lower Silurians, in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Old Red Sandstone, in the Mountain Limestone, and in the Coal Measures; and in the latter formation the first reptiles appear. Fishes seem to have been the master existences of two great systems, mayhap of three, ere the age of reptiles began. Now fishes differ very much among themselves: some rank nearly as low as worms, some nearly as high as reptiles; and if fish could have risen into reptiles, and reptiles into mammalia, we would necessarily expect to find lower orders of fish passing into higher, and taking precedence of the higher in their appearance in point of time, just as in the Winter's Tale we see the infant preceding the adult. If such be not the case —if fish made their first appearance, not in their least perfect, but in their most perfect state —not in their nearest approximation to the worm, but in their nearest approximation to the reptile —there is no room for progression, and the argument falls. Now it is a geological fact, that it is fish of the higher orders that appear first on the stage, and that they are found to occupy exactly the same level during the vast period represented by five succeeding formations. There is no progression. If fish rose into reptiles, it must have been by sudden transformation — it must have been as if a man who had stood still for half a lifetime should bestir himself all at once, and take seven leagues at a stride. There is no getting rid of miracle in the case — there is no alternative between creation and metamorphosis. The infidel substitutes progression for Deity; Geology robs him of his god."

Hugh Miller, Footprints of the Creator (3rd Ed. 1858—First published 1850)

p. 307 "There is geologic evidence, as has been shown, that in the course of creation the higher orders succeeded the lower. We have no good reason to believe that the mollusc and crustacean preceded the fish, seeing that discovery, in its slow course, has already traced the vertebrata in the ichthyic form, down to deposits which only a few years ago were regarded as representatives of the first beginnings of organized existence on our planet, and that it has at the same time failed to add a lower system to that in which their remains occur. But the fish seems most certainly to have preceded the reptile and the bird; the reptile and the bird to have preceded the mammiferous quadruped; and the mammiferous quadruped to have preceded man."

p. 308 "All the facts of geological science are hostile to the Lamarckian conclusion, that the lower brains were developed into the higher. As if with the express intention of preventing so gross a mis-reading of the record, we find, in at least two classes of animals, - fishes and reptiles, - the higher races placed at the beginning: the slope of the inclined plane is laid, if one may so speak, in the reverse way, and, instead of rising towards the level of the succeeding class, inclines downwards, with at least the effect, if not the design, of making the break where they meet exceedingly well marked and conspicuous."

Louis Agassiz, Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1860)

Vol I, p.117 "Recent investigations in Palaeontology have led to the discovery of relations between animals of past ages and those now living, which were not even suspected by the founders of that science. It has, for instance, been noticed, that certain types which are frequently prominent among the representatives of past ages, combine in their structure, peculiarities which at later periods are only observed separately in different, distinct types. Sauriod Fishes before Reptiles, Pterodactyles before Birds, Ichthyosauri before Dolphins, etc.

There are entire families, among the representatives of older periods, of nearly every class of animals, which, in the state of their perfect development exemplify such prophetic relations, and afford, within the limits of the animal kingdom, at least, the most unexpected evidence, that the plan of the whole creation had been maturely considered long before it was executed. Such types, I have for some time past, been in the habit of calling prophetic types. The Sauroid Fishes of the past geological ages, are an example of this kind. These Fishes, which have preceded the appearance of Reptiles, present a combination of ichthyic and reptilian characters, not to be found in the true members of this class, which form its bulk at present. The Pterodactyles which have preceded the class of Birds, and the Ichthyosauri which have preceded the appearance of the Crustacea, are other examples of such prophetic types. [emphasis added]"

Edward & Charles Hitchcock, Elementary Geology (1860)

p. 363 "Sixth Law.—Complexity and perfection of organization as well as intelligence increase as we ascend in the rocks. This is true as a general fact; but in particular tribes we find the reverse, viz., retrogradation from a lower to higher, condition. 'All our most ancient fossil fishes,' says Professor Sedgwick,  'belong to a high organic type; and the very oldest species that are well determined, fall naturally into an order of fishes which Owen and Miller place, not at the bottom, but at the top of the whole class.' ... 'The Cephalopods, the most perfect of the molluscs, which lived in the early period of the world,' says D'Orbigny, 'show a progress of degradation in their generic forms. The molluscs as to their classes have certainly retrograded from the compound to the simple, or from the more to the less simple.'"

p. 367 "Thirteenth Law.--Many of the fossil animals had a combination of characters which among living animals are found only in several different types or classes. Agassiz very appropriately calls such types Prophetic Types. For they form the pattern of animals that were to appear afterward."

Alexander Winchell, Sketches of Creation, (1870)

p. 314 "Nature has always issued her bulletins. It is a most interesting fact in the history of the animal creation that Nature advertised her plans in the very earliest creative acts. In our study of the relics of the primeval ages we do not find the grand and fundamental purposes of Infinite Wisdom unfolding themselves by degrees as type after type of organic life made its advent upon our planet. ...Nature had her plans, and these were mature in the very beginning."

p. 315 "[U]pon the very threshold of Paleozoic Time representatives of Radiates, Molluscs, and Articulates burst into multifarious being almost simultaneously. So nearly simultaneous was the appearance of each of these types, that all hypothesis of their genealogical succession is rationally precluded."

p. 317 "There is no successional relation between the four sub-kingdoms of animals, nor even between the several classes of the invertebrate sub-kingdoms; but among the orders of the several classes and the classes of the Vertebrates we find generally a progress from lower to higher in the order of introduction. But there is another principle, complementary to this, which needs to be united to it in order to present us with a true view of Nature's method. There has generally been a downward as well as an upward unfolding of each type from the central forms in which it was first embodied. Trilobites, the first representatives of the Crustacean type, belong indeed to the lowest group, but do not lie at the bottom of the group. The earliest reptiles were not the lowest of the Amphibians, but Labyrinthodonts, the highest Amphibians; Vertebrates began, not with the lowest fishes, but with a grade of fishes above the mean level of the type... We shall arrive, therefore, at the truest expression of the plan of Nature in reference to the succession of organic beings by saying that each type was first introduced at a nodal point, from which the stream of development proceeded in both directions...."

James Dana, Manual of Geology, (1896)

p. 1031 "No successional lines among Insects appear to have passed between the higher tribes of Neuropters, Orthopters, Coleopters, Lepidopters, Hymenopters; but each was derived from some early [unwitnessed - dcb] comprehensive forms."

p.487 "The Lower Cambrian species have not the simplicity of structure that would naturally be looked for in the earliest Paleozoic life. They are perfect of their kind and highly specialized  structures. No steps from simple kinds leading up to them have been discovered; no line from Protozoans up to Corals, Echinoderms, or Worms, or from either of these groups up to Brachiopods, Mollusks, Trilobites, or other Crustaceans. This appearance of abruptness in the introduction of Cambrian life is one of the striking facts made known by geology."

p.716-8 "Principles of Biological Change and Progress for Animals: Outline [somewhat edited]:
1. From the simple, regular, or primitive in structure to the specialized.
   a.  From a structure with two or more functions to organs, each with its specialized function.
   b.  From a single-function organ has several uses, to special forms for each kind of use.
   c. From simpler forms of specialization to more complex, better adapted forms.
   d. From any specialized form to others adapted to newly acquired uses  
   e. From a head with large sense-organs and mouth-organs to one with smaller and well-compacted organs.
   f,  From large aquatic structures to smaller terrestrial structures.
2. Approximate parallelism between geological succession of structures and embryological succession in development.
3. Degeneration:
    a.  Of an organ to a more primitive form;
    b. Diminished size or disappearance of an organ; production of low-grade structures that have needed form and activity  

4. From diffuse to concentrated structures.
   a.  From elongated to abbreviated;
   b. From multiple, indefinite number of segments, to limited numbers and arrangement;
   c.  From posterior locomotive organ to anterior locomotive organ;
   d. From stronger posterior limbs (merosthenic) to stronger anterior limbs (prosthenic)."

[*fn]M.30 For a modern-day assertion of this, see Koonin EV, Appendix 8, footnote 1. He calls the phenomenon "reductive evolution".

[*fn]M.31 Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, Basic Books (1979) p. 250. Quoted in The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, p. 318.

[*fn]M.32 Hugh Miller, Foot-prints of the Creator, (3rd. Edition, 1858) p. 325.

[*fn]M.33 See also Michael J. Denton, Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, Free Press, 1998.

[*fn]M.34 Lydia Miller, Sketchbook of Popular Geology, 4th Edition (1869), p. xxxi.

M.35 [*fn]M.35 Note for M.35

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