RBH left a comment to a previous posting that inspired me to put some material together to address his (or anyone’s) reservations on the subject of intermediate fossil forms and the pre-Darwin (creationist) geologists.
Another really helpful post, Troy. Thanks!
I realized during my discussions with RBH in the comments to this post that my main point behind writing about this subject might not be transparent to the average reader who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breath the creation/evolution debate. So I add this preface to give the reader a context for why I am going on at length about early 19th century geologists.
My point in all this is less about understanding the often vague and sometimes even contradictory views of the pre-Darwin scientists (as worthy as that subject of study is) and more about countering the arguments from modern antievolutionists that intermediate fossils do not exist and that those paleontologists who claim that they do, do so only because they are reading their “evolutionary beliefs” into the evidence.
If the pre-Darwin creationist geologists saw intermediates this tends, strongly I think, to falsify that argument. The same applies to the overall pattern of the fossil record and the geologic column that illustrates it (which is also frequently claimed by antievolutionists to be a evolutionary invention).
RBH: I do have one reservation. You wrote
The changing pattern of the fossil record and the existence of intermediate fossil forms was recognized by scientists (who were creationists) long before Darwin brought evolutionary theory into the scientific mainstream.
The changing pattern in the fossil record was surely observed; Cuvier in France and Owen in England — both eminent comparative anatomists in the first half of the 19th century — were very clear on that.
RBH: But Owen opposed Darwin’s hypothesis of species transmutation and common ancestry specifically because he did not see transitional/intermediate forms in the fossil record to which he had access.
I can’t speak much about Cuvier, but Owen is a little difficult to pigeon-hole into modern categories (perhaps a theistic evolutionist of sorts). He did oppose Darwin, particularly Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection but seemed to have been open to the idea of some sort of secondary causation for living things (as opposed to their direct creation by God).