By Lucy Cockcroft
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 28/02/2008
Some Christians claim there is a lack of "missing link" fossils, halfway between two major groups of creatures.
They say this proves Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a fallacy and that God created each living species from nothing.
But, in an essay published in the magazine New Scientist today, geologist Donald Prothero claims that reports of "huge gaps" in the fossil records have been greatly exaggerated.
Dr Prothero, a professor of geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said: "Life does not progress up a hierarchical ladder from 'low' to 'high' but is a branching bush with numerous lineages splitting apart and coexisting simultaneously.
"For example, apes and humans split from a common ancestor seven million years ago and both lineages are still around.
"For this reason the concept of 'missing link' is a misleading one. A transitional form does not need to be a perfect halfway house directly linking one group of organisms to another.
"It merely needs to record aspects of evolutionary change that occurred as one lineage split from another."
When Darwin first proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection in 1859, the fossil record offered little support. He even devoted two entire chapters of the Origin of Species to the imperfection of the geological record, but predicted that it would eventually support his theories.
Dr Prothero said the creationists are ignoring a wealth of transitional fossils found since Darwin's era which provide proof of the evolutionary process.
He said: "The idea still persists that the fossil record is too patchy to provide good evidence of evolution. One reason for this is the influence of creationism.
"Foremost among their tactics is to distort or ignore the evidence for evolution; a favourite lie is 'there are no transitional fossils'.
"This is manifestly untrue. We now have abundant evidence for how all the major groups of animals are related, much of it in the form of excellent transitional fossils."
Randall Hardy, the head of the British branch of Creation Research, said last night: "Any attempt to impose evolution stories onto these fossils is just speculation.