David Raup

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David Malcolm Raup (1933–2015) was an American paleontologist. Raup contributed to the knowledge of extinction events and suggested that the extinction of dinosaurs 66 mya was part of a cycle of mass extinctions that may have occurred every 26 million years. He was a contributor to the book Scientists Confront Creationism.


He worked at the University of Chicago where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. From there, he went to Harvard for graduate studies where he majored in geology while focussing on paleontology and biology; he earned his MA and PhD degrees.

Creationist quote mining[edit]

Religious creationists are known for quote mining the work of Raup. Creationists usually quote mine Raup's paper titled Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology (1979).[1] The quote the creationists take out of context is:

We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn't changed much... We have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time.

What Raup really said in context was:

Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transitions than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information -- what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appear to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. So Darwin's problem has not been alleviated in the last 120 years and we still have a record which does show change but one that can hardly be looked upon as the most reasonable consequence of natural selection.[2]

The paper is a discussion about Darwin's mechanism of natural selection and whether this mechanism is reflected in pattern of the fossil record, not whether there is a lack of evidence for common descent. From the beginning of the article:

Part of our conventional wisdom about evolution is that the fossil record of past life is an important cornerstone of evolutionary theory. In some ways, this is true -- but the situation is much more complicated. I will explore here a few of the complex interrelationships between fossils and darwinian theory. . . Darwin's theory of natural selection has always been closely linked to evidence from fossils, and probably most people assume that fossils provide a very important part of the general argument that is made in favor of darwinian interpretations of the history of life. Unfortunately, this is not strictly true. We must distinguish between the fact of evolution -- defined as change in organisms over time -- and the explanation of this change. Darwin's contribution, through his theory of natural selection, was to suggest how the evolutionary change took place. The evidence we find in the geologic record is not nearly as compatible with darwinian natural selection as we would like it to be.

Raup later expanded on the ideas in his paper and published a book Extinction. Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (1991) which does not deny that some species go extinct by natural selection but has written that the majority of extinctions especially mass extinctions are caused by physical factors such as comets, climatic changes and catastrophes. Raup is not challenging natural selection as a cause of modification of species he just claimed that gradual change by natural selection is not the only mechanism of evolution as non-gradual extinction events also have a role. Creationists however usually misrepresent Raup to make out he is denying common descent or natural selection.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Raup, David; Stanley, Steven M. (1978). Principles of Paleontology (2 ed.). ISBN 0-7167-0022-0.
  • Raup, David (1986). Patterns and Processes in the History of Life. In David M. Raup and David Jablonski. Report of the Dahlem Workshop on Patterns and Processes in the History of Life, 16–21 June 1985. Berlin: Springer Verlag. ISBN 0-387-15965-7.
  • Raup, David (1991). Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?. ISBN 0-393-30927-4.
  • Raup, David (1999). The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science. ISBN 0-393-31918-0.


  1. David Raup Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin Jan. 1979, Vol. 50 No. 1 p. 22-29
  2. On a Common Creationist Quotation of Dr. David M. Raup