All these labors have not led to a single unexpected finding such as a human fossil from the time of the dinosaurs, or a Jurassic dinosaur in the same rocks as Silurian trilobites.
Paleontologists now apply sophisticated mathematical techniques to assess the relative quality of particular fossil successions, as well as the entire fossil record.
Biologists actually have at their disposal several independent ways of looking at the history of life - not only from the order of fossils in the rocks, but also through phylogenetic trees. Relative dating is done by observing fossils, as described above, and recording which fossil is younger, which is older.
New discoveries have filled in the gaps, and shown us in unimaginable detail the shape of the great ‘tree of life’.
Darwin and his contemporaries could never have imagined the improvements in resolution of stratigraphy that have come since 1859, nor guessed what fossils were to be found in the southern continents, nor predicted the huge increase in the number of amateur and professional paleontologists worldwide.
Results from different techniques, often measured in rival labs, continually confirm each other.
Every few years, new geologic time scales are published, providing the latest dates for major time lines.
These demonstrate that, of course, we do not know everything (and clearly never will), but we know enough.
Today, innovative techniques provide further confirmation and understanding of the history of life.
Older dates may change by a few million years up and down, but younger dates are stable.
For example, it has been known since the 1960s that the famous Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, the line marking the end of the dinosaurs, was 65 million years old.
Other critics, perhaps more familiar with the data, question certain aspects of the quality of the fossil record and of its dating.