Colin Patterson (biologist)

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Colin Patterson FRS[1] (1933–1998),[2] was a paleontologist at the British Museum who specialised in fossil fish and systematics, advocating the transformed cladistics school.

Personal Life and Education[edit]

Colin Patterson was born on 13 October 1933 in Hammersmith, London, the son of Maurice William Patterson (1908–1991) and Norah Joan (née Elliott) (1907–1984).[3]

After national service in the Royal Engineers, Patterson studied zoology at Imperial College, London (1954–7). He undertook postgraduate research into fossil fishes at University College, London and obtained a PhD in 1961.[3]

In 1955 he married the artist Rachel Caridwen Richards (b. 1932), who was the elder daughter of the artists Ceri Richards and Frances Richards. They had two daughters, Sarah (b. 1959) and Jane (b. 1963).[3]

He died in London on 9 March 1998

Professional life[edit]

He authored a general textbook on evolution, Evolution,[4] and edited Molecules and morphology in evolution: conflict or compromise?[5] a book on the use of molecular and morphological evidence for inferring phylogenies.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1993.[6]

Patterson has been quote mined several times by creationists, most notably from a tape recording of a talk he gave in 1981 at the American Museum of Natural History for a systematics discussion group. He also stated in a private letter to creationist Luther Sunderland, who had asked Patterson why no transitional fossils were illustrated in his book:

"I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. . .I will lay it on the line, There is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument."

—Colin Patterson, (Creation Science Foundation, Revised Quote Book, 1990)

Since then, creationists in both the US and Australia have widely circulated this quote, contending that Patterson is "admitting that there aren’t any transitional fossils".[7] Patterson rejected the creationist interpretations of his sayings.[8]



  1. ^ Fortey, R. A. (1999). "Colin Patterson. 13 October 1933--9 March 1998: Elected F.R.S. 1993". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 45: 365. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1999.0025.  edit
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b c Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. 
  4. ^ Patterson 1999, Evolution. Comstock Pub. Associates
  5. ^ Patterson (Ed.) 1987, Molecules and morphology in evolution: conflict or compromise? Cambridge University Press [2]
  6. ^ "List of Fellows of the Royal Society 1660 – 2007". Royal Society. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  7. ^ Dr.Colin Paterson, Senior Paleontologist, British Museum of natural History in correspondence to Luther Sunderland quoted in Darwin's Enigma 1988 p.89
  8. ^ Theunissen, Lionel. "Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two 'Cites'". Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  9. ^ "Past Award Winners". Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Retrieved 21 May 2014.