Evolution Facts: The Cambrian Explosion & Fossil Record

A common but inaccurate  portrayal of Creation ‘scientists’ appears to be that of a group of ignorant hillbillies who are taken serious by no one.   This leaves many people wondering how any one, in this day and age, can deny the fact of evolution.

In reality, creation scientists are masters of persuasive speaking or writing and fool well-meaning Christians with their superficially impressive arguments.  Sure, some of us simply roll our eyes and recognize Kent Hovind as a sneaky underhanded snake oil salesman as he spouts his misinformation at seemingly hypersonic speeds, but there are those who don’t so readily see through such nonsense.  And beyond this, there are those who do recognize an outlandish person like Hovind for what he is but simply believe he is over the top, whereas comparatively honest creationist sources like Answers in Genesis are closer to the truth.

Anti-evolutionists compartmentalize evolution into a non-reality, with 2 basic components;

1-A general (and willful) lack of knowledge  on the relevant Earth sciences (ie. geology, paleontology, etc)

2-The adoption of really bad ad hoc explanations, which are passed off as science.

The first step should not be taken for granted nor seen as an insult.  Most people, whether they accept evolution or not, don’t know much about the fossil record other than vague references.  Subjects like Paleontology aren’t exactly mainstream subjects.  In any case, this lack of understanding on the part of the general population allows them to avoid knowing pesky facts and the second allows them to fill this gap with their made-up science.  Here are some examples;

The Cambrian Explosion:

Anti-Evolutionists tend to think of this as an event that somehow marks the beginning of life, as they generally don’t realize that this ‘explosion’ takes place over tens of millions of years, and that it comes after more than 3 billion years of Precambrian life.  Charts like the one below are in effect, rather misleading because they actually only show the final 1/6 or so of the Earth’s biological history.  In reality, the Cambrian explosion represents a ‘sudden’ (20 MY is still an explosion in Geological terms)expansion and diversification of life.  Furthermore, Precambrian life appears to have been generally soft bodied, and hence, we should not expect to find the same level of preservation we find in the Cambrian period and beyond.

Anti-Evolutionists generally don’t know this so they fill this gap with the assumption of the creation myth.  They present this event as though it actually marks the first signs of life and from there, they fill the rest with made-up “global flood geology” to try and argue that life was simply buried in a way consistent with the global flood.  They are in effect, remaining ignorant on basic Paleontology (not too hard to imagine given that Paleontology is not exactly a commonly studied subject), while looking at Evolution from their own Biblical epistemology. 

Faunal Succession:

Anti-Evolutionists generally don’t know anything about the fossil record, and the extent that the fish->amphibian->reptiles->mammals (and birds) succession holds true.  They don’t realize that we find a succession of fish within the layers (for example, the first fish we find are the primitive type, with a notochord (‘intermediate backbone’ ), similar to the modern daylamprey eel, which is the only animal alive whose common ancestry with us goes back further than 500 MYA).  They don’t understand that we find certain types of sharks in the lower layers before we find more modern sharks, nor do they generally realize that we don’t find ANY whales, dolphins included (who happen to fill many of the same ecological niches as sharks), until the upper layers, well above where we start finding amphibians, reptiles, and most mammals. Add to this, we find intermediates/transitional where we’d expect to find them if one “kind” led to another.  We find fish-amphibians, reptiles-birds, land mammal-whales, ape-humans, etc in the very layers we’d expect to find them.

Out of ignorance, Anti-evolutionist sources try and sell their listeners/readers/watchers on the idea that the fossil record only displays an order of flood burial.  Generally speaking they argue that the animals found in the upper layers were simply able to make it to higher ground during the flood or they ‘floated’ to the top.

How they reconcile why

-Not one triceratops or velociraptor made it to the same layers as rhinoceroses or tigers
-Ostriches were able to survive the flood while archaeopteryx
 wasn’t
-Dolphins weren’t buried in the same layers sharks
Mosasaurs
 and other ancient marine reptiles couldn’t survive the flood as well as crocodilians and land reptiles like snakes and lizards
-We  find animals dens and burrows
 in sediment that was supposedly rapidly deposited by a flood

I’ll never nunderstand.

In our debate, Dr. Jacksontried to argue the above points and I believe the general consensus is that he didn’t fare so well.

 In Conclusion

Because of the time involved and the busy lives people lead, they tend to understand very little about Evolution, accepters included.  Of course, they know very little about most of the scientific facts that surround us–do we really take the time to understand aerodynamics and propulsion before buying airplane tickets?  The difference of course, is that religious fundamentalists feel that Evolution threatens their beliefs, and so they resist accordingly, either by ignoring the subject altogether, or jumping on every anti-evolution argument they can find.  This is something Creation ‘science’ provides, and that’s why it survives, and comes and goes with the ebb and flow of fundamentalism.

Other misconceptions

Cambrian fossils decrease in as you move up the Cambrian, and at some point, 98% of the species have gone extinct.

This less-than-honest argument is a misleading spin on the four major extinctions that take place in the late Cambrian, wiping out most Cambrian life.   A basic understanding of the Earth’s mass extinctions render this argument useless.

The origins of the fossil record do not show simple to complex, but rather, quite the opposite.

This is actually untrue.  Microbial life marks the beginning of the known fossil record.

Quote mines

Per usual, anti-evolutionists are chock-full of quote mines that depend largely on the reader not knowing anything about the full quote.  Sometimes these quotes come from old works that predate many of the discoveries of the Cambrian and Pre-Cambrian fossils.  Others disingenuous quote mines simply leave out the full context.  For example;

And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say, this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. 

Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago. One good reason might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize. If you are a creationist you may think that this is special pleading. My point here is that, when we are talking about gaps of this magnitude, there is no difference whatever in the interpretations of ‘punctuationists’ and ‘gradualists’. Both schools of thought despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. Both schools of thought agree that the only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation, and both would reject this alternative.

– Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker 1986, p.229-230

The best way to understand the nonsense behind anti-evolutionist attacks on the Cambrian explosion is to learn about it first.  The more one knows about it, the easier it is to see what the evolution-deniers simply leave out.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/03/4/l_034_02.html
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/cambrian/camb.html
http://www.fossilmuseum.net/Paleobiology/CambrianExplosion.htm
http://www.cascadia.ctc.edu/facultyweb/instructors/jvanleer/camb%20expl/the_cambrian_explosion.htm
http://park.org/Canada/Museum/extinction/camcause.html

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