Denying Darwin: The Cambrian Explosion

One of several severe problems facing gradualists and Darwinists alike is the occurrence of what has come to be known as ‘the Cambrian explosion’ which took place around 530 million years ago. In 1992, evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Levington described the period as ‘evolutionary biology’s deepest paradox,’[i] and if one delves further into the facts regarding this incredible geological epoch it is easy to see why.

Thanks to 3.5 billion years of microscopic creatures permeating the land, water and atmosphere of prehistoric Earth with oxygen, a literal explosion of animal forms in the oceans, seas and rivers appears throughout the fossil record. Evolutionary biologist Rudolf Raff wrote, ‘All of the known animal plans seem to have appeared in the Cambrian radiation.’

In late August 1909, high upon a mountainside in the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia, an expedition led by long-standing Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, Charles D. Walcott (below), accidentally unearthed one of the most important fossil finds of all time. Legend has it that here, in an area now referred to as the Burgess Shale, the horse which Walcott’s wife Helena was riding, slipped on the shale and inadvertently overturned a slab of rock that revealed an extraordinary fossil imprint of an unknown creature we now know as the lace crab (above) .

Returning the following year Walcott discovered a trove of new animal forms, the likes of which the world had never seen before. As a result of the Burgess Shale discoveries, a plethora of new species came to light which had only appeared for the first time during the Cambrian period. The assemblage of fossilised finds has accumulated into a vast collection numbering around 65,000 specimens which represent about 127 species. And even though today there are more sites around the world where evidence of other Cambrian fossils have been found, the Burgess Shale (below), by some fortuitous accident of geology, preserved these ancient organisms in their entirety allowing the soft parts, delicate tissue, antennae and eyes, to remain clearly visible.

Considering that the previous 3.47 billion years preceding the Cambrian brought only bacterial forms of life into our world, it is even more remarkable that all twenty-six animal phyla (a scientific way of grouping together related organisms of similar body design) which includes all types of invertebrate life, appeared in large numbers within 5–10 million years. It should be noted however, that the timeline offered here is a speculative guesstimate at best, and some biologists have suggested that it is also possible that it could have happened overnight. Whatever the timeline proves to have been, one thing we know for certain is that everything changed in a geological instant.

If we imagine the entire history of our planet being condensed into a single day, one 24-hour period, starting the clock at the moment the first single cell organisms appeared in the oceans four billion years ago. After six hours we would see no change, just the same single cell organisms we found in the beginning – twelve hours would reveal the same thing – eighteen hours, the same thing still. So after three quarters of the day have passed, all that we would have are the same single cell bacteria. Only after 21 hours of the day had gone, and in the space of about two minutes, would most of the major animal forms present today materialise. All that creativity occurred in the equivalent of two minutes out of an entire day. That’s how comparatively quick the Cambrian explosion actually was.

In a sudden and explosive burst of creativity, Cambrian strata the world over reveals the presence of the basic blueprints for the majority of the animal kingdom which formed out of the blue. For the first time in Earth’s long and convoluted history, biologically complex structures like skeletons, spinal cords, compound eyes and articulated limbs unexpectedly appeared.

The Cambrian era remains the greatest obstacle in the fossil record holding back Darwin’s theory from reaching fruition, a situation that the man himself was fully aware of. As Darwin himself acknowledged, ‘several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks’, a ‘serious’ problem which he commented ‘at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.’[ii]

The sudden appearance of sponges, arthropods (trilobites, crustaceans and chelicerates) and molluscs among countless other species, contradicts the very notion that before these phyla were formed there must have been immense periods of time during which life must have thrived with a multitude of living things. Darwin’s theory relied upon such evidence existing within the fossil records but unfortunately for him and his ardent followers this does not seem to be the case. Palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould commented that ‘nothing distressed Darwin more than the Cambrian explosion’.

Vertebrate palaeontologist Dr. Robert L. Carroll wrote, ‘The extreme speed of anatomical change and adaptive radiation during this brief time requires explanations that go beyond those proposed for the evolution of species within the modern biota’.

The original twenty-six phyla which appeared during the Cambrian explosion remain the only phyla on the planet today, no improvements, no ancestors, just the same phyla that appeared over half a billion years ago. So much for ‘descent with modification’ as Darwin advocated so vociferously. Even after 140 years of intense and diligent searching by every renowned Darwinist there is, none have discovered any organism fit to be considered a legitimate precursor to even one creature that appeared during the Cambrian explosion.

The sheer lack of Cambrian predecessors continues to be a thorn in Darwinist sides and despite some flawed attempts to explain away such problematic concerns, it remains a seriously contentious issue invalidating the theory of evolutionary biology altogether.

(Charles Darwin)

Darwin wrote, ‘If my theory be true it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian strata was deposited, long periods elapsed, and during these periods of time the world swarmed with living creatures. To the question of why we do not find fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earlier periods prior to the Cambrian, I can give no satisfactory answer’.[iii] This ‘inexplicable mystery’ as Darwin referred to this particular geological epoch, continues to cause great controversy amongst evolutionary biologists everywhere.

Those who believe in the neo-Darwinian mechanism will insist that there are perfectly logical reasons which explain the absence of fossilised creatures in pre-Cambrian strata, mainly that the Cambrian predecessors were unable to be preserved and fossilise successfully due to their soft body structure which would simply erode before fossilisation could take hold. This theory simply doesn’t wash. Soft bodied creatures including microscopic sponge-like embryos have been discovered in pre-Cambrian rock in China, and if they can survive the fossilisation process, then so can any soft-bodied creature.

Darwin’s preferred Latin phrase ‘natura non facit saltus’ or ‘nature takes no sudden leaps’ would appear to prove inaccurate according to the scientific data available to both Darwin during his lifetime and to us now in ours. As Darwin declared quite vehemently, if evidence of saltation, or abrupt evolutionary changes were to be found in the fossil record and definitively proven, it could mean only one thing – that it would be evidence of special creation or intelligent design, thus putting to rest his lifelong work on the gradual natural evolution of all living beings.

This article was an extract from the chapter 'The Death Of Darwinism' from The Myth Of Man by J.P. Robinson.


[i] Levinton, Jeffrey S. - "The Big Bang of Animal Evolution," Scientific American 267 (November, 1992): 84-91.

[ii] Darwin, Charles – On the Origin of Species, 1859.

[iii] Ibid

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