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The Fossil Record of the Cambrian “Explosion”: Resolving the Tree of Life

Geologist Keith Miller examines the "Cambrian Explosion", a period of rapid evolutionary diversification approximately 575 million years ago, and whether it poses a challenge to evolutionary theory. From the June 2014 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation.

 

What evidence do we have for evolution besides fossils and genes?

Scientists have found multiple lines of evidence for evolution, not just one or two. These types of evidence are independent of each other, coming from sources as different as ancient fossils and modern genetics labs. Evidence also comes from comparing the anatomy of creatures living today. All creatures with four limbs (whether mammals, birds, or reptiles) have the same bone structure in each limb, pointing to their descent from a common ancestor. More evidence comes from biogeography. Isolated islands are missing common species found on the mainland, but are filled with many unique species that can be related by a common ancestor. Finally, evidence comes from embryonic development. As an embryo of a mammal grows, its heart develops through stages similar to fish, amphibians, and reptiles. God’s creation declares the history of life in many different ways. All these ways are pointing to a consistent picture of God creating through evolution.

 

What scientific evidence do we have about the first humans?

In recent decades, scientists have discovered more about the beginnings of humanity. The fossil record shows a gradual transition over 5 million years ago from chimpanzee-size creatures to hominids with larger brains who walked on two legs. Later hominids used fire and stone tools and had brains as large as modern humans. Fossils of homo sapiens in east Africa date back nearly 200,000 years. Humans developed hearths for fire, stone points for spears and arrows, and cave paintings by 30,000 years ago. By 10,000 years ago, humans had spread throughout the globe. Genetic studies support the same picture. Humans share more DNA with chimpanzees than with any other animal, suggesting that humans and chimps share a relatively recent common ancestor. Also, the same defective genes appear in both humans and chimps, at the same locations in the genome—an observation difficult to explain except by common ancestry. Genetics also tells us that the human population today descended from more than two people. Evolution happens not to individuals but to populations, and the amount of genetic diversity in the gene pool today suggests that the human population was never smaller than several thousand individuals. Yet all humans, of all races, are descended from this group. Humanity is one family.

 

How does original sin fit with evolutionary history?

Original sin often refers simply to the current state of humanity, in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Evolution does not raise questions about our current state of sinfulness. It does, however, raise questions about how and when the first sin occurred, and how this fallen state was transmitted to all people. The sciences of evolution and archaeology can provide some insight into these questions but are not equipped to answer them. These questions are theological, and over the centuries the church has considered many possible answers. Some of these options are consistent with the scientific evidence currently available.

 

How Does a BioLogos model need to address the theological issues

Science and Religion scholar Denis Alexander presents two models for relating Adam and Eve with the findings of contemporary anthropology. This essay was presented at the November 2010 Theology of Celebration Workshop

 

Does the Cambrian Explosion pose a challenge to evolution?

The “Cambrian Explosion” refers to the appearance in the fossil record of most major animal body plans about 543 million years ago. The new fossils appear in an interval of 20 million years or less. On evolutionary time scales, 20 million years is a rapid burst that appears to be inconsistent with the gradual pace of evolutionary change. However, rapid changes like this appear at other times in the fossil record, often following times of major extinction. The Cambrian Explosion does present a number of interesting and important research questions. It does not, however, challenge the fundamental correctness of the central thesis of evolution.

 

How can evolution account for the complexity of life on earth today?

A complex biological structure with many interacting parts might appear, at first glance, as if it were originally created in its present form with all its interlocking components fully formed and intact. It doesn’t seem possible that they developed step by step via biological evolution. In Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe introduces a term that he and other proponents of Intelligent Design use for this concept: irreducible complexity.

 

Isn’t the origin of life highly improbable?

From all we know about the state of the Earth 3 to 4 billion years ago and what we know about the complexity of the building blocks of life — DNA, RNA, amino acids, sugars — no entirely plausible hypothesis for the spontaneous origin of life has been found. But this does not mean that supernatural activity is the only possible explanation.

 

What does the fossil record show?

Fossils provide a unique view into the history of life by showing the forms and features of life in the past. Fossils tell us how species have changed across long periods of the Earth’s history. For instance, in 1998, scientists found a fossil showing an animal at the transition from sea creature to land creature. This tetrapod had a hand-like fin, confirming a prediction of evolutionary biology. Though the fossil record does not include every plant and animal that ever lived, it provides substantial evidence for the common descent of life via evolution. The fossil record is a remarkable gift for the study of nature.

 

The Believing Primate

The Believing Primate aims to describe and discuss the scientific accounts of religion as well as to assess their implications. -Amazon

 

What is evolution?

Evolution is the biological model for the history of life on Earth. While some consider evolution to be equivalent to atheism, BioLogos sees evolution as a description of how God created all life. Evolution refers to descent with modification. Small modifications occur at the genetic level (in DNA) with each generation, and these genetic changes can affect how the creature interacts with its environment. Over time, accumulation of these genetic changes can alter the characteristics of the whole population, and a new species appears. Major changes in life forms take place by the same mechanism but over even longer periods of time. All life today can be traced back to a common ancestor some 3.85 billion years ago.

 

Creation or Evolution

Dr. Denis Alexander believes that we do not need to choose, since both are true.

 

Only a Theory

Ken Miller's book addresses some of the key assertions of advocates of Intelligent Design.

 

Evolution

"Larson has written a brilliant introduction to the history of evolution, equally sensitive to scientific, religious, and social factors. It is, hands down, the most readable and reliable account available." -Ronald L. Numbers

 

Life's Solution

Conway Morris presents biological proofs and explanations of convergence which implies a metaphysical reason for life.

 

Darwin and Design

Ruse examines the concept of 'design' in nature, explaining why it still remains a strong influence despite the scientific revolution, and historically, how it dominated Western thought from ancient Greece (Plato) to the advent and predominance of Christianity.

 

Evolution and Ethics

Evolution and Ethics examines the burning questions of human morality from the standpoint of Christian thought and contemporary biology, asking where the two perspectives diverge and where they may complement one another. -Amazon

 

Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

"Darwin, his family, his colleagues, and his milieu come alive in this book. . . . Superbly written." — Everett Menselson, Harvard University

18 resources found