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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.

 

Same Universe, Different Lenses: Science, Ethics, and Religion in Dialogue

This is a transcript of an interview given by Dr. Jennifer Wiseman at The Faith Angle Forum Conference on Religion, Politics, & Public Life on November 5, 2013.

 

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.

 

From Intelligent Design to BioLogos

In this paper, Venema tells the story of his transition from support of Intelligent Design to the view that God uses evolution as a creative mechanism.

 

Design in Nature

In this paper, adapted from an article from Science & Christian Belief, Dr. Oliver R. Barclay compares and contrasts the biblical view of design in nature with modern design arguments.

 

Evolution and the Origin of Biological Information

In this paper, Venema explores several examples in biology where random mutation and natural selection have indeed led to substantial increases in biological information. The question of how new specified information arises in DNA, far from being an “enigma”, is one of great interest to biologists.

 

Why Dembski’s Design Inference Doesn’t Work

Mathematics professor James Bradley looks at the design argument presented in William Dembski's book The Design Inference and offers his criticisms on the accuracy of the model.

 

Seeking a Signature

In this article, Venema offers his review of Stephen Meyer's book Signature in the Cell.

 

Science and the Question of God

Can science provide substantive insight into the question of God’s existence? Isaac's paper examines three schools of thought regarding the possibility of detecting God’s existence through science: Evolutionism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design.

 

Intelligent Design, Thomas Aquinas, and the Ubiquity of Final Causes

In this paper, Baylor philosophy professor Francis Beckwith distinguishes between Intelligent Design (ID) and Thomistic Design (TD).

 

Science as an Instrument of Worship

NASA astronomer Jennifer Wiseman asserts that studying creation can show us the nature of God; science can inform us of what we need to do as stewards of God’s creation; understanding the natural world gives us a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ; and science can give us a better understanding of ourselves. This essay was presented at the November 2009 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.

 

Are gaps in scientific knowledge evidence for God?

Every field of science has unanswered questions and gaps in our understanding. Scientists typically view these as open research questions. Others sometimes argue that if science can’t explain how something happened, then God must be the explanation. Such arguments are called “god-of-the-gaps” arguments. The risk in these arguments is that science is always developing. If gaps in scientific knowledge are the basis for belief in God, then as scientists fill in the gaps, the evidence for God disappears. The God of the Bible, however, is much more than a god of the gaps. Christians believe that God is always at work in the natural world, in the gaps as well as in the areas that science can explain.

 

How are the ages of the Earth and universe calculated?

Many independent measurements have established that the Earth and the universe are billions of years old. Geologists have found annual layers in glaciers that can be counted back 740,000 years. Using the known rate of change in radio-active elements (radiometric dating), some Earth rocks have been shown to be billions of years old, while the oldest solar system rocks are dated at 4.6 billion years. Astronomers use the distance to galaxies and the speed of light to calculate that the light has been traveling for billions of years. The expansion of the universe gives an age for the universe as a whole: 13.7 billion years old.
(Updated April 16, 2012)

 

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.

 

What is the "fine-tuning" of the universe, and how does it serve as a "pointer to God"?

Fine-tuning refers to the surprising precision of nature’s physical constants, and the beginning state of the Universe. To explain the present state of the universe, even the best scientific theories require that the physical constants of nature and the beginning state of the Universe have extremely precise values.

 

How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism?

We at BioLogos believe that God used the process of evolution to create all the life on earth today. While we accept the science of evolution, we emphatically reject evolutionism. Evolutionism is the atheistic worldview that says life developed without God and without purpose. Instead, we agree with Christians who adhere to Intelligent Design and Creationism that the God of the Bible created the universe and all life. Christians disagree, however, on how God created. Young Earth Creationists believe that God created just 6,000 to 10,000 years ago and disagree with much of mainstream science. Supporters of Intelligent Design accept more of evolutionary science, but argue that some features of life are best explained by direct intervention by an intelligent agent rather than by God's regular way of working through natural processes. We at BioLogos agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created. The term BioLogos comes from the Greek words bios (life) and logos (word), referring to the opening of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.”
(Updated on March 1, 2012)

18 resources found