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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.


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.


How do randomness and chance align with belief in God's sovereignty and purpose?

Evolution includes random factors in both genetic mutation and natural selection. In popular usage, “random” often means “without purpose.” Some atheists have described evolution as proceeding by “blind, purposeless chance.” But to scientists, “chance” simply means unpredictability. God could choose to use random, unpredictable processes to accomplish his purposes in creation.


Concerns of the Typical Agnostic Scientist

Falk's paper asks evangelical Christians to explore whether they are propping up a bubble that they, not God, have created, thereby isolating themselves from the world of academics. The essay describes five layers that may play a role in unnecessarily blocking entry, or reentry, of agnostic scientists into the realm of evangelicalism.


Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview

Mark Noll, historian and author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, enumerates 15 attitudes, assumptions, and convictions he considers to be most influential in inciting anti-intellectual sentiment among evangelical Christians.


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.


How does the evil and suffering in the world align with the idea of a loving God?

The most ancient and persistent objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil. How can a loving, powerful God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? The problem of evil has no simple answer, but many philosophers, theologians and others have developed helpful insights.


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 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.


What factors should be considered in determining how to approach a passage of scripture?

Finding the best interpretation of a scripture passage can be a daunting task. C.S. Lewis advises us to “Look. Listen. Receive.” A good approach is to seek the intended meaning for the original audience before considering what it means for us today. Clues to the original intended meaning can be found in the style of language, the genre of literature, the original audience, and the historical and cultural context. By studying these things, we avoid projecting modern ideas (like science) onto the text.

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