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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.

 

Series: From the Dust (13 entries)

In this series, Ryan Pettey offers several clips from his powerful documentary "From the Dust". This feature-length film is divided up into various sections, each of which wrestles with the difficult problems that arise when reconciling Scripture with the theory of evolution. A light of hope dawns on the science-faith conversation, however, as scientists and theologians engage in honest dialogue about tough issues such as the interpretation of Genesis, the nature of the Fall, and the idea of random design. Their profound insights are sure to enlighten all minds, raise deeper questions, and provoke new thought.

 

Evolution: What We Know and What We Don't

This entry was originally posted on February 17, 2010. In this video conversation, Jeff Schloss makes the observation that when we use the term “evolution”, it is not always exactly clear what we are actually discussing unless we denote the intended usage.

 

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.

 

A Paradigm of Compatibility

In today’s video, Brian McLaren explains his own comfort with accepting Scripture and evolution, seeing the process of evolution as a wonderful opportunity for adaptation, growth, and development and a reflection of God’s glory.

 

"Come and See": A Christological Invitation for Science

This chapter from Mark Noll's book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind seeks to understand science through a Christ-centered lens. Overall, if one accepts that nature is created and sustained by Jesus Christ, the author explains, then one must conclude that looking at nature is, in fact, the best way to learn about nature.

 

Saturday Sermon: “Science vs. Faith: A False Dichotomy?”

If God has indeed created all things, pure scientific truth should never be a “problematic thing” for Christians. If anything, scientific truth enriches the faith as it reveals his majesty and provides Christians with a deeper understanding of God.

 

Science, Religion, and A. D. White: Seeking Peace in the 'Warfare Between Science and Theology'

Mark Noll, historian and author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, describes how Andrew Dickson White relentlessly advocated a view of history in which Science and Dogmatic Theology have always been at war with one another. Noll identifies 16 reasons why White’s notion of warfare is mistaken.

 

Evolution: What We Know and What We Don't

In this video conversation, Jeff Schloss makes the observation that when we use the term “evolution”, it is not always exactly clear what we are actually discussing unless we denote the intended usage.

 

A Deeper Pattern (Video)

In this video interview, evolutionary biologist Simon Conway Morris discusses evolutionary convergence, the emergence of identical biological traits through unrelated evolutionary lineages. He gives two examples in the video -- the camera eye and saber toothed cats.

 

Adventist Origins of Young Earth Creationism

Many evangelicals believe that Young Earth Creationism is the only authentic, biblical way for Christians to understand origins, and that until the advent of Darwin's theory of evolution, it was the only view held by Christians. However, in this excerpt from Saving Darwin, Karl Giberson explains that Young Earth Creationism's origins are surprisingly recent.

 

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.

 

Can science and scripture be reconciled?

In Christian belief, God reveals himself in both the written book of the Bible and the created “book” of the natural world. Thus, the truths we find in scripture should not conflict with the truths we find in nature. Yet at times the two revelations seem to be saying contradictory things about how God made the world. Since God does not lie, the conflict must occur at the level of human interpretation: either a misunderstanding of what God is revealing in nature, or a misunderstanding of what God is revealing in scripture. Conflicts motivate us to reevaluate both interpretations. Christians may disagree on whether the scientific or the Biblical interpretation needs to change, but we can agree that God speaks to us in both revelations.
(Updated on March 10, 2012)

 

On what grounds can one claim that the Christian God is the creator?

The science of evolution is consistent with many religions and with atheism. Science alone cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Some scientific evidence, such as fine-tuning, points to a Creator, but even this does not support Christianity over other religions. However, Christian doctrine is broadly compatible with scientific accounts of our origins. Though belief in the Christian God is not scientifically provable, it is not irrational. Commitment to Christ is a reasonable choice supported by a variety of evidence from history, philosophy, and the testimony of others. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit works in each person’s life to bring them into relationship with Jesus.
(Updated on March 10, 2012)

 

Are science and Christianity at war?

Some people see science and religion as enemies, at war for leadership in our modern culture. Others see science and religion as completely separate and unrelated facets of life. However, science is not the only source of facts, and religion reaches beyond the realm of values and morals. In fact, religion can have a positive impact on science, such as in the development of modern medical ethics. Many early scientific leaders were devout Christians, as are some scientific leaders today. Science can also enhance the spiritual life of believers. Christians rejoice in scientific discoveries that reveal the glory of God the creator.
(Updated June 27, 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.

 

How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?

Given the stark difference between evolution and six-day creation, many people assume that Darwin’s theory shook the foundations of the Christian faith. In truth, the literal six-day interpretation of Genesis 1-2 was not the only perspective held by Christians prior to modern science. St. Augustine (354-430), John Calvin (1509-1564), John Wesley (1703-1791), and others supported the idea of Accommodation. In the Accommodation view, Genesis 1-2 was written in a simple allegorical fashion to make it easy for people of that time to understand. In fact, Augustine suggested that the 6 days of Genesis 1 describe a single day of creation. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argued that God did not create things in their final state, but created them to have potential to develop as he intended. The views of these and other Christian leaders are consistent with God creating life by means of evolution.

 

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.

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