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Creation 39(2):20–23, April 2017

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The Cambrian explosion

The fossils point to creation, not evolution



Many have been told that the fossil record provided Darwin with overwhelming evidence for his theory of evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth! In his book, On the Origin of Species, he admitted that the absence of fossil transitional forms was a major problem, and one that was “undoubtedly of the gravest nature”.1 (See Darwin on the fossil record)

Such was the overwhelming and conspicuous absence of transitional fossils, many leading 19th century naturalists had concluded that species were fixed in their form and couldn’t change. Darwin himself wrote that “all the most eminent palaeontologists [people who study fossils], namely Cuvier, Owen, Agassiz, Barrande, Falconer, E. Forbes, &c. … have unanimously, often vehemently, maintained the immutability [i.e. unchangeable nature or ‘fixity’] of species.”1

Fixity of species or fixity of kinds?

Biblical creationists do not hold to the view that God created the species just as we see them today (the so-called ‘fixity of species’), and this was also true of pre-Darwinian biblical creationists such as Carolus Linnaeus and Athanasius Kircher. Rather, God created different kinds of plants and animals (Genesis 1:11–12, 1:21 and 1:24–25) and designed these with the capacity to change and adapt to different environments—sometimes even resulting in different species (speciation). The extent of this change, however, is understood to be limited: daffodils may turn into other species of daffodil, or horses into other species of horse; but daffodils will never turn into apple trees (a different kind of plant) or horses into giraffes (a different kind of animal).

Since Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, some fossils have been found which are consistent with the view that species have changed in the past (see below).

Fossils showing species have changed

One example of fossils consistent with considerable variation within a kind, even to the extent of new species, concerns the horse fossils shown here in figs. 1 and 2. The extinct creatures Merychippus and Pliohippus share many similarities with living horses (Equus) and are understood to be members of the same family. They were clearly horses, though significantly smaller than most horses today, and had differences in their legs and feet.1 Merychippus, for example, had three toes and was thus better adapted to wet, marshy ground, whereas a single hoof is better on firmer ground. Like the finches Darwin observed on the Galápagos islands,2 horses probably changed over the last few thousand years, and horses known today may well share a common ancestor with Merychippus and Pliohippus (i.e. one created kind has given rise to several species, but all still the same kind).

Fig. 1. Variation within the horse family. Mesohippus, Merychippus and Pliohippus are known only from fossils. Late Miocene, Middle Miocene and Late Eocene refer to the rock layers in which the fossils are found.
Fig. 2. Variation in horse legs.

Evolutionists say that such speciation is driven by random genetic mutations (accidental changes to DNA) which cause variation upon which natural selection acts—and that this has generated all of life’s array. Biblical creationists believe that variation within each kind is primarily due to its inbuilt (created) capacity to change. They believe that the variety upon which natural selection can act was already present in the genetic information in the original kind (i.e. the building instructions in their DNA).3 Consequently, the extent of change is limited.


  1. Sarfati, J., The non-evolution of the horse, Creation 21(3):28–31, 1999; creation.com/horse.
  2. Wieland, C., Darwin’s finches: Evidence supporting rapid post-Flood adaptation, Creation 14(3):22–23, June 1992; creation.com/darwins-finches; see also creation.com/galapagos-birds.
  3. Statham, D.R., Only the Bible explains the diversity of life, Creation 37(1):40–43, 2015; creation.com/diversity-life.

Fossils and change

But fossils suggesting changes in species are actually quite rare, which is not what we would expect if the rocks had been laid down over many millions of years. Professor David Kitts commented,

Despite the bright promise that paleontology [the study of fossils] provides a means of ‘seeing’ evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of ‘gaps’ in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between the species and paleontology does not provide them.2

However, we would expect a general absence of transitional forms between species if the biblical account of Earth history were true. This is because, in general, a global Flood would have produced fossils representing a snapshot in time, rather than a record of change over time.

But even the few fossils found from which speciation can be reasonably deduced have not provided evidence that one kind of creature gradually turned into another. Professor Stephen J. Gould commented,

The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design … has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.3

More recently, referring to the rich fossil record in rocks designated as ‘Cambrian’, Professor Euan Clarkson admitted,

… transitional or linking forms are absent. The geological record gives no indication of such relationships … . But what the fossil record does give is many examples of the ‘instantaneous’ origin of new structural plans.4

The Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian rocks provide some of the most devastating fossil evidence against Darwin’s theory. Evolutionists believe these to be 541–485 million years old; in their thinking, they contain the remains of some of the earlier life forms that existed on Earth. Very significantly, a huge variety of animals appear suddenly, ‘out of the blue’. This ‘Cambrian explosion’ is often referred to as the ‘big bang’ of evolution, because dozens of widely different organisms are said to have arisen over a very short period of time. The differences are so great that they are often referred to as having fundamentally different ‘body plans’. This is why they are classed as different phyla (plural of phylum), as explained below.

Figs 3–9 Examples of creatures found as fossils in Cambrian rocks.

Some of these creatures were truly exotic, such as Opabinia (fig. 3), Marella (fig. 4), and Anomalocaris (fig. 5). Others would seem more familiar to us, such as shellfish (fig. 6), jellyfish, starfish, finned fish (fig. 7) and worms (fig. 8). There is no evidence that these are somehow less sophisticated than their representatives alive today, so it is very difficult for evolutionists to argue that Cambrian creatures represent ‘primitive’ and ‘less evolved’ forms of life. The extinct trilobites (fig. 9) had compound eyes that are among the most sophisticated and complex vision systems of any creature that has ever lived!5 Anomalocaris (fig. 5) also had sophisticated compound eyes, which have left evolutionists puzzled as to how they could have evolved so quickly.6

Darwin on the fossil record

In chapter 9 of his Origin of Species, Darwin identified three geological observations which, in respect of his theory, and in his own words, were “undoubtedly of the gravest nature”:

  • “our not finding in the successive formations infinitely numerous transitional links between the many species which now exist or have existed”
  • “the sudden manner in which whole groups of species appear in our European formations”
  • “the almost entire absence, as at present known, of fossiliferous formations beneath the Silurian strata.” (Note that in Darwin’s time, there was overlap between what was called ‘Silurian’ and ‘Cambrian’)

He freely admitted, “… the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [must] be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”

Darwin, C.R., On the Origin of Species, John Murray, London, pp. 310 and 280, 1859, (1st edition).

Darwin’s tree of life

According to evolutionists, ordinary chemicals somehow came together to form a single-celled, self-reproducing organism—a microbe that could make copies of itself. Then, over hundreds of millions of years, we’re told, evolution caused this to become more complex and to diversify into different species—see fig. 10.

Fig. 10. First steps in evolution, leading to different species within the same genus

Allegedly, these new species then continued to diversify to the point that they could be placed into different genera (i.e. different groups of species—fig. 11). However, despite their differences, they would still be understood to be members of the same family. Then, as evolution continued, these became more and more diverse until they could be classified as different families (i.e. different groups of genera), then different orders (i.e. different groups of families), and then different classes (i.e. different groups of orders). Eventually evolution would have given rise to such fundamentally different body plans that these creatures could be placed into different phyla (i.e. different groups of classes).

Animals with fundamentally different body plans are said to be ‘disparate’ rather than just ‘diverse’. For example, while different members of the cat family (e.g., lions, tigers, leopards, domestic cats) are said to show diversity, different phyla (e.g. chordates, arthropods) are said to show disparity. Cats are all chordates, having a backbone and an internal skeleton. The differences between their anatomies are relatively minor. Arthropods (e.g. lobsters, crabs, insects) have no backbone and have an external skeleton. Their anatomies are fundamentally different to those of chordates.

Fig. 11. Further steps in evolution, leading to different genera (plural of ‘genus’) within the same family

Approximately 36 phyla have been identified in living and extinct animals, and their widely differing body plans indicate the extent of the disparity found throughout the natural world. For example, brachiopods (lamp shells) are marine creatures with shells on their upper and lower surfaces; cnidarians are soft-bodied animals with tentacles armed with stinging cells, such as jellyfish and corals; molluscs are another group of soft-bodied animals and include squid, octopuses, and snails; echinoderms have five-fold radial symmetry of their body parts, e.g. starfish and sea urchins.

It is highly significant that almost every single animal phylum is represented in the Cambrian rocks—including the one of which humans are a member, the chordates.7 As shown, Darwinian theory would predict that, as we move up the geological column and hence forward in alleged evolutionary time, disparity should emerge gradually in the fossil record. In other words, diversity should precede disparity. In fact, we see the very opposite: disparity preceding diversity. Some would regard this as virtually a formal disproof of Darwinism.8

All this, of course, presents no difficulties for biblical creationists. The Cambrian rocks simply reflect the great variety of organisms that God created to live on or close to the sea floor, and were among the first to be buried by sediments deposited by the Genesis Flood.

Posted on homepage: 21 November 2018

References and notes

  1. Darwin, C.R., On the Origin of Species, John Murray, London, p. 310, 1859. Return to text.
  2. Kitts, D.B., Paleontology and evolutionary theory, Evolution 28:467, September 1974. Return to text.
  3. Gould, S.J., Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging? Paleobiology 6(1):119–130, 1980. Return to text.
  4. Clarkson, E.N.K., Invertebrate Palaeontology and Evolution, 4th edn, Blackwell Science, London, UK, p. 45, 1998. Return to text.
  5. Stammers, C., Trilobite technology: Incredible lens engineering in an ‘early’ creature, Creation 21(1):23, 1998; creation.com/trilobite. Return to text.
  6. Sarfati, J., Giant compound eyes, half a billion years ago? Creation 34(4):39, 2012; creation.com/compound-eye. Return to text.
  7. The ‘Lower Cambrian’ fish Haikouichthys. Return to text.
  8. Meyer, S.C., Darwin’s Doubt: The explosive origin of animal life and the case for intelligent design, HarperCollins, New York, 2013. Return to text.

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