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Doubt and the Cambrian explosion

Does lengthening the ‘timeframe’ of the Cambrian explosion make it easier for evolutionists to explain?

Published: 27 April 2019 (GMT+10)

Gage C. from the United States writes:

Dear CMI,

I’ve recently been going through a time of doubt and during my search for answers I’ve hit something of a stumbling block. I’ve come across a number of articles written in the past 4–5 years describing the Cambrian Explosion as having occurred over the course of about 25–55 million years. The suggesting being that the developments seen are compatible with an evolutionary time scale as there is plenty of time for life to develop into newer forms. This question is furthered by the claim that many of the fossils found show a steady change linking back to a common ancestor. I’m sorry if my question has been answered by one of your prior articles, but I could not find anything addressing these claims. I don’t know how to respond to those who say our arguments have been “long refuted.” I look forward to your response and hope to see a day when we are no looked down on for our beliefs.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:


What if the ‘Cambrian explosion’ were longer?

First, it might help to make sure that you properly understand what the ‘Cambrian explosion’ really is. It’s not simply an explosion of diverse lifeforms within a few million years. Rather, it’s the ‘sudden’ (with c. 10–25 million years in evolutionary thinking) appearance of a couple of dozen disparate, phylum-level bodyplans. As Dominic Statham explains in The Cambrian explosion:

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.

Some of the remarkably different forms that appear include Opabinia (figure 1), Marella (figure 2), Anomalocaris (figure 3), shellfish (figure 4), jellyfish, starfish, finned fish (figure 5) and worms (figure 6), and the extinct trilobites (figure 7).

Evolution predicts that diversity precedes disparity; a population splits into different species, which then further splits into genera, and then eventually into families, orders, classes and phyla. In other words, disparity should grow with time (especially as many ‘branches’ of the evolutionary tree die off). However, in the fossils, the opposite is true for animals; disparity precedes diversity. Most of the phylum-level disparity appears very abruptly and almost entirely in the Cambrian. Above that, diversity grows within phyla (and lower forms of disparity arise e.g. at class and order levels), but we almost never see new phyla arising. Evolutionary paleontologists Douglas Irwin and James Valentine make this point in their 2013 book The Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity (see The Cambrian explosion in colorful, zoological context):

“Morphologic evolution is commonly depicted with lineages more or less gradually diverging from their common ancestor. New features arise along the evolving lineages, and diversification turns those features into synapomorphies of new clades while new apomorphies appear among the morphologically diverging branches. Gould (1989, 38) characterized this pattern as the ‘cone of increasing diversity’, but neither the fauna of the Cambrian nor the living marine fauna display this pattern. In fact, metazoan morphologies are quite clumped—undispersed is the technical term—into clades with unique body plans and with significant gaps in architectural style between them, and this pattern continues among classes within phyla and to some extent even among orders within classes” (p. 340).

So, what does attenuating the rise of so many different animal bodyplans from 5–15 million years to 25–55 million years do to this pattern? Nothing. To put this in context; we supposedly diversified from our closest living relatives (chimps) 6 million years ago. The Great Apes and humans are (family Hominidae) supposedly diversified over the last c. 15 million years. Old world primates (monkeys, apes, and us) supposedly diversified over the last c. 25 million years. And the Primate order supposedly diversified over the last c. 55 million years. In other words, on the most generous timeframe we can give the evolutionists, 55 million years, the single Primate order took that amount of time to diversify to today’s state in the Cenozoic as it took for over 24 disparate phyla to arise in the Cambrian. Really?! Even if we’re generous to the evolutionists, the Cambrian explosion still looks ridiculous on their own terms.

Note also that part of the problem is that there are too few viable precursors to explain the sudden appearance of so many disparate phylum-level forms. It’s one thing to claim that there was an adaptive radiation from viable precursors (as even some creationists have argued with the Cenozoic horse fossil series1). It’s another to argue that disparate phyla could have all evolved with little evidence of fossil precursors.

Furthermore, spreading out the rise of the different animal phyla also does nothing to explain why disparity arose before diversity. All the diversity we see today has arisen within the phyla that arose in the Cambrian; no new phyla have arisen since then. Why has the disparity stayed the same over the last 500 million years, despite it arising so comparatively rapidly between 550 and 500 million years ago? Was evolution only capable of producing a slew of phyla once? Why then and there? Why not ever again? And most importantly: how can it happen, given that none of the biological mechanisms of change we observe produce anything like what we see? See More reasons to doubt Darwin.

We have several articles that explore these themes and more on the Cambrian explosion. See The Cambrian explosion, The Cambrian explosion in colorful, zoological context, and Exploding evolution.

Dealing with doubt

But let me also say something about doubt. Doubts come, and it’s impossible to stop them crossing our mind. But we are responsible for how we handle them. A few tips. First, pray, read the Bible, and fellowship with Bible-believing Christians; the staples of the Christian ‘life diet’. Don’t forsake these habits; that’s a sure-fire way to let the doubts win. Dealing with doubt.

Second, be careful about what information you take in. Study Christian apologetics material (especially at creation.com), which is aimed at building up the soul. Don’t go looking for skeptical material when you haven’t yet learned how to defend the Christian faith and control your doubts. Good material will expose you to all the skeptical arguments and objections you need to know. And study the material with other, more mature Christians, as much as possible.

Third, keep short accounts with God concerning your own personal sin. Sin not dealt with can easily lead to doubt.

Finally, be mindful of your physical and emotional state. If you’re hungry, tired, sick, or upset, don’t do apologetics/theology/philosophy. It’s taxing on the brain, and it will exhaust you, so you want to be in a good physical and emotional state when you do it.

References and notes

  1. Cavanaugh, D.P., Wood, T. and Wise, K.P., Fossil equidae: a monobaraminic, stratomorphic series; in: Walsh, R.E. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, p. 143–149, 2003. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
Soft Cover
Flood Fossils
by Vance Nelson
US $32.00
Hard Cover
The Fossil Record
by John D Morris, Frank J Sherwin
US $20.00
Hard Cover
Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Esther L.
My husband, Dale, was stationed near Los Alamos National Lab and we attended church in White Rock. In our Sunday School class were several who worked at the lab and Dale admitted that he had assumed that such accomplished scientists would all be atheists and evolutionists. One of the men laughed at that and replied, "Maybe biologists can ignore the numbers. We are mathematicians, physicists, and chemists. We crunch numbers and statistically it is more likely for a person to win the mega power ball lottery six times in a row using the same numbers than for life to begin by chance. Everyone in my department knows that the universe had an intelligent designer. Some talk about crystals or aliens being responsible for life though where these came from or where they get their powers is unknown. I believe that the designer was Jehovah God of the Bible."
Mike D.
For me it works simply by doing this. I have my Flag firmly planted on inerrancy of the Bible. Unlike many, when I am hit with a problem or question that I can't answer. Instead of doing like most that move their flag off of Biblical inerrancy. My starting point and home base always remains Biblical inerrancy. So while I firmly remain there. I then go to sources like this, ICR and apologetics press, search for the truth etc. Rarely if not always have I not found the answer I needed.

Sadly, too many I meet in church etc move their flag immediately to the worlds view or man's view and actually rarely truly look for the answer. Then their faith starts with a crack but slowly and surely over time it will crumble as more questions arise.

I praise you for doing like you should. Stay at home with Biblical inerrancy and ask questions to find the answers! I wish most would be wise enough to do that instead of the opposite way.
Nathan G.
To put it succinctly, Darwinism needs one-cellers to develop into humans in roughly half a billion years by blind, undirected chance. The big problem, however, comes at the very beginning of this time, NOT at the end. Time is not the friend of evos.
Why do trilobites have one of the most sophisticated and effective eyes ever found right from the beginning, if slight changes over massive time are the key to survival? Why don't humans see in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges with millions of years to develop? Why are they weaker than most animals in "natural" surroundings? They should have inherited advantageous traits from ALL their forebears over time.

Not only do critter trackways, tunnels, burrows, and other signs of life precede most actual fossils (take your pick at the pre-Cambrian border), we also have the problem of the Cambrian Explosion. Forget the fancy explanations. Just do the math!

The Cambrian Explosion represents a maximum of TWO percent of the time of earth history, according to evolutionary twaddle. This means that, despite protestations to the contrary, almost all of the major body forms of known Phyla (and their smaller groupings down to the species level) appeared before they either diverged, stayed in stasis, or went extinct to give the modern menagerie that we see today on our wonderful planet.

A Cambrian Explosion means that a common ancestor would have to be severely close to its alleged descendants (contradicting Darwin's slow change over time). It might also mean that ideas of "deep time" are bogus. A serious analysis of the pseudo-scientific assumptions behind radiometric datings methods show exactly this: they are unprovable.

So don't be afraid. The Bible says this 365 times. Learn. Grow. Attack with love and kindness. Defeat.
David S.
Also necessary for combating doubts...
1. Decide that no matter what, you are going to believe God’s word above ALL other sources. This must be settled in your heart and mind BEFORE you get all of your questions answered.
2. Accept as a badge of honor the ridicule of scoffers and unbelievers. In fact, if we aren’t being thought of as fools by the world, there may be something wrong with our faith. Remember, the world scoffs at God first, so we are in good company!
Charles U.
"Doubt and the Cambrian Explosion"

It seems like the word Explosion should be replaced by the word "seeping."
I mean really, a MILLION year explosion?

This is meant as a humorous reply. :)
Jon C.
What are the Precambrian ancestors for the phyla of the Cambrian Explosion. I know about Precambrian sponges and their embryos, but are there other ancestors for the other 20 or so phyla?
Richard G.
Dear Gage. God bless you. Which of the two belief systems would you like to be the truth? First of all study that one thoroughly. Evolution and its bedfellows offer us nothing after death. God offers everlasting bliss. Therefore spending time on evaluating evolution's no-hope side should not be made a priority. Another thing is, ask yourself, "What changed my life so wonderfully when I chose Christ? (This assumes that you are a believer but if you are not committed to Christ why not try out i.e. test Him by doing something He said to do. e.g. " I am the bread of life; he/she that comes to Me shall not hunger. and he/she that believes on Me shall never thirst." Come to Jesus who loved you enough to die in pain for you. If after that you lose your awful hunger and thirst, you'll be happy that you have found Him to be the truth He said He was. And more, the Bible is the world's best seller. It's not wrong to use that fact to bolster faith in its central character. It's only right. Try writing the world's eternal best seller.. You need unthinkable qualifications and success record. You need to prophesy clearly and have 100% fulfillment rate. Try leading 85,000 people every day from a life of selfishness to a life of righteous living. The power required to do that is unthinkably great. Evolution supported and energised evil murderers like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Evolution's books last only a few years and are amended. The Bible has not been proven wrong on any point though it has been studied minutely for thousands of years and attacked violently. Read Psalm 119:98~100. This shows that those who stick to God's words know more than the ancients and their enemies and even their teachers.. You're safe with the Bible. And read/view CMI's many helps.
Eunice E.
Re handling doubts and self care in the Christian walk : Thank you Shaun for such practical and wise advice.

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