David Attenborough’s First Life: Conquest
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran the program David Attenborough’s First Life: Conquest on their Channel 22 on 29 August 2022, we present our response (30 August 2022).
In this, the second episode of his First Life TV program,1 Sir David Attenborough presents his evolutionary scenario for the spread of life throughout planet Earth.
The Cambrian explosion—an evolutionary enigma
We are shown the Burgess Shale formation in the Canadian Rockies, famous for the exceptional preservation of many thousands of fossils of complicated creatures, which appear fully formed, with no evidence they derived from simpler ancestors. Many are totally unlike anything alive today, such as one called Opabinia which, we are told, had five eyes above a long proboscis.
Evolutionists are puzzled by this sudden appearance of diverse life forms, and they call it the ‘Cambrian explosion’. However, from the biblical record of God’s creation of multiple forms of life during Creation Week, this is what we would expect to see—many kinds of life appearing suddenly on Earth, without having evolved from anything simpler. I.e. it is all evidence for creation, not evolution.2
One of these Burgess fossils, with teeth and two spiked claws, has been given the name Anomalocaris, meaning ‘strange shrimp’. Attenborough calls it ‘the first big predator on Earth’. A smaller but similar animal that lives on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia today is the mantis shrimp, which he says “illustrates the characteristics of this brand-new predator class of animals—superb vision, great speed, and superior size. … So the fossilized remains of Anomalocaris are evidence that hunting had begun in the Cambrian.”
Paleontologist Dr Jean-Bernard Caron makes the claim that it was the arrival of predators like Anomalocaris that stimulated the Cambrian explosion of diversity, as prey developed defence mechanisms. Caron says: “It is during the Cambrian that we start seeing animals with legs, eyes, swimming. This didn’t exist before. This evolved very quickly at the beginning of the Cambrian.” And he calls it “an arms race between predator and prey”.
Indeed, Anomalocaris had large sophisticated compound eyes, with 16,000 hexagonal facets (a house fly has only 3,000).6 Dr John Paterson of the University of New England, says that:
There was no evidence for eyes in organisms that lived before the Cambrian Explosion—a rapid increase in the diversity of life that began about 540 million years ago. The latest find showed sophisticated vision had evolved very rapidly. It came with a bang, in a geological blink of an eye.7
Actually, this means there is no evidence that the eye evolved at all. I.e. it seems that the eyes appeared abruptly and fully formed.
So, if this evolutionary ‘arms race’ argument is the true explanation for the diversity seen in the Cambrian explosion, then among the many thousands of Burgess fossils there should be some with partly formed legs, and some with partly formed eyes, and some with partly formed swimming tails, and some with partly formed other defence mechanisms, such as entire-body armour plating, and protective shells. However, no such evidence of evolution in progress has ever been discovered. This is not surprising really, because these would be eliminated by natural selection. But then what is left of the claim—i.e. how can evolutionary gradualism explain the stepwise development of complex structures, if the intermediate states are not ‘fit to survive’?
Next, Attenborough tells us that:
Hard parts can be used not only to give protection, but to provide support for a body, and a whole range of creatures have skeletons like this [he is shown holding a large spider crab]. Arthropods today include shrimps, lobsters and crabs, as well as land-dwelling creatures such as millipedes, scorpions and insects. But the ancestors of all of them first appeared in the Cambrian seas.
Yes, the first ones all appeared without any of them having parents. But that’s evidence for creation, not evolution.
Trilobites—more evidence for creation
The focus now shifts to a variety of arthropods called trilobites, which we are told, “at the beginning of the Cambrian began to proliferate into all sorts of forms” and “for the next 250 million years were probably the most advanced forms of life on this planet”. Attenborough shows us several examples from Morocco, Africa, which, he says, show that “trilobites molded their external skeletons into an almost unbelievable variety of shapes, and that enabled them to colonize a great variety of habitats, just as modern arthropods still do today”.
He tells us that:
Many of the trilobites that are found in these cliffs [shown] are curled up … and it’s clear that this was some kind of protective posture. … But there are so many that are curled in these deposits, together with others that have their backs arched upwards, and others in other strange postures, that it seems that they are the victim of some kind of catastrophe. The sea floor, it seems, was quite steep. And every now and again, the mud that accumulated on the bottom, slipped down in a submarine avalanche, carrying the animals that lived in it and on it higgledy-piggledy, and burying them alive.
Yes, for an evolutionist, that’s not a bad description of what was happening during Noah’s Flood. You can read about it in Genesis chapters 6–8. In fact, the excellent preservation of so many fossils of soft bodied creatures in the Burgess Shale indicates that these animals were killed instantly and buried immediately in fine mud that prevented oxidation and predation. And this is well explained by an event such as Noah’s Flood.
Next we are told that “trilobites had complex eyes that could form detailed pictures of their surroundings”. And this was “for the first time in the history of life”. Yes, trilobite eyes are indeed unique, and the TV program shows many of their features. E.g. their lenses are made from calcite, the crystalline form of chalk (calcium carbonate CaCO3). Some trilobites had eyes with more than 5,000 lenses; some had eyes that were so large the trilobite had 360o vision. Some had appendages at the top of their eyes like sunshades. One had eyes on stalks.
However, this is not evidence for evolution. Creationist paleontologist Dr Kurt Wise8 cites the aggregate or compound eye of the trilobite (known as the schizochroal eye9) as his favourite extra-biblical evidence for creation! He writes:
The design of the schizochroal eye makes it unique among eyes—perhaps even to the point of being the best optical system known in the biological world. This design, in fact, seems to far exceed the needs of the trilobite. The origin of the design of the schizochroal eye is not understood by means of any known natural cause. Rather, it is best understood as being due to an intelligent (design-creating) cause, through a process involving remarkably high manipulative ability. Among available hypotheses, creation by God is the most reasonable hypothesis for the origin of the complexity of the trilobite’s schizochroal eye.10
Creationist geologist Dr Andrew Snelling writes:
[T]he trilobites appear in the geological record suddenly, fully formed and complexly integrated creatures with the most sophisticated optical systems ever utilized by any organism, without any hint or trace of an ancestor in the many rock layers beneath. There is absolutely no clue as to how the amazing complexity of trilobites arose, and thus they quite clearly argue for design and fiat creation,11 just as we would predict from the biblical account in Genesis.12
Animals on the land—more problems for evolutionists
Moving on, Attenborough tells us:
The land was barren and without animals of any kind. But there was food up there—simple plants, and that tempted some animals to venture out of the water. … They had to evolve ways of preventing their bodies from drying out, and even more difficult, they had to develop a method of breathing air.
We are introduced to another fossil from the Burgess Shale seas, called Aysheaia, which Attenborough says:
Is thought to be the ancestor of the very first creature that went onto land … . And we don’t have to imagine what it was like because there is a creature that seems to be almost identical that is alive today … sometimes called a velvet worm, or to give it its scientific name Peripatus. If there is such a thing as a living fossil, this surely must be one of them because it seems to be almost identical with that fossil Aysheaia.
There most certainly is such a thing as a living fossil; in fact there are a huge number of them and they are all a huge problem for evolutionists, because evolution is all about change, but living fossils are about stasis or no change. See Living fossils: a powerful argument for creation and ‘Living fossils’ enigma.
Back to what Attenborough was saying:
Aysheaia of course lived in the sea, and this little creature lives on land, and it has one further attribute that Aysheaia could not have had: it has tiny little holes all along its flanks which enable it to breathe air. So this is one of the first creatures that moved on to the land, 540 million years ago.
- Attenborough assumes that Aysheaia did not have breathing holes because evolutionists assume it was a marine creature. However, Aysheaia does seem to have breathing holes (spiracles/tracheae), according to the picture of a fossil Aysheaia from the Burgess shale depicted in http://burgess-shale.rom.on.ca/en/fossil-gallery/view-species.php?id=22&m=4& (scroll across to the fourth image, which shows numerous small breathing holes in concentric rings around the body; you will need to have Flash installed).
The assumption of ‘deep time’ necessitates that this creature is described as a sea creature instead of a land creature, in order to advance the story that life began in the sea and migrated onto the land. However, according to the biblical worldview, sea-dwelling animals were created on Day 5 of Creation Week, and land dwelling animals on Day 6. And any one from Day 5 did not need to turn into any one from Day 6.
- An Internet article by the Australia Museum on the velvet worm says that “velvet worms are voracious and active carnivores, feasting on other small invertebrates (for example, termites, woodlice and small spiders) that they encounter in their travels”.13 How then did the anticipation of eating simple plants lure Aysheaia out of the water?
- Peripatus has long ago been discredited as a missing link. It is in a separate phylum (a major group in taxonomy) called Onychophora.14
- If Aysheaia is ‘almost identical’ to a creature alive allegedly half a billion years later, does this not cast serious doubt on the whole notion of evolution and/or the vast time-spans?
Next, Attenborough discusses how and when true arthropods (i.e. those with exoskeletons) drew their first breath of air. He shows us a fossil found recently in Cowie Harbour, Scotland. It is of a millipede less than a centimetre long. Microscopic examination shows tiny holes above each leg, and we are told that it was through these that:
The animal was able to breathe air, just as insects do today. Since it breathed air, if it had gone into the water, it would have drowned. So this is a truly land-living animal, and what is more it is the first of this that we know. It is 428 million years old.
- This is like Problem No. 1 above in reverse! If it would have drowned in the water, how did its parents live there?
- An age of 428 million years implies a dating precision of 99.76%. But we are not told how this date is calculated. For the problems associated with these long-age dates see The way it really is: little-known facts about radiometric dating.
Next we are told: “So multi-legged arthropods invaded the land, and became more successful than ever.” But that raises the problem of just how this less-than-one-centimetre–long millipede evolved into all the other magnificent land arthropods alive today. Simply repeatedly saying something happened is no substitute for real evidence, although it does serve the needs of propaganda.
Fossilized tree stumps 335 million years old
Attenborough’s explanation of how arthropods diversified is the Carboniferous Age, which he introduces by taking viewers to a fishing village called Crail on the east coast of Scotland. It is famous for fossilized tree stumps and fossilized tracks of giant millipedes in nearby sedimentary rock (“the largest specimen discovered so far was 2½ metres long”). He tells us: “This huge circular stump looks just like the base of a tree, and indeed that’s what it is, or rather, what it was, 335 million years ago.”
However, tree stumps like this are commonly interpreted as having grown in situ until the base can be examined. If the roots are found to be missing, as appears to be the case with a number of the stumps here, this would indicate that these were washed into place, e.g. by flood waters. The absence of rotting, as with the one shown, indicates that it was buried quickly, in mineral-rich sediment, that subsequently was eroded away. The global Genesis Flood (that occurred 4,500 years ago, not 335 million years ago) would have facilitated rapid petrifaction and also preservation of the wood from rotting.
So much plant life was pumping out oxygen that the composition of the atmosphere began to change. … The Carboniferous was the golden age for the arthropods, for the air was now particularly rich in oxygen … around 35%, and that enabled animals to grow very big indeed.15 But growing large was not their only success. Some other arthropods in these Carboniferous rainforests were evolving in a different way. Instead of becoming huge and ponderous, they became agile and speedy. To do that, it’s better to be short rather than long, and some reduced their segments and ran around on just three pairs of legs, as silverfish and bristletails do today. These early insects then made another dramatic move. They developed wings and became the first animals of any kind to fly.
But what evidence is there for such incredible transformations? None is presented. We are apparently supposed to accept this ‘on faith’.
Viewers are shown another Burgess Shale fossil of a tiny worm-like creature called Pikaia which we are told shows signs of an internal skeletal rod or backbone. We are further told that:
It or something very like it was the ancestor of all vertebrates. From such a creature as this, the first fish evolved. Some of them, living in swamps, started to gulp air and wiggled up on to the land. They gave rise to moist-skinned amphibians … the reptiles … the birds … and the mammals … including ourselves. … It’s no coincidence that backboned animals evolved many of the same features as the arthropods—teeth, legs, shells, eyes, and wings. Any animal group needs such things if they are to colonize all the earth’s varied habitats.
Once again, saying that various animals appeared and ourselves too, is no indication that they and we arose via random mutations and natural selection. Furthermore, just because a feature is needed does not explain how it could evolve. Evolution has no mind to direct things towards fulfilling a ‘need’.
Last of all we are given Attenborough’s credo (belief system):
Life originated in the oceans. After an immense period of time, some creatures managed to crawl up on to the land. Those animals may seem to us to be very remote, strange, even fantastic. But all of us alive today owe our very existence to them.
We too have a credo:
Life on Earth originated with God, so all of us alive today owe our existence to Him. However, unlike Sir David’s belief, our life has a purpose, namely “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. And concerning this, there is another life that we all need to give heed to:
“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).
Discerning viewers of this TV series will have seen that virtually all of Attenborough’s evidence for evolution is, in fact, evidence for creation. As we have often said, creationists and evolutionists have the same data. It is how the data are interpreted that matters. The data he presents comfortably fit creation.
Re-featured on homepage: 30 August 2022
- For our response to his first episode, see our article David Attenborough’s First Life: Arrival, presented February 26, 2013. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Greatest Hoax on Earth? pp. 113–121, CPBm 2012. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Shrimpy superboxer, Creation 30(2):12 13. 2008; https://creation.com/shrimpy-superboxer. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Mantis shrimp fist could inspire new body armour, creation.com/mantis-shrimp-fist, 17 July 2012. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Ref. 3, p. 13, Super Sight. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Giant compound eyes—half a billion years ago? Creation 34(4):39, 2012. Return to text.
- Smith, D., Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2011, p. 2. Return to text.
- He gained his Ph.D. in Paleontology at Harvard under renowned evolutionist (the late) Prof. Stephen Jay Gould. Return to text.
- Stammers, C. Trilobite technology: Incredible lens engineering in an ‘early’ creature, Creation 21(1):23, 1998; https://creation.com/trilobite-technology. Return to text.
- Scripture and trilobite’s eye, Creation 11(4):29, 1989. Return to text.
- I.e. creation by God’s command. Return to text.
- Andrew Snelling, geology, In Six Days: why fifty scientists choose to believe in creation, ch. 34, Master Books, USA, 2001. Return to text.
- australianmuseum.net.au/Velvet-worm. Return to text.
- Helder, M., What is Peripatus? Creation 16(4):40–41, 1994; https://creation.com/what-is-peripatus. Return to text.
- Some creationists have proposed higher oxygen partial pressures before the Flood as well. But this is not necessary and is unlikely. See Wieland, C. and Sarfati, J., Some bugs do grow bigger with higher oxygen, J. Creation 25(1):13–14, 2011; https://creation.com/oxygen-bigger-bugs. Return to text.