David Attenborough’s Rise of Animals,

Episode 1, From the Seas to the Skies



In this 2-part BBC TV program ,1 Sir David Attenborough tells us he is going to look at the rise of vertebrate animals, because, he says, “The story of the rise of animals is also the story of why you and I came to be as we are.” As he presents this specious evolutionary fish story, we shall compare it with the biblical record, and seek to ascertain which is correct, as each contradicts the other.

He begins in China, which he says is “the new frontier for fossil discoveries”. Unfortunately it is also the new frontier for fossil forgeries.2 In 1999, the National Geographic Society unveiled Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, a small fossil from China, at a press conference. Ten pages of pictures and text were devoted to it in their November 1999 magazine, which stated:

“With arms of a primitive bird and the tail of a dinosaur, this creature found in Liaoning province, China, is a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds. … This mix of advanced and primitive features is exactly what scientists would expect to find in dinosaurs experimenting with flight.3

Archaeoraptor, as presented to the world by National Geographic magazine, November 1999, p. 100. Every detail in the drawing was false.

Alas for the evolutionist community, Archaeoraptor was a fraud—a forgery concocted by a Chinese farmer for profit. In due course, studies showed that the fossil was a ‘doctored’ combination of up to five separate specimens.

As for the genuine fossils unearthed in China (and elsewhere), once you identify and remove the evolutionary ‘spin’, there’s nothing about their existence that isn’t better explained by the Bible’s account of history than by the theory of evolution.


‘Cambrian explosion’ fossils at Chengjiang

Attenborough begins his exposition of the theory of evolution by showing viewers the fossil beds at Chengjiang in Yunnan, China, where over 200 different fossil species, many with most of the soft parts still intact, have been found. And he tells us that these fossil beds “contain the remains of creatures that once swam in the seas 525 million years ago”.

He says: “This was a time period known as the Cambrian” but he fails to inform viewers that these fossil deposits are part of what evolutionists call the ‘Cambrian explosion’. This sudden explosion of diverse life forms, abruptly and from nowhere (i.e. without the necessary simpler ancestors from which they supposedly evolved), is a huge problem for evolutionists. Scientific American goes so far as to describe it as ‘evolutionary biology’s deepest paradox’.4 And, in his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin regarded it as one of the things “that may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained” (i.e. against his theory of evolution by means of natural selection).5

This is because, according to evolutionary theory, along the evolutionary way there should have been some animals (and hence some fossils) with partly formed legs, and some with partly formed eyes, and some with partly formed swimming tails, and some with partly formed defence mechanisms, such as body armour plating and protective shells. However, no such evidence of evolution in progress has ever been discovered. This is not surprising, because all such partly formed (and therefore less useful) structures would be eliminated by natural selection. But then how can evolutionary gradualism explain the stepwise development of complex structures, if the intermediate states were ‘not fit to survive’?6

On the other hand, the Genesis record of God’s creation of multiple forms of life during Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago,7 states that all the kinds of life appeared suddenly on Earth, without having evolved from anything simpler. The Flood, about 1,656 years after Creation Week, has left us a legacy of billions of fossils of these created kinds. So the so-called ‘Cambrian explosion’, reeking as it does of evolutionary ‘spin’, is a misnomer, for the fossils actually support the Bible’s account of the worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis chapters 6–9. While Attenborough speculates that the soft parts of the Chengjiang fossils survived through lack of oxygen, the soft parts are actually evidence that they were deposited and covered very quickly (as with a flood), without time for bacteria to disintegrate them.

As to Attenborough’s claimed evolutionists’ age of 525 million years for the Chengjiang fossils, and his sequence of decreasing ages to allegedly produce the first bird 160 million years ago, see Ref. 8, below, wherein geologist Dr Tas Walker explains how long-age geologists will not accept a radiometric date unless it matches their pre-existing expectations.


One of the fossils at Chengjiang is a tiny one called Myllokunmingia, only about 1 inch long. Attenborough holds it in the palm of his hand and explains that “to examine it in detail you’ve got to look at it under the microscope”. Nevertheless we are shown computer generated imagery of it filling our TV screens and swimming vigorously to evade similar-sized large predators.

Some 30 specimens have been found so far, and Attenborough tells us:

“Nearly every one of them has two little black eye spots, gill bars for extracting oxygen from the water, and bands of muscle which were probably attached to a gristly rod somewhere in the middle, called the notochord, which was the forerunner of the backbone. Myllokungmingia is the earliest creature we know of that we can truly call a vertebrate.”

Hooray for Myllokungmingia! But the fact that 30 fossils of it have been found among 200 fossils of other species is not evidence that it evolved from any of the others (or that anything evolved from it). Actually, it is in the ‘lower Cambrian’,9 right at the bottom of what evolutionists call the ‘Phanerozoic eon’, where prominent fossils were once thought to have first appeared.10 So this means that vertebrates are near the bottom of the fossil records.

How did it acquire so quickly the genetic information to grow its eyes, or the genetic information to grow its gill bars, or the genetic information to grow its bands of muscle, or the genetic information to grow its notochord? How is it that the first time this fossil appears it has all the design features that make it special, whereas the theory of evolution postulates the gradual accumulation of body parts through random mutations? In short, how did Myllokungmingia suddenly become more complex than its fellow denizens of Chengjiang? Attenborough does not tell us.

If anything, Myollokungmingia is evidence that the animals were all created by God, and since then they were deposited in China at Chengjiang by the worldwide Flood of Noah’s day. The presence of these fossils is precisely what we would expect from the creationist worldview, based as it is on the reliable historical record in the Bible.

Steps in the development of vertebrates


Moving on, Attenborough tells viewers that the next step in the evolution of vertebrates is the development of jaws. This he deduces from the lamprey, which he tells viewers is much more primitive than fishes, and “its mouth is just a simple hole with little bristles about it. And it feeds by sucking in water through that mouth, and then filtering out little particles of food. So this little animal takes us right back to the time when the first animals with backbones first appeared on Earth. It’s a true living fossil.”

Not so. It, along with all other sea creatures, was created on Day 5 of Creation Week by God, some 6,000 years ago.

Next, he opines that all of the first vertebrates had that same kind of mouth, and ate the same kind of simple food. Then: “If the early forms were going to take advantage of the variety of food that was available in those early seas they were going to have to develop a much more complex and powerful form of eating machinery.”

Why? This does not follow—the lamprey has done all right without it! In fact, some lampreys are parasitic, and in adulthood feed on prey such as fish by attaching their mouthparts to the target animal’s body, then using their teeth to cut through surface tissues until they reach blood and body fluid, which they then consume.

Attenborough’s ‘evidence’ for the evolution of jaws in fish is the fact that today embryos of skate fish develop jaws, and the human embryo also constructs a jaw. However, for jaws to have developed over time in sharks would have involved some sharks evolving with partly formed jaws. But sharks with partly formed jaws would be ‘less fit’ to survive than their fellows, and so would be eliminated by natural selection. A much better explanation is that God created skates and sharks with jaws on Day 5 of Creation Week, and He created the first humans complete with jaws on Day 6 of Creation Week, some 6,000 years ago.

Four fins

Viewers are shown a tiny fossil fish in Beijing, concerning which Attenborough says: “I’ve been given special access to a newly identified missing link … the earliest example yet found of a creature with two pairs of fins. It’s called Parayunnanolepis and it’s about 410 million years old.”

We are told that it has two pairs of stumps where fins normally occur. Although the fins are missing from the fossil, we are further told: “They were shaped rather like the wings of an aeroplane, and they had the same effect—creating upwards lift through the water.” And, despite the fact that they are missing, we are given a computer generated image of two aerofoil-type front fins, facing backwards, on either side of a computer generated sea creature. Then, although these are also missing, we are given another computer generated image of some rear fins, and we are told that this pair helped the fish hold its course through the water. And so, despite the ravages of natural selection on those specimens with partly formed appendages, Attenborough says: “It made the sharks the skilful swimmers that they are today.” And: “So now the vertebrates had jaws and four fins.” 11


We are told that most fish today, like carp, have bony skeletons, unlike sharks that have cartilage. “Bony fish could subject their skeletons to the far greater forces that come from increases in speed and agility.” Really? But sharks are at the top of the food chain in the sea. How did they manage to achieve this with cartilage instead of bone? Also, if a feature is advantageous, evolutionary theory merely says that natural selection would favour it in its complete form; it doesn’t explain how the feature supposedly evolved gradually in the first place. In particular, bone exhibits a functionality threshold: it would be useless unless more-or-less fully formed.12

Living on the land

Moving on, Attenborough opines that “For most of Earth’s history until now the land had been empty and barren. But around 450 million years ago, first plants, then worms, and then the ancestors of insects began to colonise it. Here were rich pickings for any vertebrate that could reach them.” (How did any fish know that?)

To reach this cornucopia, fish needed limbs. Attenborough tells us: “Scientists have recently found the earliest evidence for this key moment in Eastern Europe—Zachelmie, Poland.” Palaeontologist Per Ahlberg shows us a slab with a detailed set of pairs of footprints, one in front of the other, and he says that “in order to be able to produce this, you need to have limbs that stick out to the side, and which can be swung forwards and backwards rather freely while you’re flexing your body from side to side”.

Tiktaalik on the cover of Nature, 6 April, 2006. Footprints ‘millions of evolutionary years’ older, as shown on Nature, 7 January 2010, show that the Tiktaalik scenario is evolutionary spin.

Attenborough then asks: “So, how did the vertebrates make this astonishing transition from fish swimming to animals with four legs walking on land?” To answer this question, he directs viewers’ attention to a fossil called Tiktaalik that had a “new” limb-like fin, which, he says, “became the driving force behind one of the most spectacular events in evolutionary history … the arrival of the first vertebrate animals on land.” He then shows this event with a computer generated Tiktaalik using its fins to push itself up onto land for about 20 seconds before heading straight back into the water, presumably to avoid dying of asphyxiation.

However, this whole Tiktaalik scenario is evolutionary spin. What Attenborough fails to tell viewers is that the footprints found by Swedish palaeontologist Per Ahlberg in Poland of a creature that Tiktaalik is supposed to have given rise to, are actually 18 million years older (by evolutionary reckoning) than Tiktaalik. And Ahlberg, in a co-authored article in Nature in 2010, actually wrote that these Polish tetrapod tracks show that “the current consensus based on body fossils is substantially mistaken in both the timescale and, probably, the environment setting of the fish-tetrapod transition.”13 And, “The discovery of the Zachelmie footprints substantially changes the context for future research on the origin of tetrapods.” So Tiktaalik cannot be “the perfect missing link”, as claimed by other evolutionists, including Richard Dawkins.14



Attenborough says: “Over time, creatures evolved that spent most of their time out of water. They formed a new group we call amphibians. … They had to be able to extract oxygen not from water, like their fish ancestors, but from the air.” His answer to how this came about is to show viewers the Chinese giant salamander and to tell us:

“It breathes partly through its skin which has these long flaps on it, and that absorbs oxygen from the water. But it also breathes air. Its jaw acts as a pump forcing air down into the body. Here oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream from two inflatable sacks with permeable walls—lungs. …”

Whoa! The fact that amphibians exist today does not prove that fish changed into them. All it proves is that fish exist today and salamanders exist today, just as we would expect, seeing both were created by God during Creation Week, some 6000 years ago. Furthermore, the Chinese giant salamander has been pronounced a living fossil, because no change has been detected in its fossils for 160 million years (by evolutionary assumptions).15 And no change means no evolution!16


Moving on, we learn that two things tie amphibians to water:

1. Their skins are moist, and if they dry out they die.

2. Their eggs are covered in nothing more than jelly, so they must be laid in water or moist conditions.

We are shown a lizard and told it has dry skin and this is due to keratin that forms scales that seal water within the body. Attenborough: “We can see what has changed by putting the two types of skin [i.e. amphibian and reptile] under the microscope.” Wrong! Nothing has changed. The fact that “the skin of an amphibian is smooth with living cells visible on the surface” and “a lizard’s skin is much rougher because it contains large amounts of keratin” is not proof that one changed into the other. It shows nothing more than amphibians have one type of skin, and lizards have another. Indeed, this is what creationists would expect, seeing amphibians and lizards were created by God fully functional on Days 5 and 6 respectively of Creation Week some 6,000 years ago.

We are further told: “Animals with this body plan became a huge success. They evolved into a great number of species, big and small—we call them reptiles.” Not so! There is no evidence that this happened. And Attenborough is unable to, and so does not offer, any evidence as to how he thinks it might have happened. What the evidence shows is that God is a master Designer. He designed amphibians with a body plan that has one set of characteristics, and He designed reptiles with a body plan that has a different set of characteristics.

Laying eggs out of water

Viewers are shown some large fossil reptile eggs with a hard shell that made the eggs watertight. This allows reptiles to live and reproduce offspring in dry areas. God is indeed a master Designer.17

Legs, splayed and not splayed

God created different varieties of land animals on Day 6 of Creation Week about 6,000 years ago. Some had legs that splayed out from either side of the body. In others, the hind legs were underneath the body—these are the dinosaurs. Attenborough attributes this to change. But we do not know this, nor does he! All we and he genetically have is fossils of both types of reptile. If they were different kinds, both kinds would have been preserved from Noah’s Flood aboard the Ark, but so far no dinosaur has been proven to be alive today.


We are shown a fossil at the Beijing Museum of Natural History and Attenborough tells us:

“This is Anchiornis, a creature that’s clearly a dinosaur. It’s got powerful legs here ending with toes with sharp claws on them, and … you can see the jaw which has teeth in them. … There are feathers all down the legs. And looking at the density of them on the forearms here, it does look very like a wing. So the question is could this animal fly? Could this be the moment when a dinosaur became a bird?

“A clue to the answer could come from the environment in which it lived. Animals that could climb trees would be able to collect food that was not available on the ground. They could also find safety from ground-living predators.

“Because Anchiornis lived high up, it could use its feathers to glide. It must have needed all the feathers growing along its front limbs, hind limbs and tail to create a large enough surface to catch the air and slow its descent. It wasn’t capable of flapping flight, but at 160 million years old, it’s now the earliest creature we know to have used feathers to fly.”

A computer generated image shows this hypothetical creature launching itself off a high tree branch and gliding down to the ground. So let’s examine these claims a little more closely.

  1. It can’t fly upwards, and it doesn’t have hands, so how does it climb trees to get to the high branches? With its claws?
  2. If that’s the moment when a dinosaur became a bird, how did that happen?
  3. Did a dinosaur lay an egg and a bird hatched out? This was a serious suggestion from the evolutionist Professor of Zoology at the University of California, Richard Goldschmidt, in a 1940 book, as well as the subject of a 1958 children’s book. See further details below, with two comments from Alan S., and Russell Grigg’s response.
  4. If so, how? If not, where did the new and specialized DNA come from by which this dinosaur “became a bird”?

So, to answer the question that Attenborough himself asks, above:

No, dinosaurs did not evolve into birds, neither 160 million years ago, nor at any other time. God created birds on Day 5 of Creation Week about 6,000 years ago, and He created land animals, including dinosaurs, after the birds, on the following day, Day 6 of Creation Week, about 6,000 years ago.

We humans were created on Day 6 of Creation Week, about 6,000 years ago. We did not inherit jaws and a bony skeleton from the early fish. We did not inherit limbs and lungs from the amphibians. We did not inherit a watertight skin from the reptiles. We were made by God in His image and likeness.


Published: 23 February 2014

References and notes

  1. Released in the UK in September 2013, and in Australia in February 2014. Return to text.
  2. Hecht, J., F is for fake, New Scientist 165(2226):12, 19 February 2000. Return to text.
  3. Sloan, C.P., Feathers for T. Rex?: new birdlike fossils are missing links in dinosaur evolution, National Geographic 196(5):98–107, Nov. 1999. For the later retraction see Simons L., Archaeoraptor Fossil Trail, National Geographic 198(4):128–132, Oct. 2000. See also Sarfati, J., Archaeoraptor—Phony ‘feathered’ fossil, creation.com/archaeoraptor, 3 February 2000, and the updates. Return to text.
  4. Levington. J., The big bang of animal evolution, Scientific American, pp. 52–59, Nov. 1992 pp. 52–5. Return to text.
  5. Darwin Online, Origin of Species, 1st edition, pp. 306–08, 1859. Return to text.
  6. For further details on how evolutionists have tried to cope with this problem, including the ‘Ediacaran explosion’, see Sarfati, J., The Greatest Hoax on Earth? pp. 113–121, Creation Book Publishers, Atlanta, 2010. Return to text.
  7. Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?, Creation 35(1):54–55, 2013; creation.com/6000-years. Return to text.
  8. Walker T., The way it really is: little-known facts about radiometric dating, Creation 24(4):20–23, Sept. 2002; creation.com/dating_reality. Return to text.
  9. Shu, D-G. et al., Lower Cambrian vertebrates from south China, Nature 402(6757):42–46, 4 November 1999 | doi:10.1038/46965. Return to text.
  10. The name comes from Greek phaneros (φανερός) = visible; and zōē (ζωή) = life. Return to text.
  11. For a discussion among evolutionists about Parayunnanolepis, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22219394 which concludes: “… the pelvic fins did not arise within gnathostones [jawed vertebrates] at a point subsequent to the origin of jaws.” Return to text.
  12. Sarfati, J., Bone building: perfect protein, J. Creation 18(1):11–12, 2004; creation.com/bone. Return to text.
  13. Niedźwiedzki, G., Szrek, P., Narkiewicz, K., Narkiewicz, M., & Ahlberg, P., Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland, Nature 463:43–48, 7 January 2010. Readers should note that Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki is from the Department of Paleobiology and Evolution, Faculty of Biology, Warsaw University; Piotr Szrek is from the Department of Paleontology, Faculty of Geology, Warsaw University; Katarzyna Narkiewicz and Marek Narkiewicz are from the Polish Geological Institute, Warsaw; and Per E. Ahlberg is from the Subdepartment of Evolutionary Organismal Biology, Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden. Return to text.
  14. Dawkins, R., The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, p. 169, Transworld Publishers, Black Swan edition, 2010. Refuted by Jonathan Sarfati in Ref. 6, pp. 131–34, 143-44. Return to text.
  15. Gao, K.-Q. and Shubin, N.H., Earliest known crown-group salamanders, Nature 422(6930):424–428, 2003 | doi:10.1038/nature01491. Return to text.
  16. Catchpoole, D., Salamanders are ‘living fossils’! Creation 26(2):26–27, 2004; creation.com/sala. Return to text.
  17. Catchpoole, D., What’s in an Egg? Unscrambling the mysteries, Creation 24(3):41–43, 2002; creation.com/egg. Return to text.

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