Slow fish in China
The fossil find in China now confirms that fish appear suddenly in the fossil record along with all the other kinds of animals
A friend of mine once tried to use the fossil record to disprove evolution. If he could find just one extraordinary out-of-place fossil, he thought, it would upset the entire geologic column, and hence the theory of evolution. He was badly disillusioned when he couldn’t find any.
However, I don’t think he understood how fossil discoveries are handled by evolutionary scientists or the order in which Noah’s Flood would have buried them.
The reality is that fossils are being found in new places all the time1 but these finds do not cause evolutionists to doubt evolution. This is because most scientists have already decided that evolution over millions of years is ‘a fact’. This is called a presupposition—something which is assumed to be true at the outset, because the only alternative is creation. So, when new fossil evidence is considered, the idea that evolution could be wrong is never contemplated.
Take for example animals with backbones. Vertebrates were once the only major animal group not found fossilised in the Cambrian system of rocks.2 All other kinds of multi-celled animals, including trilobites and shellfish, appeared abundantly at the base of the Cambrian (said by evolutionists to be 545 million years old3).
Fish were the ‘first’ vertebrates found, and these were only in much higher strata—in the upper Silurian system,4 dated by evolutionists at about 420 million years old. A number of varieties were identified, including sharks, and fish without jaws—agnathans.5,6 The eel-like sea lamprey and hagfish are examples of agnathans and they live in the oceans today. Lampreys are semi-parasitic and use their mouth to attach to other fish.
So, fish appeared much ‘later’ in the rocks than many other animals, and this seemed eminently logical to the evolutionists. They surmised that it would take much longer for chance and natural selection to ‘work out’ how to construct animals with backbones than it would shellfish or trilobites.6 An extra 125 million years would be more than enough time, they thought.
However, by the 1950s, fish fossils had been found in Colorado, USA, from Middle Ordovician rocks (these occur just below the Silurian and above the Cambrian).7 Similar finds were later reported from Australia.7 These are dated at some 470 million years. But even though the first fish now appeared some 50 million years earlier, still there was plenty of time for evolution to have worked, they thought. The new finds just affected the ideas about what fish had evolved from and when, not if fish had evolved (that is a ‘fact’, remember).
By the late 1990s, fish had been found even ‘earlier’, from the Early Ordovician system, supposedly around 490 million years ago. There were even accounts of fish fossils in older rocks but these were only fragments of bone-like material8 and scales,9 and were disputed.
However, just last year a team of nine scientists reported well-preserved fossils of two different kinds of agnathan fish from China found in Lower Cambrian strata.10,11 The fossils are described as ‘the most convincing Early Cambrian vertebrates ever found’,11 and extend the fossil range of fish by at least 20 and possibly 50 million years in evolutionary thinking. Vertebrates had now been found at the base of the Cambrian along with all the other multi-celled animals.
The first point to realise from this sequence of events is that, in scientific terms, there is no such thing as an out-of-place fossil. Fossils are found where they are found—there is really no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ place. A scientist may have difficulty explaining some fossils by his notion of evolution and so he may be reluctant to accept the fossil as authentic. Indeed this may have been why for many years the fragments of early fish fossils were disputed. But once the location of a fossil is reliably established, the evolutionist scientist turns his attention to the question ‘What does this mean for how evolution occurred?’
And the second lesson to learn is that belief in evolution is not upset by new fossil finds. In the case of the fossils from China it was even suggested that the find was ‘long awaited’.11 Evolutionists do not question evolution because they already believe it as a fact. New fossil discoveries just make them change their stories. Fossil finds are automatically absorbed into the general evolutionary scheme of things as evolutionist scientists set about developing evolutionary models to explain the data.
Scientists who believe the Bible also have presuppositions, but ones that are entirely different from those of evolutionists. Naturally we have exactly the same fossil evidence, but because we have a different starting point, we have different explanations. It is not a matter of manipulating the data, but modifying the scientific models used to explain the data.
For the fossil fish, the answer is easy because fossils buried all over the earth are what we would expect from Noah’s Flood. There is no need for millions of years for the different species of plants and animals to evolve. They were already all living on the earth when the Flood began. The fossils simply record the order in which plants and animals were buried about 4,500 years ago during the one-year Flood described in Genesis chapters 6–8.
It is not hard to appreciate that the global Flood would produce a definite order for fossils. The first sediments would have been deposited in the oceans, and buried marine animals. Slow movers such as the trilobites would have been entombed first, while fish could have more easily escaped the underwater avalanches. Remarkably, the fossils from China show clear evidence that the fish were buried suddenly by an underwater rush of sediment, just as expected from the global Flood. The throat of one fish contained sediment, showing that it had been buried alive.12
The scientists who found the fish in China proposed exactly the same explanation. They suggest that fish are very rare in Cambrian and Ordovician rocks because they were active swimmers and could generally escape from the underwater avalanches.12 Interestingly, one of the fossils resembled a young lamprey11 which is parasitic on other fish. This means that although fossils of other fish are not found until later, they must have been alive at the same time. They were just more successful than the lamprey at avoiding the avalanches.
The fossil find in China now confirms that fish appear suddenly in the fossil record along with all the other kinds of animals. In evolutionary thinking this is some 50 million years earlier than previously known, and should compound the problem of how the different kinds of animals all evolved together in such a short time.
For the creationist, the new fossil find is no problem at all. It was just a matter of a few slow fish buried in (what is now) China. They were not quick enough to escape the sudden underwater avalanches during the Flood, and paid the price.
References and notes
- Woodmorappe, J., The fossil record: becoming more random all the time, Journal of Creation 14(1):110–116 2000, and Oard, M., How well do paleontologists know fossil distributions? Journal of Creation 14(1):7–8, 2000, report a number of recent cases where fossils have been found in new parts of the geologic column. Return to text.
- The Cambrian system refers to the characteristic fossils from some of the lowest lying strata in Great Britain. The anti-evolutionist geologist Adam Sedgwick first explored these strata in 1831 in Wales, and used the Latin word for Wales to name the system. Return to text.
- All evolutionary dates have been taken from Gradstein, F. and Ogg, J., A Phanerozoic time scale, Episodes 19(1&2):3–5 and chart, 1996. Return to text.
- The Silurian system refers to groups of fossils characteristic of strata from South Wales which are above the Cambrian strata but under almost all the other strata in Great Britain. Murchison first explored these strata in 1835, and named the system after an ancient British tribe that inhabited the area. Return to text.
- Miller, H., The Testimony of the Rocks, Thomas Constable & Co., Edinburgh, UK, pp. 62–66, 1857. Return to text.
- Wells, H.G., Huxley, J. and Wells, G.P., The Science of Life, The Amalgamated Press Ltd., London, UK, p. 466, 1931. Return to text.
- Lubenow, M.L., Significant fossil discoveries since 1959: creationism confirmed, Creation Res. Soc. Quart. 17(3):148–160, 1980. Return to text.
- Stearn, C.W. and Carroll, R.L., Paleontology: The Record of Life, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, USA, p. 184, 1989. Return to text.
- Shu, D., et al., Lower Cambrian vertebrates from south China, Nature 402(6757), p. 42, 1999. Return to text.
- Ref. 9, pp. 42–46. Return to text.
- Janvier, P., Catching the first fish, Nature 402(6757):21–22, 1999. Return to text.
- Ref. 9, p. 45. Return to text.