August 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Cambrian Explosion Still Explosive

51; Two new papers about Cambrian and Precambrian fossils did nothing to help soften the blow of the Cambrian explosion – the sudden appearance of all the animal body plans in the geological blink of an eye.  They essentially restated the problem for Darwin, who hoped that fossil discoveries would fill in the gaps where his required transitional forms were missing.

  1. Ediacaran simplicity.  In PNAS,1 three researchers from Virginia announced results of their study of the mysterious Ediacaran organisms that (according to evolutionary dating) lived prior to the Cambrian explosion, 575-542 million years ago.  They found that these organisms were most likely able to feed by osmosis.  It had been thought that the high surface area to volume ratio required for osmotrophy (direct absorption of dissolved organic carbon) presented physiological barriers to organisms this large, but they found that adaptations allowed the Ediacarans to overcome these barriers.  Combined with the fact that they lacked oral openings, this underscores the perception of Ediacaran organisms as relatively simple colonies of cells, without any internal structures that might suggest they represented transitional forms leading to the complex animals that exploded onto the scene at the early Cambrian.  Science Daily reported this finding on August 21.
  2. All phyla present at the explosion:  Desmond Collins, a retired curator of invertebrate paleontology and head of paleobiology at the Royal Ontario Museum, spent 12 seasons 1983-2000 investigating the famous Burgess Shale.  This rich fossil bed in the Canadian Rockies contains one of the richest lodes of middle Cambrian fossils in the world.  Writing for Nature,1 Collins recounted the history of exploration of the Burgess Shale by R. G. McConnell and Charles Doolittle Walcott in the late 1880s to early 1900s, with a focus on the difficulty of classifying the “wonderful life” found there.  Walcott and others attempted to shoehorn the fossils into known phyla at the time.  Others criticized that approach, but current thinking does put most of them into known groups.  “There are some extinct classes, such as the Dinocarida,” Collins said, “but very few extinct phyla.”  Then he combined Burgess fossils with the Chinese findings at Chengjiang and others from Greenland into a categorical statement: “Along with the Burgess Shale animals, they demonstrate that virtually all animal groups alive today were present in Cambrian seas.”  The Chengjiang biota, he said, includes “new chordates, the group that includes humans.”
        Collins briefly discussed “The Darwin connection.”  But it wasn’t very supportive of Darwinism.  Apparently much of the impetus for Walcott’s search in the Burgess Shale was the Darwin Centennial of 1909: 

    Walcott first visited Mount Stephen in 1907 – the year that he was appointed secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC – to study the Cambrian stratigraphy of the area.  Two years later the Darwin centennial seems to have provided the serendipitous stimulus for his discovery of the Burgess Shale.  Walcott was given an honorary doctorate at the University of Cambridge, UK, in June, as part of the 1909 celebrations.

    The celebration of the Burgess Shale as a possible help to Darwinism was apparently premature.  Collins said nothing further about Darwin.  Exciting as the Burgess Shale fossils proved to be, none of them provided the transitional forms necessary to explain the sudden appearance of phyla at the Cambrian explosion – a phenomenon Darwin himself conceded was the most serious challenge to his theory.


1.  Laflamme, Xiao and Kowalewski, “Osmotrophy in modular Ediacara organisms,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Published online August 17, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904836106.
2.  Desmond Collins, “Misadventures in the Burgess Shale,” Nature 460, 952-953 (20 August 2009) | doi:10.1038/460952a.

Soon to be a major motion picture!  Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record is being released next month by Illustra Media, the group that defended intelligent design in the cell with Unlocking the Mystery of Life and in astronomy with The Privileged Planet.  This third film, a beautiful and powerful production, completes a trilogy of documentaries that are undermining Darwin’s grip on natural history and making a strong case for I.D.  The Nature article above is a timely announcement.  It did nothing to help protect Mr. Darwin from the impact of this new film.  If anything, both articles took away whatever armor he had.  The first article said that the Ediacarans were simple organisms with no transitional connection to the Cambrian animals.  The second underscored the fact that virtually all animal groups alive today were present in Cambrian seas.  Animals just appear, as if planted there, fully formed and loaded with biological information.  In our 9 years of reporting, we have never seen any Darwinist solve this problem (search on “Cambrian explosion” in the search bar).  We have only seen it grow worse for them: every new fossil discovery amplifies the concussion.
    Through beautiful photography captivating animation, and interviews with reputable scientists, Darwin’s Dilemma tells the story of McConnell, Walcott, Darwin, the Ediacaran fauna, the Chengjiang fossils, the origin of major animal body plans, the significance of biological information – everything you need to know about the Cambrian explosion’s challenge to Darwinism.  The film will be available from RPI soon.  You can fill in a form at Illustra to be notified when it becomes available.
    What terrible timing for the Darwinians.  Just on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species (November 2009), and the centennial of the Burgess Shale discoveries (August 2009), a trilogy of masterly blows are threatening to make Darwinism go extinct.  Darwin had hoped that further discoveries in the fossil record would provide the evidence he needed for his hypothesis that slime plus time could produce the sublime.  Little did he know that he would become a fossil himself, soon to be displayed in the museums of a more enlightened age.

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