December 23, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Cambrian Explosion Louder Still

Darwin started a tradition of worrying about the Cambrian Explosion.  Over time the problem has only worsened; now we know that all the animal phyla appeared suddenly in the oldest strata containing metazoan (multi-celled) animals.  In recent decades, evolutionists had hoped that the strange Ediacaran fossils would provide the needed missing links.  In addition, some thought they had found embryos of early metazoans in the exceptionally-preserved Precambrian beds of China.  Those hopes have now been dashed, leading to moans and groans from Darwinians.

New techniques have allowed a closer look at the alleged embryos.  Using a non-invasive synchrotron X-ray microscope, an international team has reported their findings in Science.1  Result: not embryos, but cysts of protists.  N. J. Butterfield, writing in the same issue of Science,2 explained the misery of disappointment:

Ever since Darwin there has been a disturbing void, both paleontological and psychological, at the base of the Phanerozoic eon. If his theory of gradualistic evolution be true, then surely the pre-Phanerozoic oceans must have swarmed with living animals—despite their conspicuous absence from the early fossil record. Thus, the 1998 report of fossilized animal embryos in the early Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation of South China was met with almost palpable relief. It was indeed the fossil record that had let us down, not the textbooks, and certainly not the exciting new insights from molecular clocks. All was not as it seemed, however, and new data from Huldtgren et al. on page 1696 of this issue,1 look set to revoke the status of these most celebrated Ediacaran fossils.

The main point is that these spores are not on the way to becoming animal body plans.  “Although unquestionably eukaryotic, the fossils are not metazoan, or even properly multicellular by all appearances,” Butterfield said.  The researchers tried to put a semi-happy face on their conclusion by claiming it might still represent a transition “that evolved after the last common ancestor of animals and fungi, but before the last common ancestor of living (that is, crown-group) animals”.  Here’s what Butterfield had to say about that: “In terms of progressivist storytelling, this all seems a little too good to be true,” since other microbes have a similar growth habit.  The authors even acknowledge that “the much broader distribution of this habit undermines its utility as a phylogenetic marker,” Butterfield added.

Yet Butterfield struggled to maintain his equanimity in spite of the disappointment.  “Interpretation at this level is inevitably impressionistic, but to my eye there is still a case for identifying the Doushantuo fossils as embryos, albeit algal rather than animal.”  Needless to say, an alga is not anything like an animal (think trilobite with articulated limbs and complex eyes; see 12/07/2011).

In the expected manner of P.R. departments, the University of Bristol put out a press release spun in progressivist storytelling, with the tried-and-true “shedding light” metaphor: “Chinese fossils shed light on the evolutionary origin of animals from single-cell ancestors.”  PhysOrg inhaled and exhaled it unprocessed, even with the triumphalist but contradictory preface:

All life evolved from a single-celled universal common ancestor, and at various times in Earth history, single-celled organisms threw their lot in with each other to become larger and multicellular, resulting, for instance, in the riotous diversity of animals. However, fossil evidence of these major evolutionary transitions is extremely rare.

To get to the agony of defeat, one needs to move past the cheerleading headline:

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results – we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals – much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrongOur colleagues are not going to like the result.”

Professor Stefan Bengtson said: “These fossils force us to rethink our ideas of how animals learned to make large bodies out of cells.

One remarkable facet of these fossils was noted in the press release: “The organisms should not have been fossilized – they were just gooey clusters of cells – but they were buried in sediments rich in phosphate that impregnated the cell walls and turned them to stone.”  What this implies that if real metazoans or their embryos were present, they could have been preserved.

1. Huldtgren et al., “Fossilized Nuclei and Germination Structures Identify Ediacaran ‘Animal Embryos’ as Encysting Protists,” Science 23 December 2011:Vol. 334 no. 6063 pp. 1696-1699, doi: 10.1126/science.1209537.

2. N. J. Butterfield, “Paleontology: Terminal Developments in Ediacaran Embryology,” Science 23 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6063 pp. 1655-1656, doi: 10.1126/science.1216125.

“Progressivist storytelling.”  Nice.  That was Butterfield’s term.  You don’t have to quote us to prove that Darwinism relies on progressivist storytelling.  They know it.  They just don’t always say it.  If you removed the hopeful hype from evolutionary papers and press releases, you would be left with data that support intelligent design.

Those who have watched the documentary Darwin’s Dilemma might recall that it referred to the Doushantuo fossils as embryos.  Even if that interpretation is now shown to be incorrect, it doesn’t change the argument: strata that were able to fossilize “gooey clusters of cells” should have been able to preserve transitional animals if they were present.  The point is actually strengthened by this paper.  They weren’t even embryos; they were clumps of microbes!  So not only does this increase the phylogenetic distance between Precambrian fossils and Cambrian metazoan fossils, it shows that no transitional forms appear in the ideal conditions of the Chinese Doushantuo deposits.  Score another shutout against Darwinian evolution.

Butterfield spoke of a “disturbing void” among evolutionists that was in part “psychological”.  Do you have a void in your life?  Are you feeling something big is missing from your world view?  Would you like to fill that void?  Christians teach that we all have a God-shaped vacuum in our soul that only God can fill.  That’s what Christmas is about: the Creator of life on earth has communicated with us in the person of God the Son, giving us hope, meaning and purpose.  Do some research this holiday season.  A good place to explore for answers is

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  • Robert Byers says:

    How can one falsify the biology here if its based on geology? If one can’t falsify then its not a active hypothesis.

  • turners4 says:

    Great analysis and dissection of a ever-weakening theory! Thank you for a very informative and powerful site!

    One point to clarify in your comments, “Butterfield spoke of a “disturbing void” among evolutionists that was in part “psychological”. Do you have a void in your life? Are you feeling something big is missing from your world view? Would you like to fill that void? Christians teach that we all have a God-shaped vacuum in our soul that only God can fill.”

    This is not biblical and some popular pastors are propogating this concept (from “…”spiritual vacuum”, “void”, and “God-shaped blank” is a lie…This is nowhere taught in all of the word of God.”

    “On the contrary, Scripture says, “they are filled with all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:29). “The hearts of the sons of men are full of evil” (Ecclesiastes 9:3), and they have an evil spirit working in them (Ephesians 2:2). False assurance is certainly given, when a void that doesn’t exist is supposedly filled.”

  • cehadmindc says:

    I understand your concern, but it’s a matter of semantics–what do we mean by void? If you read Isaiah 55, it speaks of people filling their souls with things that don’t satisfy. Yes, unregenerate hearts are full of evil because they lust after satisfaction that can only come from their Creator who made us for Himself.
    But we shouldn’t belabor the point here. This was an article about the Cambrian fossil record. There’s a big void that the Darwin Party hasn’t filled; in fact, it’s growing.

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