August 29, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Cambrian Explosion Included Vertebrate Fish

At the first appearance of complex animals, vertebrate fish were already there, a new analysis confirms.

Simon Conway Morris, an evolutionist and world authority on Cambrian animals, appeared in the beginning of Illustra’s film Darwin’s Dilemma to confirm the suddenness of the “Cambrian Explosion.”  In that short period (about 5-10 million years in the evolutionary time scheme), some 20 new and diverse body plans (phyla) appeared fully formed in the earliest strata bearing complex animal fossils: worms, sponges, arthropods, crustaceans, comb jellies and more.  Now, he and a co-author have published an astonishing new find from the recently-announced fossil treasure trove in Canada near the famous Burgess Shale, Marble Canyon: 100 specimens of a vertebrate fish named Metaspriggina.

The paper in Nature will make it even more difficult now for evolutionists to wriggle out of the Cambrian Explosion as a falsification of Darwin’s theory.  Darwin himself worried about this abrupt appearance of complex animals; in the 155 years since his Origin of Species, this “most serious objection” that he admitted could be launched against his theory has only gotten worse.  Still, evolutionists could weakly counterattack by pointing to the lack of vertebrates in the early Cambrian.  As the Editor’s Summary states, though, it’s game over for that ploy:

The Cambrian Burgess Shale of Canada has produced some of the most intriguing and spectacular fossils of early animal life, although fossil vertebrates have been rare to non-existent. New exposures close to the classic locality have remedied that deficiency….

We reported a few months ago the discovery of a spectacular new outcrop of Burgess-Shale-type fossils at Marble Canyon in British Columbia (2/11/14).  Thought to be older than the Burgess Shale by about 100,000 years, Marble Canyon has even more and better fossils than the Burgess Shale World Heritage Site.  Conway Morris’s paper focuses on one amazing critter called Metaspriggina found in abundance at Marble Canyon with exquisite preservation.  He says it possesses all the traits of a vertebrate fish: muscles that allow it to move side-to-side, gills, a skull, blood vessels, and paired camera-like eyes.  The 100 or so new specimens are so detailed, they confirm that this animal was not just a “basal chordate” but a real vertebrate—a real fish.  In some ways, it was more advanced than lampreys (a jawless fish).  There are flatfish today that look something like this one.

In short, the paper removes all doubt that vertebrate fish were present in the Lower Cambrian—the time of the Cambrian explosion.  Moreover, no primitive ancestors of this species have ever been reported.  There’s another surprise: it looks very similar to two species reported earlier in the Chinese Chengjiang strata (8/21/021/30/03) whose characterization as vertebrates had been controversial.  No longer: Metaspriggina now confirms that the Chinese species were also vertebrate fish.  And get this: finding plenty of them in Canada means they spanned the globe already!  Conway Morris calls them “cosmopolitan”—world travelers.  This implies many more could be buried in layers around the world that are too hard to reach.

Evolutionists persist in to trying to find workarounds to the embarrassment of the Cambrian Explosion.  A recent article, for instance, claimed that an Ediacaran creature possessed the first muscles 20 million years earlier (e.g., Science Daily).  The interpretation is purely circumstantial, though, based on subjective interpretation of its appearance.  Evolutionists try to stretch out the length of the explosion, or find putative ancestors to mute it.  These objections are all dealt with charitably by Stephen Meyer in his book Darwin’s Doubt but dismissed as irrelevant to the need to explain the origin of new body plans by accounting for the massive amount of new genetic information required.  Most scientists deny that the Ediacarans, whatever they are, were related to the Cambrian animals anyway.  Besides, Ediacarans “exploded” into existence themselves.  Adding another explosion does not solve Darwin’s Dilemma or alleviate his Doubt.

If Darwin had known there were vertebrate fish swimming around in the earliest Cambrian seas, he might well have had more of his infamous stomach aches.

The Cambrian explosion falsifies evolution, but does not in itself provide a verification of the Genesis account, except for its presentation of the abrupt appearance of complex animals as described in the creation of fish, sea creatures and whales on Day 5.  But critics may ask, where are the other complex species in the earliest rocks?  Why no sharks and bony fish, octopus or whales that God made on the same day?  (We can dismiss the cartoony objection of the missing “Precambrian rabbit” by explaining that rabbits did not inhabit the bottom of the ocean, where the Cambrian animals lived and were buried).  Why are all the Cambrian animals extinct?

A number of factors enter into the answer: the original created kinds diversified during the thousands of years since creation.  Some 1500 years after creation, only selected members of the existing created kinds of that time survived the Flood.  Even Ken Ham’s Creation Museum states that the animals that boarded Noah’s Ark did not look like today’s species.  Animals that lived together were buried together.  The outcrops at the Burgess Shale, Marble Canyon and Chengjiang contained peculiar assemblages of complex animals that today’s evolutionists call “Cambrian,” but their classifications and dates are based on evolutionary assumptions.  We would agree with evolutionists on one point: most of the species that inhabited the earth are extinct.  We would disagree on the timing and mechanism, arguing that they went extinct during the Flood.  It should not be surprising, therefore, to see many particular species like Metaspriggina and other Cambrian animals missing from today’s oceans.  What is more surprising to evolutionists is to find living fossils like Ctenophores doing just fine, looking identical to their Cambrian counterparts.

More detailed answers have been provided by Morris and Whitcomb’s classic treatise, The Genesis Flood, and its newer, expanded descendent, the two-volume work Earth’s Catastrophic Past by Andrew Snelling.  We encourage readers to familiarize themselves with those answers so as to take the Cambrian Explosion argument beyond intelligent design or mere falsification of Darwinism, wielding it as a support for the Genesis record.




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