October 11, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

How to Darwinize Living Fossils

How far can one stretch a theory to fit anomalies?
At some point it becomes ridiculous.


Darwin’s racist book, on the origin of specious notions.

Darwin knew about living fossils. In fact, he coined the term. In The Origin of Species, he used the phrase living fossil to describe extant species that have changed little from fossil ancestors.

These anomalous forms may almost be called living fossils; they have endured to the present day, from having inhabited a confined area, and from having thus been exposed to less severe competition. —Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (first edition, 1859) ch 4, p 107.

His explanation was that living fossil species must have inhabited isolated ecological niches, now called refugia, which were protected from competition or extinction. Otherwise, “the very process of natural selection almost implies the continual supplanting and extinction of preceding and intermediate gradations” (ch 6, p 203).

The fossil record should exemplify “the very process of natural selection, through which new varieties continually take the places of and exterminate their parent-forms,” he said, while discussing the pervasive lack of intermediates found as fossils (ch 9, p 280). He attributed the gaps to inadequate sampling of the fossil record—a claim that may have been plausible in 1859, but is difficult to argue today now that fossils from all parts of the world are known. Most discoveries today fill in known types rather than uncover completely new forms.

Recently, a Darwinist from Flinders University took on the job of explaining living fossils in Darwinian terms.

Professor J.L.B. Smith with a coelacanth in 1953. From Wiki Commons.

From coelacanths to crinoids: these 9 ‘living fossils’ haven’t changed in millions of years  (The Conversation, 10 Oct 2022). Alice Clement has her work cut out for her. She needs to account for the non-evolution of certain living fossils that show no change (i.e., stasis) for millions of years: sometimes hundreds of millions of years. Clement is listed as a Research Associate in the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders University in Adelaide, south Australia. Here is her list of nine “living fossils” (alive today) with estimates in Darwin Years for their date of appearance or extinction. (Note: mya = millions of years ago.)

  1. Coelacanth (appeared 480 mya, extinct 70 mya). “So, imagine the surprise when a living specimen was dredged up from the deep ocean in 1938!” Coelacanths “have basically remained unchanged over the past 100 million years.
  2. Horseshoe crab (appeared 480 mya). These chelicerates (not crabs), harvested today for their blue blood, are “ancient creatures that first appeared at least 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period and don’t appear to have changed much since.”
  3. Elephant shark or chimaera (diverged from sharks 450 million years ago). This cartilaginous fish “has the slowest evolving genome of all vertebrates, with its DNA almost imperceptibly altered over hundreds of millions of years.
  4. Nautilus (appeared in late Triassic). These mollusks with their spiral shells “appear to have remained relatively unchanged for more than 200 million years.” Darwin had written about them: “Some of the most ancient Silurian animals, as the Nautilus, Lingula, &c., do not differ much from living species; and it cannot on my theory be supposed, that these old species were the progenitors of all the species of the orders to which they belong, for they do not present characters in any degree intermediate between them.” (ch 9, p 306)
  5. Goblin shark (appeared 125 mya). This grotesque-looking deep water shark “is the only living representative of its family, Mitsukurinidae, and is the most evolutionarily distinct shark we know of.”
  6. Mantis shrimp (branched off from crustaceans 340 mya). “So these fabulous, feisty critters have been flourishing for a long time,” Clement says. “Today there are hundreds of species belonging to the suborder Unipeltata, which appeared some 190 million years ago.”
  7. Striped panray (appeared 188 mya). This cartilaginous fish “has a median ‘evolutionary distinctiveness’ age of 188 million years.”
  8. Brachiopods (appeared 500 mya). “Brachiopods living today, such as Lingula, look more or less the same as their Cambrian counterparts from about 500 million years ago!” Clement writes with a bang. “They are considered the oldest known animal (genus) that still contains living representatives.” Most other animals are members of phyla that appeared abruptly in the so-called ‘Cambrian explosion,’ also known as biology’s big bang (see video).
  9. Crinoids or sea lilies (Ordovician, 445 mya). This phylum, often found in symbiosis with corals, was thought to have gone extinct 273 mya, “However, in 2021 these two marine creatures were rediscovered in Japanese waters, thriving in a blissful aquatic partnership. It remains a mystery why no fossil evidence of this happy marriage had been found for the intervening period.

For some reason, Clement only listed marine examples of living fossils. These fit into her explanation, but many land-based living fossils are also known (see book and videos by Dr Carl Werner).

Coelacanth on display at Wyoming Dinosaur Center (DFC)

Stretched Explanations

In her final section, “How Do Living Fossils Form,” Dr Clement tries to fit these anomalies into the Darwinian paradigm. First, she claims that they are evolving, but the evolution is not apparent:

While animals described as “living fossils” usually do continue to evolve, many of these changes are imperceptible to the human eye. To track how animals change over time, we look at molecular changes visible in the genes, or “morphological” changes to the physical form.

Her second explanation resembles Darwin’s claim that they were protected from competition:

All the marine animals in this list seem to be undergoing morphological stasis (slowing or stoppage). Some may have molecular stasis too. Their slowing rates of evolution are likely a result of the relatively stable environment underwater, particularly in the deep sea.

She ends by worrying that after so many hundreds of millions of years, the world may lose some of these creatures because of “human impacts and changes in weather and climate.”

Millions of horseshoe crabs spawn on beaches at certain times of the year. (US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Update 10/12/22: An article on New Scientist today shows how fast and loose evolutionists can run their Darwin clock. While living fossils went hundreds of millions of years without evolving, a saber-tooth cat evolved very fast. Riley Black writes with Tontological flair, “Cat-like sabre-toothed carnivore evolved faster than we thought.” The subtitle reads, “Its advanced features suggest these animals evolved rapidly.” Not only that, similar cats appeared in California and in China at nearly the same time. And then, “Animals with sabre-like teeth have arisen over and over again during the past 66 million years,” the article claims. And yet this rapid, creative process of evolution could do nothing for horseshoe crabs and brachiopods through most of the fossil record of multicellular animals? Why are there no saber-tooth mantis shrimp if they are so easy for Darwin to make?

Clement’s explanations make no sense. Evolution is supposed to be a pervasive, steady, gradual force driving animals and plants to change over time. Are we being told that evolution is continuous except when it stops? Some evolution is so rapid, we were told in other papers, that changes “exploded” onto the scene (video). But in these cases it essentially ceased for hundreds of millions of years! Look at several other problems with the explanation:

    • Animals do not exist in isolation; they are parts of ecosystems and food webs. Did the nautilus and elephant shark stay in limbo while their food evolved?
    • Not all the living fossils exist in the “deep sea.” Many other famous examples, like the tuatara, ginkgo tree and Wollemi pine, were exposed to all the vagaries of climate change, plate tectonics and rapidly-changing ecosystems in the atmosphere.
    • Most other species are thought to have evolved dramatically in stable environments that persisted for long ages. Examples include whales, dinosaurs and cave creatures.
    • Some of the living fossils did not live in isolated refugia, but had cosmopolitan distributions in evolutionary “deep time.”
    • Some of the extant species thought to have gone extinct hundreds of millions of years ago are not rare today.
    • If the living fossils survived unchanged for tens or hundreds of millions of years, why worry that they are threatened by “human impacts” including “weather and climate” now?
    • Lastly, is it credible to think that animals that fossilized many times in the past lived and reproduced for long ages, leaving not a single fossil for tens or hundreds of millions of years, only to appear alive and well today?

Were those millions of years even real? Consider the surprise and astonishment on the faces of Darwinians who did not expect these “Lazarus taxa” to appear from the dead. Those expressions are telling. Biblical creationists are not surprised. Having dispensed with the unnecessary millions of years of “evolution,’ they realize that these creatures lived just a few thousands of years ago. That’s why their soft tissues, radiocarbon and DNA are found in many cases.

A theory that can explain opposite outcomes with the same “mechanism” is a poor theory. But when that “mechanism” amounts to “Stuff Happens,” it is not a theory at all. It is a cop-out from science.


Chambered nautilus shell (Wiki Commons). The shell is built according to a mathematical rule called the Fibonacci series. The animal, related to the octopus, lived in the outermost chamber. It was a complex creature with digestive system, circulatory system, reproductive system, sensory systems, propulsion systems and more. They were found worldwide, and live today in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. Can anyone believe that they “remained relatively unchanged for more than 200 million years”?







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