Darwin himself in his book the Origin of Species noted that he does not have a plausible answer to the Cambrian explosion. Without a plausible answer for many years he theorized or argued that not enough fossil excavation had been conducted. He believed that over time the fossil record would show a transitioning set of steps or evolving of one species type into another; supporting his Evolutionary theory. Unfortunately for Darwin’s theory and for many who still hold to it; the fossil record has clearly shown that his theory cannot be accurate.
Since the passing of Darwin we have now completed archaeological and paleontological explorations on every continent. Virtually all of these excavations have revealed and solidified the Cambrian explosion. In the latter-half of the 20th century, industry has conducted very deep offshore oil drilling. These offshore oil drilling projects were conducted by coring very deeply below the surface of the ocean bottoms. Paleontologists knew that such drilling would provide a much deeper look at the fossil record well into the Cambrian period and prior. What they found even more profoundly solidified Darwin's dilemma.
What they found in sediments dating back to pre-Cambrian was not a fossil record of transitions of species. On the contrary all they found were evidence of single cell organisms and simple plant life. The shale and rock samples beneath the ocean floor have revealed that the single cell organisms and plant life disappeared from the Earth rather suddenly. Then sometime after that we see all the basic animal life structures including those with complex design; bones vertebra, etc., appeared nearly all at once – not an evolutionary process at all. Everything changed in what seemed to be a geological instant.
In the early 1990’s, reports of new Chinese fossils were released to the rest of the world. Marine biologist Paul Chien at the University of San Francisco was one scientist who followed the news closely. What drew his attention were a couple of articles that were published in the People's daily, the official newspaper from the Communist Party in China. The article stated the Chinese fossils drew the attention of scientists worldwide and this fossil find actually challenges the theory of Darwin's evolution. Then on December 4, 1995, Time Magazine published a cover story entitled Evolution's Big Bang. The story included great detail about the Chinese fossils. Since 1996 Paul Chien has made several trips to conduct his own investigation in China of the fossil site. Paul Chien has found that when you get into the subject of the Cambrian explosion and all the various fossil sites there is one of two possible reactions; people either love to talk about it or they would prefer to avoid the subject. He says the Cambrian explosion absolutely challenges the idea of the traditional view of evolution. The problem is that all of the various fossils and animal species found have clearly appeared in a very brief period of time. This is very difficult to explain from the evolutionary point of view.
Paleontologists have determined that the Chinese fossils were older than those excavated in the Burgess Shale in previous years. Yet, anatomically they were often even more complex. This discovery also confirmed that the previous estimates of the Cambrian explosion of life lasting 20 to 40 million years were much too long. The time estimate has now been reduced to between 5 and 10 million years. So this is truly an explosive event in scientific terms. What we are seeing is a quantum jump; and this quantum jump has no explanation. Most scientists agree that we do not know the exact rate of the Cambrian explosion; they simply agree that it was very fast in evolutionary terms. As the time period of the Cambrian explosion has shrank, the challenge to evolutionary theory has grown. This is because the distinct differences and animal forms would have to be constructed very rapidly are much more dramatic; these pose a real and fundamental challenge to evolutionary mechanisms. Scientists began speaking in terms of finding an explanation to the Cambrian Explosion outside of the Darwinian thought.
The Cambrian Explosion fossils in China were not all that was discovered. In the area of shale below the Cambrian period, they found evidence of little tiny microscopic sponge embryos. These embryos were soft-bodied animals some of which were fossilized 60 million years prior to the Cambrian explosion. They are eggs and embryos which are preserved in thin crusts of mineralized materials, on ancient sea floors. Now this suggests that the chemistry of the seawater in those days was somewhat different than it is today because this method of preserving fossils disappears during the Cambrian and it is not around today. Now this is highly significant because one of the most popular explanations for the missing Precambrian fossils is that the pre-Cambrian animals were too soft and too small to have been preserved. Dr. Chien was able to develop a unique process of examining and analyzing the embryos and the sponge content that they were in. Eventually using an electron microscope he was able to examine the internal cell structure of the preserved embryos.
Chien's work on these fragile samples of Precambrian life raised an important question. If these lower strata that are Precambrian can preserve an embryo, and if they can preserve a soft microscopic embryo, then why could they not have preserve the larger ancestral forms of animals that would have supposedly evolved into the Cambrian animals; according to Darwin's theory? In other words if you can preserve something as fragile as an embryo, why couldn't you, in the same strata of rock, preserved the immediate ancestor of a hard shelled trilobite? So this idea that many scientists had put forth, that the fossil record is just too damaged to give us an accurate general picture; well that idea just doesn't wash.
During the past 150 years, fossil hunters have searched the earth for the many species of transitional links that Darwin's theory requires – yet they have come up empty.
Resources & Links
Paul Kwan Chien – Marine Biologist, known for his research on the physiology and ecology of intertidal organisms and his support for intelligent design and creationism.
Jonathan Wells – Author of Icons of Evolution - PhD Molecular and Cell Biology
Senior Fellow, Center for Science & Culture. Dr. Wells is an expert on biology textbooks and biology science curriculum as it relates to Darwinian evolution.
Irreducible Complexity (IC) and Specified Complexity -
James W. Valentine is an American evolutionary biologist and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has published widely and -- in addition to peer-reviewed publications -- has written several books.