Charles Darwin acknowledged over a century ago in 1859, in his famous book “The Origin of Species”, that many evidentiary problems persisted in the fossil record opposing his then new theory. The book revealed that the sudden emergence of complex organisms was problematic to the theory. Darwin reasoned that large-scale body modifications would require millions of intermediate fossils. This evidence largely did not exist. He also recognized that the six major mass extinctions recorded in the fossil record worked against evolution by essentially stunting the variation of species. Each extinction effectively worked to stop or reset the mechanisms of random changes and natural selection. How could the survival of the fittest expand while everything kept dying off. Each extinction was effectively erasing many millions of years of work with each extinction. Also, Darwin knew that the stasis of animal families did not work well for the modification of organisms going from simple to complex.
The twentieth century saw even more problems emerge for his theory regarding the fossil record. New dig sites revealed “out of order fossils”, meaning organisms that were thought not even to exist were present in massively older strata. This worked to compress already very tight timelines despite the assumed many hundreds of millions of years presumed. Additionally, The Burgess Shale fossil discovery found many more novel (new) complex organisms never before seen. These creatures, like all the others from the Cambrian Explosion, effectively multiplied problems. Finally, the lowest Precambrian layers continue to provide only microscopic creatures and all the transitionary links remained missing.
The abrupt arrival of living organisms immediately after many epochs recorded in the fossil record are puzzling for evolution. The Cambrian layer finds enormously complex organisms suddenly in the fossil record. One of these creatures was the enormously complex horseshoe crab. These animals boast ten complex eyes and unique body styles vastly unseen in other organisms and certainly lacking any precursor in the Precambrian. The horseshoe crab and many other novel life forms all emerged suddenly, lacking precursors during the epoch called the Cambrian Explosion.
This sudden emergence continues into other epochs including the Triassic after the Permian extinction saw completely new complex multi-cellular animals emerging without precursors. The Triassic saw new dinosaur species, turtles, reptiles, flying reptiles, crocodiles, and even mammals seeming to suddenly appear. This sudden emergence repeats throughout the fossil record which is largely devoid of any significant precursor forms in the record. Darwin knew that these many millions of missing transitionary animals was perhaps the greatest criticism and even “fatal” to his theory.
Darwin also acknowledged, that if every living thing had in fact emerged by presumably millions and millions of small gradual variations over eons of time, then the earth should be swarming with links in every geological stratum. He imagined that if life was comprised of nearly unimaginable variation as one life form slowly emerged into a new distinct form. This process would see “simple” organisms move from kingdom, to phylum, to class, to order, to family, to genus, to species.
Unfortunately, this was not the evidence the fossil record revealed in the 19th century. Darwin hoped that future generation would make the needed discoveries to solve this mystery but, although billions of more fossil specimens have been discovered, this still has not happened. These many millions of missing precursors of transitionary forms remain missing. Darwin saw this as a serious objection against the theory despite many evolutionary popularizers that chose to willfully ignore this reality.
The fossil record lacks transmutations but reveals instead mass extinctions. One geologic period has six periods of time together called the Paleozoic Era where most all living animals suddenly go extinct in a period called the Permian Extinction. Later, massive numbers of completely new and never before seen complex organisms (including more dinosaurs and turtles) suddenly emerge just like others had during the Cambrian Explosion. Adam Sedgwick, a colleague and critic of Darwin’s theory, pointed out that this pattern of arrivals of novel life forms (lacking precursor forms in the fossil record) followed by mass extinctions were not the exception but the rule.
Fossil evidence has uncovered a pattern radically different then the theory proposes: stasis. Stasis simply means animal at the family level remain the same family. They do not change into new life forms. How then did fish become frogs? This is the problem of the evidence of stasis in the fossil record. Fossils do not find simple organisms becoming more and more complex organisms (beyond conjecture). Fossils reveal a sudden emergence of whole organisms with unique body styles only to be later diversified by small-scale diversification.
As an example, the trilobite emerged suddenly in the Cambrian layer as a whole organism complete with enormous complexity. Later, trilobite fossils do indicate some minor modifications but no new form—trilobites remained to be trilobites. Unfortunately for Darwin, again it seemed the very fossil evidence he relied upon to help prove his theory of change from the distant past was better used to disprove the theory then defend it.
Stasis evidenced by living organisms also found in fossils or living fossils. A stunning 99% of all organisms found in the fossil record are alive at the family / genus level today.1 Beyond minor variation life has remained relatively unchanged for millions of years based on uniformitarian timelines. Very common animals are found fossilized: fish, crabs, shrimp, clams, squid, crocodiles, reptiles, birds, frogs, and most other animals including jelly fish. Other animals once believed extinct (such as the Coelacanth fish thought to have evolved feet and walked onto dry land) were later found alive and well. They also were found to still be fish. Such clear and overwhelming evidence of stasis in life is a major challenge to the theory of evolution. The fossil record contains the animals we are all familiar with and observe today. Sure there are a few extinct species like dinosaurs but they are the exception and not the rule. This reality, observable in the present, works against the expectations of evolution.
Many fossils have been discovered “out of order” meaning they do not fall into the assumed chronology of evolution. Examples are “shocking” and are largely dismissed because to the evolutionary biologist or paleontologist the emergence of species are assumed facts. The evidence must support the assumption, or the evidence must be faulty. Reasoning never considers that the evidence perhaps indicates other possibility. The Theory is non-negotiable regardless of what the evidence might or might not indicate.
A few examples of out of order fossils include: flowering plants in the Precambrian 160 million years too early,2 feathered birds that predate dinosaurs,3 grass in dinosaur dung well before grass had evolved,4 horses running with dinosaurs a full 100 million years too soon,4 mammals with dinosaurs in their stomachs.5 The list goes on and on…
Through the 1990’s the Cambrian period was thought to have begun 570 million years ago (“mya”) and end 510 mya (a 60-million-year period), within a 20-40 million-year window for the emergence of life forms. Today, radiometric dating of crystals by geochronologist have vastly narrowed this window. Further studies indicate that the Cambrian Explosion saw the emergence of all life in a very narrow slice of time, not in 20-40 million years but in perhaps as little as only 5-million-years.6 This translates to a very compressed timeline. With only five to ten million years the origin of the many multi-cellular organisms found within the fossil record becomes absurd. This can be compared to a few seconds of time when placed on the scale of the age of the earth thought to go back 4.5 billion years. We would conclude that this was far too little time to equate to the emergence of complex life during the Cambrian.
The Burgess Shale fossil discovery of 1909 was also significant and complicating to the Cambrian Explosion. Here, more completely new and never before documented complex animals were discovered emerging without precursors the Cambrian layer. The Burgess Shale did not help Darwin with fossils to help defend evolution but rather uncovered more new massively complex organisms as never found anywhere else on earth. Unfortunately for the theory, just like the many organisms known from the Cambrian layers at the time of Darwin, these Burgess fossils also offered no precursors. The Burgess Shale had made the fossil record more problematic for Darwin’s theory. The discovery now had to explain how more incredible life forms seemed to emerge from nowhere; The very problem Darwin had hoped would dispel was made much worse.
Some geologists and evolutionary biologists dispute the Cambrian Explosion by claiming that it wasn’t an explosion at all. They reason that life must have emerged over eons of time stretching back into Precambrian layers many billions of years ago called a deep divergence. Unfortunately, such pronouncements fail to provide any geologic or fossil evidence. Actual Precambrian evidence is limited to perhaps worm trails (likely formed by digging from animals in the Cambrian) and microscopic organisms such as tiny sponges, algae, and cyanobacteria.7 Paleontologists were shocked to find the “out of order” fossils of pollen from flowers in the Precambrian.2
3 “Cretaceous Duck Ruffles Feathers” BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk, Jan 2005
5 “Dinosaur Eating Mammal Discovered in China”, www.nhm.ac.uk, Jan 2005
6 “Calibrating Rates of Early Cambrian Evolution” by Biwrubg et al. pg 1297