Last Sunday, my husband and I hosted a 14-hour Star Wars marathon for a small group of family and friends. We popped in Episode I: The Phantom Menace at 8 am and ended Episode VI: Return of the Jedi at 10 pm. (Yes, I know we’re geeks.)
From sentient beings like Wookiee copilot Chewbacca and Jedi Master Yoda to vicious monsters like the nasty garbage squid in Episode IV: A New Hope, the Star Wars films offer up a spectacular array of funky alien life for sci-fi junkies’ viewing pleasure. In particular, the prequel trilogy introduces all kinds of fantastical creatures—huge fish with frog-like tongues, foot-long venomous millipedes, things with trunks, antennae, spikes, toothy jaws, etc.
If you type “Cambrian explosion” into Google Images, you’ll find artists’ renderings of dozens of creepy crawlies such as you’d expect to find “in a galaxy far, far away”—but these bizarre life-forms once made their homes here on Earth. Much to the relief of squeamish people like me, they existed “a long time ago.”
“Biology’s big bang”
The Cambrian explosion was a pivotal event in life’s history, beginning around 540 million years ago (mya) and enduring, arguably, about 2–3 million years. It marked the start of the Cambrian Era, which lasted about 20–40 million years. During the explosion 50–80% of the animal phyla that has ever existed appeared rapidly. These complex, multicellular creatures—such as trilobites, Opabinia, and Wiwaxia—populated the Earth until dying out around 490 mya.
Fossilized trilobite found in the Burgess Shale in British Columbia.
Charles Darwin considered the Cambrian explosion “the greatest single objection to his theory of evolution.” The suddenness and copiousness of the event still presents scientists with an intriguing mystery. The Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) webpage on the topic asks, “Why did many fundamentally different body plans evolve so early and in such profusion?”
Researchers have proposed a number of naturalistic theories to explain this phenomenon. For example, many scientists believe it’s possible to link Cambrian animals with certain multicellular creatures such as the Ediacarans, which immediately preceded the Cambrian. However, Wikipedia’s entry on the Ediacaran notes that these mysterious creatures “bear little resemblance to modern lifeforms, and their relationship even with the later lifeforms of the Cambrian explosion is difficult to interpret.”
RTB’s own biochemist, Fuz Rana, suggests that the Cambrian explosion provides powerful evidence for creation. In a recent episode of Science News Flash (an RTB podcast), Fuz points out,
“If God is creating life, you would expect it to appear suddenly, explosively with intrinsic complexity initially. And that’s indeed what you see [in the fossil record]. In fact, it [the Cambrian explosion] almost is reminiscent of the fifth day of creation where God commands the waters to teem with life.”
Besides the swiftness of the event and the complexity of the animals produced, other features of the Cambrian explosion imply intimate involvement from a Creator. In an article on RTB’s website, Fuz notes that although some animal phyla have since disappeared, no new phyla appeared following this crucial episode in life’s history.
PBS puts it this way:
“Many forms seen in the fossil record of the Cambrian disappeared without a trace. Once the body plans that proved most successful came to dominate the biosphere, evolution never had such a free hand again, and evolutionary change was limited to relatively minor tinkering with the body plans that already existed.”
From a biblical point-of-view, this event displays God’s creativity and wisdom. The wonderful array of body plans produced during the explosion speaks of God’s imaginative experimentation. As His pièce de résistance, humanity reflects God’s creative capacities. George Lucas and his team used their wild imaginations to concoct a crazy variety of aliens inspired by the anatomical structures found in nature. (For example, Chewbacca was based on Lucas’s Alaskan malamute, Indiana.)
Yet, as an Engineer, God wisely chose which body plans to keep and which to eliminate. Humanity benefits from God’s selectivity. RTB continually argues that the universe, Earth, and life were designed with human needs in mind. We can infer that the same idea, known as the anthropic principle, applies to body plans.
But God’s wisdom as Creator doesn’t benefit just our physical world—it also provides the just-right fuel for our imaginations.
May the True Force be with You Always!
For more on the Cambrian explosion:
- Listen to the July 30, 2009 episode of Science News Flash
- Explore the Cambrian explosion subtopic on our website
For more on life’s beginnings, check out Origins of Life, by Fuz Rana and Hugh Ross, available at the RTB online store.
For more on how humanity’s creativity reflects the image of God, see these articles: