From two independent teams of paleontologists working in Yunnan, China, comes powerful support for the creation model and at the same time comes further serious challenge to the naturalistic model for the origin of animals.1-2
Fossils previously found in Yunnan province (at sites discovered nearly 100 years ago) and in the Burgess Shale deposits of the Canadian Rockies tell us that all animal phyla (more than 70) ever to exist in Earth’s history appeared “at once” about 540 million years ago. (Some 40 phyla have since disappeared and not a single new one has appeared.) This “burst” of life is called the Cambrian Explosion, and the “at once” refers to an extremely narrow window of geologic time (~5-10 million years).3-4 The latest reports from the Chinese sites narrows this window to less than 3 million years.5
The most widely accepted idea among naturalistic biologists has been that chordates arose from echinoderms (sea stars, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, etc.) and that chordates in turn gave rise to vertebrates. Echinoderms are also believed to have spawned hemichordates as an evolutionary side branch.6
This scenario predicts that echinoderms, hemichordates, chordates, and vertebrates will appear sequentially in the fossil record—and that the sequence will cover a long time span, given the extensive anatomical and physiological differences among these phyla. Naturalism would not anticipate hemichordates, chordates, or vertebrates appearing together in the early Cambrian fauna. But in recent years, researchers have found hemichordates and chordates together in the Cambrian event.7-8 These discoveries, in and of themselves, create an insurmountable problem for the naturalistic model.
Most recently, however, paleontologists have discovered craniate chordates (animals with a stiff rod-like structure along their back and a hardened or mineralized brain case) and vertebrates in early Cambrian layers.
In other words, the general features of the Cambrian Explosion, as well as the emerging details of this event, such as the sudden and simultaneous appearance of echinoderms, hemichordates, chordates—even craniate chordates—and vertebrates, fit perfectly the predictions of RTB’s biblical creation model while contradicting naturalism.
Readers who want to learn more about the latest scientific discoveries in Yunnan and their importance to the Christian faith should watch for an interview with Dr. Paul Chien in an upcoming issue of Facts for Faith. Dr. Chien, a leading invertebrate biologist active in Christian outreach, has visited the Chinese Cambrian sites himself and brings back a first-hand report.
- D. G. Shu et al., “Lower Cambrian Vertebrates from South China,” Nature, 402 (1999): 42-46.
- Jun-Yuan Chen, Ki-Ying Huang, and Chia-Wei Li, “An Early Cambrian Craniate-like Chordate,” Nature, 402 (1999): 518-522.
- Richard A. Kerr, “Evolution’s Big Bang Gets Even More Explosive,” Science, 261 (1993): 1274-1275.
- Richard A. Bowring et al., “Calibrating Rates of Early Cambrian Evolution,” Science, 261 (1993): 1293-1299.
- Personal interview with Paul Chien, February 26, 2000.
- Cleveland P Hickman, Sr., et al., Integrated Principles of Zoology, 6th ed. (St. Louis, Mo.: The C. V. Mosby Company, 1979): 476-481.
- J. Y. Chen et al., “A Possible Early Cambrian Chordate,” Nature, 377 (1995): 720-721.
- D. G. Shu, X. Zhang, and L. Chen, “Reinterpretation of Yunnanozoon as the Earliest Known Hemichordate,” Nature, 380 (1996): 428-430.