Another Big Bang?
The impish Calvin, from the now defunct daily comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes,"
once offered to rename the Big Bang Hypothesis, "The Horrendous Space Kablooie!"
Most of us have heard at some point of cosmology’s preferred explanation for
the origin of the universe, the Big Bang Hypothesis. The Big Bang of cosmology
describes the origin of the universe as occurring in a powerful explosion that
eventually results in the universe as we see it today. But a recent issue of
Time magazine (4 December 1995) heralded a new Big Bang, a Big Bang of biological
evolution previously known as the Cambrian Explosion of Life. And just as many
draw theistic conclusions from cosmology’s Big Bang, so it is possible to draw
theistic conclusions from what is now being called Evolution’s Big Bang.
But first, just what is evolution’s Big Bang? The cover of this issue of Time
declared: "New discoveries show that life as we know it began in an amazing
biological frenzy that changed the planet almost overnight." A subheading just
in front of the inside article proclaimed, "For billions of years, simple creatures
like plankton, bacteria, and algae ruled the earth. Then, suddenly, life got
The standard evolutionary story describes an earth bombarded by meteorites from
its origin 4.5 billion years ago until almost 3.8 billion years ago. Within
only 100 million years the first life evolved following the cessation of this
celestial onslaught. This, in and of itself, is a huge evolutionary hurdle without
explanation. For the next 3 billion years, little else but single- celled life
forms ruled the planet. Then suddenly, in the Cambrian geological period, the
earth is populated with a huge diversity of complex multicellular life forms. This
has always looked suspiciously like some form of creation event, and paleontologists
frequently seemed rather embarrassed by the reality of the Cambrian Explosion.
So, where is the documentation for the long history of the evolution of these
creatures? The usual answer is that the necessary fossil layers prior to the
Cambrian period have not been discovered yet. The fossils are just missing!
Hmmm. . . . how convenient! This, after all, was Darwin’s excuse and many evolutionists
after him followed suit. Well, recent discoveries from Canada, Greenland, China,
Siberia, and Namibia document quite clearly that this period of biological creativity
occurred in a geological instant virtually all around the globe. So, the usual excuse
no longer holds water. While evolutionists are not exactly joining a creationist
wave of conversion, they are being forced to ask tough questions concerning
the nature of evolutionary change. Darwin did not envision major evolutionary
change happening this fast. Darwinism has always been characterized by slow
gradual change that is imperceptible in our time frame. Major evolutionary change
was only visible as we looked to the fossils to reveal the number and type of
intermediates between species and major groups. But the Cambrian explosion is
anything but gradual, and identifiable intermediates are totally absent. Where
are the ancestors? What conditions could have prompted this frenzy of creativity
? Is there some form of unknowable evolutionary mechanism at work? I think you
will find the evolutionary community’s answers to be quite revealing.
How Fast is Fast?
Anomalocaris! Ottoia! Wiwaxia! Hallucigenia! Opabinia! If these names are unfamiliar
to you, well, they should be. For they are only becoming familiar to paleontologists
over the last twenty years. Paleontologists are those scientists who study the
fossils embedded in ancient layers of rock. And this strange list represents a group
of animals from the Cambrian period that is only now being appreciated–animals
which supposedly lived over 500 million years ago. These animals not only possess
strange sounding names, but are even stranger looking! So strange and different are
they that most are contained in phyla of which they are the only example and
which no longer exists.
Whoa! . . . you say! And just what is a phyla? Well, if you think way back to
high school biology, phyla is actually the plural form of phylum, a Latin term
designating a large category of biological classification. The largest category
of classification is the Kingdom. We all know about the Animal and Plant Kingdoms.
Well, Phylum is the next category below Kingdom. The Animal Kingdom consists
of such well known phyla as the molluscs which contains clams, oysters, and
snails. Another commonly known phylum is the annelids to which belong the earthworms.
The largest of all phyla is the arthropods. Arthropods range from insects to
millipedes to spiders to shrimp. We are placed in the phylum Chordata along
with all other vertebrates, the fish, amphibians, reptiles, and other mammals.
Representatives from different phyla are very different creatures. There is
not much in common between a human, an earthworm, a clam, and a mosquito. They
are all from different phyla–so different that evolutionists have assumed that it
must have taken tens of millions of years for these phyla to evolve from one
Yet, here is the real puzzle of the Cambrian Explosion for the theory of evolution.
All the known phyla, except one, along with the oddities with which I began
this discussion, first appear in the Cambrian period. There are no ancestors.
There are no intermediates. Fossil experts used to think that the Cambrian lasted
75 million years. But even that seemed to be a pretty short time for all this
evolutionary change. Eventually the Cambrian was shortened to only 30 million
years. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the time frame of the real work of bringing
all these different creatures into existence was limited to the first five to
ten million years of the Cambrian. This is extraordinarily fast! Harvard’s Stephen
Jay Gould says, "Fast is now a lot faster than we thought, and that is extraordinarily
interesting." What an understatement! "Extraordinarily impossible" might be
a better phrase!
In the Time magazine article (p. 70), paleontologist Samuel Bowring says, "We
now know how fast fast is. And what I like to ask my biologist friends is, How
fast can evolution get before you start feeling uncomfortable?" I would love
to ask Bowring just what he meant by that statement. It’s almost as if he is
recognizing that current evolutionary mechanisms can’t possibly act that fast.
The potential answers to that dilemma are only creating more questions, questions
that evolutionists may never be able to answer.
How Could the Cambrian Explosion Occur?
Charles Darwin proposed an evolutionary process that was slow and gradual. This
formulation has remained the mainstay of evolutionary explanations for the over
100 years since Darwin until very recently. One of the many reasons for a rethinking
of this slow, gradual, snail-like pace has been the intricate complexity of living
things. In the years before Darwin, the marvelous fit of an organism to its
environment was considered the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer. But Darwin
supposedly showed another and better way, natural selection. But if organisms
were so finely-tuned to their environment, so wonderfully adapted to their particular
niche, then if they were to change at all over time, then that change would
to be very gradual so as not to upset too quickly that delicate balance between
the organism and its environment.
This notion of the gradualness of the evolutionary process was deeply reinforced
with the discovery of DNA and the genetic code. DNA operates as an informational
code for the development of an organism from a single cell to an adult and also
regulates all the chemical processes that go on in cells. Mutations, or mistakes
in the code had to have very minor effects. Disruption of the blueprint would
be very sensitive. The small changes brought about by mutations would have to
be cumulative over very long periods of time to bring about significant evolutionary
This necessity of gradualism explains the difficulty evolutionists have concerning
the Cambrian explosion or Evolution’s Big Bang, as Time magazine called it.
How could animals as diverse as arthropods, molluscs, jellyfish, and even primitive
vertebrates all appear within a time span of only 5-10 million years with no
ancestors and no intermediates? Evolution just doesn’t work this way. Fossil
experts and biologists are only beginning to wrestle with this thorny dilemma.
Some think that genes which control the process of development from a fertilized egg
to an adult, the so- called Hox genes, may have reached a critical mass which
led to an explosion of complexity. Some of the simplest multi-celled organisms
like the jellyfish only have three Hox genes, while insects have eight, and some
not-quite-vertebrates have ten. Critical mass may be a real phenomena in physics,
but biological processes rarely if ever work that way. Besides, that doesn’t
solve the important riddle of where the first Hox gene came from in the first
place. Genetic information does not just spontaneously arise from random DNA
Other scientists think that a wholesale reorganization of all the genes must
have also changed along with the duplication of Hox genes to bring about this
stupendous amount of change. But that only complicates the picture by requiring
additional, simultaneous genetic mutations that have to occur virtually all at once.
This would have an enormous negative effect on an organism that was already
adapted to its environment. How could it survive? It seems that the equivalent
of a miracle would be required. But such things aren’t allowed in evolution. To
quote Time magazine again:
Of course, understanding what made the Cambrian explosion possible doesn’t address
the? larger question of what made it happen so fast. Here scientists delicately
slide across? data- thin ice, suggesting scenarios that are based on intuition
rather than solid? evidence.
Why Hasn’t Such Rapid Change Ever Happened Again?
Before addressing this question, let’s review our discussion thus far. Evolution’s
Big Bang, the Cambrian explosion of life that supposedly occurred over 500 million
years ago, continues to puzzle evolutionists. Recent discoveries have narrowed
the time frame from over 70 million years to less than 10 million years. This
has only complicated their dilemma because so many different creatures appear
in the Cambrian with no ancestors or intermediates. The major evolutionary innovations
represented in the Cambrian would ordinarily require at least tens of millions
of years to accomplish. Some might even suggest over 100 million years would
be required. The differences between the creatures that suddenly appear in the
Cambrian are enormous. In fact these differences are so large many of these animals
are one of a kind. Nothing like them existed before and nothing like them has
ever appeared again.
In fact, a question that is just as perplexing as how this explosion of diversity
could occur so fast, is why hasn’t such drastic change ever happened in the
500 million years since? The same basic body plans that arose in the Cambrian
remain surprisingly constant ever since. Apparently, the most significant biological changes
in the history of the earth occurred in less than ten million years, and for
500 million years afterward, this level of change never happened again. Why
not? This may seem like a simple question, but it is far more complicated than
Many biologists think the answer must lie within the genetic structure of organisms.
During the Cambrian, new forms of life could readily appear because the genetic
organization of organisms was relatively loose. Once all these body plans came
into existence and were successful, then these same genetic structures became relatively
inflexible in order to preserve what worked so well. In other words there may
be genetically built-in limits to change. Developmental biologist Rudolf Raff
said, "There must be limits to change. After all we’ve had these same old body
plans for half a billion years." Lane Lester and I coauthored a book over ten
years ago titled The Natural Limits to Biological Change. Though the limits
to change we proposed were tighter than what these evolution scientists are proposing,
it is the same basic idea. We even suggested that these limits to change would
be found in the genetic organization and regulatory programs that are already
Some evolutionists have gone so far as to suggest that the mechanisms of evolution
operating in the Cambrian were probably radically different from what has taken
place ever since. This raises the possibility that we may never be able to study
these mechanisms because animals with the proper genetic structure no longer exist.
We are left only with the products of the Cambrian explosion and none of the
precursors. The speculations will therefore be wild and uncontrollable since
there will be no way to test these theories. Fossils leave no trace of their genetic
organization. We may never be able to know how this marvelous burst of creativity
occurred. Sounds like evolutionists may be faced with the very same problems
they accuse creationists of stumbling over: a process that was unique to the
past, unobservable in any shape or form, and unrepeatable.
Stuart Kaufmann, a leader in complexity theory, places his faith in self-organizing
systems that spontaneously give rise to order out of chaos–a sort of a naturalistic,
impersonal self-creator. A supernatural Creator performs the same function with
the added benefit of providing a source of intelligent design as well.
Marvelous Evidence of Creation and Design and the Role of World View
So often at Probe our focus is on some issue that has the opposing forces shaped
by world view. A world view is a system of beliefs or philosophy of life that
helps us to interpret the world around us. We often compare one’s world view
to a pair of glasses that helps bring everything into focus. Just as it is important
for someone with impaired vision to have the right prescription glasses, so
it is also necessary for sin-impaired people to have the right world view with
which to make sense of the world of ideas around us.
Clearly we believe that the Bible offers the only tool to arrive at the right
prescription or world view. We have been discussing here Evolution’s Big Bang,
the Cambrian explosion of life approximately 543 million years ago according
to evolutionists. The latest discoveries in this field were highlighted in Time
magazine’s 4 December 1995 issue. Three weeks later, some very interesting letters
appeared from readers in Time. They are very instructive of the effects of one’
world view when evaluating the very same evidence. Much of our time in this pamphlet
has been spent detailing the vast problems that the Cambrian explosion produces
for evolutionary theory. But that is from the vantage point of a biblical world
view. One Time magazine reader commented, "This report should end discussions
about whether God created the earth. Now there is no way to deny the theory
of evolution." Another reader said, "It is great to see a national magazine
put the factual evidence of evolution’s vast, complex story out there for the lay
Now, before you go assuming that they surely didn’t read the same story I have
been describing in these pages, listen to these readers with a different perspective.
"A more appropriate title for your article could have been ‘Evolution’s Big
Bust.’ One hundred and thirty-five years of Darwinism out the window just like
that? What a poor excuse for the lack of transitional forms." Another reader
said, "This story read more like confirmation for Noah’s Deluge than Darwin’s
theory of evolution."
Well, they all read the same story. Many even quoted from the article to explain
their views. So, how can four people read the same information and come to such
radically different conclusions? The difference is world view. To those who
are working within a naturalistic world view, one which holds that there is no God,
some form of evolution must be true. Therefore, while the evidence of the Cambrian
may be perplexing, the fact that scientists are wrestling with it and offering
some possible explanations is exciting and invigorating. However, I find that
they are usually missing the big picture. By concentrating on explaining the
minutiae, naturalistic thinkers often miss the clear possibility of intelligent
design precisely because they don’t expect to find any.
?A great example of this is a comment by Harvard’s Steven Jay Gould on the Cambrian
creatures found in the Burgess Shale of Canada:
Imagine an organism built of a hundred basic features, with twenty possible
forms per? feature. The grab bag contains a hundred compartments, with twenty
tokens in each. To make? a new Burgess creature, the Great-Token-Stringer takes
one token at random from each? compartment and strings them together. Voila,
the creature works–and you have? nearly as many successful experiments as a
musical scale can build catchy tunes.
Sounds like a marvelous description of a Creator to me, but perhaps only if
you are thinking biblically from the start.
? 1996 Probe Ministries
About the Author
Raymond G. Bohlin is executive director of Probe Ministries. He is a graduate
of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University
(M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D.,
molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological
Change and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin has been named
a 1997-98 Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal
of Science and Culture. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
What is Probe?
?Probe Ministries is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to reclaim the
primacy of Christian thought and values in Western culture through media, education,
and literature. In seeking to accomplish this mission, Probe provides perspective
on the integration of the academic disciplines and historic Christianity.
?In addition, Probe acts as a clearing house, communicating the results of its
research to the church and society at large.
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?Copyright (C) 1996 Probe Ministries