One of the issues most frequently raised by both creationist and and intelligent design writers is the question of gaps in the fossil record. These writers assert that there are large, significant gaps, and that in general the conventional scientific picture of a smooth sequence of species through the ages is a myth. It is not entirely clear what proposition the creationist and intelligent design writers would insert in the place of evolution in this regard, but these criticisms are nonetheless prominently featured in their writings.
In particular, some creationists have questioned whether there was any advanced, multicellular life before the “Cambrian explosion” approximately 600 million years ago. Henry Morris, for example, asserts, “There is obviously a tremendous gap between one-celled microorganisms and the high complexity and variety of the many invertebrate phyla of the Cambrian. If the former evolved into the latter, it seems impossible that no transitional forms between any of them would ever be preserved or found.” [Morris2000, pg. 81].
While early multicellular creatures did not have any bony structures, and thus did not leave significant fossils, numerous lines of evidence point to the existence of such organisms well before the Cambrian explosion of 600 Myr ago. One particularly striking recent discovery was announced by some researchers in Gabon (on the east coast of Africa) in June 2010. They found more than 250 fossils in an excellent state of presentation. Using some very sophisticated state-of-the-art equipment, they were able to date their specimens to 2.1 billion years ago [Complex2010].
These specimens have various shapes, and their sizes ranges up to 10-12 centimeters (roughly 4-6 inches). They are too big and too complex to be single-celled prokaryotes or eukaroytes. Indeed, by using a high-resolution 3D scanner, they were able to reconstitute the samples in three dimensions and, without compromising the integrity of the fossils, confirm that they were multicellular and lived in colonies. They constitute the oldest multicellular eukaryotes ever documented [Complex2010].
Indeed, the creationists’ focus on gaps in the fossil record is quite literally a “God of the gaps” theology — seeking God in the gaps of scientific knowledge that remain at one particular point in time. Those who embrace this approach are destined to experience disillusionment as science relentlessly advances, filling many of the gaps that once existed.
There must be (and is) a better way to reconcile science and religion. Surely it is better to “leave science to science” — granting questions dealing with specific technical matters, such as how various fossils fit into the tree of life, to scientific research, while granting to religion the ultimate questions of the meaning of our existence.
For additional discussion, see Fossils.
- [Complex2010] [no author] “Complex, Multicellular Life from Over Two Billion Years Ago Discovered,” Science Daily, 30 Jun 2010, available at Online article.
- [Morris2000] Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism, Creation-Life Publishers, El Cajon, CA,1974, second edition 1985, reprinted 2000.