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Sea Anemone Is a Proverbial “Precambrian Rabbit”


When asked what evidence would disprove evolution, the famous 20th-century evolutionist J.B.S. Haldane is famously said to have responded, “a fossil rabbit in the Precambrian.” In other words, a fossil rabbit would have to be found in strata dating to long before rabbits, or mammals for that matter, are normally found.

And by “long,” we mean somewhere between roughly one-half a billion years to several billion years. It was an exercise in what philosophers refer to as theory protectionism — erecting insurmountable protective barriers around a theory. The fossil record was sufficiently understood in Haldane’s day to know that such as finding was highly unlikely. And it was also known that much less astounding, and more feasible, fossil findings would (or at least should) pose serious problems for evolutionary theory.

In fact there are many such contradictions in the rocks, but if a rabbit in the Precambrian is the evidential standard, then evolution is comfortably safe. Haldane’s Precambrian rabbit response was also an exercise in naïve falsificationism — the thinking that a single finding is going to take down a theory so deeply imbedded in our thinking, and so confidently held to be true. In fact, evolutionary theory has survived myriad contradictory evidences of at least as much severity as a Precambrian rabbit without so much as skipping a beat.

Consider, for example, the genome of the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. Here is how one report summarized it:

The genome of the sea anemone, one of the oldest living animal species on Earth, shares a surprising degree of similarity with the genome of vertebrates, researchers report in this week’s Science. The study also found that these similarities were absent from fruit fly and nematode genomes, contradicting the widely held belief that organisms become more complex through evolution. The findings suggest that the ancestral animal genome was quite complex, and fly and worm genomes lost some of that intricacy as they evolved.

In other words, it was the genomic equivalent of Haldane’s Precambrian rabbit — a Precambrian genome had, err, all the complexity of species to come hundreds of millions of years later. In other cases it has more complexity than species such as worms and flies, which, according to evolution, must have lost enormous amounts of genetic complexity.

The lead author of the sea anemone study explained, “We have this basic toolkit now for the whole animal kingdom.” Of course the idea of foresight is contradictory to evolutionary theory. As one evolutionist admitted, it is surprising to find such a “high level of genomic complexity in a supposedly primitive animal such as the sea anemone.” It implies that the ancestral animal “was already extremely highly complex, at least in terms of its genomic organization and regulatory and signal transduction circuits, if not necessarily morphologically.”

Or as another evolutionist put it:

It is commonly believed that complex organisms arose from simple ones. Yet analyses of genomes and of their transcribed genes in various organisms reveal that, as far as protein-coding genes are concerned, the repertoire of a sea anemone — a rather simple, evolutionarily basal animal — is almost as complex as that of a human.

None of this makes any sense in the light of evolutionary theory. Of course it is “commonly believed” by evolutionists “that complex organisms arose from simple ones.” That would be rather fundamental to the theory. Yet we repeatedly find early complexity. This is another example of how resistant evolution is to testing and falsification.

Photo: Nematostella vectensis, by Cymothoa exigua (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.