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Bechly Series: No Ancestors for Cambrian Animals; Darwin’s Doubt Remains

David Klinghoffer
Ventral death-mask of Kimberella quadrata
Ventral death-mask of Kimberella quadrata, by Masahiro miyasaka / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).

This week, paleontologist Günter Bechly concluded his epic 14-part series at Evolution News on the Ediacaran organism Kimberella. The importance of the subject, heroically tackled by Dr. Bechly, more than justifies the length of the treatment. You can find the entire series here in order:

Charles Darwin’s famous doubt about the Cambrian explosion (some 530 million years ago) proceeded from the observation that, as far as the fossil record can tell us, the eruption of animal phyla could not be traced backward to Precambrian times. It appeared to be a massive saltation event, taking place over a geologically brief period. Darwin comforted himself with the thought that additional digging and new fossils would reveal that it was no saltation or jump at all. The Cambrian creatures would be reunited with their ancestors in the seas of the Ediacaran Period.

One the most hopeful candidate ancestors was Kimberella. But as Bechly has demonstrated, it can’t be recruited to that role:

[N]one of the Cambrian animal phyla is represented in the Ediacaran fossil record. This is very significant, because the potential soft-bodied ancestors would surely have been preserved in the numerous Ediacaran fossil localities of the Burgess Shale type (Bechly 2020), or in the Kimberella layers, which after all could preserve the soft-parts of a mollusk-like organism. At best the only two relatively uncontroversial Ediacaran bilaterians, Kimberella and the recently described worm-like Yilingia (Chen et al. 2019Evolution News 2019), could document the existence of just two phyla of Bilateria of uncertain affinity prior to the Cambrian era. However, their unique specializations strongly suggest that they could only represent extinct side branches but could not be directly ancestral to any of the numerous Cambrian animal phyla, and thus do not resolve their enigmatic origin.

Let’s Be Honest

The upshot: “Honest scientists cannot any longer ignore this substantial conflicting evidence. The fossil record speaks clearly and cries out loud: the history of life on Earth is a history of saltations.” Thus the problem admitted by Darwin, and mercilessly pursued by philosopher of science Stephen Meyer in his bestseller Darwin’s Doubt, remains. As Bechly concludes, if we are honest, evolution as a series of saltations cannot be explained by textbook Darwinian theory. But it can be explained by intelligent design. Creativity and inventiveness, as we know them in our own experience as humans, act by saltations. So it is, too, in the history of life.

I urge you to review this important series. Humbly place it at the feet of your favorite Darwinist, atheist, or theistic evolutionist. Students, too, may wish to share it with their biology teachers, and professors with their students.