In the Canadian Rockies, a Major Fossil Find Intensifies the Object of Darwin's Doubt - Evolution News & Views

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In the Canadian Rockies, a Major Fossil Find Intensifies the Object of Darwin's Doubt

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A spectacular new discovery of Cambrian animal fossils powerfully reinforces a famous source of doubt that troubled Darwin about his theory. Some 26 miles from the famous Walcott quarry, a new exposure of Burgess Shale fossils has come to light. Called the Marble Canyon quarry, this fossil assemblage, reported initially in Nature Communications, appears to be larger and more detailed than its neighbor, famous as a World Heritage Site.

From the paper in Nature Communications ("A new phyllopod bed-like assemblage from the Burgess Shale of the Canadian Rockies"):

Burgess Shale-type fossil assemblages provide the best evidence of the 'Cambrian explosion'. Here we report the discovery of an extraordinary new soft-bodied fauna from the Burgess Shale. Despite its proximity (ca. 40‚ÄČkm) to Walcott's original locality, the Marble Canyon fossil assemblage is distinct, and offers new insights into the initial diversification of metazoans, their early morphological disparity, and the geographic ranges and longevity of many Cambrian taxa. The arthropod-dominated assemblage is remarkable for its high density and diversity of soft-bodied fossils, as well as for its large proportion of new species (22% of total diversity) and for the preservation of hitherto unreported anatomical features, including in the chordate Metaspriggina and the arthropod Mollisonia. The presence of the stem arthropods Misszhouia and Primicaris, previously known only from the early Cambrian of China, suggests that the palaeogeographic ranges and longevity of Burgess Shale taxa may be underestimated. (Emphasis added.)

Note the hopeful statement that this new outcrop "offers new insights" into "the initial diversification of metazoans" (a euphemism for the sudden appearance of entirely new body plans). Yet all of the animals, including the new ones, fit into existing Cambrian phyla. No transitional forms are being claimed.

"This new location sheds no new light on what might have caused the origin of all these new animal forms," said Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of the New York Times bestseller Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. "Instead, it intensifies the problem of the Cambrian explosion, because it contains fossils previously known only from China."

What's worse for Darwinian evolutionists are the exquisite impressions of soft body parts. Live Science reports:

Many of the fossils at the new site are better preserved than their [Walcott] quarry counterparts, the researchers report. The new fossils reveal the internal organs of several different arthropods, the most common type of animal in both the new and old Burgess Shale locations. Retinas, corneas, neural tissue, guts and even a possible heart and liver were found.

According to Robert R. Gaines of Pomona College, California, a contributing author to the paper, this is the "first time we're seeing these details." That's remarkable, considering the spectacular detail that is famous in the Walcott quarry. You can see some of the fossils in the Live Science photo gallery.

"All of the animals, including the new ones, fit into existing Cambrian phyla," explains Dr. Meyer. "No transitional intermediates have been discovered."

"What's important to understand is how suddenly, in geological terms, the new body plans emerge," said Casey Luskin, research director at Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. "Even if you were to take the most generous evolutionary estimate for the length of the Cambrian explosion, it would not allow enough time for natural selection and random mutations to do the job."

All the animals are complex at their first appearance. The first trilobite is complete with jointed appendages, eyes, and internal organs. The fossils even include chordates -- complex animals with a backbone similar to humans. As Stephen Meyer and Casey Luskin have written here at ENV, the Ediacaran fauna and "small shelly fossils" found below the explosion are not considered by evolutionists to be transitional forms.

Our old friend Carl Zimmer thinks there's no big doubt about Darwinism to begin with, so there's nothing to intensify. He wasn't slow in trying to insinuate as much to us with a tweet: "Do you define phyla as crown or stem taxa? Are you unaware of Precambrian animals?"

Which is, of course, irrelevant. Since so-called Burgess Shale "stem" arthropods appear after true arthropods, they can't be transitional. We'll have more to say on that later, but for now see David Berlinski on cladistics and ghost lineages ("A One-Man Clade"). As for Precambrian animals, we're not unaware of these enigmatic creatures. See Chapter 4 of Darwin's Doubt. Go ahead and read a book about intelligent design, Carl. They don't bite.

No, this sudden appearance of complex body plans mystified scientists in Darwin's day, and continues to pose a severe challenge -- Darwin's Dilemma, you might say -- to the modern theory of evolution.