The Cambrian Explosion And Evolution

And in Human evolution, there is just an immense amount of evidence for it, with far more certainty than we see for the Cambrian Explosion. You do not have to agree with it, but that is the place to focus the conversation if you want to get to the bottom of what the evidence shows.


I find it most odd that you work so hard to oppose speciation. Do you oppose speciation in principle? Or do you allow for speciation when there is “enough time for it to occur”?

Part of the circumstances of a Genetic Clock is now quickly environmental factors can change in a way that brings some new genetic factor or allele to the forefront. We aren’t even clear on how entrenched gender differentiation applied to some of these weird monsters of the Cambrian Age.

Sexual Reproduction was a way for creatures, who had developed strong mechanisms for precise DNA replication to still introduce novelty into each generation. Prior to the arrival of Sexual Reproduction, you can imagine how “self-cloning” could lead to dozens of new populations… each with their own genetic properties… exploring all sorts of niches and micro-niches.

But as these life forms also evolved more precise replication mechanisms, they started losing their flexibility. The accident of Sexual Reproduction became a survival technique all its own.

I don’t oppose speciation.


So do you think God individually created all these hundreds of species … some wormy, others blobs of jelly, others like shell-fish with jaws of death? To what end do you pile up this skepticism about the one epoch that we could almost imagine God treating as a giant chore?

Just a reminder that when you are infinite and omipotent there is no work that is a chore - Aquinas was very keen to point that out when people baulked at God’s being a micro-manager (yes, that accusation was alive and well in the 13th century).


George my children play this game on the computer. I can hardly get them off of it. In the game they get to select traits for new “life forms” and then guide them in the “wild”. At certain points they get to add other traits. It seems to me that if we humans do that for fun then our Template in whose likeness we are created might enjoy it as well.

What I get from the text of Genesis chapter one is that there is a realm below and a realm above. When God speaks, the realm above responds to it just as He intended quickly and perfectly. The land brings forth creatures itself, without His further intervention. It would be like theistic evolution if seen in slow motion. In this realm, things are in slow motion. Like us, this creation responds to His word slowly, haltingly, and with many errors and misteps along the way. And like us, without His intervention it couldn’t do it at all.

That’s how I read the text, and so I am looking for His “fingerprints” where nature had to get help. Just to get the ball rolling mind you. Nature took it from there. This event, where new 70 phyla show up within 4-8 million years, is a good candidate. I mean things don’t change that fast with known processes do they?

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Continuing the “chore” aspect, I remember Tony Campolo picturing God making the first daisy, and then in delight saying, “Let’s do it again!” And so on ad infinitum.

It’s puerile, of course, but underlines a key truth about the God of the Bible - he loves infinitely what he has made, so that anything a human might care about, he cares about (and for) more. And that goes beyond just andwering prayer about insignifant little Jimmy.

Someone likes grand scale cosmology? God is as big as the cosmos. Someone else studies particle physics? God is involved in each particle. Or someone is one of those geeks doing taxonomy on near-identical mosquitoes, and boring everyone with his enthusiasm for these “wonderful creatures”? He’s only thinking God’s thoughts after him, or a pale reflection of them.

I can’t imagine that God is less interested in anything than I am.



Did you read my prior post at all?

Imagine a world where creatures reproduced by asexual cloning. Imagine what that means. It means that in the very beginning, each creature has the potential of starting its very own “population” of successors. Genetic changes that affect one clonal creature has zero effect on any of its cousins… it can’t, right? There is no sexual reproduction.

And so instead of having a few large populations, functioning as dampeners for any genetic novelties (the larger the population, the more dampening there is)… what we have instead is:

… hundreds and thousands of initially similar populations of descendants. And every generation, for these thousands of populations… the potential to differentiate from the common ancestor continues to proliferate.

This is because in the beginning, the replication of DNA for the next generation is very likely to be a little sloppy. So… try as life may to recreate the new generation to be identical to the existing generation, there really is no reliability to this process (in comparison to what sexually reproduced life forms of the current Earth are capable of).

In other words… these populations begin to fill all the niches of the Earth with highly diverse genetic profiles… because the early life forms weren’t very good (in a relative sense of course) at precise replication. But like all Natural Selection, the ability to reliably replicate genetic information becomes better and better.

But this opens up Earth’s life forms to the opposing force… that the more a population improves it’s ability to precisely replicate genomes, populations become increasingly uniform. And this is actually a liability in a world where Environmental factors continue to change in lots of different directions.

The populations that used to fill myriad niches easily (because of sloppy replication) are now becoming so uniform, they are more easily wiped out without any straggling survivors because of the lack of diversity.

At some point, life forms that developed sexual reproduction, begin to step into the limelight. It becomes the principle way that certain classes of life forms maintain adequate levels of diversity - - without going overboard.

In my view, the Cambrian was the time of going overboard… the natural result of a tremendous number of inevitable dead-ends. How do we know most of these lines are dead-ends? Because they disappear!

Now, of course, being a good BioLogos supporter, I am perfectly delighted with the idea that the Cambrian “expansion” (instead of explosion) was God-Guided. Your objections about the Cambrian seem to be arguing that Darwinism couldn’t accomplish this.

I would agree. So what’s your point? Even BioLogos folks chase the red herring of Darwinism. But you shouldn’t be the one to throw the red herring. Most of us concur that God-Guided evolution … even in the Cambrian.

So… you must be quite relieved, yes? And my discussion above gives you a sense of how God did it… by creating a lot of different life forms that created (de-facto) a great number of unique populations because widespread asexual cloning automatically makes that possible.

That is not at all my point. Are you sure you heard me?

What I heard is you saying of the findings from the second study which TJ posted - “This is just finding patterns in the noise, based on very unclear measurements. We do not know from the fossil records how animals diversified before they had hard parts to appear in the fossil record.”

I took that to mean that you don’t think the molecular clock works at these distances and that the fossil record too is an unreliable indicator of when these groups arose. That’s what I heard and what I responded to.

If both of you agree that God guided evolution, what the devil are you two arguing about?

Aside from humanity which I am still turning over in my mind, I think its down to whether any hints of this guidance can be detected by science, not as “proof” per se but as anomalies in the data. Can we find His fingerprints on it? The answers are either “yes”, “no” or “not with our current level of technology”. He seems to think “no” and the question is pretty much closed. I’m thinking that as with cosmology a couple of decades ago we are shifting from the last answer to the first and don’t want the door shut before we get there.


The quick answer is: Yes and No. Yes, there are always “hints”. But No, none of it can be detected by science.

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That phrase “[not] detected by science” always sounds like a mantra more than an argument to me.

For example, if one finds anomalies in the fossil record and molecular information, such as R_C mentions, they are such hints that the story may be different from what was predicted, ie that the proposed naturalistic mechanisms may be insufficient or incorrect.

I grant that whether one attributes them to some other natural mechanism as yet unknown, or to divine action, is a matter of necessary agnosticism (or they wouldn’t be anomalies). But their detection is entirely a matter of science. “This finding flies in the face of the theory.”

It’s the interpretation of what you have detected that offers a straight choice of metaphysical assumptions as alternatives to pure agnosticism: either the hidden explanation is, on principle, to be attributed to “natural” causes, or on principle, to God. There is no scientific way of deciding the issue, except that the methodology of science reverts to “natural” causes on philosophical principle.

Note that the belief that science will at some stage resolve the anomalies, leaving no gaps for God, is a vote for metaphysical naturalism - a belief, not just a methodology. That, alone, is the point at which divine action becomes undetectable, since it is rendered invisible by a metaphysical belief.

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When I say that, I dot mean it as a mantra. I mean it as a carefully considered statement about what is possible with scientific reasoning.

@jongarvey, part of what is going on here is an attempt to substitute secular language for theological concepts. Such an effort fails, because secular language is not the true name of things. Let me give some examples…

We affirm that God is the Creator of all things. This is not the same as saying He is an Intelligent Designer, as the freight of these words is different than the theological confession.

We affirm that God providentially governs all things. This is not the same as saying He guides evolutionary processes, as the freight of this word, also, is different than the theological confession.

We affirm that God action can be discerned from scientific evidence, and experiential data. This is not the same as saying His action can be detected by science, as the freight of this word is different also than the theological confession.

Detection carries with it the a notion of mechanical, impersonal, math-solution sort of logic, as in the scientific method acts as a detector for god. Discernment, however, involves the discerner, and requires us to have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and includes the grace of God to be possible. I believe, therefore, that we can discern God’s action, but we cannot detect it with science, even if scientific evidence is part of how we can discern Him.

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I’d agree with that, Joshua - but would suggest that in real science (which we both accept to be a humanly-constructed enterprise), all theories are accepted or rejected by human discernment.

Einstein thinks quantum theory makes God a dice-player: others see a different kind of beauty in it… and seeing beauty in a theory is itself about discernment, not detection (making that distinction in your sense).

My bottom line is that all science is done through metaphysical assumptions, but the lack of recognition of those leads to many evils.

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I think you @jongarvey and @swamidass are both right coming at it from different angles. I will add a third and see if it completes the triangle.

We might use science to detect something in the data which we discern points to God, but we can’t detect with science that it is God’s action. We can only detect the pattern, or anomaly or whatever is in the data which we believe points to Him.

For example in astrophysics scientists have noticed how incredibly balanced certain fundamental forces have to be in order for the universe to be able to host life as we know it. This strongly implies that either there are a near infinite number of universes out there and we are in the one that “worked” or that the universe was Designed by a powerful Intelligence to be inhabited. Christians hold to the latter (even those who accept the multi-verse because that does not rule God out either) and atheists tend to take the escape hatch of the first view.

Science can only tell us that the symmetry is there, our hearts have to be ready to discern His hand in it. Obviously believing in an infinite number of universes that we cannot even in principle detect is not more “scientific” than believing in God as an explanation for the symmetry. Yet I have had some try to claim that.

I suspect all of creation is ordered this way. If we understand thoroughly it will very much suggest He is at work, but will leave an out for those who do not wish to take that suggestion. He will not compel those who have no wish to love or trust Him to admit His presence - in this life anyway.

Evidence is a mirror. What we discern from it says more about us than the nature of the evidence.


Sounds to me like you are describing the sound position. The “theories of how we know things” can sound kind of “spacey” … but I just don’t think anyone (on this side of the veil) is ever going to demonstrate that science can detect the truly miraculous… let alone the divinely providential.

And also established rules. In science we do not consider God’s action. So we therefore do not ever formally test or conclude for God’s action. WE do not have like this or agree with it, but that is how modern science is done. It does not have language for theological questions, even if in principle theology could be extracted from nature.

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Agree - but in that case, the inability to “detect” design is culturally conditioned by the particular conventions science has had for, maybe 140 years (not counting Alfred Russel Wallace, who was still using “God talk” in his science writing in the second decade of the twentieth century!), rather than being a feature of God or of nature.

I can live with that, as long as it’s recognised!