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Fossils show Ascending Complexity of Life?: Part One

Plate from Barrande's work Système silurien du centre de la Bohême via Wikipedia

In my opinion, one of the most challenging arenas of science for a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) is geology. Both sides of the debate have the same data to work with—the geologic column. Likewise, they share the same goal—reconstructing a plausible theory to explain the earth’s history.

The very deepest layers in this geological column, the Precambrian and lower Cambrian, pose quite a mystery for us to solve since they contain the very first signs of life.

Of particular interest within these lowest levels, is the presence of a clear order of organisms increasing in complexity along the vertically ascending layers of sediment. The questions are:

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  • how do we explain the method by which these layers came to be deposited historically and
  • what is the significance of the increasing complexity in the fossil record?

Creationists and Evolutionists have two vastly different answers due to the presuppositions underlying their respective world views. These presuppositions unavoidably affect interpretation. In Part One of this two part series, we’ll give a brief overview of the Evolutionary theory and the YEC theory, discuss the evidence, and have a closer look at the evolutionists’ interpretation of this evidence.

Evolutionary theory

sees the layers as being deposited over millions of years, containing the record of the evolution of life from simple to complex. This view traditionally enjoys the “edge” in modern thought for two reasons.

  • First, it’s the only view most people are aware of since it is the only one approved in public education systems
  • Second, it is a simple/obvious explanation if one agrees with evolutionary presuppositions

YEC theory

sees the deposition of these deepest layers as the result of one catastrophic event—the flood recorded in Genesis chapters 6-9 which devastated the entire earth. Since YECs maintain that life didn’t evolve, but came into existence simultaneously according to the Biblical 6 day Creation narrative, the difficulty has been explaining the increasing complexity demonstrated in the fossil record.

Dr. Kurt Wise (Ph.D. in Paleontology and M.A in Geology from Harvard) described a theory during his presentation at the 2017 “Is Genesis History?” Conference proving that the evolutionary reconstruction is not the only one data supports. Wise admits that “Creationist palaeontology is an immature field” and that theirresources… are severely limited.” However, Wise believes his theory is the one aligning most closely with the evidence.

Shared Evidence

Early in Dr. Wise’s presentation, he sets the stage by documenting the data both evolutionists and creationists have to interpret: At the base of the geologic column, the lowest level is referred to as the “Precambrian.”

                                     Image via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Wise notes that there are only 12 geographical locations where geologists can access the complete Precambrian series of sediments exhibiting the order of increasing complexity (stratomorphic series). In fact, he explains, it has only been within approximately the last 30 years that these rocks have been recognized as what they are—Precambrian sediments that did not erode away.

Within this series, there is a clear and consistent sequence of sediments containing organisms increasing in complexity beginning with simple bacteria. This same order of increasing complexity in the fossil record is observed throughout the geological column. For example, the order is present even throughout the Great Unconformity (which exists on almost all continents) despite the fact that some of the layers present in the Precambrian series of sediments are missing altogether.

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Dr. Wise supplies the following examples of this ascending complexity. In the deepest layer of sediment, the only fossils present are bacteria or bacteria related. Rising up into higher sediments, in addition to the bacteria, you begin to find single celled algae. Continuing upward, protists appear (single celled, non-photosynthetic organisms—not an animal, plant, or fungus). Next, appear a group called “Ediacaran Fauna” which are large (1-2′), flat macrofossils (fossils observable with the naked eye). Following this group is “Tommotian Fauna” (or “small shelly fauna”) which are small (around 1 inch at most) cone-shaped fossils. Next, come the “Atdabanian Fauna.” This is the lowest level in which Trilobites are found.

Plate from Barrande’s work Système silurien du centre de la Bohême via Wikipedia

Evolutionist Interpretation of the Data

Traditional evolutionary theory presupposes both uniformitarianism and naturalism. The former can be defined as the “concept that ‘the present is the key to the past’ (that events occur at the same rate now as they have always done)…Today, Earth’s history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process, punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events.” Therefore, each layer of sediment in the geologic column (some of which are tens of thousands of feet thick) represents millions of years of history. This “deep time” is crucial to support the latter presupposition which can be summarized as the “idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.” Barring the possibility of a Creator God existing outside of His Creation, evolutionists conclude that the ascending complexity of organisms can only be explained by slow evolutionary processes requiring millions of years.

No one would disagree that given the presuppositions above, these conclusions are reasonable.

YEC Problem

Wise notes an additional factor supporting evolutionary theory while being problematic for YEC. Essentially, if the lowest levels of sediment can preserve bacteria, it should be able to preserve more complex organisms if they existed simultaneously. The simplest and most logical deduction is that only bacteria are preserved because they were the only thing in existence. This is the problem Wise’s theory addresses which we will cover in Part Two of this series.

A Concluding Note on Evolutionary Presuppositions

At this juncture it must be noted that the assumption of uniformitarianism underlying evolutionary theory is not scientifically provable. As influential 20th century paleontologist G.G. Simpson famously stated,

Uniformity is an unprovable postulate justified, or indeed required, on two grounds. First, nothing in our incomplete but extensive knowledge of history disagrees with it. Second, only with this postulate is a rational interpretation of history possible, and we are justified in seeking—as scientists we must seek—such a rational interpretation.”

This is imperative for us to understand due to modern day rhetoric claiming that creation science is “pseudoscience.” The entire foundation of evolutionary theory is underscored by an “unprovable postulate” rendering its resulting conclusions no more or less scientific than the conclusions of creation science.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll begin with the YEC interpretation of the data.

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Tiffany Denham

Written by Tiffany Denham

I'm a stay-at-home mom of three with a B.S. in Finance, Minor in Economics, and a passion for science, research, Christian apologetics, and writing. Upon realizing that I had been a victim of the widely held belief that mainstream science is “unbiased” and the erroneous beliefs that follow, I embarked on a crusade to share the overwhelming evidence revealing science's lesser known yet undeniable validation of the biblical creation account. I'm also dedicated to cultivating a deep knowledge and understanding of the Bible in order to effectively defend God's Word and bring honor and glory to Him. I also blog on a number of topics with the goal of combating the misinformation our society is inundated with daily at

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