The Problem of "Living Fossils"

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The Problem of "Living Fossils"

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The geologic column depicted in many science textbooks and museums supposedly shows which life-forms existed at any particular time in the history of our planet. Trilobites, for example, are thought to have lived during the Cambrian Period and later became extinct.

Dinosaurs walked the earth during what are called the Jurassic and Triassic periods and likewise later became extinct.

According to traditional scientific thinking, such creatures should not be found on earth today because the geologic column shows they fell victim to extinction many millions of years ago. However, several discoveries of “living fossils” have cast doubt on this long-accepted interpretation of the fossil record.

An astounding catch

Perhaps the most stunning—and famous—of these living fossils is the coelacanth. Fossils of this unusual fish first appear in strata from the Devonian period, with an estimated age of 350 million years.

For years paleontologists thought the coelacanth became extinct about 70 million years ago, since they found no fossil remains of the fish in deposits formed later than the Cretaceous period. But things changed dramatically in December 1938, when a fishing trawler captured a living coelacanth off the eastern coast of South Africa. Scientists were stunned.

After all, the discovery was akin to finding a living dinosaur in a remote patch of jungle!

Since that first shocking discovery, fishermen and scientists obtained more specimens.

Researchers were dismayed to find that the inhabitants of the Comoro Islands, near the initial find, had used coelacanths as food for years, drying and salting the rare fish’s meat.

The discovery of living coelacanths proved to be a profound embarrassment for those trying to use evolution to interpret the geologic record.

It was especially embarrassing for those who, based on fossilized specimens, had earlier proposed the coelacanth as a prime candidate for the kind of fish that would have first crawled out of the oceans to dwell on land. Yet the discovery of a fish that was supposed to have been extinct for millions of years, one that some paleontologists had hoped was a vital missing link in the supposed evolutionary chain, hasn’t led many to question their assumptions regarding the supposed evolutionary timetable.

If coelacanths were the only creatures found alive that were supposed to have been long extinct, then we might accept their discovery as an oddity that proved little or nothing.

But the list of such living fossils has grown considerably in recent years.

Jurassic forest found alive

Another such living fossil is a pine tree that, according to the traditional interpretation of the geologic column, was supposed to have been extinct for more than 100 million years. But that changed with a remarkable 1994 discovery:

“Venturing into an isolated grove in a rain-forest preserve 125 miles from Sydney, the Parks and Wildlife Service officer [David Noble] suddenly found himself in a real-life ‘Jurassic Park’—standing amid trees thought to have disappeared 150 million years ago … ‘The discovery is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth,’ said Carrick Chambers, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens … The closest relatives of the Wollemi Pines died out in the Jurassic Period, 190 million to 135 million years ago, and the Cretaceous Period, 140 million to 65 million years ago” ( Salt Lake City Tribune, Dec. 15, 1994, p. A10).

Similarly, the dawn redwood (species Metasequoia glyptostroboides ) was discovered in China in 1941. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: “Discovered first as fossils in Miocene (23.7 to 5.3 million years ago) deposits, it was assumed to have become extinct until it was discovered growing in Szechwan province in China. Its distribution in the late Mesozoic and Tertiary (66.4 to 1.6 million years ago) was throughout the Northern Hemisphere” (Internet version, 2000, “Gymnosperm”).

Evolution stopped in its tracks?

Another living fossil is the tuatara, a lizardlike animal found only on several islands off the coast of New Zealand. According to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, this strange creature “has two pairs of well-developed limbs and a scaly crest down the neck and back. Unlike lizards, it has a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, which closes horizontally, and a pineal eye, an organ of doubtful function between the two normal eyes. The tuatara also has a bony arch, low on the skull behind the eyes, that is formed by the presence of two large openings … in the region of the temple.

“It is this bony arch, which is not found in lizards, that has been cited as evidence that tuataras are survivors of the otherwise extinct order Rhynchocephalia and are not lizards.

And indeed, tuataras differ little from the closely related form Homeosaurus, which lived 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period” (Internet version, “Tuatara”).

The Encyclopaedia Britannica adds that the tuatara is “a reptile that has shown little morphological evolution for nearly 200,000,000 years since the early Mesozoic” (“Evolution”).

Another example is a marine mollusk that goes by the scientific name Monoplacophoran.

“In 1952 several live monoplacophorans were dredged from a depth of 3,570m (about 11,700 feet) off the coast of Costa Rica. Until then it was thought that they had become extinct 400,000,000 years ago” ( Britannica, “Monoplacophoran”).

By no means are these the only examples of living fossils. These are simply examples of animals and plants that, based on where they were found in the fossil record, scientists had assumed had died out millions of years ago.

Other creatures, such as the nautilus, brachiopod, horseshoe crab and even the ubiquitous cockroach, are virtually unchanged from fossils paleontologists date to hundreds of millions of years ago.

In spite of much wishful thinking on the part of evolutionists, the fossil record does not and cannot be made to agree with Darwinism.