Canadian microfossils – first life of evolution or deepest of creation?

A recent (March 2017) article claims that scientist have found the oldest fossils yet. Are they the traces of the first life forms to be preserved? Do they show the earliest known step in evolution? Do they show how long ago life began? Certainly, if our derived dating methods are correct, these are the oldest fossils. Even so, they raise a couple of questions about the story of the origin and evolution of life.

The Story

The article, based on research published in the journal NATURE,  claims the fossils not only set the origin of life farther back than ever before, but also support the theory that life arose around deep-sea hydrothermal (hot water) vents. It also suggests that Mars might have had similar forms of life early in its history.  The article claims that “It was primordial microbes like those described in the study that set in motion the evolutionary march toward complex life and, eventually, the appearance of humans 200,000 years ago.”

The Facts

What do we actually know about these fossils? They were taken “from the Hudson Bay shoreline in northern Quebec” and consist of “Tiny filaments and tubes made of a form of iron oxide, or rust, formed by the microbes…encased in layers of quartz” within iron-rich sedimentary deposits. These deposits are estimated by experts to be about 4 billion (thousand million) years old.

The Significance

Many evolutionists have said that the origin of life is not part of the theory of evolution, but clearly it is important to know about it. If the dates assigned to these deposits and the age of the  Earth, and the theory of the formation of the Earth, are correct, they “suggest ‘an almost instantaneous emergence of life’ after ocean formation,” according to lead researcher Matthew S. Dodd. Of course, that also sets the stage for the story of the long march of evolution that just happened to include humans at the end, at least so far.

Too soon?

Or does it? Nobody is claiming that these were the first living things. One of the researchers, Dominic Papineau, said the find “shows microbial life diversified to specialized microbes very early in Earth history.” The early date assigned plus the time it would have taken to evolve to that point from the first life explain Dodd’s “almost instantaneous” estimate. There would not have been much evolutionary time between the first conditions necessary for life on Earth and these fossils.  This should raise a question in the minds of properly-skeptical scientists: If life arose so soon from chance conditions, how hard should it be for highly-intelligent scientists to re-create the event? They have been trying to do so for decades, and have only produced a few relatively simple organic molecules that don’t do anything. The conditions that produce these chemicals also produce others that would interfere with the functions of biological molecules (poisons).

Too Modern?

The reason for the confidence in identifying such tiny traces as showing early life raises another question. The report notes that the fossils’ “structure closely resembled modern bacteria that dwell near iron-rich hydrothermal vents.” If the very earliest traces of life look so much like those left by living things now, clearly there was nothing forcing the further evolution of life. Fossils assigned dates from hundreds of millions of years ago also appear very similar to living things. Clearly there is no environmental or biological imperative for life to evolve. Granting for the sake of argument that life did evolve from some early microbes into all the other forms, it must have been a process in which random mutations somehow just happened to produce changes that added up to all the new features needed to live in new conditions in new ways even while the population they came from was doing fine in the old conditions.

Further Considerations

Some might say that this is where God stepped in, but that raises a couple of other questions. If we allow that God was actively involved, what else might he have done? Why not take the Bible’s creation account at face value, and question man’s ability to give dates to things supposedly long before humans existed? Why would God create by gradually nudging natural forces?

We should also consider the fossil record in this light. If we have traces left by tiny bacteria billions of years ago, where are all the traces showing the major steps of evolution? We find fossils dated around 500 million years old (3.5 billion years after these Canadian traces) showing all the major designs (phyla) of many-celled living things.  Some of those, too, are very similar to living things. There is a great dearth of fossils assigned to the billions of years between. It’s not that there aren’t any traces. There are mysterious burrows and footprints, small bits of shells, and some strange forms that don’t seem closely related to any living things. So how is it that the major work of evolution has no evidence over all that time?

Creationists can look at the same data and come to different conclusions. We can’t rely on our ability to derive dates from current evidence. We see many distinct forms of life and distinct sets of fossils at various layers, without having to imagine lines of many more forms connecting them. In general, the oldest fossils are forms that lived on the bottom of the ocean. The most recent include forms that are the fastest, most agile swimmers; animals capable of living in the highest, driest, and coldest regions; and birds which can fly more powerfully and higher than any other living things. The general pattern of increasing altitude and mobility holds throughout the fossil record, with an understandable degree of overlap. This could fit within a global-Flood model of geology.

Conclusion

Fundamentalist science simply presents the facts: There is evidence that experts interpret as showing the age of these deposits is about 4 billion years. The traces appear to be very similar to those produced by bacteria living today near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea today. Beyond that, if you want to believe that separately-created life forms were buried during the global Flood described in the Bible,  that’s a matter of faith. If you want to believe that life evolved from microbes over billions of years,  that’s a matter of faith, too.

References:

Canadian bacteria-like fossils called oldest evidence of life, Reuters, By Will Dunham, March 1, 2017

Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates
Matthew S. Dodd, et al., NATURE, 543, 60–64 (02 March 2017), doi:10.1038/nature21377, Published online, 01 March 2017

6 thoughts on “Canadian microfossils – first life of evolution or deepest of creation?

  1. Just caught up with this (your first post for a year!) Can’t resist pointing out that the Bible neither mentions bacteria nor suggests that they were created either before other life forms or ‘early’ within the six mentioned days of creation.
    I understand how from this story you question ‘natural’ abiogenesis and ‘fast’ (or perhaps any) evolution – because we have not replicated abiogenesis and because of the ‘living fossils’ that show little sign of dramatic change across deep time. Your post – by a creationist – of course would seem to present, if you focus on living fossils, equal problems for the fictional extremely ‘rapid speciation’ (post-flood) that Answers in Genesis have been trying to push, As for a lack of fossils older than around 500 million years, it’s rare that such old rocks are still found given that plate tectonics on the geologically active Earth. As for a ‘global flood’, this blog casts doubts upon that as an explanation of the fossil record: https://thelogicofscience.com/2016/07/19/sinking-noahs-ark-part-2-the-order-of-the-fossil-record-confirms-evolutions-predictions/
    If such a flood does not explain the fossil record, young earth creationists need to explain why (if you grant a 6,000 year old Earth for sake of argument) human – or human-like – fossils have only been found in upper ie more recent rock layers.

    1. And another YEC writing recently:
      http://creation.com/evolution-v-genesis-order
      “Some are attracted to the false Day-Age view because they think that if the time scale of Genesis were stretched out, then it would match the long-age/evolutionary order. But this view is naive, as will be shown. There are major contradictions between a straightforward reading of Scripture and the order claimed by uniformitarian/evolutionary ‘science’. Day-agers accept the evolutionary order, but just deny biological transmutation of kinds.”

      Both versions have mankind ‘last’ though. Which the fossil record backs up (which is why the so-called ‘science’ explanation say that ie it follows the evidence). Makes more sense in a deep time scenario than in a ‘literally six days’ creation scenario. If humans were created less than a week later than the other lifeforms, why are their fossils not found in lower layers as well as upper ones (whether the layers are geological across the time of Earth’s existence or somehow ‘formed by Noah’s flood’)?

      1. There’s no need for the Bible to mention bacteria, when nobody even knew they existed until recently. There’s a lot of other things the Bible doesn’t mention. Evolutionists often point out that the Bible isn’t a science textbook, and I don’t know of any creationists who claim it is. So don’t expect it to have such details. Please think and do resist next time.

        It’s true, if I focused on living fossils and didn’t see anything else, that would be a problem when it comes to the rapid speciation that would have taken place after the Flood, but there’s plenty of evidence for rapid speciation, too. If evolutionists can claim that many organisms appearing similar to fossils dated up to billions of years ago and before one or more major extinction events isn’t a problem for a theory that has nothing but natural processes to account for all the variety of life, surely having both living fossils and rapid speciation is no problem for creationists.

        I do not appreciate your throwing a whole blog page into your comment. It’s unfair with one line to toss a bunch of arguments at me. So I will only point out a few things: 1) that blog page doesn’t appear to have room for comments 2) you can see how biased the author is with his “illustration” that shows swimming fish trapped in the same mud with bottom-dwelling organisms, and a continent that is perfectly flat, and with rectangular blocks of sediment piling up neatly in the middle of the ocean rather than upper layers sliding down over the lower ones. He states, “This proposes that the water levels rose extremely quickly and rapidly buried animals. Thus, most of the fossils formed early during the flood. The second school of thought proposes that many animals tread water for a while rather than being immediately buried.” I don’t know of any creationists who have such simplistic ideas about the Flood.

        He also shows a “simplified” version of the fossil record that doesn’t show the Cambrian explosion compared to what evolution actually predicts, doesn’t show any of the massive “extinction events” and “sudden radiations” which also weren’t predicted, etc. As with Darwin, everything that is consistent is “evidence for” and everything that isn’t can be ignored or an imaginary explanation suffices.

        As for human fossils being last, that would also fit in an ordered original Earth in which God formed the continents with separate biomes at different altitudes, and humans and modern mammals living on the central, highest plateau, as being best adapted for the cooler, dryer environment. Also, Noah had been warning of the coming judgment for some time, so even if he was ignored, when the rains started they could well have started to take precautions just in case, they had over a month before the rains stopped, and I believe the Bible indicates they had several months before the highest points of land were covered (Gen. 7:17-24).

        However, the basic or “Fundamentalist” science is the same for both groups — the Earth has many layers of rocks, with differing numbers of fossils in different layers and from one place to another. Some of them, from the lowest layers up, look like living organisms, or quite similar to them, most do not. Evolution does not predict that all life would evolve in the sea first — it could have started, as Darwin imagined, in a “warm, little pond” or hot spring. It might have stayed in fresh water for millennia, plants might have been the only macroscopic form of life, something like slime molds might have evolved into land animals long before anything macroscopic took up living in water again. There are problems with matching the geologic record to gradual evolution and Divine creation both. There are different ideas about the progress of evolution and geology among evolutionists, and different ideas about creation and the Flood among creationists. There are many websites presenting the evolutionary view and denouncing creationism, not so many promoting creation, and as a creationist myself I’m going to lean that way when I do step beyond what is actually observed.

        1. Three brief responses:
          – rapid speciation is a bit of a problem for those other young earth creationists (like Ray Comfort) who appear to deny that there is ANY evidence for evolution (a small number of them also appear to deny speciation even exists perhaps because Genesis does not suggest such a process);
          – I am not sure where you get the idea that humans lived on high plateaux (presumably away from coasts) before the Genesis flood began, if that is what you are suggesting;
          – I think that other blog may allow comments but I am not entirely sure:
          https://thelogicofscience.com/rules-for-commenting/

          1. Genesis doesn’t suggest or deny speciation, a technical detail of biology that belongs in textbooks. It does indicate there are distinct groups of created organisms that did not evolve from others, and did not evolve into others, but the boundaries are another detail that wasn’t necessary. If some creationists go too far in limiting the variability of living things, that’s their problem and I don’t mind that you point that out.

            I get the idea the same way that evolutionists get theirs — they look at the data, and make up a story that explains the data in their framework. For example, to fit the widespread appearances of very different varieties of a kind of organism in layers that have only a handful (if any) possible forms intermediate forms in lower or “older” strata, evolutionists must posit that there were many lines of different transitional forms that are not known. In some cases, “descendant” or “advanced” fossils are dated older than the “ancestral” or “primitive” forms, and so “ghost lineages” are proposed. In a global flood geology, the most straightforward explanation for things being higher up is that they were on higher ground to begin with, were able to reach higher ground, or stayed afloat or suspended in the water longer (before or after death). It also seems logical to me that God would have created the world with more order than there is today, after the destruction caused by the Flood.

            Those are very good rules, but am I missing something, or is there no Comments window on the page? I see responses on the rules page, and others, but I don’t see the “Leave a Reply” part, like the one you’ve been using here. Maybe he shut down comments to save on spam filters.

  2. Very good. I couldn’t help but think of the living rust creatures that are destroying ship wrecks. The description that you gave seemed very like these. You’re right that both POV’s is a matter of faith because no human was alive at creation to be an eye witness to how it came about. One advantage to the Christion faith is that we have a Book that was written by the One Who was there and not only saw it all but created it all. Nonbelievers must go on their own imagination.

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