Saturday, September 21, 2013

Burgess Creationism

One should not expect “Burgess Creationism” to appear on internet search engines. After a visit to the Canadian Yoho National Park I discovered the two words have both occurred in many internet search sites, but never joined as a formal term. Simon Conway Morris, pre-eminent Burgess Shale paleontologist, has written a book entitled The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals. Morris is an evolutionist, not a creationist. But he uses the term creation in a broad sense to highlight the Cambrian explosion--the initial, sudden manifestation of many never-before-seen animal phyla 530 mya. The sudden appearance of a plethora of novel animals retaining even their soft tissues in some detail still startles evolutionary scientists.

Apart from lingering exuberance inspired by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and Yoho National Parks, I have spent many waking moments since our return contemplating the Burgess Shale phenomenon. The events of the visit and the discussions it provoked have triggered renewed awareness that the evolution vs. creation issue is of paramount importance for those who believe in the God of creation as well as those who do not.

The wide-ranging implications of the Burgess Shale animals provide powerful credence for the concept of periodic creation events on our planet. These creation events must be described in narrow terms. Some theistic evolutionists have begun to use the term “evolutionary creationism” to describe their beliefs concerning life’s origins. This term, however, really speaks of an evolutionary process for living things set in operation by God at the beginning. The meaning of creation, therefore, has diverged from its commonly accepted meaning prior to Charles Darwin.

The more imaginative recent hypotheses accounting for biological evolution do not begin to explain the so-called Cambrian explosion. Scripture begins the day five creation account with a phrase reminiscent of the Cambrian explosion: “Let the water teem with living creatures…” (Genesis 1:20). A reading of secular scientific commentary on the Cambrian period inspires us to appreciate the word “teem” in the context of both science and scripture.

Nick Matzke is former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). He has written many negative critiques of creationism and Intelligent Design. In a recent review of Stephen C. Meyer’s best-selling, just-published book appraising arguments for the unlikelihood of evolution working to produce the explosion of animal life as observed in Cambrian strata, Matzke echoes the lament of most evolutionists. They wonder “…what exactly is supposed to have happened at the Cambrian or anywhere else in geologic history?” Such questions are a cover for the real assertion that all events in the history of life on earth be explained by a naturalistic process. The profession of science has been configured toward naturalism since late in the 19th century. Since that time the gospel of naturalism has been spread publicly and militantly. All explanations, including the astonishing account of the Cambrian explosion, are expected to detail what happened according to a naturalistic process.

While preparing for the Canadian Rockies Burgess Shale Adventure, I encountered a neighbor during a morning walk. I expressed my feeling that the Reasons to Believe sponsors of the upcoming adventure would present the Cambrian explosion as a creation event. The proposal that the strange and simple life during the Pre-Cambrian somehow suddenly gave rise to the rich Cambrian biota in a virtual instant of geologic time does not trouble evolutionists. Naturalistic explanations must account for the onset of startling, novel Cambrian life forms no matter how absurd or bizarre the explanations may be.

The term “create” could be defined as a “reorganization of molecules.” Perhaps this speaks of “create” having acquired a meaning of “something from nothing” (bara) or several other Hebrew linguistic possibilities such asmake” (asah) or “form” (yasar). For our discussion, we propose that Cambrian animals were newly made or formed. These animals did not descend from other creatures. They were produced by an act of our Creator according to Genesis 1:20.

Our Christian worldview is supported by the evidence of creation as manifest by the Cambrian explosion and other historical geological records. The more we study the Cambrian event, the stronger the evidence for supernatural creation becomes. After studying pictures and museum specimens of the wonderful variety of Cambrian animals, we posit that our God is not only the Creator, but also a “playful artist.”