Tag Archives: Paul Chien

Paul Chien interviewed on the Cambrian era fossils

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian era fossils: Theory versus Data

From Leadership University. (H/T The Poached Egg)


Dr. Paul Chien, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco, recently accepted a unique invitation to travel to China to study fossils of the Cambrian era. What Chien found at the Chengjiang site, and what he has since learned about the Cambrian fauna, has changed the focus of his career. Today, Chien concentrates on further exploring and promoting the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion of life. Subsequently, Chien possesses the largest collection of Chinese Cambrian fossils in North America.

Chien attended Mere Creation, a conference last November sponsored by Christian Leadership, which was featured in the previous Real Issue. The following is an interview with Paul Chien.

RI: Dr. Chien, what is your interest in the evolution/creation debate?

Chien: Even before I became a Christian, I had doubts about evolution. During my college years I was really interested in finding answers, but I got very little help. For a while I lost interest because I thought, one way or the other, it wasn’t very important. But since I started teaching, many people ask me about that. In fact, I often speak at churches and youth groups and conferences, and I have been forced back to that question; it’s pretty much my hobby now.

RI: Until recently, you have focused on the effects of pollution on marine organisms. How then did you come to study the Cambrian “explosion of Life”?

Chien: In studying marine organisms, and mainly the invertebrate groups, I have a clear vision of the distinct characteristics of each phyla. The theory of evolution never [seemed to] apply well in my field of marine invertebrates. When the news broke concerning [the discovery of] an explosion of animal life, it really excited me because that [had been] my position for many years. Also, Phil Johnson’s chapter on fossils [Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1991] really ignited my interest in that area.

When an opportunity came up to talk with Chinese paleontologists and to visit them and the original site of fossil discovery, it became something I had to do. So last March I organized an international group to make a visit there.

RI: So is the Chengjiang site a primary site for the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: Yes, it’s the site of the first marine animal found in the early Cambrian times we don’t count micro-organisms as animals.

RI: Are there other places in the world where you find the same organisms?

Chien: In some ways there are similarities between the China site and the other famous site, the Burgess Shale fauna in Canada. But it turns out that the China site is much older, and the preservation of the specimens is much, much finer. Even nerves, internal organs and other details can be seen that are not present in fossils in any other place.

RI: And I suppose many of these are probably soft-tissue marine-type animals?

Chien: Yes, including jellyfish-like organisms. They can even see water ducts in the jellyfish. They are all marine. That part of western China was under a shallow sea at the time.

RI: As you became more interested in this and discovered more about it, did you find it really was an “explosion of life”?

Chien: Yes. A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during that period of time (including those in China, Canada, and elsewhere) adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

RI: What information is the public hearing or not hearing about the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: The general impression people get is that we began with micro-organisms, then came lowly animals that don’t amount to much, and then came the birds, mammals and man. Scientists were looking at a very small branch of the whole animal kingdom, and they saw more complexity and advanced features in that group. But it turns out that this concept does not apply to the entire spectrum of animals or to the appearance or creation of different groups. Take all the different body plans of roundworms, flatworms, coral, jellyfish and whatever all those appeared at the very first instant.

Most textbooks will show a live tree of evolution with the groups evolving through a long period of time. If you take that tree and chop off 99 percent of it, [what is left] is closer to reality; it’s the true beginning of every group of animals, all represented at the very beginning.

Since the Cambrian period, we have only die-off and no new groups coming about, ever. There’s only one little exception cited the group known as bryozoans, which are found in the fossil record a little later. However, most people think we just haven’t found it yet; that group was probably also present in the Cambrian explosion.

Also, the animal explosion caught people’s attention when the Chinese confirmed they found a genus now called Yunnanzoon that was present in the very beginning. This genus is considered a chordate, and the phylum Chordata includes fish, mammals and man. An evolutionist would say the ancestor of humans was present then. Looked at more objectively, you could say the most complex animal group, the chordates, were represented at the beginning, and they did not go through a slow gradual evolution to become a chordate.

Someone posted an interesting documentary on Youtube about the Cambrian explosion.

Leadership University  is run by CLM, and features solid scholarship on a wide range of issues, including science.

What is the best explanation for the Cambrian fossil record?

i found an interesting video that explores a mystery in the Cambrian fossil record.

Richard Dawkins explains the mystery in his famous book “The Blind Watchmaker”.


“Eldredge and Gould certainly would agree that some very important gaps really are due to imperfections in the fossil record. Very big gaps, too. For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” (Dawkins, Richard [zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Blind Watchmaker,” [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.229)

He’s referring to prominent paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould.

Now let’s watch the video.

Part 1 of 2: (41 minutes)

Part 2 of 2: (33 minutes)

This documentary has a mix of scholars who accept the standard naturalistic explanation for the Cambrian explosion, and some who are skeptical of the standard explanation. The first three scholars in the list below are considered to be world-renown experts in the Cambrian era fossils.

List of scholars:

Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading evolutionary paleontologists. He is noted in particular for his contributions to the understanding of the Cambrian Explosion and the fossils found in the Burgess Shale. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (United Kingdom) in 1990, he also has been awarded the Walcott Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (United States). Dr. Conway Morris is author of the noted books The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals (1998) and Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003). His views about the extent as well as the limits of Neo-Darwinism can be found in his article “Darwin was right. Up to a point.”

James Valentine is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also affiliated with the Museum of Paleontology and the Center for Integrative Genomics. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the Cambrian Explosion, and is the author of numerous technical articles on the subject, as well as author of the books On the Origin of Phyla and Evolutionary Paleoecology of the Marine Biosphere, co-author of Evolution and Evolving, and editor of Phanerozoic Diversity Patterns: Profiles in Macroevolution.

Paul Chien is a Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of San Francisco. A marine biologist, Dr. Chien received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California at Irvine, and he was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Chien’s work has been published in over fifty technical journals, and he has spoken internationally, and on numerous occasions, from Brazil to mainland China—where he has also been involved in cooperative research programs. Dr. Chien has done research in the renowned fossil beds of Chengjiang, China.

Jonathan Wells is currently a Senior Research Biologist at the Discovery Institute. He holds two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward. Dr. Wells has published articles in numerous journals, and he is author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong and The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and co-author of The Design of Life.

Richard Sternberg is a Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute and a Research Collaborator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He is an evolutionary biologist with interests in the relation between genes and morphological homologies, and the nature of genomic “information.” He holds a Ph.D. in Biology (Molecular Evolution) from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in Systems Science (Theoretical Biology) from Binghamton University. From 2001-2007, he served as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and from 2001-2007 he was a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Sternberg’s website can be visited here.

Douglas Axe is Director of Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After earning his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Axe held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. His work has been reviewed in Nature and featured in a number of books, magazines and newspaper articles, including Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, and Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer.

Paul Nelson is a philosopher of biology, specializing in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1998, and he is presently an Adjunct Professor in the M.A. Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He has published articles in such journals as Biology & Philosophy and Zygon and has contributed essays to numerous anthologies.

Stephen Meyer is Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. Formerly a geophysicist with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University as a Rotary International Scholar. From 1990-2002, he was on the faculty of Whitworth College. Dr. Meyer is author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, philosophical and other books and journals. His latest book is Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. His other books include Darwinism, Design and Public Education and Explore Evolution. Dr. Meyer’s website can be visited here.

If you like the video, you can buy the DVD here.

Related videos

Is opposition to evolution based on ignorance of the scientific data?

Consider this article by Jonathan Wells.

First, let’s re-cap the challenge to evolution from the phenomenon of the Cambrian explosion.

The newly released film “Darwin’s Dilemma” argues that the geologically abrupt appearance of the major groups of animals (the “phyla”) in the Cambrian Explosion posed a serious problem for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (as he himself knew), and that subsequent fossil discoveries—far from solving the problem—have made it worse.

Basically, all the major body plans we have today appear in the fossil record in a 2-3 million period about 543 million years ago. There are no precursors in the fossil record showing the gradual evolution of these major body plans.

The Cambrian Explosion: 0 to 60 in a few million years
The Cambrian Explosion: 0 to 60 in a few million years

Darwin expected to discover lots and lots of fossils leading up to the Cambrian explosion period that would show how all these phyla came into existence slowly over time. Unfortunately for the naturalistic evolutionists, the discoveries we’ve been making haven’t shown any hint of precursor fossils leading up the Cambrian explosion.

Since 1859, however, many Precambrian fossils have been found, including microfossils of single-celled bacteria in rocks more than three billion years old. In addition, multicellular Precambrian fossils have been found in the Ediacara Hills of Australia, though there is continuing debate over whether any—or how many—of the Ediacaran fossils were animals, or what relationship—if any—they had to the Cambrian phyla. In 1998, Cambridge University paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris (who is featured in the film “Darwin’s Dilemma”) wrote, “Apart from the few Ediacaran survivors… there seems to be a sharp demarcation between the strange world of Ediacaran life and the relatively familiar Cambrian fossils” (Crucible of Creation, 30).

But wait! Maybe we can’t find the precusor fossils required by Darwinism because they are too small or too soft to have survived for so long?

Since 1859, however, many Precambrian fossils have been found, including microfossils of single-celled bacteria in rocks more than three billion years old. In addition, multicellular Precambrian fossils have been found in the Ediacara Hills of Australia… In 1998, Cambridge University paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris… wrote, “Apart from the few Ediacaran survivors… there seems to be a sharp demarcation between the strange world of Ediacaran life and the relatively familiar Cambrian fossils” (Crucible of Creation, 30).

So there is now no shortage of Precambrian fossils. Not only do we have fossils of bacteria, but we also have many fossils of soft-bodied Multicellular organisms. “In the Ediacaran organisms there is no evidence for any skeletal hard parts,” wrote Conway Morris in 1998. “Ediacaran fossils look as if they were effectively soft-bodied” (Crucible of Creation, 28). The same is true of many of the organisms fossilized in the Cambrian explosion.

But wait! Scientists have discovered lots of exceptionally preserved microbes just before the Cambrian explosion. Don’t microbes count as precursors to the Cambrian explosion phyla?

Richard Callow and Martin Brasier reported in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of the Geological Society, London “a variety of exceptionally preserved microbes” from late Precambrian rocks in England that address “the paradox known as ‘“Darwin’s dilemma’.”

[…]Callow and Brasier didn’t solve Darwin’s dilemma. Instead, they put one more nail in the coffin of Darwin’s attempt to salvage his theory from it. The truth is that “exceptionally preserved microbes” from the late Precambrian actually deepen Darwin’s dilemma, because they suggest that if there had been ancestors to the Cambrian phyla they would have been preserved.

I am willing to believe in evolution. But in order to get me to believe it, I insist on seeing a fossil record that shows the gradual emergence of phyla, one or two at a time, over hundreds of millions of years. That is what Darwinism predicts. We now have a solid record of what came before the Cambrian explosion. So where are the precursors? Where is the record of gradual emergence? Where is my evidence?

More on the Cambrian explosion

The origin of life and biological information

Videos on intelligent design