At the end of last month, scientists said they had discovered the oldest fossils on Earth, and their discovery raised serious problems for the origin of life in a naturalistic worldview. Life came about far too quickly and was immediately too complex to have evolved by chance in nature, as Darwinism suggests.
“The great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth,” wrote The New York Times‘s Nicholas Wade. “It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids.”
The fossils were discovered in an outcrop of ancient rock on the southwest coast of Greenland. The rock layer, known as the Isua supercrustal belt, has been dated between 3.9 and 3.7 billion years old. Some geologists had argued that these rocks had chemicals suggesting evidence of ancient life, but others disagreed, saying this mix of chemicals could have arisen through non-biological processes. The fossils, reported in the journal Nature on the last day of August, are the first visible structures found in these rocks.
The geologists identified these as stromalites, layers of sediment packed together by microbial communities living in shallow water. Similar stromalites are still produced today, in the waters between Asia and Australia.
The discovery provides evidence that life emerged “immediately” and in full bloom, at precisely the time when the planet was able to sustain it. As David Klinghoffer at Evolution News and Views put it, “genetic code, proteins, photosynthesis, the works.”
This is no small thing, as even the simplest proteins have proven nearly impossible to produce by random natural tests in a lab. If this discovery is correct, the evidence is striking — and argues for a sudden emergence of complex life. As Wade admitted, the stromalites “represent fairly evolved organisms.”
The biggest problem for evolutionary theories attempting to explain the origin of life has always been that even the simplest living beings require too much complexity to have emerged randomly. Due to the extremely old age of the Earth, it once seemed plausible that, given enough eons, the just-right combination of elements could have come together. This discovery places life on Earth even farther back, however, at a time immediately after cataclysmic events in the solar system would have made life impossible.
“The history of life and the origin of life up to 3.7 [billion years ago] was extremely aggressive, which is exactly what you would expect from a Creator who is trying to pack the Earth with as much life as possible, as diverse as possible, for as long as possible,” astronomer Hugh Ross, president and founder of Reasons to Believe and author of Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home, told PJ Media in an interview.
Ross added, “This is something you wouldn’t expect from the naturalistic perspective [based on Darwinism, which would suggest] a very slow, gradual advancement. That’s not what we see.”
Next Page: Perhaps this is why some scientists contest the discovery.
Partly for these reasons, the discovery is hotly contested among scientists. M.I.T.’s Tanja Bosak, an expert in early Earth’s environment, admitted to The New York Times that the recently discovered fossils do resemble modern stromatolites, but predicted that their origin “will be hotly debated.” She noted that there was no sign of certain features that might bolster the case that living beings created these structures, such as crinkling in the layers of settlement.
Dr. Allen P. Nutman of the University of Wollongong in Australia argued that life must have originated even before these fossils. He placed life’s origin during the late Hadean stage of Earth’s history (between 4.65 billion years ago, when Earth formed from debris, to 4 billion years ago).
The Hadean takes its name from Hades, because the conditions during that era could rightly be described as hellish: destructive meteorite impacts boiled the oceans into steam, turning the Earth’s surface into lava. The largest impact created the Moon. To make matters worse, the sun was weaker then, and the oceans froze over. While some geologists argue for a milder version of this period, it remains unlikely that life originated during this time, although a naturalistic explanation may have to resort to such argument.
Even after the Hadean period, a torrential rain of huge asteroids impacted the Earth at the beginning of the Archaean stage. This event, known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, hit the Earth between 3.9 and 3.8 billion years ago. In his book, Ross argues that the meteor impacts during the Hadean period and this Late Heavy Bombardment, while at the time precluding the existence of life on Earth, were necessary later on for the Earth’s stable rotation and other important factors enabling advanced life (and even the heavy metals necessary for technology).
While Dr. Nutman argued that life could have survived through these cataclysmic events, evidence for the destructive nature of the bombardment can be seen in the face of the Moon, which has two craters more than 600 miles across. During the same time the Moon was so powerfully struck, approximately 40 craters this size may have been gouged out of Earth’s surface, according to William F. Bottke, an asteroid expert at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
If, as Ross argued, life on Earth emerged only after the Late Heavy Bombardment, then it only had 100 million years to evolve to the advanced state of the new fossils.
Some have argued that life “will emerge whenever there’s an opportunity,” but Gerald Joyce, an origin of life expert at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, noted that evidence shows only one origin of life. “You could ask why, if life were such a probable event, we don’t have evidence of multiple origins,” he told The Times. Indeed, the common genetic code shared by all organisms (with only trivial variations), suggests a single origin.
The extremely early date of that origin and the complexity of life at the time suggest something more than a slow, natural explanation for the explosion of life on Earth. Could the latest science actually point to the likelihood of a Creator? Stranger things have indeed happened.