The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion

Darwin’s Dilemma explores one of the great mysteries in the history of life: the “Cambrian Explosion,” the geologically-sudden appearance in the fossil record of most major animal phyla during a span of less than ten million years. The Cambrian Explosion, which took place about 530 million years ago, provides a major challenge to the traditional mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. In the words of one evolutionary biologist: “The extreme speed of anatomical change and adaptive radiation during this brief time period requires explanations that go beyond those proposed for the evolution of species within the modern biota.” (R. L. Carroll, “Towards a new evolutionary synthesis,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 15(1):27-32 (2000))

Darwin’s Dilemma provides a tantalizing glimpse into the world of the Cambrian explosion through computer animation and  the amazing fossils in the Burgess Shale of British Columbia, Canada and the Maotianshan shales of Chengjiang, China.

Download the FAQ: Questions about the Cambrian Explosion, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

For a discussion and study guide of Darwin’s Dilemma, see Darwin’s Dilemma Discussion and Study Guide, by Ryan Huxley of the IDEA Center.

To discover more about the ideas, people, and places discussed in Darwin’s Dilemma, use the resources below.

Resources on the Cambrian Explosion

“The Scientific Controversy over the Cambrian Explosion” (Briefing Paper)

Casey Luskin, “BioEssays Article Admits ‘Materialistic Basis of the Cambrian Explosion’ is ‘Elusive,’” Evolution News and Views (June 24, 2009)

Casey Luskin, “Trails of Microorganisms Discovered on Ocean-Bottom Knock Down Favorite Darwinist Argument Against Cambrian Explosion,” Evolution News and Views (Dec. 14, 2008)

Stephen Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (2004). For detailed information on the controversy that followed the publication of this peer-reviewed technical paper, visit the Smithsonian Controversy web page.

Stephen Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson & Paul Chien, “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang,” Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press, 2004)

On the Origin of Phyla: An Interview with James Valentine

Simon Conway Morris, “Darwin’s dilemma: the realities of the Cambrian ‘explosion,’” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2006)

The Cambrian Explosion (Virtual Fossil Museum)

“Evolution’s Big Bang,” Time magazine cover story on the Cambrian Explosion (Dec. 4, 1995)

Resources on the Fossils of the Burgess Shale

“The Burgess Shale: Evolution’s Big Bang” Online Exhibit

The Burgess Shale (Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History)

Charles Walcott and the Burgess Shale

The Panoramic Photographs of Charles D. Walcott

Resources on the Fossils of Chengjiang, China

Chengjiang China Fossils—“A Window to the Cambrian Explosion” (Virtual Fossil Museum)

Fred Heeren, “Challenging Fossil of a Little Fish,” The Boston Globe (May 30, 2000)

Fred Heeren, “Paleontologic Agitprop?” Insight on the News (July 24, 2000)

Investigating Evolution: The Cambrian Explosion, pt. 1

Investigating Evolution: The Cambrian Explosion, pt. 2