Darwin started a tradition of worrying about the Cambrian Explosion.  Over time the problem has only worsened; now we know that all the animal phyla appeared suddenly in the oldest strata containing metazoan (multi-celled) animals.  In recent decades, evolutionists had hoped that the strange Ediacaran fossils would provide the needed missing links.  In addition, some thought they had found embryos of early metazoans in the exceptionally-preserved Precambrian beds of China.  Those hopes have now been dashed, leading to moans and groans from Darwinians.

New techniques have allowed a closer look at the alleged embryos.  Using a non-invasive synchrotron X-ray microscope, an international team has reported their findings in Science.1  Result: not embryos, but cysts of protists.  N. J. Butterfield, writing in the same issue of Science,2 explained the misery of disappointment:

Ever since Darwin there has been a disturbing void, both paleontological and psychological, at the base of the Phanerozoic eon. If his theory of gradualistic evolution be true, then surely the pre-Phanerozoic oceans must have swarmed with living animals—despite their conspicuous absence from the early fossil record. Thus, the 1998 report of fossilized animal embryos in the early Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation of South China was met with almost palpable relief. It was indeed the fossil record that had let us down, not the textbooks, and certainly not the exciting new insights from molecular clocks. All was not as it seemed, however, and new data from Huldtgren et al. on page 1696 of this issue,1 look set to revoke the status of these most celebrated Ediacaran fossils.

The main point is that these spores are not on the way to becoming animal body plans.  “Although unquestionably eukaryotic, the fossils are not metazoan, or even properly multicellular by all appearances,” Butterfield said.  The researchers tried to put a semi-happy face on their conclusion by claiming it might still represent a transition “that evolved after the last common ancestor of animals and fungi, but before the last common ancestor of living (that is, crown-group) animals”.  Here’s what Butterfield had to say about that: “In terms of progressivist storytelling, this all seems a little too good to be true,” since other microbes have a similar growth habit.  The authors even acknowledge that “the much broader distribution of this habit undermines its utility as a phylogenetic marker,” Butterfield added….

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