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No. 90: Nov-Dec 1993

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The shorter, the stranger

Just a few months ago (in SF#85), we held forth on biology's Big Bang: that Cambrian paroxysm of biological creativity about 570 million years ago. Until now, biologists had opined that this "explosion" required a rather leisurely 20-40 million years (still very short in geological terms). After all, biological creativity must take time if it is powered only by stepwise random mutations. But the recent dating of Cambrian formations in northeastern Siberia (which was previously off limits to Western scientists because of its Soviet radar installations) has now compressed this great event to a veritable flash. S.A. Bowring et al, in their startling report in Science, have measured the length of this period of unparalleled biological diversification at only 5-10 million years, possibly as short as a mere 1 million years! What wand of biological creativity was waved at this magical moment? It had to be something that has not happened again down the long eons that followed, for never again has nature favored our planet in this way. Never again were any more of life's major body plans (the phyla) synthesized. Even ardent evolutionists marvel at the newly measured intensity of this moment. For example, S.J. Gould has remarked:

"You've taken the most accelerated period of evolutionary rates and made it a whole lot shorter. The degree of speed is so fast, it's downright peculiar. The strange gets stranger, the fast gets faster."

(Bowring, Samuel A., et al; "Calibrating Rates of Early Cambrian Evolution," Science, 261:1293, 1993. Kerr, Richard A.; "Evolution's Big Bang Gets Even More Explosive," Science, 261:1274, 1993. Monastersky, R.; "Siberian Rocks Clock Biological Big Bang," Science News, 144:142, 1993. Yoon, Carol Kaesuk; "Biology's 'Big Bang' Took a Mere Blink of the Eye," New York Times, September 7, 1993. Cr. P. Gunkel.)

Comment. It hardly seems necessary to ask (as we often do in SF) whether the prevailing theory of evolution can account for such a flash of creativity.

Reference. Biological explosions are cataloged in ESB2 in our catalog: Anomalies in Geology. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #90, NOV-DEC 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987