Answers in Genesis Uses False Evidence on Blue-green Algae
John Stear (assisted by Dr Kevin R. Henke and Dr Ken Smith)

Answers in Genesis in their weekly email newsletter Answers Update of 14 November 2003 claim that because certain fossils, in this case 3.5 billion year old blue-green algae, are seemingly identical to blue-green algae living today then that somehow poses a problem for evolution.  Only a creationist without any understanding of evolution would see this as a problem. There is nothing at all in evolutionary theory that requires all organisms to evolve at the same rate, or indeed, at all.  That some modern species resemble their ancestral fossils is not at all surprising to anyone who knows what they are talking about. What is a problem (for creationists, not for scientists) is modern species that are different from their ancestral fossils, but sufficiently similar that evolution is the obvious answer (for example, see discussions in 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent)In fact we can now see evolution acting within our own species and leading inevitably to Homo sapiens giving rise to an entirely new species within a few years. The evidence shows that while the majority of Homo sapiens is going along as usual, a sub-species, Homo creationensis, is developing the capability of speaking through its fundament. This is why they are called fundamentalists.

But let's be serious, as difficult as that might be when dealing with young Earth creationists (YECs).  To support their claim that these fossils pose a "problem" for evolution, AiG alleges that Dr William Schopf, a Professor of Paleobiology at the University of California has said that because these fossils have not changed over time then this "presents a tremendous problem for evolution".

Knowing that YECs often use out of context quotes to try to defend their young Earth nonsense, see the Quote Mine Project and Creationist "Out of Context" Quotes, I decided to contact Dr Schopf concerning the alleged quote.  Dr Schopf's terse reply to my email was to refer me to one of his books, Cradle of Life (JW Schopf, Princeton Univ. Press, 1999 - pages 209-235).

Not having easy access to Dr Schopf's book I sought the help of Dr Kevin R. Henke, a US geologist, who has written many essays for NAiG (see The Henke Essays).  Dr Henke located the relevant chapter (Ch. 8) and pages, 209-235, and had this to say:

Looking through chapter 8, I can see why Schopf only referred to the chapter and did not say much more in his email. The discussions are somewhat complex and cannot be easily summarized in an email. Not surprisingly, AiG's "Answers Update" doesn't tell the whole story.

Basically, Schopf and others recognize that bacteria evolve very slowly. As Schopf summarizes, slow to nil evolution has been recognized for decades among certain organisms. YECs want us to believe that they're bringing up important "news" when they mention "living fossils" like the coelacanth.  The slowness of evolution in certain microorganisms was what surprised Schopf.  Schopf and several opponents then argue over whether the fossilized Precambrian microorganisms contain enough information to conclude that their evolution has actually been slow. Because we can't look at the DNA of Precambrian microorganisms and since they often have relatively few distinctive features, can we really say that these fossils are essentially the same as modern species? Schopf says that they are. Schopf then reminds his readers that not all critters evolve at the same rates. I'm not a biologist and I really don't dare to summarize any more of Schopf's arguments than this. However, JUST SKIMMING Schopf, I don't get the impression that Schopf feels that the fossils are a "tremendous problem for evolution" as AiG claims. Perhaps, I'm missing something, but I don't see Schopf seeing any threats to evolution from these microorganisms. He was surprised, but he sees variability in evolutionary rates as being compatible
with modern biology.

Dr Ken Smith, Senior Lecturer (now an Honorary Research Consultant) in Mathematics at the University of Queensland, who finally tracked down a copy of Dr Schopf's book, had this to say:

I've now read most of Chapter 8 about cyanobacteria.  It's quite obvious that AiG have completely misunderstood what Schopf is on about.  It's rather heavy going for someone not too familiar with pre-Cambrian life, but a couple of quotes indicate that Schopf is quite happy to agree with what George Gaylord Simpson wrote in his classic "Tempo and Mode in Evolution" in 1944.

So acceptance of the very slow change observed in cyanobacteria and other organisms sometimes called "living fossils" can be traced back at least that far.

On pages 210-212 Schopf writes:

In 1944 Simpson authored "Tempo and Mode in Evolution", a slim volume rich with new ideas. His goal was to understand the familiar schoolbook history of life from seaweeds to flowering plants, trilobites to humans-- the Phanerozoic [visible life] world of sexually reproducing many-celled organisms ...

Simpson codified what has become thought of as "standard evolution" played by the now well-known rules of the game -- speciation, specialization, extinction. There was no reason for him to guess that life's earlier evolution would prove as dramatically different as it has.

In place of plants and animals of the Phanerozoic, the world of the Precambrian was populated by a metabolic menagerie of non-sexual bacteria and archaeans [single-celled creatures that join bacteria to make up a category of life called the Prokaryotes]. Rather than evolve at the pace normal for large organisms, many of these microbes changed not at all over astonishingly long spans of time. And instead of being specialized for local settings, members of the most successful of the ancient lineages -- cyanobacteria -- are generalists that flourish in an impressive range of surroundings.

Rather than Simpson's rules, life of the Precambrian followed the path of speciation, generalization, and exceptionally long term survival.

The Phanerozoic, the Age of Specialization and Extinction, differs sharply from the Precambrian Age of Generalization and Survival. The first signs of this were seen in the late 1960s, but it has taken three decades to amass enough evidence to prove the point. The telling facts come from studies of Precambrian cyanobacteria, monarchs of the primal world. And even though their fossil record is still far from fully known, the case can be made because lack of evolution (technically "evolutionary stasis") can be nailed down by much less evidence than is needed to show evolutionary change.

Ken Smith continues:

And just in case AiG continues to deny the fossil evidence, Plates 1 and 2 in the book (in colour) show some of the Precambrian fossils found at Bitter Springs in the Northern Territory, not too far from Alice Springs [in Australia]. These were among the earliest Precambrian fossils definitely identified as such and in the 1960s even I, a mathematician and not a biologist or paleontologist, was aware of their existence.

A section starting on page 231 [of Schopf's book] is headed "Evolution's Most Successful Ecologic Generalists" and starts:

Reasons underlying the unexpected stasis of cyanobacterial evolution are touched on in Simpson's pioneering "Tempo and Mode", for though he had no way to guess what the Precambrian fossil record held in store, he was much intrigued by living fossils of the Phanerozoic. To explain their unusually slow evolution, he settled on two principal factors: large-sized populations and an ability to thrive in varied environments, both shown in spades by cyanobacteria.

If AiG really wants to have a look at some living fossils they could pay a visit to Shark Bay in WA [Western Australia]. The stromatolites there have pages 193-201 devoted to them, with plenty of photos.  And they could read (assuming that they are capable of reading things other than their own literature) the whole of Chapter 7 in Schopf as well, which is all about stromatolites.

Although Dr Schopf did express some surprise at the slow pace of algae evolution, AiG has distorted this surprise into false anti-evolution propaganda.  It's becoming more and more obvious that AiG and their YEC colleagues are prepared to lie in order to promulgate their anti science to their gullible followers.  Seldom would the readers of AiG's literature bother to investigate the sources from which AiG claims to get their evidence.  As William J. Bennetta, a professional editor and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, wrote in an essay:

In all of these efforts [eroding the teaching of science in public schools], the creationists make abundant use of a simple tactic: They lie. They lie continually, they lie prodigiously, and they lie because they must.

Also see Answers in Genesis repeats the blue-green algae lie