In 1939 a fisherman fishing off the coast of South Africa caught a remarkable fish called a
coelacanth [see-luh-kanth]. What was remarkable about this coelacanth fish (scientific name:
Latimeria chalumnae) is that it shouldn’t have been in those waters – or in any waters – in 1939.
Secular scientists had declared that the coelacanth had gone extinct some 65 million years ago.
But there it was, alive and well, and since then other living coelacanths have been sighted and
1. Sea and Sky Presents the Sea. N.d. "Creatures of the Sea: Coelacanth." http://www.seasky.
The coelacanth fish is just one of hundreds of examples of what are referred to as “living fossils.”
The so-called living fossils are not a problem for Bible-believing scientists, but they are a puzzle
– a hard to explain enigma for secular researchers who accept the theory of evolution and who
believe that the earth is millions and billions of years old.
What is a Fossil?
Before trying to understand living fossils, we need to know what a fossil is. The word fossil comes
from a word [Latin fossilis] that means “something dug up.”2 It originally was used to refer to
ancient manmade items, gems, or mineral ores. Today fossils are considered the remains or
trace of once-living creatures which have been preserved in the ground by natural processes.
2. http://www.Dictionary.com. N.d. "Fossil." IAC Corporation. http://dictionary.reference.com/
browse/fossil (accessed March 25, 2011).
Fossils are of different types. A process known as permineralization can form fossils when mineral
material fills the cavity of an organism as it decays, duplicating the form of the creature.
Impressions are two-dimensional imprints most commonly found in silt or clay. A trace refers to
impressions made by a creature as it moves over the surface of soft sediment. Entire bodies of
creatures can be trapped and preserved in amber. Still other fossil classifications refer to how the
fossil was preserved, such as by drying, freezing, or by being compressed or compacted. 3
3. K. Mani, 1996. "Fossils: Windows to the Past." Berkeley. UCMP. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/paleo/fossils
(accessed March 25, 2011).
Fossils offer evidence in nature that something important once happened in the past. When living
things die, they begin decaying rapidly. If they lie around on the ground or on the bottom of the
sea for years, they would have long since turned into nothing except perhaps for their bones or
other hard parts. Yet we find numerous examples of plants and animals with impressions of their
soft parts perfectly preserved in rock. That strongly suggests these organisms were buried quickly
before they could decompose. We know of no historical event that was more likely to have buried
so many creatures all over the world so rapidly than the chaotic Noah's Flood.
What are Living Fossils?
A living fossil is simply a fossil which looks virtually the same as its modern, living relative. Living
fossils are not rare by any means. They are found throughout the fossil layers, and almost every
family of living animal has been matched to fossils which appear amazingly similar.
Especially interesting are the living fossils, such as the coelacanth, which scientists had declared
to have gone extinct “millions of years ago” only to find them doing well in the modern world. It is
as if tomorrow an explorer would find a living T-rex roaming through some unexplored rain
forest. Scientists refer to this type of living fossil as examples of a “Lazarus taxon.”4 This term
refers to a species that seemed to disappear for many years only to reappear at a later time in the
fossil record or in the living world, as if it were resurrected from the dead, like Lazarus in the Bible.
4. Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. March 15, 2011. "Living Fossil." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_fossil
(accessed March 25, 2011).
Another recent example of a living fossil that appears to fit the Lazarus taxon definition is the
Wollemi pine tree (scientific name: Wollemia nobilis). This plant was discovered by a park ranger
in 1994 in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. The tree, which reaches heights of 40
meters (130 feet), was thought to have become extinct 150 million years ago during the “age of the
dinosaurs.” 5 Yet another example of this type of living fossil is the lungfish.
5. Woodford, James. "Tree From The Dinosaur Age, And It's Alive." Sydney Morning Herald,
December 14, 1994. http://netherlands.wollemipine.com/news/Found_Tree_from_the_
Dinosaur_Age.php (accessed March 25, 2011).
How do Evolutionists Explain Living Fossils?
The discovery of so many living fossils representing so many different kinds of creatures does
appear to pose a significant problem for the theory of evolution. We know that, according to
Darwinism, there once were only simple organisms. These organisms gradually started evolving
into more complex organisms until mammals evolved and eventually humans.
Evolution is sometimes defined as “progressive change” or simply “change.” 6 These evolutionary
changes are said to happen because of mutations (changes in genes) and natural selection ("the
fittest survive"). Yet all these examples of living fossils, sometimes representing quite primitive
organisms, show little or no change at all over millions of years. Doesn't “no change” imply “no
6. http://www.Dictionary.com. N. d. "Evolution." IAC Corporation.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/evolution (accessed March 25, 2011).
Darwinists do have something of an answer to this question. According to a creationist website, 7
evolutionists claim only small segments of populations of creatures split off the main groups to
form new living beings while leaving the main groups unaffected. Another way of putting it is that
in each case the main group “found its niche” and there was no pressure put on these animals to
evolve into anything else. Of course, there is no evidence that the breaking off of small groups
actually happened, and this answer seems like too easy a way out.
7. Creation Ministries International. N. d. "Arguments We Think Creationists Should NOT Use."
Australia. http://creation.com/arguments-we-think-creationists-should-not-use (accessed
March 25, 2011).
We are told natural selection and mutations caused single-celled organisms eventually to evolve
into human beings. That's quite an accomplishment for blind processes! But haven't mutations and
natural selection been processes that have been active down through the ages? How easy was it for
these living fossil creatures to remain immune to these processes for millions of years while other
creatures were evolving into more complex living things? Or why didn't all the early creatures “find
their niche” and happily settle down to enjoying what they were?
It's up to the evolutionary scientists to show why the many living fossils are not a rebuke to their
theory. They could easily do this by providing examples from the fossil record of slow progressions
of creatures evolving from less complex organisms into animals which are far more complex. But
where is there such an example, now that the famed horse evolution series has been cast into
serious doubt by recent DNA studies? 8
8. University of Adelaide (December 10, 2009). DNA sheds new light on horse evolution.
ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091210092001.htm (accessed
March 25, 2011).
In one important respect Bible-believing Christians do believe in change. When we came to faith in
Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, we became new beings “created to be like God in true
righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). When we get to heaven, we will inherit new,
perfect, glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). In the Holy Bible we have a far more reliable
testimony to the truth of these changes than any truth about changes we can gleam from the record
of the fossils. LSI
Warren Krug, a retired teacher, is the editor of the LSI Journal and is currently serving as
president of the Lutheran Science Institute. He holds a B.S. in Education from Concordia
University Chicago and a M.S. in Education from Oklahoma State University. He is a
member at Trinity, Caledonia, Wisconsin.. Photos from Wikipedia.
The Enigma of
Living Fossils' by Warren Krug
Wollemi pine tree